Ezra is a book about getting back in touch with your roots. Its events take place around 460-450 BC, generations after Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. King Cyrus of Persia sends a sizeable party of diaspora Jews to return to Jerusalem, reunite with the survivors, and build a new temple to their God in their holy city. And it would seem Ezra, who chronicled this expedition, took a few cues from the book of Chronicles, because when he uses the word “thanks,” he too pairs it with the word “praise.” In the scene from today’s passage, after the foundation for the temple is complete, the priests lead the Hebrew people in praise and thanks. All in all, it’s an extremely Hebrew scene, so let’s get Hebrew.
The book of Hosea begins with Hosea marrying a prostitute.
I can’t believe we’re already finished with Hebrews. I mean it; despite my familiarity with it, I somehow got it into my head that it had fourteen chapters. But sure enough, here’s the end, from the exhortations to good behavior to the last little bits of theology to the personal notes. It spans two pages in my Bible, and even before I turned the page, I could tell by the tone that the book was wrapping up. There was not going to be another chapter.
Hebrews chapter 11 has been a particularly compelling passage throughout my life. In college, my sophomore essay on faith investigated it in-depth, and I’ve read and re-read it countless times both before and after I wrote that essay. It’s encouraged me to investigate what merits my trust and to place my trust in the sources that merit it without hesitation. In the twelfth chapter, there are a few verses that have similarly stuck with me in life–which should come as no surprise to you, considering that the author’s primary topic here is my favorite food, discipline.
I recently dreamed that my brother, two friends, and I were talking in my dorm room at college, except that it was a dorm room I’d never actually lived in, made up for the dream. “So I read your latest Chocolate Book post,” my brother told me. “And…are you still a Christian?” One of my friends came to my defense with a few words about faith which, while intended to put my questioning in a positive light, didn’t really have a whole lot to do with what I’d actually said. So I sat down on the side of my bed. “I think faith is–” I started to tell my brother, but I got choked up and had to give the definition through tears. “I think faith is admitting that you don’t know what you need to know, and you don’t know how to find out.”
The first part of today’s chapter reiterates the theme begun in the previous chapter: Christ’s sacrifice covers our sin once for all, a single act making restitution for humanity’s evils and failings. It does what repeated sacrifices of bulls and goats could not do. It pays for the misdeeds of the spirit, not merely those of the flesh. So, let’s get into the latter half of the chapter, where we will find things interesting and new.
Where to begin? Hebrews 9 contains several verses of interest, but let’s start by contextualizing them with a summary. This chapter starts with some summarizing of its own, a quick rundown of the tabernacle’s inner and outer layout, making the point that Jesus Christ in a spiritual sense entered the Holy of Holies through his death, in order to atone for his people’s sins once and for all. Thus, the writer reasons, Christ mediates a new covenant on the basis of his own shed blood. Throughout the whole chapter, there’s a theme of the earthly vs. the heavenly, visible vs. invisible, man-made vs. divine, flesh vs. spirit, which the writer brings to the forefront to conclude the chapter. Bam, summary complete, let’s get down to the details.
Good news, everyone! Hebrews 8 begins by summing up the point of the previous chapter in a single sentence! If you haven’t read Hebrews 7 yet, you can skip it. All you folks who read Hebrews 7 all the way through and tried to figure it out, sorry you wasted your time enriching your view of scripture through study.
Do you remember Sega’s “Welcome to the Next Level” advertising campaign from the early 90s? No? That’s fine. You don’t need to be familiar with it at all to know that the seventh chapter of Hebrews has got some next-level theology about Jesus Christ as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Welcome to the next level.
In order to go forward today, we’ve got to go back. In yesterday’s chapter, there were not one but two hard left turns, and we only covered the first. The chapter ends with a shift out of Christology into criticism, so let’s take a rewind.