[This is the seventh section of a paper I wrote for the Great Plains Pastors' Conference (of Circuits 7, 8, & 9) which is titled Notes on Reading the Letter to the Hebrews With a Focus on Chapter 9. It was delivered at Bethany Lutheran College on Wednesday, May 25th
τὸν τῆς πίστεως ἀρχηγὸν καὶ τελειωτὴν Ἰησοῦν]
‘You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the Lord. [Lv 19:30]
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ Sabbath of solemn rest, a מִקְרָא־קֹ֔דֶשׁ holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings. [Lv 23:1-3]
This particular seven-day cycle set the People of God under the Old Covenant apart from every other nation. For the Egyptians the smallest group of regularly repeating days was the decan (a 10 day week). The Egyptian calendar was rigid. It consisted of 365 days divided into 12 non-lunar months of 30 days each, plus a five day epagomenae at the end of the year. Each month was divided into 3 decans.
The Mesopotamians, as far as we can tell, used the cycles of the moon as their primary reckoning. Since the first day of the month could be adjusted, and because the month could consist of 29-30 days, the concept of a definite repeating seven-day week, if it did exist, would have been secondary to the lunar cycle.
The Biblical Sabbath, was however, a distinguishing convocation centered around the Old Covenant. It was a steady, repeating cycle. 6 days of work, 1 day of rest. The cycle was unaffected by the new moon or by any other astrological event. The Sabbath was a calendar that distinguished Israel ritually and liturgically from all the other nations around them.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, כִּי֩ א֨וֹת הִ֜וא for it is a sign בֵּינִ֤י וּבֵֽינֵיכֶם֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם between Me and you throughout your generations, לָדַ֕עַת כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶֽם that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’”[Exodus 31:12-17]
Thus, the week itself is a liturgical structure designed to confess who God is, how He created us, and also, our Rest, our redemption. The לֶחֶם פָּנִים Bread of the Presence was made, presented, and eaten before הַפָּרֹֽכֶת the veil of the Holy of Holies by the Priests according to the Sabbath cycle [Lev 25:23-30]. The Sabbath was designed to proclaim redemption in Christ. This is the focus of Hebrews chs. 3-4. The Sabbath rest is tied together with the Promise of Rest in the Holy Land to which promise the Israelites failed to listen [2nd Last Sunday 4:9-13, Jubilate-Easter 4 ch. 4:14-16].
In this way, both the Rebellion in the Wilderness as portrayed in the liturgical setting of Psalm 95 [Venite] during the Divine Service of the Old Covenant on the weekly Sabbath services is shown to proclaim the true Rest found in the Son of God Incarnate. If we are to hear what the Word says, we listen to this promise written in the week, written in the Exodus and Exile, and repeated in the Divine Service.
There are several potential texts to cite regarding God's promise to Abraham. But in 6:14 the Author chose the explicitly liturgical setting of the עקדה the Binding of Isaac. Abraham hearkened to God's Word קַח־נָ֠א אֶת־בִּנְךָ֨ אֶת־יְחִֽידְךָ֤ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַ֙בְתָּ֙ offering his only beloved son to God. God provided a lamb as a substitute תַּ֥חַת בְּנֽוֹ in place of his son. The reader is confronted with the Word of Divine Service before the Old Covenant in both the historical example of the Binding of Isaac, the substitute. Gn 22.16-17 records the decree of the Son of God as the מַלְאַ֤ךְ יְהוָה֙ Angel of the Lord. This theme is recapitulated in 11:17-19.
Melchizedek [Cantate-Easter 5, Rogate-Easter 6]
In chapters 5, 6, and 7 the Author describes the Pre-Old Covenant Divine Service observed by Melchizedek. Many of the references to Melchizedek are done through the liturgical text of Ps 110:4, listed above. But He 7:1-2 makes explicit reference to the narrative of Gn 14:18-20. The exegesis of the text in He 7 is explicitly liturgical. Gn 14:18-20 is part of a liturgical act that is quite plainly the Divine Service before the establishing of the First Covenant.
The writer to the Hebrews expounds on various aspects of the person and specific liturgical office of Melchizedek, which, if the reader hearkened to these texts, he should realize he was hearing about Christ.
Divine Service of Old Covenant
There are indeed many details of the Divine Service under the Old Covenant that can be brought forward. We will comment on some of these when we focus on Chapter 9. I offer here a brief list of other explicitly liturgical signs from the Divine Service that the writer to the Hebrews maintains are based originally upon the Pre-Incarnate Son of God. They are poor imitations meant to communicate the Promise of forgiveness in Word, Ritual, and Sacrifices. They all find τελειωτὴν [He 12:2] their fulfillment, their end, their perfection in the Incarnation of the Son of God and His Vicarious Work of salvation.
- Listening to what the High Priest was,
- Listening to what the Festivals were,
- Listening to what the details of the Tabernacle construction represent,
- Listening to what the details of the articles of sacrifice say,
- Listening to what the details of the sacrifices say,
- Listening to what the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat contain and are,
- Listening to what the Blood of the Covenant is.