Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Revival or reform?

One of the Old Testament 'revivals' which is often preached on is that of Josiah, but there are indications in Jeremiah that Jeremiah himself was not very impressed with that 'revival'. It seems that Jeremiah regarded it as superficial. The relationship between revival and reform is often a topic of enquiry. The usual question is one of 'chicken and egg'; does the reform produce the conditions for the revival, or does the revival create the conditions for the reform?

I heard the theme of the revival in Elijah's day being preached recently and was blessed and challenged and perplexed. The altar that Elijah rebuilt is called quite specifically 'the alter of Jehovah'. The question is usually 'why was it broken down?' but there is another question 'why was it ever there in the first place?' In the earliest part of Israel's occupation of their promised land there was a near massacre and civil war caused by the building of an altar by those who had settled in transjordan. The disaster was only averted when it was made plain that this was only to be a memorial altar and not a functioning one. Israel was only allowed to have one 'altar of Jehovah' and that was associated with the tabernacle later the temple. It was specifically against the commandment of God to have alternative altars and yet apparently there was one in the northern kingdom of Israel which had fallen into repair, was rebuilt by Elijah and which God honoured in consuming flame.

It is easily forgotten that for much of Israel's tenancy of the promised land the priesthood and hence the covenant was in a state of disfunction. The ark was separated from its cultic activity when it was lost in the battle with the Philistine. It was probably a full hundred years, if not more, before the full functions of the Levitical priesthood were restored. The day of Atonement required that blood be taken from the altar and sprinkled before the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. For a full century or more the ark was separated from the altar and so 'atonement' was never accomplished. Where does this leave the Israel who have breached their tenancy agreement and forfeited the presence of God because they are not conducting the annual Day of Atonement?

David was associated with a priest who wore the right clothes but apparently never functioned at the tabernacle. According to the Lord in Matthew's gospel, David penetrated the Holy Place and took the bread of the Presence, but the 'Presence' as symbolized by the ark was missing! David's sons are said to function as priests in 2 Sam 8:14 (Hebrew). How could this be when the priesthood was restricted to the tribe of Levi? Is revival God's way of breaking into the 'dysfunctional church' of today in a similar what to the way he broke into the dysfunctional Israel of old?

1 comment:

KingJimmy said...

Good thoughts Ron. My pastor has a saying: "God works with the world you give Him." I think such could be applied to the thought you are aiming at here. Thus, even when the "wineskins" of the church (in either testament) were not up to snuff, God still graciously manifested Himself in spite of those things. It seems to me that God is sovereign, and will not be limited by boxes, even perhaps, one's that He created. The fire fell at Elijah's altar, and the fire still falls at many Churches bound by extra-biblical/post-apostolic additions.