Getting a Handle on a Holy God

Getting a Handle on a Holy God

“And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings on the four corners that are at its four legs.”  Exodus 25:12 &26

       Handles.  They’re important for picking things up.  They’re vital for moving things.  They’re an idiom for life as we continually try to “get a handle” on things, but can their presence, or non-presence, ever be indicative of something more…of something we fail to get our hands on?  Perhaps, just perhaps, handles need to be handled more insightfully.

Today, as I was continuing my Bible reading in and through Exodus (get it… through Exodus…ha!) I encountered  some handles that I’d never given much thought to before.  But this time, for some reason, they kind of rose up off the page and I had to lay hold of them.  I was in Exodus 25, reading about the Ark of the Testimony, the Table for the Showbread, and the Gold Lampstand.  This was God’s description of the three items that would eventually be located in the innermost part of the Tabernacle.  Each item was outlined in detail and as my eyes read, my mind pictured.  I tried to visualize the ark covered with gold inside and out…with “two rings on one side and two rings on the other side…that it might be carried” (Ex. 25:12, 14).  I attempted to imagine the golden table, it too having “rings on the four corners…close to its frame…that the table may be carried” (Ex. 25:24-28).  And then there was the lampstand…it took a little more concentration as it was far more detailed and decorative with its branches, bowls, knobs, and flowers…but without any handles (Ex. 25:31-40).  I went back over each item, tracing it out in my mind, making sure I placed those golden rings in the right spot.  I had trouble with the table because I kept putting them in a place that would be in the way…I had to keep moving them until they were (I think) in the right place so as not to be thigh or hip bruisers.  And that’s when I noticed the lack of handles on the lampstand.  The ark had handles for moving; the table also had handles; why not the lampstand?  How would it be moved?  As I thought about it, I rethought what each item represented.  And then my mind pictured far more than the description of each item; now, my mind looked upon the Deity each article represented.  And when I saw the Father in the Ark, the Son in the Table, and the Spirit in the Lampstand, then I also saw a purpose for the rings…as well as a purpose for the lack of the rings.

One of the things I love about the Old Testament is the way in which it foreshadows the New Testament.  It’s not an anthology of outdated, overwritten, or overshadowed texts that, thanks to the addition of the New Testament, are now chronicled as “archaic” transcripts.  Rather, an understanding of the Old Testament adds to the context of the New Testament, providing the contextual pegs upon which we can hang our conceptual hats!  (Think about that one…it spins for a while, but when it stops it becomes clear!)  And, likewise, the New Testament enhances the Old Testament.  By combining the two, we learn the literal and symbolic meaning of the ark, the table, and the lampstand.  The ark, covered in gold without and within and containing the Ten Commandments, a container of manna, and Aaron’s rod, represents God, the Father.  The table, also overlaid with gold and upon which the Showbread was placed, is Jesus, the Son.  And the lampstand, ornamental in its design with bowls and blossoms, is the Holy Spirit.  In addition to relating the items within the tabernacle with the Persons of God, there is also a relationship between the tabernacle and the believer.  In 2 Corinthians 6:16, Paul writes, “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’”  If we are the present day tabernacle of God, the dwelling place of the Most High, then wouldn’t it be wise for us to take a closer look at the Ark of the Testimony, the Table of Showbread, and the Golden Lampstand…and at those handles?

The ark was simple in form with no blossoms or branches, but it was iron-clad, or should I say gold-clad?  It safely housed the commandments, the manna, and the rod.  When looked at through the overlayment of the New Testament, we see these as the Law, the Bread of Life, and the Rod of the Spirit.  God the Father is our Ark of Testimony.  In Him we find our Judge, our Provider, and our New Life.  (I find it interesting that even in His Role as One-in-Three, He is still Three-in-One!)  Next we have the table.  It too was simple in its design, but it was solid, stable, and serviceable; upon it the show bread was placed.  Jesus is both our table and our bread.  His life was a counter upon which He placed His own body.  Just as a table’s purpose is to serve others, so Jesus’ life was one of service to mankind.  And, as the ultimate host, He not only offered the table, but He offered Himself that we might be filled and hunger no more.  Finally, there was the lampstand.  This item was beautifully adorned and embellished.  Four times the word ornamental is used in describing this lampstand.  It was meant to catch one’s eye.  Here, I believe, the lampstand represents the Holy Spirit; different in appearance but not in substance.

So what of the rings, those handles of old?  The ark had them as did the table, but the lampstand did not.  Common sense tells me that the ark and the table would have been heavier and, therefore, would have needed “two men and a camel” to move them while the lampstand could have been picked up and carried by “one man and a donkey”.   So, the rings are probably related to the weight of the articles.  But, common sense sometimes keeps us at the gate rather than moving us through it, so sometimes I defy common sense…after thinking it through, of course.  Today, I took a few steps past common sense and when I arrived at a clearing where the New Testament light shone upon the Father of the Testimony, the Son of the Showbread, and the Lamp of the Spirit, I saw the handles in a new light.  While handles are necessary for the purpose of moving things, they are also needed for the purpose of holding onto things.  When it comes to our relationship with the Father and the Son, I don’t know about you, but I need something to hold onto.  I need to hold onto the righteousness of God that is revealed through His Law because it’s through the Law that I also receive grace. I need to hang onto the promise that God will always meet my needs, for He is Jehovah-jireh, my Provider.  I need to grasp the truth that in His hands there is deliverance.  Just as He used the rod in Moses’ hands to part the Red Sea, so too will He part the waters for me (Is. 43:2).  I desperately need to cling to the table upon which Christ offered Himself for me and to me.  I need to clasp onto the rings that remind me that I too am to make myself available to serve and to be served.  For me, the rings are places where I can lay hold of my God…places where He allows me access to Him in a very close and personal way.  So then, what of the Lamp, the Spirit, which has no handles?  Well, the Holy Spirit is not in need of handles because He is God’s handle on me!  Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God keeps me tightly fastened to His throne…and nothing can sever that attachment.  Thankfully, though I have a God I can hold onto, my salvation is not dependent upon the length or strength of my grip but on the everlasting hold He has on me through His Holy Spirit.

Handles.  They help us move things, but they also help us grasp things.  Today, the handles on the ark of the testimony and on the table of showbread did both; they moved me to a deeper understanding of God and they helped me grasp a new truth:  I have a God with handles…and He lets me hold onto them!

hold tightly to God

Torn Things

Torn Things

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”          

  Matthew 27:51a

                As Easter approaches, my mind goes to the events that led up to that first Easter and inevitably, my mind travels to, and lingers upon, the veil in the temple.  You know the one.  The veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies; the veil that separated unatoned man from unblemished God; the veil that marked a boundary line that could not be crossed without redemptive blood; the veil that was torn when Jesus drew His last breath.  That’s where I go.  That’s where I stand.  That’s where I’m torn.

When I think about the veil, I first think about its characteristics.  It was vast; 60 feet in width, 30 feet in height, and at least 4 inches thick (the width of a man’s hand).  It was crafted from fine linen and embroidered with blue, purple, and scarlet yarn.  Images of cherubim adorned its surface heralding the glory of God in art form just as true angelic forms bow before His throne in Heaven, continually proclaiming His glory.  It was impressive.  It was imposing.  It was impassable…until it was torn.

Next, I take in the objects on either side of the veil.  Before it stood the altar of incense, the table of showbread, and the golden lampstand; behind it stood the Ark of the Covenant.  Here, in this Holy Place, I find all that’s needed in my life:  Jesus’ life-giving body (in the bread), the Holy Spirit’s indwelling light (in the candlestick), communication with the Father through prayer (in the incense), and direct access to God (in the ark).  A perfect picture of the Trinity; a complete portrait of redemptive life.  But that life is not attained without some tearing; that life requires veils of another nature to be torn.  The temple veil was torn at a great cost, but for an eternal good; likewise, our temporal veils, when torn, will require a cost, but by God’s grace will result in an eternal good.

If you’ve ever felt pain, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, you’re acquainted with the feeling of being torn.  Torn muscles, torn relationships, torn beliefs…they are all painful and they all leave us with a sense of loss…a sense of less.  It’s as if something that we were holding on to has been ripped out of our hands and now we’re left with only a remnant of what we’d been clutching.  Recently, I’ve experienced this in more than one setting and with each tearing, my mind went back to the veil in the temple.  There had to be a connection, there had to be an application that related the purpose and price of a rent temple veil with the purpose and price of a rent temporal veil.  As I contemplated this, I noticed some similarities that result from the tearing of eternal and earthly veils and as I did, I was able to look upon my tears with a little less confusion and a little more confidence.  Here are some lessons God revealed…

“Veiled Lessons”:

  1. Veils are barriers; in Hebrew, the word veil means “divider; separator that hides”. While veiled things may sound mysterious and alluring, they are really just things that separate one area from another.  When God tore the veil in the temple, He eliminated the barrier between men and Himself.  Likewise, when God tears the veils in our lives, He takes down the barriers we’ve put up; He allows walls to come down and barriers to be broken.
  2. Veils are concealers; they hide that which lies behind them. The veil in the temple concealed a Holy God from sinful man.  When the veil was torn, God revealed Himself…He made Himself accessible.  When God tears our veils, He exposes that which we kept hidden so that we might be made fully accessible both to Him and to others.
  3. Veils must be maintained; they require upkeep. Jewish tradition states that it took 300 priests to immerse the veil when it needed cleaning.  In our own lives, the veils that we allow to divide and disguise require a bit of maintenance as well and, in most cases, require the enlistment of others too.  It takes time and effort to keep up walls and wrappings; how diligent we must be to make sure that nothing is showing…that all is properly tucked away.  It’s exhausting work and goes against the saying “many hands make light work”.

As I look back over these truths, I see that God is in the business of tearing veils.  He did it that first “Good Friday” and has been doing it ever since.  From top to bottom (because we cannot tear that which we have sewn), God continually removes the veils that cover our hearts, our thoughts, and our lives.  He wants us to be fully accessible to Him because He has made Himself fully accessible to us.  No more letting others approach God on our behalf; no more limits on how close we can get to God’s holy throne; no more need for incense to shield our eyes or blood to shield our hearts; the veil has been torn before us, between us, and because of us.  How great is this God who, through the death of His Son, tore asunder the veil that no man could sever so that we would no longer be veiled in our sin nor veiled from His grace.

If you’re experiencing a “post Band-Aid trauma” due to the recent tearing away of something you had covered, then don’t recoil but revisit the lessons of the veil.  Remember that God is the one who does the tearing and He does it for our good.  He tears away so that we may have more to hold, not less; He tears away so that we may be more approachable, not less visible; and He tears away so that we have more to magnify and less to maintain.  When God tore the temple veil, it was a powerful and pricey act.  When God tears our temporal veils, it is no less commanding or costly.  So stand within that tear, stand within the gap it created, for it is there that God’s hand touched down and it is there that His grace flows through.

barriers in temple