Sunday, February 26, 2012

Paul to the Hebrew Christians: Hold fast the faith of your Horim

Alice C. Linsley

Hebrews speaks of the prophets, angels, Moses, Joshua, and the priesthood as types or patterns whereby the one true Prophet-Priest-King, Jesus Christ, may be discerned. Angels, being more glorious and powerful than humans, are higher than humans, but not higher than the God who took on flesh. He is higher than the angels, and by “putting on Christ” we also hope to share in His glory.

Jesus Christ is the one to whom all the types point in Hebrews.  He alone proved to be faithful over all the House of Israel. Moses was appointed a leader and he led some to the Promised Land, though he himself could not enter it.  Joshua and Caleb were the only leaders of that generation who were permitted to enter (Numbers 14:30), as they had, in a very real sense, stormed the strongholds of Canaan by faith. 

Even these faithful leaders died and remained in the grave, thereby proving that they had no power to save from death. That power rests with Jesus Christ alone, the perfect Leader. Hebrews 3:1 expresses it this way:  Jesus Christ is “the apostle and the high priest of our profession of faith” and as such, He is superior in every way to his servant Moses. 

As usual, Paul is telling the truth, and his words would have comforted some and discomforted others. For Jews of the first century the assertion of Jesus’ superiority to the prophets, angels and Moses would have been blasphemous. It would have stirred anger and incited violence against Christ’s Jewish followers. The Apostle is careful not to speak of Moses in a negative way. He simply asserts that Jesus is greater than Moses, as the master is greater than his servant.  Jesus is greater because He completed all his work at the foundation of the world. (Gen. 2:2)  Moses gave the Sabbath Law in order that the people might mimic God at rest, thereby identifying themselves with God.

Hebrews 4 brings to a conclusion the exhortation to not be like the generation that died in the Wilderness because they were not joined to the perfect Leader in faith. The Hebrew Christians are told to encourage one another so that none is hardened by the lure of sin “as at the Rebellion.” (Heb. 3:15) 

It is evident that the Apostle saw signs among the early Hebrew Christian of weakening and falling away from the faith of their Horim (Horite ancestors). The “Rebellion” is described in Numbers 14:22: … all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice…  Rebellion in the wilderness expressed itself in various ways. 

    The people grumbled about the hardships they faced. (Philippians 2:14)

     They resisted Moses’ leadership. 

     Some aligned themselves with Moses’ half-brother Korah who challenged Moses’ authority.

     They forgot all that God had done for them.

     They yearned for the garlic and onions of Egypt. Like Lot’s wife, they looked back instead of forward to the promise of rest in a land flowing with milk and honey.

In other words, they repeatedly tested God’s patience and because this was their pattern of life, they missed the day of opportunity.

Hebrews 4:1 is a reminder that it is never too late to receive the promise of rest/restoration/communion with God.  As long as one is alive, the promise is active and can be received. So the Apostle stresses, “Today is the day of salvation.” (Heb. 4:7)  Those in Christ are “heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29); and “This is the promise that He hath promised us, eternal life” (I John 2:25).

Doubtless, the tightly knit Jewish community applied pressure to those early Jewish Believers to conform to rabbinic Judaism. They would have felt this pressure from family, business associates, and local synagogue members. Many would have played the guilt card, suggesting that the Believer had abandoned the “traditions of the Horim” (Fathers), when the rabbis themselves had abandoned the Faith of their Horim (Horites).

Without directly attacking the falsehoods of the rabbis, the Apostle explains: For unto us was the Gospel preached, as well as unto them; but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. (Heb. 4:2)

Moses and his father were Horites, according to evidence of Scripture. They believed that heavenly recognition of a people depended on the righteousness of their ruler-priest who represented the entire community/clan/tribe/caste. As Archbishop Royster writes in his excellent commentary on Hebrews, “The promises of God were made to His people as a nation or community, although each member, to be sure, had his personal responsibility for maintaining his faith, as was the case with Joshua and Caleb.” (p. 59)

Horite ruler-priests were known for their purity and devotion to the High God whose emblem was the Sun. Many Horite names contained the hieroglyph for the Sun which was a circle.  This was true for Joshua, whose original name was Oshea. Justin Martyr asks the Jews in his Dialogue with Trypho why they attached prophetic importance to Abraham’s name change, but ignored the significance of Oshea becoming Yeshua.  In the first name God was symbolized by the Sun and its properties; i.e., universal light, warmth, revealer of all things (Eph. 5:13, 14) and sustainer of life.  The Sun speaks of God’s rule above in the heavens. In the name Yeshua, the Y speaks of God’s rule on Earth in the person of His Perfect Ruler. In the Dedanite language of Abraham and his ancestors, the Y was a hieroglyph showing the Sun resting on the top of a tent peg.  The tent peg represented the ruler’s residence on Earth and the Sun indicates his divine appointment. In others words, Yeshua has the same meaning as Emmanuel.

Plutarch wrote that the “priests of the Sun at Heliopolis never carry wine into their temples, for they regard it as indecent for those who are devoted to the service of any god to indulge in the drinking of wine whilst they are under the immediate inspection of their Lord and King. The priests of the other deities are not so scrupulous in this respect, for they use it, though sparingly.”

In the ancient world, the ruler-priest was regarded as the mediator between God and the people.  If God turned His face away from the ruler, the people suffered from want and war.  If the ruler found favor with God, the people experienced abundance and peace. The righteous ruler was expected to intercede for his people in life and in death. The ruler's resurrection meant that he could lead his people beyond the grave to new life. This is why great pains were taken to insure that the ruler not come into contact with dead bodies, avoid sexual impurity, and be properly preserved after death.  The ruler's burial was attended by prayers, sacrifices and a grand procession to the royal tomb. The nation hoped that the ruler would rise from the grave, but none did, save Jesus Christ.

This is why Psalm 68:18 says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (Eph. 4:8; Col. 2:15)

Hebrews speaks about Jesus as the perfect ruler-priest who was the firstborn from the grave. By his resurrection He delivers to the Father a "peculiar people." (I Peter 2:9) In Isaiah 43:21, we read these words from God, “This people have I formed for myself.” Christ leads us in the ascent to the Father where we receive heavenly recognition because we belong to or are united to Him.

This Pauline theology is echoed in Galatians 3:16, 29: Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy Seed, which is Christ…. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Heavenly recognition for the Horites was never an individual prospect.  As Archbishop Royster writes, “God’s rest was designed to be shared by those who are created in His image, human beings, and this is promised from the beginning.” (p. 60)  Hebrews 4 takes us back to Genesis 1:26, 27. Having made “them” in the Divine image, the Creator gave them rule (“dominion”) over all the earth.  The Horites took this very seriously, some ruling wisely and some ruling ruthlessly, but not one of them proved to be the Seed of the Woman who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).

Heavenly recognition came to the people through the righteousness of their ruler-priest. Even the best ones failed to be the Ruler-Priest who rose from the dead. Therefore, none had the power to deliver captives from the grave and to lead them to the throne of heaven (Ps. 68:18; Ps. 7:7; Eph. 4:8).  That one true prophet-ruler-priest is Jesus, the Son of God and Abraham’s Seed.

The Hebrew Christians were torn between continuing in this, the true faith of their Horim, or returning to the familiar legalism of first century Judaism and the approval of their families and community elders. Failure of faith in the Son of God parallels the failure of the Israelites in the wilderness.  To receive Christ and then to cast Him aside is an act of rebellion.

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