The Law of Moses: A Sensory Experience

In our last week’s Bible reading we were reminded of  various sensory elements connected with the Law of Moses:

1) The manna was a daily reminder of God’s provision (Ex 16).

2) Moses’ rod provides both water and military victory (Ex 17).

3) “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet; and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off” (Ex 20:18).

4) The altar and sacrifices, and the atonement blood they represent, were powerful reminders of sin (Ex 20).

5) The weekly and seven-year Sabbaths and the three annual feasts constantly brought to mind God’s blessings (Ex 23).

6) The sprinkling of blood ratified the covenant (Ex 24).

7) The worship furniture – ark, table/showbread, lampstand, altar of incense and the tabernacle itself – all had sensory appeal.

8) The high priest’s garments – ephod, breastplate, jewels, robe (with bells), turban, etc. – were designed to make an audible and  visual impact and instilled reverence.

These and many other elements of Mosaic law highlight a long era of spiritual immaturity.  Humans had sunk into the mire of idolatry, superstition and ungodliness, and to lift them out of it God instituted a covenant with sensory features designed to appeal to man in the most basic way possible.  It is like the elementary school teacher using pictures of oranges to convey the idea of subtraction:  “If Bobby has three oranges and gives one to Betsy, how many oranges does Bobby have left?”  It is only after the student learns via such rudiments that he can subtract in the abstract.

These sensory elements of Mosaic law are called “a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col 2:17).  The Levitical priests “serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb 8:5).  The law had “a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things” (Heb 10:1).  Summarizing the pedagogical nature of the old law, Paul says it “was our tutor to bring us to Christ … but after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal 3:24-25).  The law served its purpose; all things relative to faith have been brought to maturity in Christ.  God expects us to raise our thinking to a higher plane and understand things on a more spiritual level.

Spiritual significance is no longer invested in the sensory – what is seen, smelled, heard and worn.  God’s presence is not manifested by pillars of cloud or fearsome bolts of lightning.  These are not necessary for people whose minds have been transported into heavenly reality and envision their Lord ruling over all things.  The fragrance of burning incense has given way to the aroma of good deeds (Ph 4:18) and prayer (Heb 13:15).  The blare of trumpets and the jingle of bells yield to voices “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16).  Outward garments no longer signify things spiritual; what really matters is to be clothed with Christ (Gal 3:27) and humility (1 Pet 5:5).

But, alas, what is the eternal tendency of man but to revert to such carnal relics?  Lacking the capacity to envision the abstract and to interact with God through one’s mind and affections, worship devolves to the banging and clanging of mechanical instruments.  Stage lighting creates the moods of anticipation or suspense.  Cathedrals, candles, icons, special effects and Hollywood-grade productions enthrall the carnal man who is devoid of true intimacy with his Maker and Savior.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who think proximity to God is fostered by depriving oneself of carnal things, even that which is morally neutral.  This would be an ascetic abandonment of sensory experiences in an attempt to raise spiritual awareness through mind-numbing blandness.

“To submit oneself to the rigid ascetic requirements of the Gentiles or Jews, and to the special days of the Jewish calendar which these teachers were imposing upon them, was to rely upon the shadow instead of the object which lies behind it” (Weaver on Col 2:17, Truth Commentary:  Philippians and Colossians 463).  People who advocate “experiencing” God through such carnal media do not realize what this says about their spiritual destitution.

Let us endeavor to train our minds to understand and respond to God on the basis of His love, mercy, grace, patience, trustworthiness and authority.  May we honor and revere Him though we will not in this life feel the quaking of His holy mountain.