Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bells and Pomegranates

I am fascinated by the elaborate nature of the tabernacle, the holiest of holies, the temple furnishings and Aaron's robe. Moses gives us explicit detail as to the character of Aaron's priestly robe.

We are told, "You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. There shall be an opening for his head in the middle of it; it shall have a woven binding all around its opening, like the opening in a coat of mail, so that it does not tear. And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around."

I suppose if one were to poll Missouri Synod Lutherans as to the meaning of this, one would get many answers. The most "bronze" among us would sound much like the Reformed and Evangelical exegetes who would probably tell us that this was a cultural thing, or a mere historical occurrence with little meaning for us today. I beg to differ.

In terms of Biblical interpretation, there are the two schools of thought in the early church--the Alexandrian school and the Antiochian school. Though many scholars today may squabble over the differences between these two schools, I would like to point out an area where they would find common ground. Both schools of the early church saw the Old Testament in terms of Christ, and both would look at Aaron's robe and find deeply spiritual interpretations of it. I echo that hermeneutic, or, interpretation.

I find it very interesting that God would prescribe woven pomegranates alternated with bells on the bottom of this beautiful robe. First, what of pomegranates? Pomegranates are referred to only a couple of times in the Bible. When Israel sends spies into to scout out Canaan, the land they were to enter, they grabbed pomegranates and figs to show the people what they had found. Here is what the spies said upon returning, "We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit"(Numbers 13:27).

The figs and pomegranates are the sign and evidence that what God said was true--it was a land flowing with milk and honey. Pomegranates and figs were the signs of fruitfulness and growth, prosperity and God's favor. It was the symbol of the growth and fertility of God's people, Israel--a symbol of God's promise to make for Abraham a great multitude of descendants.

The question, of course, is still this--why does God command that pomegranates line the hem of the priestly robe. To answer this question, we really need to think about the use of the robe. Aaron is to wear this robe when he goes into the holy place before the Lord when he ministers. Aaron wears the robe when he goes in to make sacrifice for his sins and the sins of the people. Blood is shed to cover the people's sins. It is in these atoning sacrifices that the people live on in God's favor. Hence, they are fruitful and fertile through the blood of a sacrifice. More on this in a minute.

Now to the question of the golden bells. Why would God command that the hem of Aaron's robe alternate the pomegranates with these golden bells? It says in Exodus 28:35, "And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before the Lord and when he comes out, that he may not die."

Interesting. Its sound is to be heard when he goes before the Lord. What is the problem? Is God afraid that He may not know that it is Aaron coming in to the holy place? Being that God is ominscient, "all-knowing," it is hardly possible that God needs to know who it is. It is also hardly possible that the bells would be used to arouse God from an occasional nap. There is something more to these bells than we may first realize.

When Aaron enters the holy place, he will by his very actions "sound forth" when he is ministering. He shall sound forth or he will die. He is not to enter the holy place without this robe. He is to be properly dressed while sacrificing. Why must he be properly dressed? Aaron comes face to face with God. He must have on the proper clothing when meeting God. After all, God and man coming face to face in the holy place is the prefigurement of heaven. Those in heaven must have on the proper clothing as well.

This parallels the parable of the wedding feast. Jesus tells us that when theh king came in to see the guests, he saw a man who did not have on a wedding garment. The king asks the man, "Friend how did you come in here without a wedding garment?" We are told the man was speechless.
Not properly clothed for heaven and speechless. Hmm. Sounds similar. The man was to be bound and cast into outer darkness. Likewise, Aaron would die if he were not properly dressed and in his case, if not properly dressed, then Aaron would be speechless or without sound.

One can only imagine what it must have been like to be Aaron going into the holy place. Aaron would hear the groans of the animal and the sound of his bells as he walked and nothing else.

The pomegranates and the bells point us to the spiritual aspect. The all-atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ covers the sins of all. Jesus is the good fruit. He is the land flowing with milk and honey. He is the very substance of life, but the lives of many will only be spared eternal death if those cleansed by the blood of the Lamb are properly clothed. We cannot enter heaven if we are not properly clothed. We will be cast out. How shall you be clothed and ready for the wedding banquet of heaven? Holy baptism now saves you. This is the white robe of righteousness that Revelation 6 tells us the saints are wearing in heaven. This is baptism. This is what it means to be clothed with Christ.

With baptism comes a sounding forth. The movements of the Holy Spirit through baptism bring forth the confession of faith in the Apostles Creed. Where there is no confession of faith, there is no life. Where there is silence, there is only judgment.

Perhaps this is why we see what we see in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Both departed this life, Lazarus to the bosom of Father Abraham and the rich man to the torments of hell. What part of the rich man's body burns the most? What does he want quenched? It is his tongue which burns. Where there is silence, there is judgment.

But when one sounds forth, there is life, there is mercy. It comes in the quiet ritual of doing what God bids us to do: meeting Him in the Divine Service and letting the atonement of Christ cover us thereby making His people a fertile land, flowing with milk and honey. And how does God do it? Through preaching Christ crucified, forgiving sins, baptizing, and giving the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

My dear Christians....sound forth.

+Fr. Chadius