Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #792 -- March 9, 2020
Any real change implies the breakup of the
world as one has always known it, the loss of
all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.

James Baldwin {1883-1957}

Absolute Necessity of Change
Reflective Examination of Hebrews 7:12

Alvin Toffler (1928-2016) was a brilliant American businessman and author, long considered one of the world's most outstanding futurists. He was the associate editor of "Fortune" magazine and the author of the worldwide best-selling book "Future Shock." Toffler was fascinated by human reaction to significant changes in society, and he examined this in some depth in his book "The Third Wave," which was published in 1980. In this book he made the following observation: "The responsibility for change lies with us. We must begin with ourselves, teaching ourselves not to close our minds prematurely to the novel, the surprising, the seemingly radical. This means fighting off the idea-assassins who rush forward to kill any new suggestion on grounds of its impracticality, while defending whatever now exists as practical, no matter how absurd, oppressive, or unworkable it may be." As noted, not everyone is thrilled with change; indeed, the greater the change the greater the opposition to it from some segments of society (whether secular or spiritual). Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), our 28th President of the United States, summed this up well: "If you want to make enemies, try to change something." Change moves us out of our comfort zones, our stress levels soar, and we seek shelter in the safety of "the known." Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), a contemporary of President Wilson and a respected economist and sociologist, observed, "The opposition of the leisure class to changes in the cultural scheme is instinctive, and does not rest primarily on an interested calculation of material advantages; it is an instinctive revulsion of any departure from the accepted way of doing things and of looking at things; it is a revulsion common to all men" [The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, published: 1899].

As uncomfortable as change often is, it is nevertheless at times absolutely necessary. In his novel "The Lost World," which was a sequel to "Jurassic Park," Dr. Michael Crichton discusses the fate of the dinosaurs, exploring how their extinction may very well convey a dire warning to mankind today. This "Extinction Theory," as it is known, is a fascinating one, providing some rich reflective material for the people of God. We would each do well to consider this theory seriously, at least to the degree it applies to our spiritual condition in the One Body. The question posed in the book is this: Was the extinction of the dinosaurs caused by a sudden cosmic catastrophe which befell the planet, or was their extinction due to their own behavior? The theory proposed in the book suggests that when a complex organism ceases to be responsive to its environment (i.e. when it fails to adapt), it will decline to the point of extinction. It is further suggested that only those complex organisms which change will ultimately survive. This does not mean the organism changes its true identity (dinosaurs would remain dinosaurs), it merely suggests that survival depends upon elasticity. Simply put: Those complex organisms remaining rigid, unresponsive, and frozen in time and place become fossils: lifeless monuments to the folly of inflexibility. In Dr. Crichton's novel one of the characters suggests this could never actually happen to the human race: "We are simply too intelligent," he declares. Dr. Malcolm, the theorist, replies, "What makes you think human beings are sentient and aware? There's no evidence for it. Human beings never think for themselves; they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told, and then become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity, and the characteristic result is religious warfare." Dr. Crichton has shown remarkable insight into the human condition. We dread change, yet are dead without it.

In the realm of rigid religiosity change is anathema! It is feared; it is loathed; it is resisted ... as are those who dare to advocate it. Yet, in order to take timeless truths and make them relevant to one's own time and place, it is often necessary to embrace and effect such change (change not of Truth itself, but responsible change in the various manifestations by which Truth is evidenced and the methodologies with which it is proclaimed). Sometimes these changes are subtle in nature; at other times they may be radical. Such radical change was being called for in the first century, and many Jewish Christians were having an extremely difficult time with it. For centuries the people of Israel had lived under a covenant characterized by law (their religious experience being highly regulated), yet many seemed to find a certain sense of comfort in the binding nature of these ceremonial laws associated with the temple and its worship and the Levitical priesthood who were charged with the task of administering these regulations (as well as being regulated themselves by these seemingly endless laws, to which their rabbinic scholars over the years were only too happy to add further laws and traditions to be imposed upon themselves and others: legal burdens almost impossible to bear). Those who embraced Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah were faced with some very difficult choices: including changes that challenged them to step away from such comfort zones. For many this was terrifying, even though one would think they would gladly welcome such liberation from that which bound them ever more tightly.

Part of the purpose of the epistle to the Hebrews was/is to impart a spiritual perspective that would help instill firmer faith and greater courage within the hearts and minds of those being challenged by such necessary changes. With the coming of Jesus, and with the completion of His divinely appointed purpose, CHANGE had come! A new covenant was ushered in. Traditional practices cherished for centuries were being overshadowed by a greater Reality. Shadows were giving way to the very Substance they were designed to prefigure and proclaim. As the Old passed away, and the New took its place, significant CHANGE of necessity occurred. By way of example, notice a brief statement that is often completely overlooked in our study of the epistle to the Hebrews: "For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also" (Hebrews 7:12, New American Standard Bible). The wording of the King James Version is: "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (the American Standard Version reads exactly the same). Some newer versions and translations word this a bit differently, and in so doing may very well have captured the actual intent of the text and expressed it more clearly: "When a different kind of priesthood is established, the regulations for those priests are different" (God's Word Translation and Names of God Bible are just a couple of examples).

Jesus Himself served/serves as an example of how this truth of transformation of covenant is applied in its narrowest sense. In the establishment of the Levitical (or Aaronic) priesthood, "the law" specified that those who served in the priesthood were only to come from the tribe of Levi. God had spoken; He was very specific. No other tribe was authorized to put forth one of their own to serve as a priest of God. Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, "and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests" (Hebrews 7:14). Is this an example of the so-called "law of silence"? No. Moses said nothing about priests coming from other tribes because God had specified that the priests would come ONLY from the tribe of Levi. This was the law of specificity, not the law of silence. When God speaks, there is no "silence" that trumps His word or will. Hebrews 7 is speaking of Jesus: "For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar" (vs. 13). Thus, Jesus, our Great High Priest, is appointed and anointed by God "not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of Him, 'You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek'" (vs. 16-17). The chapter ends with this declaration: "For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever" (vs. 28, English Standard Version).

We are under a New Covenant, with a new High Priest, and a new priesthood consisting of ALL believers, both male and female, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, slave and free, young and old. The old regulations governing who may serve in this capacity has been forever changed. So also have the many regulations governing how they served: the "ceremonial law." This has nothing to do with the moral code that transcends such covenantal change from old to new. Murder is still a sin; adultery is still a sin; etc. But the manner of our worshipful expression, and who may lead and/or participate in such worshipful expression under this new covenant and new priesthood has changed. As the Hebrew writer correctly noted: when the priesthood changes, so do the "rules and regulations" governing it. Yes, "the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary" (Hebrews 9:1), but these were regulations that were temporary in nature; they were never intended by God to rule and regulate the New Covenant priesthood, but were only "imposed until the time of reformation" (vs. 10). The New International Version states they were "ceremonial" in nature, and that they were "external regulations applying until the time of the new order." We are, through God's Son, now in that "time of the new order." You and I, "in Christ Jesus," serve in this new priesthood. With the change in priesthood that is now experienced also comes a change in that which regulates it. No longer do we serve at the altar "under rigid, restrictive, religious regulation." We are liberated from such. We now serve under the royal law of LOVE; we are under GRACE. We are FREE in Christ Jesus. CHANGE has come! In connection with the above, and reflective of the many affirmations to this truth found in the inspired biblical writings, I would urge the reader to carefully consider my following in-depth studies:

  1. Law to Liberty: Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ
  2. The Epistle to the Galatians: An In-Depth Study of the Magna Charta of Christian Liberty
  3. Reflections #158 - "God's Plan for the Unenlightened: Pondering the Parameters of Divine Acceptance of Human Response to Available Light"
  4. Reflections #286 - "The Seven Noahide Laws: A Universal Moral Code Given Through Adam and Noah"
  5. Reflections #579 - "Pondering the Royal Law: A Reflective Study of James 2:8"
  6. Reflections #708 - "Regulating the Redeemed: What is Paul's Intent in 2 Timothy 2:5?"
  7. Reflections #722 - "The Spirit of the Law: Accepting a Legalist's Challenge"

The many laws and ordinances, the countless rules and regulations, of the old system are GONE. Their purpose (pointing to Jesus) has been accomplished. The one to whom they point has COME. We are no longer bound by such a system of legislation dictating every aspect of our worshipful expression. The "reformation," the "new order," has arrived. Although the moral code still governs our behavior, the ceremonial code does NOT govern our worship. We now worship as the Spirit leads us, rather than according to "the letter of the law." The apostle Peter wrote, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9). "You, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (vs. 5). For the Lord Jesus "has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father" (Revelation 1:6). I would urge you to read my study titled: "The Priesthood of All Believers: The Who-When-How of Christian Service" (Reflections #732). Yes, you and I are priests of God; we are a part of that new order -- that new priesthood -- and as such we are no longer under the rule of LAW, but rather the rule of LOVE. How utterly sad and foolish it is, therefore, for us to be fussing and fighting and fragmenting over "regulations of divine worship," for these have been forever removed!

Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll correctly notes: "To change the priesthood is to change all. It means nothing short of revolution. It is an enormous change" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 4, p. 311]. For two millennia the disciples of Christ Jesus (the new priesthood) have been feuding over the various particulars of ceremonial law governing a "worship service." What insanity!! We are fragmenting the One Body over that which passed away with the old covenant: rules and regulations governing worship. Our gatherings, our assemblies, our worship (whether individual or corporate) during this "new order" (this "time of reformation"), in which you and I constitute His priesthood, is governed by only one overriding "law": LOVE. We are free IN HIM; we are no longer under a legal system. Change has come! "The change of the priesthood involved the abolition of the entire legal system" [Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 4, p. 460]. In Jesus we have the personification of that which is infinitely BETTER. A better covenant, a better High Priest, a better priesthood, a better hope. Thus, "there is no longer a need of a Levitical priesthood, of a Mosaic system; there is no need of depending upon an imperfect and useless system of outward forms and ceremonies; for in Christ and His work we have the hope of faith, which is sure to bring us into God's presence and fellowship" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: the NT, vol. 2, p. 463]. Brethren, let's lay aside our infernal, incessant wrangling with one another over forms and ceremonies and regulations pertaining to our service as a holy priesthood, for with the change of priesthood came also a change of that which governs it. LAW is out; LOVE is in! Let's start reflecting this new reality ushered in by our great High Priest: JESUS.


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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, I hope you and your family are well. Things are going well here, but I'm in a quandary and need some advice. How can we help folks who are entrenched in "old line thinking"? I can't seem to help them find another way to think about such things as baptism, grace, or whatever other "issues" there might be (music, role of women, etc.). I have talked about the problem of being judgmental toward others, but then, of course, when you are right and everyone else is wrong, then you are not being judgmental, you are just being truthful. I have tried to show the disconnects in that way of thinking, but am bothered that I was not as articulate as I wanted to be, even when I mentioned all the other things we have today that were not a part of the first century "pattern." Fortunately, most of our people are focused on love and helping each other, as opposed to what "being right" looks like. Any thoughts I can use?! I have access to your Reflections Archive, but I thought you might have some firsthand successes. Blessings, brother.

From a Reader in California:

Al, have you ever heard of the Jesuit intellectual construct called "Casuistry"? I heard about it on Malcolm Gladwell's podcast about Jesuits, and I am very intrigued by it. Apparently, it fell out of favor for hundreds of years, but it is making a comeback. Proponents are saying that the construct itself is fine, and it's the fact that some people were abusing it that caused it to fall out of favor. In my reading of the Gospels, I found that Christ used this type of reasoning on several occasions. For instance, the whole "donkey in the ditch on the Sabbath" issue falls well within that concept. I would love to see a Reflections article on this issue! I hope you and yours are doing well.

From a Retired Army Chaplain in Indiana:

Shalom, beloved friend! I just read Reflections #791 ("Almond Tree Theology: The Favored Tree of Deity"), and coupled with Reflections #789 ("The Tree of Life: A Reflective Perspective") all I can say is you continue to astound! Bravo Zulu! My wife and I rejoice over your Reflections, for they bring us much joy and powerful encouragement. I particularly enjoyed the insight you shared concerning the wordplay in Hebrew between "saqed" and "soqed" in Jeremiah. It was also delightful to learn that the Arabic word "luz" means "almond," and I was also delighted to learn of the fascinating connection with Luz and Bethel. We already knew about the Golden Lampstand being designed after the almond tree, and we agree that you have presented a strong case for this being a figure of the Tree of Life. Very edifying instruction, Al. Food for thought indeed!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Brother Al, this issue of your Reflections ("Almond Tree Theology") is most interesting, and it is certainly "food for thought." Thank you so much for sharing your research on this fascinating topic. Blessings!

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, this was a fascinating article about the almond tree. You presented things I had never really thought about until now. Your insights always intrigue me and cause me to want to know more. Do you have any past articles on angels? I am doing a study on them for a Ladies' Bible Class and would love to have your insight on that subject. I noticed a question from one of your readers as to whether or not they die. Blessings to you today and always!

From a Minister in West Virginia:

Al, I haven't littered your email inbox for a long time, but I'm still among the hills of West Virginia and am reading each of your Reflections with interest. Your thoughts on the almond tree were interesting and informative. They also caused me to think of something that I had not thought of before. In the story of Aaron's budding rod (Numbers 17), it was placed in the ark of the covenant. When I read of the rods of Moses or Aaron, I generally think of a staff or walking stick. However, it suddenly occurred to me to go back to Exodus to check the dimensions of the ark of the covenant. It was only two and a half cubits long (3' 9"). Not a very long walking stick. Perhaps more of a king's rod or scepter? I guess I wasn't very good with my assumptions (again). Am I missing something? Always good to hear from you, Al. Blessings from West Virginia.

From a Reader in California:

Great article, brother! You may not give much credence, if any, to Edgar Cayce, but he used to strongly suggest that one eat at least seven almonds a day (for health benefits). I have studied a lot about health foods (I used to be a vegetarian and a vegan). Almonds are always in virtually any discussion on healthy eating. After I read your article on almond trees in the Bible, and the Tree of Life, it struck a chord with me and my studies on almonds. There is definitely scientific backing for the health benefits of almonds. You make a very strong case for the Tree of Life being the almond tree. I agree with your viewpoint on this.

From a Reader in Nova Scotia, Canada:

Well, brother, now I know you are for sure wrong about the tree in the garden of Eden, for that tree had to be a banana tree! I know this to be true! How? Because my grandpa said so!! (LOL) Seriously, Al, this is a great article. I never knew most of the material you presented, so thanks once again for yet another dose of new understanding!

From a Reader in Kansas:

Al, this is one of the most intriguing biblical articles I have ever had the privilege to read. Thanks for the research you did on this topic of the almond tree as it relates to theology and the Tree of Life. Interpretation of Scripture is always tricky, but I really liked the intensity and diversity of your presentation. This piece was really inspiring for me! It shows how "hidden meanings," which perhaps were once so easily recognized, can be lost through translation and time. Well done, Al, and Thank You.

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