When I was growing up, there was a huge cottonwood tree in the front yard. It wasn’t just huge because I was a small boy, at some point throughout the day, the tree’s shade moved to touch 80% of our yard, and 70% of the roof of our one-story home. I literally grew up in the shade of that tree, so a few years ago when my parents had to have it cut down it hit me emotionally in ways I hadn’t expected. The first time I visited home, I nearly drove past the house. Sitting in the living room, the light came in the windows differently, and the temperature inside the house was noticeably higher. I had moved out well over a decade before that, but in a new and surprising way, that house felt less like home.
The law of Moses, the Levitical priesthood, the temple, and its sacrifices, were home for the Hebrew people. All of these comprised their identity and the expiration of these things was unthinkable—living to see the obsolescence of the priesthood and the temple was like saying goodbye to the seasons or the sun and moon. Have you ever felt home become foreign? These teachings must have been challenging to the first readers. Yet, thinking about it this way, and empathizing with their challenge helps us understand what is happening. Throughout this book, for the last several chapters and the next few as well, our journey through the Old Testament has used all of these old stories as type and shadow.
Think about what a shadow is; it isn’t the thing, but it resembles the thing in unmistakable ways. The shadow follows the thing that casts it and moves with it. Like the shade of my family’s big tree, the shadow can bring comfort, cool, and peace. But a shadow can never have substance, it can never show the depth present in the real thing that casts the shadow. Abraham, circumcision, the covenant God made with him, Melchizedek and his priesthood Moses, the Exodus, the Mosaic Law, the Levitical priesthood, and the words of all the prophets—these are all shadow. That is the message of Hebrews. These things represent and even resemble the substance of something greater, but they were never meant to be more than a shadow. As much as a shadow puppet looks like a dog, it will never bark or curl up at your feet. All the shadow of the old covenant points to the true substance that is Jesus, and Jesus brings a new covenant.
Jesus our High Priest, thank you for mediating a new covenant between God and us. Thank you for the promises you make with us. Thank you for writing the law of your unending love on our hearts and in our minds. Amen.
Questions for reflection:
- Why was there a need for the new covenant? Was there something wrong with the old one? (see Hebrews 8:6-10)
- If there was something wrong with the first covenant, does this mean that God tried something and failed? If so, what does that say about God? If not, what could be going on instead?
- Hebrews 8:6 says that the covenant of Jesus is far better because it is based on better promises. What are the better promises, and do they show the need for something other than the law of Moses?