he Epistle text for this Sunday helps us continue our journey into the Epistle to the Hebrews. Last week I made the point that Noah’s ark was an important one—it was the fourth or middle one of a list of seven people or groups who walked by faith (verses 1-16; we, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Abraham—with a different aspect, and Sarah).
Perhaps you knew that there were other arks in the bible. Arguably the most famous one, even more famous than Noah’s ark, is the so-called ‘ark of the covenant’. You might want to think of it as the footstool for God. If God is sitting on his throne, depending on the size of the throne, he might want to have his feet on something so that they are not just hanging down off his fancy chair. A footstool is really just a fancy box.
An ark is a very special box. In Hebrews 11:22, there is a reference to Joseph giving instructions concerning his bones, and the text at the end of Genesis (50:26) says that he was put into a ‘coffin’, but the word is ‘ark’ and is the exact same one in Hebrew as with the ark of the covenant. And so, in Hebrews 11:23, immediately following the words regarding Joseph, there is a note regarding Moses when he was a baby. And the same word in Hebrew for Noah’s ark is also used for the ‘basket’ that Moses was in when his mother put him into the Nile River (See Exodus 2:3 and the footnote in The Lutheran Study Bible, page 98).
I do not think that all these oblique references to an ark are a coincidence. The epistle to the Hebrews previously talked about the very famous ark of the covenant, but then the writer abruptly stops focusing on it (Hebrews 9:1-10). There are more important things to talk about—Jesus being one of them.
I hope I do not lose many of you, but I think it is a significant thing when, in verse 28, the text says that ‘By faith he [Moses] kept the Passover....' The verb ‘kept’ is an important one, even though it is hard to tell with this translation. A better translation of the verb would have been ‘has kept’. The verb is in the perfect tense, and it usually means some sort of ramifications for the present. (For those who are interested in more detail, see the book by Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 582.)
Most of the verbs in this chapter are in the past, but this one has ramifications for the present. And Jesus certainly changed the extremely ancient and important festival of the Passover into something so incredibly significant for today with his death and resurrection—not to mention his institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Perhaps I am making too much of this, but Moses with his Passover is the fourth person mentioned from the end to have done something by faith. As the fourth person of this distinguished line of people who lived by faith was Noah, the fourth from the end was the one who HAS kept the Passover—and has made that festival important for today. (The last three are the ‘they who went through the Red Sea’, those who were involved in the fall of the walls of Jericho, and Rahab—verses 29-31.)
This entire group of people, in chapter 12:1, is called a ‘cloud of witnesses’; this is not to be confused with a ‘crowd of witnesses’. The ‘cloud’ is a reference to the glory that stayed with the ark of the covenant. (If you want to see a significant contrast, please read Exodus 40:34-38, the last few verses of Exodus, and compare that with Exodus 24:15-18, a section approximately in the middle of the book.) The cloud stayed with the people, and through the scriptures, that cloud described in Hebrews 11 stays with us.
I can understand why the Jews wanted to emphasize not only the ark but also the temple. Both of those things were eventually lost, more specifically, were removed from the sight of the Jews. That was okay. It is also okay that God does not choose to be so obvious. That tends to scare people away.
God has chosen to use his words. And that tends to draw us closer.