Babel Academy, Part 1

The Business of Keeping the Saints in the Dark

Let there be light! The first recorded “spoken” words of God. Curiously, even this creative decree was a deed whose fruit required an appraisal.

God judged the light and separated it from the darkness. As the cardinal act within a newborn heavens and earth, this ruling endures as the heart of every subsequent event, every word, enterprise and reckoning in the biblical canon.

The darkness itself was not appraised, since darkness is only the absence of light. But neither was the darkness eradicated. Rather, the light was named Day and the darkness was named Night. Naming not only establishes relationship but also office. In relation to the earth, Day and Night are proper nouns for the presence and absence of light. Like the Aaronic Urim and Thummim, they possess binary roles — positive and negative — in a single process.

As it is with the names Father and Son, these names describe a relationship. Neither makes sense without the other. The Father is only a father because he has a son, and the Son is only a son because he has a father.

However, unlike the Father and the Son, Day and Night are mutually exclusive. Every day is a ministry of hiding and revealing. On Day 1, Day and Night were thus not objects in themselves but axes of perception.1

At this stage, without the created — mediated — light of the sun, moon and stars, the only light was the light of God. The works of God were hidden and then revealed once again with the advent of the light on the second day.

Each of the first three days of Creation brought a fresh rite of separation. Each division formed an additional domain within the united whole, like rooms in a house. Each new realm possessed a new function, like organs in a body. It is no accident that after Genesis 1 this word for “separate” is not employed again until the description of the veil (Exodus 26:33), and then not again until the Lord’s command that the bodies of sacrificial birds should be torn open but not completely divided (Leviticus 1:175:8).

The next use of the word reminds us that there are two kinds of division, one positive and one negative. After the sin of Nadab and Abihu, the Lord said to Aaron:

“Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.” (Leviticus 10:10).

The distinction between holy and common is a division of office, like that between night and day, land and sea, man and woman, or in this case, between priesthood (bread) and kingdom (wine). The law given to Adam in Eden was a similar distinction, a sacramental representation of the relationship between humility before God(the tree of life) and exaltation by God (the tree of judicial wisdom). Like Night and Day, submission and dominion are diverse but indivisible. Neither makes sense without the other.

Everything is God’s, but in a special sense, that which is holy is God’s and that which is common is not. The same distinction exists in vessels and amenities set apart for use by royalty and officials and those for the use of ordinary citizens. But the ultimate goal of Christ’s ministry of redemption is to make everything holy. For Israel, this meant that the inscription upon the headpiece of the High Priest would be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the ordinary pots in the Temple would be as precious as the bowls before the altar (Zechariah 14:20).

In an existential sense, the circumcision created Israel by setting Abraham’s household apart for royal use. The nation was sanctified, that is, claimed as a special possession for God, while the other nations remained common.

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 7:6)

It was not a sin to be a Gentile, any more than darkness is more sinful than light, since the roles of Jew and Gentile comprised a relationship, a temporary bipolarity. Neither made sense without the other. Under the earthly ministry of Christ, the abolition of one effectively abolished the other. In AD70, both demarcations finally became obsolete in God’s economy (Hebrews 8:13). But until then, Israel was to play a central role in the purposes of God as a priestly microcosm of the world.2

This also means that being circumcised did not inherently render one clean before God. Applied only to males, the circumcision was a social distinction rather than an ethical one. Whether evil was committed under the moon or under the sun, by a Jew or by a Gentile, it remained evil. The reason men love darkness is that their crimes remain hidden. This moves us from the distinction between holy and common to the division between clean and unclean.

Circumcision conferred a unique social identity upon the nation of Israel, but the law of Moses conferred an office. The distinction between holy and common now not only separated Levi from the other tribes relating to civil function, but the priestly vows created a similar distinction among the Levites regarding liturgical duties. Each level in the hierarchy of holiness — a sacred ziggurat, a stairway to heaven — was a microcosm of the previous one. However, whether murder was committed by a priest or a commoner, it was the same sin. The difference was in the level of accountability and the strictness of judgment. The greater the light, the greater the exposure to judgment. The ministry of the Aaronic lineage meant that God could temporarily overlook the sins of those who lived in darkness, the nations on whose behalf Israel mediated with sacrifices of blood and praise (Acts 17:30).

Likewise, Israel’s distinction between the clean and unclean animals became more elaborate. A refined list of the clean now discriminated between the common (those which could be eaten) and the holy (those which were not only acceptable to Israelites but also to God).3

Thus, a positive duality was built into every aspect of the created order, a diversity of office, but sin introduced a negative duality, a dichotomy between the true and the false. Counterfeit and camouflage were invented in Eden.

Mike Bull is a graphic designer in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney in Australia, and author, most recently, of “Dark Sayings: Essays for the Eyes of the Heart. This post originally appeared on his blog, HERE.”

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References   [ + ]

1. Indeed, the grammar of Genesis 1 is the language of perception. The sun and moon are identical in size to the human eye for service to the social order, but differ in size for their offices within the physical order.
2. For more discussion, see “Cosmic Language” in Michael Bull, Inquiétude: Essays for a People without Eyes.
3. Clean animals represented the ministry of priests, unclean animals of kings, and the birds of the heavens of prophets.
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