Law of Silence

Sermon for Sunday, November 26, 2017

Law of Silence

On several occasions, the priesthood described in the Bible teaches us about God’s Law of Silence.  The Bible says things in the Old Testament are there to teach us (Romans 15:4), so what does the Old Testament priesthood teach us?

Some people say there is no such thing in the Bible as a “Law of Silence.”  They say the Bible does not say “Law of Silence” anywhere.  But notice God does not say “Law of Gravity” anywhere in creation and yet the law clearly exist because what goes up must come down.  Or, if you jump off a tall bridge, you will die.

The point: The Law of Gravity is demonstrated in nature and this is why we call it a law.

The Law of Silence is demonstrated in Scripture and this is why we call it a law.

The priests were to be of the tribe of Levi:

Numbers 3:

[1] This is the account of the family of Aaron and Moses at the time the Lord spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai.

[2] The names of the sons of Aaron were Nadab the firstborn and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.  [3] Those were the names of Aaron’s sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests.

[4] Nadab and Abihu, however, died before the Lord when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai.  They had no sons, so Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests during the lifetime of their father Aaron.

[5] The Lord said to Moses, [6] “Bring the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest to assist him.  [7] They are to perform duties for him and for the whole community at the tent of meeting by doing the work of the tabernacle.  [8] They are to take care of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, fulfilling the obligations of the Israelites by doing the work of the tabernacle.  [9] Give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to him.

[10] Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary is to be put to death.”

The Law of Silence is illustrated twice in this text:
1) Once regarding who can be a priest (verses 6 and 10) and
2) regarding the deaths of the two priests, Nadab and Abihu (verse 4).

Last Sunday we studied the sins of King Jeroboam.  He led Israel astray because of the many changes he made regarding worship:
1) He changed the place of worship.
2) He changed how they were to worship.
3) He changed the time of worship.
4) He changed who could lead in worship.

The “who” is a reference to the priesthood.  Jeroboam changed the priesthood:

1 Kings 12:

[31] Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.

A crucial point: God’s law of silence becomes operative only when he speaks about a matter.

This point about the Law of Silence is illustrated in the sin of Nadab and Abihu:

Leviticus 10:

[1] Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command.

[2] So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.

[3] Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’ ”

All worship in the Old Testament was carefully regulated by God.  This ought to tell us something about worship in the New Testament.

God gave the Israelites instructions about a place of worship that served as a model for the construction of the tabernacle.  We know this because God said, “See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Exodus 25:40).

What was authorized was only what was found in the instructions.  The seriousness of God’s instructions can be seen in the sin of Nadab and Abihu.  They were consumed by fire because they “offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command” (Leviticus 10:1).

In the case of Nadab and Abihu, aromatic spices were dropped into a fire pan or censer filled with burning charcoal.  The source of these hot coals was supposed to be the altar:

Leviticus 16:

[11] Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering.  [12] He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain.  [13] He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die.

God did not say specifically that this is the only source and that all other sources were forbidden.  He only says this is the source.  In Scripture we cannot find another source, and the deaths of Nadab and Abihu indicates it was the only source God mentions.

It also illustrates the principle that when God speaks the law of silence becomes operative.  Because God said the priest was to fill his censer with “burning coals from the altar,” the law of silence eliminated all other sources of fire.  The severity of punishment in this case should be a warning to those today who are opposed to pattern theology.

Another example of the pattern principle regards the instructions about how to carry the Ark of the Covenant.  The Scriptures reveal that God’s wrath broke out against Uzzah because he was not authorized to handle the Ark

1 Chronicles 13:

[9] When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled.  [10] The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark.  So he died there before God.

In verse 11, the Bible says David was angry because of what God had done to Uzzah.  Why did God do this to Uzzah?  Apparently, neither Uzzah nor David bothered to check God’s instructions on how to carry the Ark of the Covenant.

Later, David corrected this mistake when he said:

1 Chronicles 15:

[2] “No one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, because the Lord chose them to carry the ark of the Lord and to minister before him forever.”

Not only was Uzzah not qualified to carry the Ark, it was being transported improperly: “And the Levites carried the ark of God with the poles on their shoulders, as Moses had commanded in accordance with the word of the LORD” (15:15).

Did God say anywhere that Uzzah could not carry the Ark?  Did God ever say it could not be carried on a wagon?  Did God ever forbid Nadab and Abihu from offering a fire from somewhere else?  No.  Then why did these men perish?

The reason is because God’s instructions were being disregarded.  Respect for the authority of God’s pattern is expressed in the principle, “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent.”

In other words, when God speaks on a matter the law of silence forbids other action.

Remember, God’s Law of Silence becomes operative when he speaks on a matter.  God had spoken about who was to carry the Ark and how it was to be carried.

Like a lot of folks today, many in David’s day did not respect God’s Law of Silence.  Perhaps they argued, “God did not say that Uzzah could not carry the Ark!”

This law is not a human principle of interpretation but a principle instituted by God.  However, the silence of Scripture by itself does not forbid something.  It is only when God has already spoken on a matter, or given us certain instructions, that the law of silence becomes operative.  If our action is an addition or substitution to what God has already said about a matter then our action is in violation of God’s law of silence.

The point is not that silence on many things that we are free to do.  The law of silence applies only when God has stated his will concerning a matter.

Hebrews 7:

[11] If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?

[12] For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.

[13] He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar.

[14] For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

In verse 14, the writer of Hebrews uses the law of silence to show that the priesthood of the Old Testament could not belong to the tribe of Judah.

As God’s spokesman concerning these matters, Moses did not say anything regarding the tribe of Judah.  He did not say they could not serve as priests; that is, there is no specific prohibition by Moses concerning the tribe of Judah.  The writer of Hebrews argues, however, that the tribe of Judah is prohibited because of silence.  Therefore, Jesus would be a priest “in the order of Melchizedek” and not “in the order of Aaron” (v. 11) because Jesus was of the tribe of Judah and not Levi.

The writer of the book of Hebrews argues that because the tribe of Levi was authorized and Moses spoke nothing concerning priests of the tribe of Judah, then priests were not authorized from Judah.  If this does not prove that silence prohibits, then how could you possibly state it any clearer?

The silence of Moses in this matter is sufficient argument to prove the priesthood did not belong to the tribe of Judah.  Notice that he chose to argue from silence rather than prohibition.

J B Myers

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