The Shekel of the Sanctuary
The currencies of this world, against which material things are valued, are measured one against the other: the dollar is worth so many euros and the pound so many yen. Furthermore, because these currencies have values that are continually rising and falling, stability is an unknown quantity in the financial markets of the world. It follows that man’s means of evaluation is continually changing, and that an object’s market price may bear little or no relation to its true value. It is a well–known saying that ‘he knows the price of everything but the value of nothing’.
In the book of Leviticus we have God’s currency brought before us and in the very last chapter we have the subject of valuation according to God. It says there: “And all thy valuation shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall be the shekel” (Lev. 27: 25). The sanctuary was the place where God dwelt since we also read “And they shall make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25: 8). The first sanctuary in the OT was the tabernacle, and this was superseded later by the temple.
Now the shekel and the gerah were not coins—they were weights. In the NT we have coins but in the OT we have weights. The value of a coin is given by the impression on it; the value of a weight is determined by its material and its mass—its substance. In contrast to the coins of even a century ago, modern coins contain no precious heavy metals such as silver or gold. They are generally flimsy and light. In fact the higher values of currency are paper notes having virtually no weight at all! Such is man’s modern currency! However, in OT times what was currency also had weight. Indeed, as we have already seen, the shekel was a weight. From this it follows that valuation in the OT required a set of balances. The standard was placed in one pan of the balances and the gold or silver was placed in the other. A just judgment in this regard was very important in the eyes of a holy God: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measure of length, in weight, and in measure of capacity: just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin shall ye have: I am Jehovah your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19: 35, 36). God insists that His people value things properly.
The spiritual import of Lev. 27: 25 should now be clear. God’s people must value everything by taking it into the presence of God, placing it in the divine balances and learning its true weight and value according to the divine estimation: “all thy valuation shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary”. Of course Israel had a physical sanctuary, material balances and a literal shekel. You and I today do not have a physical sanctuary like Israel, but we know what it means to get into the presence of God. But what about the balances and the shekel? What answers to these for the people of God today? The answer is “the scripture of truth” (Dan. 10: 21). It is there that we find the true valuation of a thing. God’s standards are given in the Bible.
The divine valuations in the Bible do not change with time. With them there is no such thing as inflation or deflation! In the early history of the Church, believers applied these values to their lives with the result that they turned the world upside down. To a great extent, Biblical values even used to determine the laws of England. In the closing, Laodicean period of the Church, however the roles are reversed and the world has turned the Church upside down—the professing Church now follows in the world’s footsteps. Indeed Christendom will use almost any standard as long as it is not God’s standard. The shekel of the world is preferred to the shekel of the sanctuary, whether it is the shekel of tradition or the shekel of expediency, the shekel of experience or the shekel of convenience. The standard employed may be that of the majority, the religious hierachy or even the world at large. Even among genuine believers, the Bible has lost its place of supreme authority. Lip service may be given to its edicts but the excuses are legion for not carrying those edicts out.
We should not be surprised at this. I described the final epoch of the Church’s history as Laodicean. I take this from the addresses to the seven assemblies in Revelation two and three. In the Word of God seven speaks of spiritual completeness, and while these letters were clearly written to seven individual local assemblies that were then in existence, the fact that they are grouped together as a single entity of seven suggests something more. I believe that together they set out the public history of the professing Church on earth. In each case, the name of the assembly gives the leading trait of that assembly and each assembly in turn sets out a period of the history of the universal Church at large. The final state is set out in the name Laodicea () which is a compound Greek word (s, meaning people and meaning right). This gives us the right of the people or democracy, a situation where the will of the majority holds sway. Now when democracy is inside, Christ will be outside (see Rev. 3: 20). The state is lukewarm—neither cold nor hot, but a mixture of the two, neither one thing nor the other. An assembly in this condition is one of which the Lord says “I am about to spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3: 16). The divine counsel in such a state is to buy gold (a heavy metal), which suggests that which has lasting value, weight and substance in the sight of God. Furthermore, it is not only gold that is required, but “gold purified by fire” (Rev. 3: 18). The figure has shifted somewhat, but the principle remains the same, and the symbolism is clear, namely what has weight and value before God will stand the test of divine judgment. Paul used the same figure elsewhere (see 1 Cor. 3: 11–13). What men, even saints, assess to be “gold, silver, precious stones” may ultimately be shown to be “wood, grass, straw” since it has never been weighed against the shekel of the sanctuary.
One more general point: in each of the letters to the seven assemblies, an overcomer is contemplated—one who will swim against the tide, and whose walk will be contrary to the general state of things in that assembly. Thus his testimony will not just be to the world but to the Church. The state of the Church is such, that when it should itself be a testimony, it needs others to testify to it! The overcomer sees things as God sees them, and values things as God values them.
This then is the general theme of what I desire to set before you. Modern life is increasingly frenetic, but we need to pause a while and ask ourselves some serious questions. What have I got in my life that is of real value before God? What have I got that death cannot touch? What have I got that will stand at the judgment seat and pass through to eternity? Let us turn now to three specific valuations that a person can arrive at.
The first most important valuation that a person can make is set out by the Lord Jesus in Mark 8: 36, 37: “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul? for what should a man give in exchange for his soul?” In material things, a man can gain no more than the world, but even such an acquisition as this could never outweigh the loss of his soul. He may be flippant about eternal issues with his friends, and may deem spiritual things of no value in the presence of his fellows, but when he is brought into the presence of God things are very different. There things are weighed according to God’s standard and if the soul is on one side of the scales there is no material thing in the universe that can move the balances down. Nothing outweighs the value of the soul. Its redemption is costly (see Ps. 49: 8—which may well be the background to the Lord’s words) and the Lord has expended His all for us personally: “ye have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6: 20). Dear reader, have you weighed your soul against the shekel of the sanctuary and measured its true value in the presence of God?
My second example, like the first, is well–known. Of all the world’s great civilisations, whether Greek, Roman or Babylonian, none are so associated with earthly riches like that of Egypt. The majority of the tombs of the pharaohs had long since been plundered when Howard Carter unearthed Tutankhamen’s. Carter’s excavations showed the world in a tiny measure what the glory and splendour of Egypt’s riches must have been like. Hundreds of years distant from Egypt’s heyday we are thus able to gauge something of her greatness and splendour. Now the Bible tells us of one who lived in those days of glory, who knew its treasures first hand, and who was even brought up in Pharaoh’s house as one of his sons. But remarkably, Moses, “when he had become great, refused to be called son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction along with the people of God than to have [the] temporary pleasure of sin; esteeming the reproach of the Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he had respect to the recompense” (Heb. 11: 24–26). Here was a man who had been brought up in Pharaoh’s house and who had experienced that wealth and luxury daily, and yet he gave it all up. Why? Because he knew of something far better. He took, as it were, all the treasures of Egypt (note the language: not some, but all the treasures) and carried them into the sanctuary, right into the very presence of God. There he placed the treasures on one side of the scales. So what did he place on the other side? The “glory of the Christ” (2 Cor. 4: 4), or the “unsearchable riches of the Christ” (Eph. 3: 8)? You might think so, but you would be wrong. No, it was “the reproach of the Christ”. Esteeming the riches of the Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt may be an acceptable comparison to the natural mind, but it was not what Egypt’s treasures were weighed against. Moses put the “reproach of the Christ” in the scales.
So what is the “reproach of the Christ”? Let the prophet in the psalm speak: “Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; confusion hath covered my face. I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s sons ...” (Ps. 69: 7, 8). How does this apply to Moses? While the details of Ex. 2: 1–14 are very brief, they are supplemented by the Spirit of God in Acts 7 and Heb. 11. Paul tells us that when Moses had become great he “refused to be called son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Heb. 11: 24). The word “refused” infers a distinct and positive action on the part of Moses which cannot really be gleaned from Exodus. He positively rejects his Egyptian relationship and identifies himself with the suffering people of God. But with what result? “Who made thee ruler and judge over us?” (Ex. 2: 14). Now Stephen quotes these words twice (Acts 7: 27, 35). Firstly, in the context of their historical occurrence but secondly in connection with Moses’ return to Egypt forty years later, saying, “This Moses, whom they refused, saying Who made thee ruler and judge?” (Acts 7: 35). The word “refused” in Acts 7: 35 is the same word as that in Heb. 11: 24. Thus as the Lord “came to his own, and his own received him not” (John 1: 11) so Moses, having refused a place in Egypt found himself refused by his own people and thus in measure knew something of the reproach of the Christ.
This is also the affliction suffered by the people of God in every dispensation who are true to their divine calling. The believer expects the world to despise him, but such is the low moral and spiritual character of the present day that he may also be an object of derision to his own brethren. This presents itself as an even greater test to his faith. Nonetheless, to suffer the reproach that Christ suffered is of far greater value than all that man deems valuable when weighed in the presence of God. How different is God’s valuation from man’s!
As I said earlier, today the world has turned the Church upside down. Divine values that our fathers would never have questioned are now not only questioned but set aside. Take the rapid erosion in the distinctions between male and female, both inside and outside the Church. Nowadays women exercise the same functions in divine service as men. The established church in England has its women ‘priests’ and will soon have its women ‘bishops’. Both without the church and within the church, women dress like men. Fifty years ago, the heads of women were always covered in church. A woman having her head covered when praying is now no longer the rule but the exception. Women preach and teach everywhere, quite contrary to the instructions of God in the Scriptures. For a woman to pray audibly in public is these days now deemed commendable where once it would have been viewed as shocking.
However, there are Christian women who do not conform to this mold, and who seek to carry themselves in the light of the Scriptures. My third example of valuation, which I will give in a moment, is particularly for these sisters, although its general bearing is for us all. However, I must first set the background.
There are three compound Greek words used in the NT which can be translated costly or of great price. There is a slightly different emphasis in each of them, but the essential meaning is the same: great value. There are just six occasions in total where these words are used. These are John 12: 3, Matt. 13: 46, 26: 7, Mark 14: 3, 1 Tim. 2: 9, and 1 Pet. 3: 4. Now if you look these Scriptures up, you will find that apart from the “one pearl of great value” in Matt. 13, they all involve women. The Scripture I want to focus on is the one in Peter’s epistle where we have the words “which in the sight of God is of great price”. You will not find that phrase anywhere else in the Scriptures. So what is Peter talking about? Preaching the Gospel to sinners? No! Teaching believers the apostle’s doctrine? No! Of course both of these matters are of great value in the sight of God, but they are not described as such in the Bible. God has reserved this particular phrase for something else—something that men now consider of no value at all, something, sadly, that even many believers despise and mock. What Peter describes as being of great price in the sight of God is a sister’s true adornment: “a meek and quiet spirit”. How different from the feministic striving for equality that appears to have invaded well–nigh every quarter of the Church, with its attendant pressure for sisters to make themselves both seen and heard! A meek and quiet spirit has its source in “the hidden man of the heart” and by its very nature does not thrust itself into prominence. However, what may be hidden to men is seen by God. In His eyes “a meek and quiet spirit … is of great price”. Of course in the modern world the believing woman that keeps herself in this way will be viewed as living in the past. Even her Christian companions may view her position as outdated. However, the true place of a woman as outlined by Peter was not even new in his day for he takes the matter right back to Sarah and her relationship to Abraham (see vs 5, 6). God’s standards do not change! God knew what departure from the truth there would be in the final stages of the Church’s history and so Peter was taken, as it were, by the Spirit of God into the sanctuary, brought to see how a sister’s proper deportment was weighed according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and how it was valued in the sight of God. The result is these words “whose adorning let it not be that outward one of tressing of hair, and wearing gold, or putting on apparel; but the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible [ornament] of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price”. So sisters in Christ take heart. What may be deemed worthless with men is valued by God. Your quiet maintenance of the place given to you by God is of great price in His sight.
I have given just three examples from the great Accountant’s ledger—He who rightly assesses the value of things. He who alone can say what is on the debit side of the ledger in our lives and what is on the credit side. In ending this article, I will return to my original Scripture: “And all thy valuation shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary” (Lev. 27: 25). Now the unbeliever has no desire to value anything according to God. By contrast all believers value some things according to the shekel of the sanctuary—they would hardly be believers if they didn’t. But only some things? The word is “And all thy valuation shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary” (Lev. 27: 25—my emphasis). Therefore, may all our valuations be God’s!