Monthly Archives: August 2014

Leviticus 18

God is such a prude! He even tells the Israelites who, or what, they can and can’t have sex with! And why would he do this? First, God establishes his authority, telling them that, “I am the Lord your God.” He has every right to command their obedience. From the very beginning God decreed that the foundation of sexual morality would be marriage. In Genesis 2 God gives the reason for marriage, a man leaving his father and mother and being united to his wife. Then there is the very clear teaching of the Ten Commandments. No less than three of the commandments speak directly to the sanctity of marriage and the family.

God’s commands are not arbitrary; they are given specifically for human flourishing. Just as God tells the Israelites that they are to honor their father and mother “so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Since the Garden, Satan has filled human minds with the idea that God is a liar, that his commands are meant to keep us from flourishing, from having fun and being fulfilled. Yet every time human beings live contrary to God’s law, they suffer.

So God in his kindness and mercy tells us the proper context for sex, what we should and should not do, and sex is serious business. God uses such words in this chapter as “wickedness,” “detestable,” “defile,” and “perversion.” So the Israelites know without a doubt what the proper context for sexual relations is, and why God is telling them this. The people in Egypt and the people that surround them in Canaan practice such sexual perversity, and they must not. Here is how he puts it:

24 “‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.

This reference to vomit is used again in God’s warning to Israel, that if they do these things he too will vomit them out of the land.

30 Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God.’”

God bookends his commands with the same phrase; He is Israel’s ultimate authority. They are to look to him for their ethics, for what it means to live a good life, not to the surrounding cultures. As we are told in the New Testament, we are to be in the world, but not of it, so the same with Israel. Biblical sexual ethics are non-negotiable, which is especially important in our day.

 

 

Leviticus 17

We learn something very important in this chapter about the importance of blood in God’s economy of redemption. First it looks like the Israelites were making sacrifices at places other then the Tent of Meeting, mainly to sacrifice to other idols. Anyone who makes such a sacrifice must be “cut off from his people.” There is simply no other way of salvation other than what God provides. Idols are false gods; they are lies meant to seduce people into thinking that true life can be had outside of the Living God. Our idols today are different, more sophisticated, but they are just as much lies. God alone is our only ultimate comfort in life as well as death.

Blood is our prominent feature in the plan of redemption, and here we learn why:

10 “‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

If life is in the blood, then blood must be shed to pay for the wages of sin, death. In the process of atonement God does not require the individual’s own blood to pay for their own sin, but allows another’s blood, in these cases animals and in our cases Christ’s, to pay the debt. This is what is known as substitutionary atonement, where the animal dies in place of the person, where Jesus dies in our place. No wonder Jesus said that all the scripture, the OT, pointed to him; his blood, his life, for ours.

Leviticus 16

Here we learn about the very first Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. This is a bit different than the other offerings and sacrifices because prior offerings are done by individuals or families, while this yearly sacrifice is for the entire nation. It is also different in that when Aaron lays his hands on the goats head, he confesses “over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites–all their sins,” and they’re put on the goats head. In the previous sacrifices we read about there was no confession of sin, just laying on of hands, and the animal is killed.

But on this day instead of killing the goat and spreading the blood on the altar, the goat is sent out into the wilderness. This is called what most people today have heard, but have no idea where it comes from: the scapegoat. The goat is cast out. Atonement had already been made with a bull and another goat, but God wants the people to understand the ignominy, the shame and disgrace that sin carries with it. God is good with visuals; how pathetic to see a scrawny goat with all the peoples’ sin laid on it pushed out into the wilderness to suffer and die. And the writer says this process is also part of the atonement; the goat is taking away the sins of the people, like Jesus takes away the sins of the world. Paul was likely thinking of this when he said in 1 Cor. 5:21:

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This is astounding when you think about it. Jesus became the scapegoat for the sins of the entire world! And he too was cast out in shame, being crucified outside of the city; cursed as it says later in the Pentateuch is anyone who is hung on a tree. And in Isaiah 53 we read this some 700 years before Christ:

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

How Jews can ignore this as applying to Jesus I have no idea. We can now have peace and healing because we have the righteousness of God; before him now in Christ we have not only our sins completely washed away, we have Christ’s own righteousness imputed to us! I never ever have to worry if I will be accepted by the living God. As the Day of Atonement made the Israelites clean from all their sin (v.30) so we are now forever clean before our God.

 

 

Leviticus 15

This is more of the same, rules about what causes uncleanness and how to deal with it. This chapter deals with “discharges,” not the most appealing chapter in the Bible. Here is why God gives them these rules and regulations:

31 “‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.’”

It wasn’t general uncleanness as they were going about their daily lives that was the issue. It was specifically about them approaching God, for coming to the place where he dwelled and not being prepared. The point is stark: if they come to the presence of God unclean they will die. Period. End of story.

God is holy. This means something. Back in these times the contrast was with the other so called gods, and the true and living God had to communicate to his people that he was the only God that exists, and he was completely different and exalted above human beings and his creation. How much different and exalted can you get that if you come before him in the wrong way and you will die. It isn’t that he’s a petulant God who just wants his way; it’s that his very essence, his nature is holy and completely incompatible with sin. Sin is death, he is life.

In our day, when God is made in the image of man, holiness is a completely foreign concept. If we’re generally good and nice people, then God thinks we’re OK too. Unfortunately for most people God has a higher standard, and that would be his very nature, holiness and unapproachable light. Fortunately for us, the second person of the Trinity came and completely satisfied the wrath of God for us, so that we won’t die when we come into his presence because we come in Jesus name, in his life and death and resurrection.

Another thought about the dwelling place of God is a bit scary. Paul says this in 1 Cor. 6:

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

We are now the dwelling place of the living God! That is inconceivable, especially in light of the Old Testament, when we learn what the unmediated presence of God means: Death. Now we have a continually mediated presence through Jesus, and even when we defile this dwelling place of God, as we often do, we are not consumed.

Paul says this in the context of sexual immorality, but there were numerous things that made God’s people in the OT unclean, and no matter what it was or is, Jesus fulfilled it all; we are perpetually clean in his site! That is so hard to accept sometimes, but nonetheless it is true. Because of Jesus, the God of infinite holiness and light can have a relationship with sinners, even persistent sinners, which of course we all are. This is how powerful beyond words to capture was Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; his obedience and fulfillment of God’s perfect law, and everything he has is ours. Again as Paul says, he is our righteousness, holiness and redemption!

Leviticus 13 & 14

Boy are these exciting chapters! We learn of the regulations for infectious skin diseases and mildew. When these things are found on or among the people, they are declared unclean, and there is, of course, a detailed process to make them or it clean again. Part of this is obviously God’s concern for his people’s health and well being. I’m sure this was common among the peoples of the ancient near east (or any ancient peoples), that disease and such had religious implications. That’s obviously the case with Israel because God commands offerings and atonement be made for such things, but there is also the concern that such things spread and contaminate others. This could be the first personal hygiene in the history of the world. Of course I know very little about ancient history, so who knows. God’s concern is for the whole life of his people, which makes sense for a God who is a Father and a God who is love.

Leviticus 11 & 12

God obviously has reasons for everything he does and everything he has the Israelites do. It seems strange to us, but it all has a purpose. In these chapters God is telling them what they can eat and how a woman is purified after childbirth. In chapter 11, the Lord tells Moses and Aaron why they must do as he says:

44 I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. 45 I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.

The word holy means to be set apart, and the whole purpose of God’s plan was to set apart for himself a people in that world of the ancient near east. They had to be different because their God was the living God, the Creator of the universe, and not the pagan gods around them. They were to be set apart because God himself is set apart, he is wholly other, and thus holy.

This of course had implications for all of redemptive history. Israel points toward the Church, and God redeeming for himself not just one ethnic ancient people among a territory filled with pagans and heathens who worship false gods, but people from every tribe and nation out of a fallen world dominated by Satan. In the New Testament he is called the prince of this world. In Luke 4 we read the following:

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Because of what Jesus did, purchasing a people for God the Father, we are holy, set apart from the world that belongs to the devil. It’s kind of a Manichean perspective, but people either belong to the devil or God. We are called out of the world, out of the dominion of darkness. Paul says in Col. 1:13 says is perfectly:

13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Old Testament and what God has Israel do may seem strange to us, but it all points to this.

 

 

Leviticus 9 & 10

In these chapters we see the blessing and curse of the Old Testament system of redemption. In chapter 9 the priests begin their ministry and Aaron presents a sin offering for himself and the people. The result is that the glory of the Lord appeared to them. It doesn’t say exactly how this glory appeared, but fire comes out from the presence of the Lord and consumes the offering. The people’s response is certainly appropriate:

And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.

Before I get to the curses of such a system, or the downside, other than the sacrifices have to be made over and over and over again, a word about atonement and redemption as revealed by God in his Word. it is instructive that acceptance before God based on our own moral perfection, which is of course impossible, or performance is completely missing. The concept is profoundly unbiblical.

We often think, wrongly, of the Old Testament dispensation as one of works in order to achieve acceptance before God, the blessings and curses, etc. But that wasn’t the point of the law because after God gives the Israelites the Ten Commandments, and all of the other aspects of the law in the chapters following, he immediately begins to have them implement the whole sacrificial system. There are obviously personal and societal implications for keeping the law or not, but our own personal morality or obedience is irrelevant in terms of our acceptance before God.

Just look at Aaron and the sin offering. There is nothing mentioned about what a great guy Aaron was, how moral and upright he was. Rather, he had to go through the same process as everyone else and lay his hand on an animal which would in effect become sin for him. The only way he and other priests would not be consumed by God’s holiness was that sacrifice, not how well they kept the law. Sin taints everything we do, no matter how well we do it. Our personal morality means nothing to God, which is why Paul says that Jesus is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. We strive to do right and overcome our evil inclinations not because it has any bearing on our acceptance before God, but because of gratitude that we are fully accepted in his sight, as spotless as the lamb that was required to pay for our sin. It’s all about God’s mercy and grace, and what HE has done for us, and not about us and what we do. The latter is only relevant once we fully accept the former, and it flows naturally from the immense gratitude that should be overflowing from us because of it.

Chapter 10 shows the downside. Two of Aaron’s sons do something wrong; they offer “unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command.” What happens next?

So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 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.’”

Aaron remained silent.

After this they are dragged outside the camp, “still in their tunics.” So the fire must have been some sort of lightening. This, again to our modern sensibilities, seems incredibly harsh, but is it? First, God is perfect, he cannot do wrong. He is just and his judgments always right. And we know the wages of sin is death. God is also merciful, because every act of disobedience, even in the Old Testament, doesn’t bring such displays of his wrath.

But there is obviously a point to be made here, and Moses makes it. God’s holiness is something to be honored and feared. He is not like the other so called gods; he is holy, completely set apart, completely of another kind than man. The little fact that Aaron remained silent tells us he must have agreed, as painful as it was to endure. He of the golden calf knew God cannot be mocked. Moses tells them not to mourn, and then God speaks directly to Aaron, telling him that, “You must distinguish between the holy and the profane.” And teach it to the people. This was a painful lesson I am sure Aaron would never forget, and of which the people would constantly need to be reminded.