Promises kept or broken? Leviticus 26-27

1350774047_ce481b2d51

Today’s reading: Leviticus 26-27.

God is a promise keeping covenant-maker. We, on the other hand, frequently fail to keep our word. God knows this about us. As Leviticus ends, he reminds Israel about the promises he will keep on their behalf if they remain faithful to his commands. He also warns them about the consequences of failing to obey him. Think of it as a really big carrot and stick. God gives them a huge incentive to obey. Knowing their nature, he also prepares their descendants to learn more about God’s character as they watch God do exactly what he said he would. And remember, the people had agreed voluntarily to this covenant (see Exodus 24:7). After telling the people how he will keep his word, God closes Leviticus by telling the Israelites how they should keep their vows to him.

Look at all the ways God promises to bless his children if they are obedient:

  • necessary rain
  • abundant harvests
  • safety
  • victory over enemies
  • growth in their numbers
  • prosperity
  • His own presence with them

But listen to the calamities that God will send if they don’t keep his commands:

  • sickness
  • failed harvests
  • defeat by their enemies
  • living in fear
  • death of their children
  • declining numbers
  • God’s anger against them
  • destruction of their cities
  • famine
  • scattering of the people to foreign lands

God even foretells the length of their future captivity. He knows they will fail to honor his sabbath, and tells them what it will cost them:

Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it. Leviticus 26:34-35

The people of Judah were in captivity for seventy years, representing 490 years in which God says they failed to observe the every-seven-years Sabbath rest of the land.

Does it matter to us how God blessed and cursed the Israelites? After all, we weren’t a party to this covenant. I say it matters greatly, because it shows God’s faithfulness to his word and promise. Believers today have entered into a new agreement with God, based on grace rather than law, written on our hearts instead of stone tablets, and paid for by the blood of Jesus. But we need to know, just as the Israelites did, that God will keep this new covenant. Our salvation is secure if we have faith.

The final chapter of Leviticus describes a method for the people to consecrate themselves to God. He sets a value on each man, woman, and child, and tells them that by paying that value to the priests he will reckon them as having been sacrificed to God. He was preparing them for a deeper relationship that went beyond the more superficial keeping of rules. Even in this matter God realized their fickle natures by allowing them to buy back their price of dedication. What a contrast with God’s faithfulness to them! But it looks forward to Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:1:

So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.

As for me, God give me the faith to so dedicate myself to him. I pray that all believers would throw themselves on the mercy of God and find him faithful.

Image by oooh.oooh on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Advertisements

Jubilee and Kinsman-redeemer: Leviticus 25

Army’s loudest voice calls Royal SaluteToday’s reading: Leviticus 24-25.

Fresh start. Do over. Clean slate. Start from scratch. Who doesn’t love a chance to begin again, to wipe away the mistakes, to get another chance? Once we grow up those opportunities become more rare. But what if the second chance was built into the way we do things? That would be a reason to celebrate. And if there was one person responsible for making that second chance possible, how we would thank him!

There’s a story that when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, one of the early bulbs took 24 hours to make. A young assistant was given the task of carrying the bulb, only to drop and shatter it. Twenty-fours hours later, another bulb was ready. Demonstrating the true spirit of the second chance, Edison gave the bulb to the same assistant.

Count off seven sabbaths of years–seven times seven years–so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you… Leviticus 25:8-10

Jubilee. It’s one of those onomatopoeia words that’s supposed to sound like its meaning. In this case it’s a joyful blast on a ram’s horn, an announcement of celebration, an invitation to rejoice. God ordained that every 50 years the whole nation got a second chance, and that was reason to celebrate. Nothing was more important to the Israelites than their land (because produce and wealth depended on it), and every Jubilee the land reverted to the families who originally owned it – even if they had lost it through economic hardship. Those who had been forced into slavery by hardship would be freed at the Jubilee. Michael Card wrote a great song about it:

The Lord provided for a time for the slaves to be set free
For the debts to all be cancelled so his chosen ones could see
His deep desire was for forgiveness, he longed to see their liberty
And his yearning was embodied in the year of jubilee

The Bible is silent about how well the Israelites kept this command. The silence suggests it wasn’t kept long or well. But God planted the seed and it eventually bore great fruit.

Now, what if you needed to be rescued in the fifty years between the Jubilees? Well, tucked right next to the instructions about the Jubilee, you’ll find the answer, and it’s a person:

If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold. Leviticus 25:25

The near relative, or kinsman-redeemer, rescued his brother by buying back what his brother had lost. Ruth and Naomi were rescued by their kinsman-redeemer, Boaz. Job cried out in faith, despite his suffering, “I know that my kinsman-redeemer lives.” Isaiah identified him: “As for our kinsman-redeemer, the LORD of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 47:4). Hebrews 2:11 reminds us that Jesus is our brother, and Revelation 5:9 tells how our brother has rescued us:

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation…

Jesus, our redeemer, fulfills the long-awaited promise of the Jubilee. He, who rescues us from sin, is both our kinsman-redeemer and our joyful year of liberty. He is the Lord of the second chance and the fresh start.

Here’s a great acoustic performance of Jubilee by Michael Card:

Image by Defence Images on Flickr. CC by-nc 2.0.

Celebration Calendar: Leviticus 23

Calendar

Today’s reading: Leviticus 22-23.

Remember, back in Genesis, when God created the sun and moon? He said they were for signs, and for seasons (a word that also means appointed times or feast days). God created them to give light, but also to frame the calendar year. The calendar was essential for the feast or festival days that, in turn, were essential to Jewish life. Leviticus 23 gives a full accounting of the sacred celebrations, but before we look at those, we need a little astronomy lesson.

The moon circles the earth in 29 days. That 29 days defined the Jewish month, and there were twelve lunar months in each Jewish year. To keep the lunar calendar in sync with the 365 day solar year, the Jewish calendar repeated the twelfth month every three years or so. Each month began as the crescent moon appeared after the new moon. The full moon shone at the middle of each month. In celebration of their deliverance from Egypt, Moses declared that the Jewish year began in the month of their departure (around March in our modern calendar).

These festivals appear over and over again throughout the Bible, both in the life of Israel and in the life of Christ. Finally, there is a hint that Christ will fulfill the fall feast days when he returns a second time to rule and reign on earth, as he fulfilled the spring feast days in his first coming. Today we get an introduction to these sacred days so that we can appreciate their significance better when we read about them in later books of the Bible.

  1. Passover. The fourteenth day of the first month (our March-April), beginning at sundown. A reminder of the meal eaten in haste as the Jews fled Egypt. Jesus’ last supper with his disciples was a Passover meal.
  2. Feast of Unleavened Bread. Begins at sundown on the 15th day of the first month, and lasts for seven days. Israel purified themselves spiritually, as symbolized by all their bread being made without yeast.
  3. First Fruits. The sixteenth day of the first month. The first day after the Sabbath that followed Passover. An offering was made from the first of the barley harvest. Jesus, the first fruits of those raised to eternal life, rises from the tomb on this day.
  4. Feast of Weeks. Also called Pentecost and Shavuot. Fifty days after the feast of First Fruits. An offering of the first of the wheat harvest. The birth date of the church, when the Holy Spirit indwelled believers.
  5. Feast of Trumpets. The first day of the seventh month (September). Also called Rosh Hashanah. The blowing of the trumpets announced a ten-day period of preparation for the day of atonement, a time when the Jewish people felt God was examining them, as in a courtroom, to see if they were worthy.  “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (I Thess 4:16).
  6. Day of Atonement. The tenth day of the seventh month. Also called Yom Kippur. The highest holy day of the year. The most solemn of sacred days. The one day each year when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place.
  7. Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. Begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, and lasts for seven days. Also called Sukkot. The people stayed outdoors in makeshift shelters that recalled their journey through the wilderness. Zechariah foretold its observance in the millennium to come: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.”

Hannukah and Purim were added much later: Purim at the time of Esther when God delivered the Jews from destruction, and Hannukah in the time between the Old and New Testament when the Maccabees freed Israel.

What meaning do these feast days have for you? If none, how could you begin to remember them in a way that reminds you of what God has done for his people in the past, and what he will do in years to come?

Image from Solomon’s Temple website.

Holiness – the things you do: Leviticus 19

562954687_f114cddd98Today’s reading: Leviticus 19-21.

“Be holy, as I am holy,” says the LORD. By this he means doing the right things, as well as avoiding the forbidden acts. For the past few chapters we’ve read about some of those prohibited things, but today God shows us that a life well lived involves pursuing positive actions that help others and protect the disadvantaged.

  • respect your parents; respect the elderly
  • provide for the poor and the foreigner
  • be honest, be just, and don’t show favoritism
  • be fair to your employees
  • be kind to the disabled
  • love your neighbor as yourself

The reason we should do all these things? “I am the LORD.” God reminds us that we are accountable to him. “I am the LORD.” He made us in his image; we should act like him. “I am the LORD.” These people – our parents, our elders, the poor, the foreigner, the disabled, our neighbors – are God’s children just like us. “I am the LORD.” Our actions count for eternity, not just for this moment. “I am the LORD.” All other motivations vanish in comparison.

Some tongues need a bridle rather than a spur. Many glory in pulling down their brethren, as if thereby they raised themselves. Noah’s wise sons cast a mantle over their father, and he who exposed him earned a fearful curse. We may ourselves one of these dark days need forbearance and silence from our brethren, let us render it cheerfully to those who require it now. Be this our family rule, and our personal bond–Speak evil of no man. Charles Spurgeon

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”  “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”   Mark 12:28-31

This text commands the younger ones among us not to stride presumptuously and carelessly into the presence of an older person as though we were crossing no gap — as though we and they were simply peers with no special respect and honor to be shown to them. “You shall rise up before the grey head; you shall show honor to face of an old person.” How? Respectful postures. Respectful forms of address. Respectful deference in sitting and standing. Respectful clothing. These are not just arbitrary, old fashioned manners and customs. The text says, “Honor the face of an old man, and fear your God.” Customs of respect and deference to older people are rooted in God and the fear of God. And the loss of these manners of respect from babyboomers and teenagers is directly related to their small view of God and the contemporary foreignness of the idea of the fear of  God. If God has become a buddy, you can hardly expect people to stand when an old man enters the room. John Piper

Image by Amanda Westmont on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Bad Sex: Leviticus 18

no-sign-hi

Today’s reading: Leviticus 16-18.

Leviticus gives us a list of forbidden sexual practices, but before we run through the list I want to look again at yesterday’s discussion about holiness and uncleanness. Remember that there were two large categories of holy things and common things, and that the common things were broken down into the clean and unclean. Clean things could become holy by sanctification, or unclean by pollution. The laws of Leviticus aimed to keep the holy and unclean apart. Many of the unclean things, including diseases, bodily discharges, mildew, and foods were natural, unavoidable, and involved no guilt.

That is not the case with today’s list of forbidden practices. God calls them wicked, perverted, and abominable. Those who perform these actions are guilty according to God and in later chapters he lays down the death penalty for many of them. The list includes:

  • Incest, though a broader view of incest than we usually think of, including spouses of near relatives
  • Adultery
  • Homosexuality
  • Bestiality

Child sacrifice is also on the list, and though not a sexual practice its inclusion indicates how serious God considers the other transgressions.

The main impact of the ban on incest is prevention of sexual abuse, a problem that is epidemic in our own culture. God tells the people that the land is defiled by the Canaanites who practice these things (this suggests they do it habitually), and that because they do these things he will throw the Canaanites out of the land. God warns the Israelites that the same fate awaits them if they commit these acts. Contrast the condemnation of these willful, voluntary actions with the unclean designation given to involuntary and unavoidable events such as menstruation and disease.

The issue with issues: Leviticus 15

person washing his hand

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

Today’s reading: Leviticus 14-15.

Reading straight through the Bible means that you bump into a number of subjects that are difficult, unfamiliar, and sometimes uncomfortable. Because I’m not thoroughly discussing every chapter, I skip over some of these topics. Today I thought I should go ahead and talk about the difficult issue of the “unclean” classification that Leviticus gives to menstruation.

      When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Whoever touches her bed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whoever touches anything she sits on must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, he will be unclean till evening.  Leviticus 15:19-23

Let me say up front that in the grace of the new covenant paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross, there is no longer any such classification given to menstruation. None of the previous steps of purification are required. Nevertheless, for over a thousand years before Jesus’ birth this system impacted the lives of Hebrew women, and continued to do so for Jewish women even after Jesus’ birth. It meant that women were excluded from regular social interactions and worship during their period and for seven days afterward. All this took place for something which was natural, unavoidable, and involved no guilt on the part of the woman.

As was the case with the food laws, much is written about the possible health benefits of this practice, and much is said about possible improvements in the rate of child bearing (because sex was forbidden during this time and therefore concentrated during the more fertile time of the woman’s cycle). I think these speculations cannot be supported by anything in the Bible. I believe it is, again, a spiritual matter rather than a physical one.

At this point I want to talk about the whole area of holiness, cleanness, and uncleanness in more detail. Gordon Wenham describes it well in his commentary on Leviticus:

Everything that is not holy is common. Common things divide into two groups, the clean and the unclean. Clean things become holy, when they are sanctified. But unclean objects cannot be sanctified. Clean things can be made unclean, if they are polluted. Finally, holy items may be defiled and become common, even polluted, and therefore unclean… . cleanness is a state intermediate between holiness and uncleanness. Cleanness is the normal condition of most things and persons. Sanctification can elevate the clean into the holy, while pollution degrades the clean into the unclean. The unclean and the holy are two states which must never come in contact with each other (pp. 19-20). Gordon Wenham, The Book of Leviticus

Things progress from holy to clean to unclean, and can go back the other way.

HOLY <—-> Clean <—-> Unclean

The best explanation I have read of what makes things unclean is the effects of the curse brought on by Adam and Eve’s sin. Like everything else, child-bearing suffers under the curse, and labor pains and menstruation are part of the result. Diseases are caused by the curse, and result in uncleanness. Rot and mildew are  part of the curse, and therefore are unclean. Not one of these things is sinful, but all are unclean as a result of the curse.

The good news is that under the new covenant of grace the uncleanness has been taken away. Not all the effects of the curse are gone, but the barrier to holiness has been taken away. One day even the effects of the curse will be removed. Jesus gave a glimpse of that when he healed the woman who had lived with uncontrolled menstrual bleeding for twelve years. She touched him, unclean as she was considered then, and he did not criticize her for it, but commended her faith. He did not mention her sanctification or lack of it, only her suffering. In the new covenant, even the unclean comes into the presence of God to find healing and holiness.

To eat or not to eat: Leviticus 11

32175260_17a1662ace

Today’s reading: Leviticus 11-13.

God never says why he gave all of the food laws in Leviticus. So many writers say he banned certain foods, like pork, because he knew what we didn’t know about its health dangers. I hate to presume what God was thinking. I do know there are plenty of dangers from too much beef as well (can you spell “cholesterol” ?).

Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. 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 about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. Leviticus 11:43-45

God drew up the list, for his own reasons, and then said, follow this list and you will be holy as I am holy. I believe the key to the list is obedience. Being a follower of the list, which was one part of being a person of the Book of the Law, set the person apart and made him or her a follower of the Lord. Look what God promised to his followers:

And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all His commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the Earth: and all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God.” Deuteronomy 28:1-2

Remember in Genesis we saw that God is a promise-keeping covenant maker. Here he makes a conditional covenant. If … then. If the people keep his commands, including the food laws, then he will greatly bless them. If they disobey, God will curse them. Through practical experience, including failure, the people learn that God keeps his word. The laws, including the food laws, became a teacher showing the people what sinners they were (Romans 3:20, 7:7).

Jesus puts the capstone on our understanding of the food laws. Religious leaders criticized his disciples for not following all the rules, and he replied:

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ” ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ ” Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ” Matthew 15:7-11

The people knew they were unclean. The law taught them that fact. Jesus then took them the final step on the journey and showed them they were unclean, not because of what they ate, but because of their wicked attitudes which led to vile words and other forms of disobedience. God began by calling the people to be set apart and holy; Jesus finishes by showing them that holiness will require a change of heart.

David Guzik gives an excellent summary of New Testament teachings about the food laws of Leviticus:

“Some Christians believe we are under obligation to observe a kosher diet today. Yet this issue was settled once and for all at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15; where it was determined that obedience to Mosaic rituals was not required of the followers of Jesus. Paul pointed out that we have the full liberty to eat whatever we want to:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrine of demons … commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1, 3-5).

Some are under subjugation to food, or to certain foods, and that is sin under the principle of 1 Corinthians 6:12:

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

Certainly, many would benefit from the attitude of self-denial and bodily discipline Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Yet, apart from these considerations, Christians are free to eat or not eat whatever they please – and no one should think themselves more right with God because they eat or don’t eat certain things.” David Guzik

Image by mst7022 on Flickr, CC by 2.0.