Moses was called to follow Yahweh in the opening chapters of Exodus to lead God's people from slavery in Egypt to holiness in the promised land. Leviticus details Israel's call to holiness.
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Book of Leviticus (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
Introduction: The starting point for understanding this book is the Holiness of God. Unless we have some appreciation for the "otherness" of God and God's moral purity and holiness the need for our cleansing will be difficult to grasp. Interestingly, a non-Christian nursing instructor once called Leviticus "the first known handbook on public health." That is true and it is more. God is clean and holy and invites His people to come to Him. "He called" is the first word in the book and the Hebrew title of the book. God desires moral and spiritual health and wholeness for all His people and creation. Holiness, then, is not a restriction but a blessing for our good. The view of the world in Leviticus includes three essential categories in which we want to move from right to left:
Some expressions of cleanliness and holiness desired by God for His people may strike contemporary readers as stark, even extreme. We must not however, here or elsewhere, look back at history without seeking to understand what the world was like at that time and why. To project back our current standards and wonder why people then didn't understand what we do now is not helpful. Ancient standards of cleanliness, morally or physically, did not exist and God needed to establish them. It is important to note the concept of "clean" and "unclean" in Leviticus did not only relate to "sin" per se, but to the desire God wanted to plant in his people to return as soon as possible to "normalcy" when a less-than-best state was experienced. God today yet desires a holy people and has given Christ to make us so.
The first five chapters describe various offerings intended to enable God's people to be cleansed and so to come to Him.
Burnt Offering: was God's gracious provision for atonement for sin, enabling an unholy people to approach their utterly Holy God. The first word and title of the Hebrew book is "He calls" (v.1). God calls us while we are still in our sin and also provides a way for our cleansing through identification with our substitute (v.4) carrying away our sin, so that we are able to respond and come. Note in this verse also that the priest did not lay hands on the sacrifice but rather the worshipper made this transfer.
The offerings of Leviticus unable us to more fully understand the Cross. In the Old Testament the worshipper brings the animal sacrifice in his or her place, in the New Testament Jesus is the sacrifice and I identify with Him by faith and give myself completely also to God (Romans12:1-2). Jesus more perfectly than any animal could, as God incarnate and sinless sacrifice, offered Himself on the cross for us and we identify with Him in faith for our forgiveness that we might come into the Lord's Holy Presence.
I come when God calls. I come promptly, humbly (knowing I am a sinner), gratefully (knowing I am forgiven), eager for communion and to hear God's voice, ready to obey.
My Prayer: "Thank you, Lord, how amazing your grace and provision for my sin! How clear is Your pointing to Jesus! Thank you that you, Holy God, desire communion with me despite my sin and rebellion. How worthy of worship you are!"
Grain Offering: God had made us all and is worthy of our all. The grain offering acknowledges that God has given us our basic food for life and we in turn owe Him our lives.The meaning behind the Hebrew word for this offering is "tribute" which is an expression of us giving back a symbol of the whole which is owned by God.
We are wholly the Lord's every day. For this reason do not try to bifurcate any part of our life into "God's" and "this is my personal/private (in the sense of leaving God out) space".
Salt of the Covenant: Note v.13 "Every grain offering...you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt." The "salt of the covenant" speaks of the permanence and incorruption of God's covenant relationship with His people (Num.18:19; 2 Chron.13:5). You may choose as a spiritual discipline, when you see salt, to be reminded and grateful for His gracious faithfulness to His covenant with us.
My Prayer: "Lord, by Your grace, I am wholly Yours!"
Peace Offering: is the third example of God's desire to restore and make perfect fellowship between His holiness and our sinful humanity. The term - which literally means "sacrifice of concord or happiness" - is one in which God accepts an offering on our behalf restoring fellowship between us and our Creator/Redeemer.
Means of Restoring Fellowship: Note it is the believer, rather than the priest, who "lays his hand on the head of the offering" signifying a transfer of guilt (v. 2); also that this is the only offering in which the believer, again rather than the priest, shares fellowship with God by eating a portion of the offering with God (7:15). This expression of God's acceptance of the offering and fellowship with God on the basis of blood sacrifice for our sin also points towards the eternal peace with God provided through the blood of Christ's cross (Col.1:20).
v. 1: "...without defect before the Lord" speaks also in anticipation of the perfect sacrifice of Christ for us. Only Christ is perfect, only Christ could atone, only Christ is both Son of Man and Son of God and able to mediate between God and humanity.
Fellowship with God: As a result of God's restoring grace I want to give priority to fellowship with God with the amazing priority God gives to fellowship with me. I want to be as constantly aware of God as God is constantly aware of and present to me. This involves the classic spiritual disciplines...more.
My Prayer: Father, I come through the perfect way provided in Christ, the True and Living Way (John 14:6) and I would drink of the deepest fellowship and communion with You always on the basis of His perfect sacrifice alone.
Sin Offering: God is holy, and sin against His holiness is sin (like objective truth) regardless of whether a person or a people are aware of it. The sin offering is provided to allow for atonement and forgiveness of unintentional (v.2) sin. "He shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slay the sin offering at the place of the burnt offering. (v.29)"
This is one of the most disturbing chapters of scripture to me in that there is explicitly no atonement for intentional or wilful sin, which has been my decision many times (cf. Numbers 15:30). I am left only to throw myself on Christ's mercy, my only hope, trusting His sacrifice to be greater than that of any Old Testament provision.
I will therefore be sensitive to the distinction between sins of weakness and sins of wilfulness especially while still in the 'bud' stage in my heart - and say no to either.
Where else can I go? Nowhere else is there any gain; in Christ alone is forgiveness, hope, provision for my sin.
My Prayer: "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner."
Guilt Offering: is the fifth of the offerings of Leviticus. What then is guilt? The answer is surprising, even to many who live in a "guilt-innocence" culture (rather than in a "shame-honor" or a "fear-power" cultural context). The Bible teaches, despite my desire or conviction to the contrary, that I am not the best judge of whether I am innocent or guilty in a given matter, in fact a poor judge, in fact not any judge at all; only God knows and determines my innocence or guilt. (Some people do horrendous things and feel no guilt or remorse, others are tortured by prangs of guilt when sinned against as though they are responsible for the sin against them. Our subjective feelings are not a reliable indicator.) Guilt or innocence is an objective reality determined by God, of which we become aware through God's Word, written and incarnate.
Forgiveness: Just as the objective nature of guilt is true, so is the objective nature of forgiveness. When we acknowledge sin and ask for forgiveness, we may feel forgiven or not, our feeling is not the issue. Forgiveness is God's decision and ours to accept gratefully. We cannot create forgiveness, forgiveness is rather an objective fact, as is the cross where Christ took our place that our forgiveness and reconciliation might be full and free, critical to our understanding of the Gospel.
My Prayer: Father, make me aware of my sin and make me aware of Your forgiveness - cause me accept both - first to repent and then your Gift of grace so that I may rejoice and praise You forever!
Unfaithfulness: sin is essentially 'unfaithfulness' to the person in whom we are in relationship, first the Lord, and secondly the other person (animal or planet) involved (v.2). God, in this chapter, both calls for and defines faithfulness in a variety of settings.
Against God's call to faithfulness to one another, choosing to be centred in myself (being committed or 'faithful' first or primarily or only to myself) or setting myself up as judge of what is right and wrong, is the essence of pride, ego and sin.
Restitution: Not only does God require faithfulness in relationship but following unfaithfulness God calls for restitution to the person harmed by unfaithfulness. For example, God defines keeping a lost thing which I find as unfaithfulness to the person who lost it (v.4) and requires it's return, + 1/5th of it's value if I am discovered to have intended to keep it (v.5).
Sacrificial offerings: to which much of the chapter returns, are expressions of restitution for unfaithfulness. Ultimately Christ sacrificed himself on the cross in restitution for our unfaithfulness.
Faithful - Faith: Note the closeness of Biblical terms which stand over against sin: 'faithfulness' (v.2) is the opposite of sin in the Old Testament; 'faith' in Christ, God's provided sacrifice (Genesis 22), is the means of overcoming sin in the New Testament (Romans 4:22).
My Prayer: "Father, enable me to be faithful to You who alone and above all, You who have provided restitution in Christ for my unfaithfulness."
Care for worshipers: worship is for God but in His goodness benefits those who worship rightly also. God ensures His priests have food (v.10, 31, 32), the food is eaten before it goes bad (v. 17) and that this people do not eat what is not good for them (fat, v.23 or blood, v.26). E.g. also v.7: "...the priest who makes atonement with it shall have it." (The sacrifice is to be eaten by the priest who makes it; if a priest is inactive, he does not eat.)
These examples of the benefits of right worship are physical, yet the blessings of spiritual worship, consistent with God's heart expressed here, extend far beyond to transform us wonderfully.
Care for those in ministry: Priests, and those who serve God and humanity in His mission today, are to be cared for in a way consistent with the principles in this chapter. This is part of our calling. We must be careful not to neglect or take them for granted but love and help meet their needs.
My Prayer: "Lord, you do all things well! I praise you that even receiving worship, you are thinking also of our good and care. How amazing You are! Father, make me sensitive today to a need of a co-worker that I can meet."
God ordains leaders for service: God sets aside or "ordains" those He chooses for service, their mission. (The Hebrew translated "ordination" is more literally "fillings," perhaps to emphasize the need of those who serve in this way to be continually refilled with God's Spirit and anointing)
A Personal Reflection: Though ordained in my denomination in my late 20's (as a means of being allowed to serve in this way), I've often resisted the apparent exclusiveness of this idea, holding all who are Christ's to be called to service and His mission, and that is so. This is a difficult balance which which I have continued to struggle - for all are called and consecrated to serve in the name of Jesus, but not all are called to the same leadership role. And I cannot deny that in the NT as well as in the OT leadership is set aside to serve the whole (e.g. Acts 6). As such I am called and ordained to serve the whole, inviting all to use their gifts and go to the next level of serving more people, and more effectively in the name of Christ. Ordination is then the call to servant-leadership of the people who are called to serve the world.
v.30: "Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood which was on the altar and sprinkled it on Aaron, on his garments, on his sons, and on the garments of his sons with him; and he consecrated Aaron, his garments, and his sons, and the garments of his sons with him.
My Prayer: Father, to be called and consecrated is holy thing not to be taken lightly. May I not resist Your call or dilute it, but step up daily to obedience to the fullness of my calling and consecration. For Your Glory, Amen.
The Amazing Promise: v.4: "Today the Lord shall appear to you." The promise is amazing and is followed by two expressions of God's love and faithfulness to His word...
God Prepares His people to See Him: The people's sin is transferred to the sacrifice so God's holiness can be known by His people. The phrase in v.15: "offered it for sin" most literally means "he sinned it," i.e. he made the sacrifice sin just as Jesus was made sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (cf. 2 Corinth 5:21). Therefore I will avoid sin, seek God's means of grace, and worship the Lord in holiness and joy.
God's Glory: Following the removal of sin separating us from God (v.15) we may see God's Glory (v.23-24) - glory is from Hebrew root: 'to be heavy.' God's Glory displays something of God's person and is without compare, as is God's I AM.
The end of mission and the destiny of the redeemed is to see His Glory. This is the highest purpose and experience of life. Thomas Aquinas saw God's Glory near the end of his life, declared his voluminous writings to be dust, and never wrote again.
My Prayer: "Lord, Your Glory!"
God, His truths or standards are not negotiable and are ignored to our loss. (v.2). God's glory (Lev. 9:24) started a fire which was to burn continually (Lev. 6:12-13). Aaron's sons ignored God's command (v.1), possibly while drunk as a prohibition follows in v. 9. In any case, the point is clear: God's word and holiness is not to be ignored and always has consequences, immediately or in the future. Conversely, love for God's word and holiness brings blessing.
God's justice is just: Aaron could not grumble against the Lord for punishing his sons, v.2: "It is what the Lord spoke, saying, 'By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before the people I will be honoured.'" So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.". We may not grumble when God punishes willful disobedience, either our own or that of another. The passage is parallel in some ways to that of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Church discipline, in any of its forms, is often strenuously resisted ultimately because we want to set or negotiate God's standards rather than accept them and pursue Him.
God loves His people and purges evil from among them so that we would be holy, a worshiping community ready for mission.
My Prayer: "Father, we know so little of Your Holiness, largely because we remain, to our loss, satisfied with pursuing lesser goals. Forgive us. Lord, we desire no 'opiate' - only You!
God is clean and desires us to be clean.This is important to God. In the next 5 chapters the "clean" or "unclean" distinction is made 100 times. Holy means to be separated to God and from all that is unclean; related to God it means He is separate from all that is evil, completely pure and distinct from all beings He has created (transcendent). God delivered Israel from Egypt for this purpose (v.45).
God's laws served to reflect the holiness of God, keep Israel distinct from the idolatrous practices of surrounding nations, and help maintain physical health. Some desire to set holiness and love over-against one-another as if they are opposites, but love is an expression of holiness and holiness is a gift motivated by love.
v.45: "For I am the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy." Though there is much in culture and in our own hearts militating against God's purpose for and in us, I am to be clean before Him and in the world as my testimony to Him in the world.
Purity begins within, in the heart ("Purity of heart is to will one thing" - Kierkegaard) and mind (i.e. how we see ourselves and the world), and then affects behaviour and externals. I will abide in the Vine (John 15) to bear this fruit.
My Prayer: "Father, thank for choosing us (v.45) to be our God and to gift us with, and call us to, holiness. Separate me to Yourself, to love like You, to be pure like You, to reflect Your Glory!"
Cleanliness after childbirth: Blood, which carries life in it, when shed, becomes unclean, even when shed during the normal process of childbirth. For this reason a woman seeks purification after childbirth even as after menstruation.
The Offering: the burnt offering after childbirth does not suggest sex or childbirth to be sin; rather that a woman's period of isolation and purification following the flow of blood (accompanying childbirth) is complete, and that she, now clean, is reengaging the community.
Infections: can affect skin, clothing or even the materials used to construct as home. In each case infection is not normal and therefore "unclean." It is hoped the infection will be healed and return to normalcy during a waiting period in quarantine. If not, it may need to be removed from the community. Priests functioned also in a "medical" capacity in this era. The text uses the Hebrew word "tsara'at" commonly translated "leprosy" in this chapter; what we have come to know as leprosy is a very particular subset of this broader term now known as "Hansen's disease."
Isolation: A very difficult decision most cultures make has to do with when an individual must be separated from the society in some way (e.g. incarceration, quarantine, exile, restraining order) for the good of the society. Because the person involved (v. 45-46) pays a high price for the safety of the larger society, there will always be debate about the appropriateness of the isolation and there will always be the danger that the isolated person will be forgotten. Great compassion is needed.
Restoration: It's easy to become absorbed in the details of the restoration ceremonies and offerings of thanksgiving and perhaps to miss the essential truth that the reunion of an unwell person (in this chapter, a leper), now restored, with his or her community is a cause of celebration for God, the person and the community. After an illness it's easy to think, "well, I'm glad that's behind me," return to the tasks at hand and never reflect on or celebrate the grace of God in one's restoration and healing. This is true not only of major diseases, but also of lesser ones. Gratitude for restoration is a vital spiritual response in relationship with the One who gives health.
Celebration: I'm struck by vs. 7 & 53 which speak of releasing: "the live bird to go free outside the city into the open field..." - a simple and wonderful symbol of the freedom and joy of the healed persons' restoration to move about again freely and reengage in normal life. Verse 14 "ear...hand...foot" speaks the cleansing and dedication of what the whole person hears and does and where he or she goes.
My Prayer: Father, thank you that You are committed to my complete cleansing. Never let me be satisfied with half-measures or quick fixes. I want to be wholly (cf. v.14) cleansed and dedicated to You. Please continue and complete the good work that You have begun in me in Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). In His Name, Amen.
Public Ceremony: I confess I've often seen public ceremony as a duty to be endured. Yet I must not devalue appropriate ceremony or ritual in the celebration of God's goodness. (True, ceremony must must be meaningful; and not without the engagement of heart or mind which would remove it's value to God and to us.) Right ceremony with engagement of heart is a release of joy in celebration of God's goodness.
Public Safety: Some would question how a house could be viewed as diseased (vs. 33ff). Rot or mildew in a house is of course not the same as leprosy in a person but in time destroys the house, as leprosy, unchecked, destroys the person. A house contaminated in this way is unhealthy for those living in it and, as rot enters its timbers, eventually unsafe as those timbers become unable to sustain the roof. The concern expressed in these verses is for the health and safety of those God loves.
God desires health and purity for our human bodies as a part of honoring the goodness of His creation. The chapter distinguishes between the need for healing of disease indicated by symptoms of unnatural secretions (vs. 1-15; 25-30) and those natural secretions (v. 16-24) which require cleansing but not offerings because the latter are not related to illness. Offerings express thanks for heath and restoration to the community following the former.
Care as an expression of honor: The implication is that we must honor our bodies as God our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer does, ultimately expressed in our resurrection. The body given to each of us is to be cared for as an expression of thanks to the Lord for His honor of us by giving us our bodies and so that we may honor God as we use our bodies as instruments in our co-mission with Christ. We should then not be stoics ignoring symptoms of disease in our bodies but seek treatment and healing, giving thanks to God for His provision. Naturally, this includes preemptive care to sustain health such as plenty of sleep, exercise and good food - all as an expression of thanks to God.
A Prayer: Father, thank you for your precious love for us; for caring about our health and about the health of the community. Forgive us for ignoring or even resenting your requirements for our good. In Jesus name, Amen
The utter holiness of God in the midst of His people: The annual Day of Atonement was the most important of the ordinances, cleansing the sins of God's people as well as for those staining God's tabernacle.
A prayer: "Lord, how amazing it is to me that even the altar as the means of atonement and the Holy of Holies itself had to be cleansed annually in the Day of Atonement because of the pervasive nature of sin. Lord let me never underestimate the staining and distorting power of sin or the cleansing and healing power of the blood of Christ overcoming it. In His name alone, Amen"
"Scapegoat" come from the Hebrew "azazel" - a combination of the words for "goat" and "depart," i.e. "the goat which removes as it departs"
The Removal of Arrogance or Presumption is essential especially when intending to serve God's compassionate purposes. To show God's character and grace as clearly as God desires I must be cleansed by the means He prescribes, i.e. the scapegoat and offering described in this chapter which points ultimately to Christ's sacrifice carrying away our sin on the cross. Anything I do desiring to be of eternal value in service of the Lord can be undertaken only on this foundation of His cleansing graciously first undertaken for you and me. For this reason I will daily confess my sins of heart and behavior and thank the Lord for His grace and forgiveness in the Cross of Christ. Then I will seek divine appointments and to serve God and those He loves.
God alone is to be worshipped, there is no sharing or alternating of worship between Yahweh and any other being, real or imagined (v.7).
The goat demon (v.7) continues to be depicted and revered in many cultures, many people in them being unaware or careless of it's longstanding rivalry with God. We must not inadvertently be drawn in or stand silent when others are.
Life is in the blood: God declares blood to be sacred because "the life of the flesh is in the blood" and because it is the means by which "atonement for your souls" is made (v.11). Some groups extrapolate from this principle that blood transfusions are not to be made but in my view transfusions demonstrate respect for the high value of blood.
v.11: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life."
For this reason also when an animal was to be killed for food it was not to be done in a casual or utilitarian way but viewed as a sacrifice to take place near the tabernacle (v.5).
A prayer: "Lord, thank you that you brought to an end the horrendous practice of human blood sacrifice, first replacing it temporarily with that of animals, then removing it eternally with the cross of Christ. We often become so used to the benefits of the cross, not having lived prior, that we loose sight of what You accomplished for us on it. Forgive us, in Jesus name."
God's People Among the Nations: God is holy and holds His people to higher moral standards than are common in the nations around them, as expressed in v.1: "You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you."
Holiness Required for Service: We cannot serve a nation or community unless what we are offering is better than what they have. If our moral standards are lower we in fact do a disservice. However God, and not we or the surrounding nations, defines holiness.
God is Specific: God forbids his people incest (v.6-17), polygamy with living sisters (v.18), adultery (v.19), child sacrifice (v.20), homosexual behaviour (v.22), bestiality (v.23).
God's standards and the world's standards cannot be mixed without diminishing God's standards: The most challenging application (v.26-29) declares those of God's people, and those who live among God's people, who persist in these behaviors are to be put out of the community rather than bringing it down to their standards. This essentially envisions two communities: those who follow God by his grace in Christ, and those who insist on defining their own standards in violation of God's standards, flaunting his grace. (There are those who declare love is above God's standards and allows, or calls them, to violate God's standards but this is a love rejecting repentance unknown to God. It is loving to avoid incest, adultery etc. Jesus does not set law and love over-against one another, e.g. Matthew 5:17-20)
My Prayer: "Father, how clear are your standards, yet how vigorously they are resisted, even by some who claim to follow you but insist on going their own way. Lord, your holiness remains above all."
God is utterly holy so we His people are to be like Him in utterly rejecting evil (v.2) in all of life.
Respect for others: is to be demonstrated practically to all - including parents (v.3), the poor (v.9-10), employee (v.14), handicapped (v.14), your neighbor (v. 16-18), the powerless (v.20-22), our own bodies [e.g. no cutting or tattooing (v.28)], the aged (v.32) and strangers (v.10, 33-34). This respect includes the avoidance of partiality (v. 15), slander (v.16) or the use of false measures to defraud (v.35-36).
Love for Neighbor: Jesus drew from this chapter in summing up the Law as love for God and neighbor: v.18 & 34: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself; you shall love the stranger as yourself. I am the Lord your God."
Trust in God Alone: God's people trust Him and have no need of divination or soothsaying (v.26), mediums or spiritists (v.31). People who seek to negotiate with or manipulate evil or engage with the dead violate their relationship with God and place themselves in great danger of a permanent and exclusive liaison with Satan and his dark angels.
My Prayer: "Father, how practical and all encompassing is the expression of Your holiness in the details of our daily lives and relationships with others, including strangers. May I be holy as You are holy."
Removing Contamination: God does not permit those who deliberately choose gross unfaithfulness to Him to continue to contaminate His people. God rather separates purposeful contamination from His people to protect His people from becoming like the surrounding nations and loosing their ability to bring salvation to them. For this reason God says in v.26: "You are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine."
People who choose to kill infants (v.2-5) - whether for our convenience, gender preference, economic advantage or other supposed benefit; whether by burning for Molech, abortion or any other means, mediums and spiritists (v.6,27), laying curses (v.9), adultery and incest (v.10-12,14), homosexuality (v.13), bestiality (v.15-16) or exposing the nakedness of others (v.17-21) contaminate God's people and must be removed.
Defending God's Standards: Many condemn God as harsh for His desire for holiness consistent with His nature and for separating out purposeful contamination from among His people. One of our roles, as members of God's people, is to help those who express indignation with God, understand God's reasons for asking His people to live by those standards. Without standards (God's standards or those of our own choosing) society rapidly unravels into social pain and chaos. (Ironically those who condemn God for His moral standards frequently are willing to accept without thought the standards of those who harm themselves and society immeasurably by deliberate sinful choices.) Those who reject God's holy standards (sometimes unknowingly, sometimes uncaringly), in fact bring pain to themselves and those around them, often for generations to come.
Choosing to Live Among God's People: No one is required to live among God's people, and those who choose to do so do not have the right to purposely contaminate the community of God's people. God applies His standards also to those who are not part of His people ('aliens' v.2) if they choose to live among His people, because contamination does it's damage regardless of source.
My Prayer: Father, why am I so timid in championing Your holy standard? Why am I more afraid of those who call me names for standing with You than I am of the results of disobedience to You? Why am I more afraid of those who are angry with me for standing with You than I am of your righteous holiness? Father, forgive me, I want to be wholly Yours!
(I recognize the difficulty of applying these principles in a multi-cultural world. The principle of self-selection in many countries is under pressure. There is rather insistence that the powerless minority accept the standards of the powerful majority. The minority should however be free to live by higher (or lower, self-selected) standards than the surrounding majority if it chooses. The right should also exist for people to choose the community and community-standards with which they wish to live without one community enforcing its standards on another. The overarching standards for all communities within the country (taxes, passports, how to get a driver's license etc.) should in my view be kept to a minimum. [But I recognize I'm venturing into political philosophy in the attempt to apply the principles of the chapter in today's multi-cultural nation-states.])
High Standards for the Priest: God expects high standards of His priests as they are nearest Him in the "holy place" and 'holiest of holies' (for graphic, click here) and represent Him to His people. Priests could have no ties to the dead, pagan culture, or serve with physical defects. Cf. v.8: "He (the priest) shall be holy to you; for I the Lord, who sanctifies you, am holy." High ethical standards applied likewise to leaders of the early church (1 Tim 3:1-13).
God's Purpose: is to call His people away from pagan practices, separate and holy to the His purposes to be a light to the nations. The penalty of v. 9 is harsh in the eyes of cultures transformed by Christianity, though common in the cultures surrounding Israel at that time. While the final and complete sacrifice of Christ on the cross ended the need for the Old Testament sacrificial system and the priestly class administering it, God continues to call His people to higher standards of conduct than the surrounding peoples.
Our Motivation: As we seek to serve and represent the Lord in His redemptive mission to the world, let us not seek the lowest standards which God will accept or tolerate, but those which bring most glory to the Lord. Where I fall short, I am grateful for the Lord's grace and mercy and receive it gladly but do so not to circumvent Christ's call to holiness on my life and heart. I want to move where I fall short to serve the Lord out of love and joy rather than obligation. This begins, as Jesus pointed out, with my inner thoughts and motivations (Matthew 5).
My Prayer: Father, Your holiness is a "consuming fire (Heb. 12)" to us which burns our "dross" (I Corinth 5:15) and frightens us. Turn us from fear to awe and from awe to joy as we know Your holiness as the source and goal of our redemption.
God is Holy and Sanctifies Us, v. 32: "I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel; I am the Lord who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; I am the Lord."
God must be set apart in our hearts and lives, so as not be taken lightly or viewed as of equal value with other influences. Some may puzzle over God's requirements in these chapters but it is important not to loose sight of God's purpose of being honored above all pagan gods and common experiences of life. Unless God's people honor God in this fundamental way, we become like the rest of the world and cannot offer God's salvation to the peoples of the world.
Authentic Contextualization: For this reason we must not be turned aside by those who are unable to distinguish between relating authentically to the world through valid contextualization, and becoming like (indistinguishable from) the world in unholy attitudes or behavior. God calls us to reflect His holiness while in context of the community in order to bring God's Kingdom into the context of our relationships and community.
Avoiding Distractions: There are those who distract in this calling by appearing piously holy but whose hearts are impure in that they seek to project an image which is external but not authentic. Such people 'put off' those who might desire genuine holiness. Some others are vulnerable to simply mirroring the world without any significant counter-reflection of "Christ in us, the hope of Glory" (Col. 1), thereby short-circuiting God's redemptive purpose. Let us seek and reflect God's face without distraction.
My Prayer: "Father, help me sanctify You in my community and among the nations. I would lift You up above all others. Purify my heart of pretence. Make me willing to pay any price to reflect You rightly."
Our Identity in Covenant: God provides festivals and convocations for His people to remember who we are and whose we are. There are eight such 'appointed times' (v.2) in the calendar year of Israel summarized in this chapter. v.2: "the Lord's appointed times you shall proclaim as holy convocations to the sons of Israel."
The days are for rest (Sabbath)
celebration (Passover & Unleavened Bread, Trumpets [new year] and Tabernacles [also called Booths]),
thanksgiving (First Fruit and Pentecost) and
Each of these days point to Christ:
Holy days (shortened to "holidays" causing many to forget their purpose) are important to keep rhythm and order in the community, honoring various aspects of God's gifts to us and our thanksgiving to Him for them.
Aids to remembering: The church calendar, liturgy of high church traditions and lectionary, while they may not represent all of scripture (as can your daily systematic reading of scripture), do point to many important themes.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for special days and markers as reminders for our easily distracted and wandering hearts. All is that You would be praised! Both today, in the next generation, and among those around us who do not yet know your grace. Thank you, Lord!
The Presence of the Lord: The lamp burning continually in the tent of meeting (v.2-4) speaks of the ongoing presence of Yahweh with His people. I choose to be conscious of the presence of God, especially when candles are lit.
Excising Corruption: God does not allow blasphemy to corrupt the community. Participation in the community of Yahweh is voluntary and departure is voluntary. If participation is chosen however, blasphemy is not permitted to undercut the foundation of the community. Hebrew culture has a closer identification between the person and his or her name than do many cultures.
The blasphemer (v.10-11) was one of the "mixed multitude" (Ex. 12:38). In laying on hands (v.14), the people transferred what guilt had accrued to the community. Blasphemy is a purposeful expression of hate characterised by deliberate demeaning contempt. The value of man is derived from the value of God. Devaluing God devalues man.
The Image of God: God distinguishes clearly between man (v. 17) and animal (v. 18). The image of God is borne by man in a way not done by animals.
Closure: The law limiting retaliation (lex talionis) prohibited the feuding and unlimited revenge common to many cultures (v.19-20) thereby restoring peace to the community. Jesus called for an end to retaliation of any kind (Matt. 5:38). I will therefore treat friends and strangers with the same grace.
One Standard: v. 22: "There will be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God." A common standard in law and attitude for an 'in group' and an 'out group' is vital in any culture to avoid favouritism or discrimination. Yahweh knows the human heart.
My Prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. May You be glorified in all the earth. In Jesus name, Amen.
God provides rest and restoration to benefit both His land and His people. The Sabbath and Jubilee principles allow land to lie fallow and people to return to their family property.
Our care for land allows it to rest and rejuvenate every seventh year (v.2-4).
Our care for our community allows families to reclaim their ancestral property every 50th year (v.10) or buy it back at reduced price before that time, depending on number of years to Jubilee (v.16) when all was to be returned. In addition, the poor are to be supported with no interest loans and food at cost (v.37); in worst case, hired as labour, but never purchased as slaves (v.40) - a system of social netting respecting the needs of the poor; v.37: "You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain."
"Rent" till Jubilee: Those who bought land presumably understood they were in fact renting it for up to 49 years, likewise those who bought Israelite slaves presumably understood they were hiring labour who would be discharged at the Jubilee. Jubilee applied to the Israelite community and was not envisioned to extend to those who chose to remain outside it (v.44-46). Presumably pagan slaves who were circumcised and became followers of Yahweh would also be released at the Jubilee or could be redeemed earlier at reduced price.
Application: I will champion the balanced principles of Jubilee: e.g. fixed term interest free loans and food at cost as long as loan payments are being made, and work for pay if loans are defaulted. The principles of this chapter do not appear to offer strings-free financial inflow to a person able to work but not doing so; it does call for providing employment to persons able to work and for such persons to work to their best ability.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for your care for the poor and your call for your people to care for the poor. Show us how to do so responsibly helping the poor return to self respect in service of community and humanity.
Idolatry or God: God leaves no stone unturned to help us understand the nature and consequences of turning to idols (non-entities), thereby breaking His covenant ("if you do not obey me" v.14); or the nature and blessings of covenant keeping ("If you walk in My statutes...v.3).
Covenant-Keeping or Covenant-Breaking: Both the blessings of keeping faith in covenant relationship with Yahweh and the consequences of breaking faith are dramatic and unmistakeable. No nation or family can wonder, "Am I breaking faith or walking in obedience with my King?".
Grace to those who Stray: God offers grace to those who stray..."If they confess their iniquity...(v.40), "I will remember for them the covenant...(v.45.
My Desire: I will be God's man all the time, every moment aware of His presence, love, redemptive purpose and specific guidance; ready to do as He directs - for His glory, for the good of His Kingdom, that there be blessing to my household and blessing to others...
My Prayer: "Lord, we are without excuse. You offer covenant relationship and blessing, and the way back to You when we stray. Father, forgive those who blame you for the consequences of their own disobedience, forgive them for they know not what they do...
Voluntary promises: God does not require promises to be made to answer our prayers. If however promises are voluntarily made to the Lord, they should be kept, though at personal cost. Jesus emphasized vows should not be made lightly (Matt 5:33-37; 23:16-22).
Support of One's Gift: If a servant or field is vowed, money equivalent to the worth of the person's work in the service of the tabernacle (v. 3-7) or the cost of seed for the field (v.16-21) must be given also to cover related expenses of that person or field so the support of the gift does not become the expense of the priest. (One's firstborn (v.26) and a tithe of one's increase (v.30-33) already belongs to the Lord and is not to be considered a special gift in any way. v.32: "every tenth part of the herd or flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one share be holy to the Lord.")
Unconditional Giving: When we give, we must likewise do so unconditionally. Even when we lend, Jesus said, we should not expect a return. The one receiving the gift is responsible to the Lord for their stewardship of the gift, not the giver who has released it entirely. While the NT emphasizes generous giving rather than a tithe, it assumes a tithe as a starting point towards generous giving.
Complete Dedication: v. 28-29: The concept of kherem ("specially set apart") involves complete, irrevocable dedication by destroying it so it can never be taken back. Giving was not viewed as an 'investment' by which the giver expected 'returns' but the gift was given without condition or anticipated benefit to the giver. (In Romans 9:3, Paul was even willing to be declared anathema (the Greek equivalent of kherem) if it would bring about the salvation of his fellow Jews. In the conquest of Canaan objects devoted to pagan gods were totally dedicated to God in this way. The concept of being "specially set apart" was also applied to Israel's enemies (Josh 6:17-19; 1 Sam 15:2-3). Difficult in this concept is the destruction of persons, as also in Joshua 7, who have rejected the Lord or are following pagan gods. The only option offered in the Pentateuch for such persons is to separate themselves from the community, and when separate, not to war against them.
My Prayer: Father, from the level of dedication reflected in this chapter to the systematic purging of even reference to You in western cultures which once honored You, we have turned away from You with the same deliberate purposefulness as did the people of Israel after King Solomon, leading to destruction and exile. In judgment, Lord, remember mercy. Turn the hearts of those who purposefully reject You back to Your grace I pray in Jesus name.