Tag Archives: Leviticus

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 22

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“If anyone eats from a holy offering accidentally, he must give back the holy offering to the priest and add twenty percent to it.” Leviticus 22:14 (MSG)

I was never a “straight A” student. I did well in school, but was never overly concerned about having to have a perfect grade point average. I wanted to be a good student, but perfect grades didn’t matter that much to me. What mattered to me was not that I had memorized every factoid, brown-nosed every teacher, meticulously excelled at every class project. What mattered to me was that I was getting the big picture. I wanted to understand and internalize each subject and how it fit into the grand scheme of life.

Leviticus is a book that will drive a straight A student crazy. You can list out all of the rules and try to adhere to every one of them, but you’ll find yourself in a straight-jacket. Even God was giving the law so that the people would get the big picture: you can’t possibly live good enough lives to overcome the root problem of sin because rule keeping doesn’t change the condition of your heart.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene some 1500 years later, the lesson had been completely lost. The straight-A, hard-core keepers of the law had created a religious class system based on who best kept all of the rules. They even went further to add rules to the rules which would ensure their power, profit and religious standing. Journey through the source accounts of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and you’ll find many example of Jesus calling all of the religious do-gooders to a legal point of order:

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! 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 merely human rules.’”

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

The point of Leviticus is not to get mired in the minutiae of the rules, but to see the larger truth(s) to which they point. Jesus made it clear that God’s great concern was not the keeping of the rules but the condition of the heart.

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Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 15

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God spoke to Moses and Aaron: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, When a man has a discharge from his genitals, the discharge is unclean. Whether it comes from a seepage or an obstruction he is unclean. He is unclean all the days his body has a seepage or an obstruction.” Leviticus 15:1 (MSG)

When my daughters were young, the word for “unclean” was “acky” (toddler-ese derivative of the word “yucky”). Kids need a clear understanding of what things are acceptable and which things are “acky” because they could maim you, burn you, give you intestinal problems (and let’s face it – the diapers are nasty enough without compounding the issue), spread a communicable disease (we’d like to abandon our “pink-stuff-of-the-month” subscription with the local pharmacy, thank you), or outright kill you (dad gets blamed for enough, he doesn’t need that hanging over his head, too). As a result, there is a period of development when “acky” was a hot topic of conversation.

As I read today’s chapter, I found myself returning to the metaphor of Leviticus being a heavenly Father’s rules for the nation of Israel who were just toddlers in their societal development. Wives have enough trouble with us men who were reared in an advanced civilization and the best educational system in human history. We still fart, belch, spit, scratch, pick and leave unhealthy residue of our bodily emissions on toilets with the seat up. Can you imagine how bad guys must have been living in a tent city in 2500 b.c. without showers, indoor plumbing, laundry facilities and disposable razors?

All of the description about what was “acky” in today’s chapter served layers of purposes. From a societal point-of-view, it helped protect the nation from communicable disease by prescribing ceremonial washing of things that could easily carry all sorts of nasty germs and viruses. From a spiritual point-of-view, it reminded the people that they served a holy (and clean) God.

Today, I’m reminded that [wait for it….] “cleanliness is next to godliness.”

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Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 10

That same day Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, took their censers, put hot coals and incense in them, and offered “strange” fire to God—something God had not commanded. Fire blazed out from God and consumed them—they died in God’s presence. Leviticus 10:1-2 (MSG)

When I was a young child, I went to my grandparents house with the rest of my family. I have only vague recollections of the exact circumstances, but I know my sister and I were running wild (probably on a sugar high from the candy we consumed from Grandma Golly’s genrously large candy bowl). Somewhere along the line, likely having been told to settle down, I mouthed off to my dad disrespectfully. I was immediately taken behind the Grandpa and Grandma’s garage and received a spanking, which did not hurt me but which I remember to this day. I learned a lesson in that moment that has stuck with me the rest of my life. My father loved me, but he was also my father and deserved my respect. He should not, and would not tolerate me mouthing off to him.

The story of Nadab and Abihu is a hard one to wrap our minds around, but it illustrates an important lesson. If my earthly father, who is every bit a fallible human being, deserves my respect and honor, then how much more honor and respect does my Heavenly Father deserve who is the holy Creator of the universe? At the time of Leviticus, God’s people were like young children in their understanding of who He was. I believe God was trying to teach the entire nation some very basic concepts like a parent teaches their toddler.

I wonder if we sometimes focus so much on God’s grace and forgiveness that we lose respect for God’s holiness and omnipotence. Perhaps it would do me good to, spiritually speaking, be taken out behind the garage once in a while when I forget. It might remind me that God is my Heavenly Father, but He’s not my ol’ man.

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Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 5

“When you are guilty, immediately confess the sin that you’ve committed and bring as your penalty to God for the sin you have committed a female lamb or goat from the flock for an Absolution-Offering.” Leviticus 5:5 (MSG)

A guilty conscience is a killer. It robs you of sleep. It ties your gut into knots. It gnaws at your thoughts. A person may be able to keep a lid on a guilty conscience for a time, but it will eat away at your soul until the guilt starts oozing out of your life in unexpected, often unhealthy ways.

When those burdened by addictions walk through the Twelve Steps, they are really walking through a systematic process of confession and atonement. The Twelve Steps are rooted in the understanding that our addictions are unhealthy ways we’ve habitually and ritualistically tried to medicate and cope with deeper guilt and pain. Through introspection, admission and making amends, we deal with the deeper issues which led us to our addictive behaviors.

The cool thing about the ancient law of Leviticus is that it presents and attempts to deal with core spiritual, relational, and personal issues with which we continue as human beings to struggle today. The prescription may look very different on this side of history, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the empty tomb, but the issues with which we silly humans grapple at the root of it are the same ones they were wrestling with 3500 years ago.

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Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 4

He is then to take some of the bull’s blood, bring it into the Tent of Meeting, dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle some of it seven times before God, before the curtain of the Sanctuary. He is to smear some of the blood on the horns of the Altar of Fragrant Incense before God which is in the Tent of Meeting. He is to pour the rest of the bull’s blood out at the base of the Altar of Whole-Burnt-Offering at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Leviticus 4:5-7 (MSG)

Let’s face it, reading through all of the prescribed sacrifices in the book of Leviticus is a very bloody affair. I have to keep in mind that in all of this blood-letting there is a core spiritual teaching that is central to understanding who Jesus is, why Jesus came, and what Jesus did.

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, God’s message tells us that sin entered the world. Every one of us, at one time or another, has willfully chosen to do what we knew was wrong. That’s sin. As we learned the other day, that willful disobedience is like yeast which taints the whole loaf. We may be good much of the time, but the fact that we sin at all (sometimes even without knowing it) seperates us from God, who is holy.

How do we, divorced from relationship with God by our own sin, get back into relationship with God? That is the ultimate question, and the ultimate story God authors in the Bible from beginning to end.

God’s message tells us that the penalty of sin is death. Therefore, the penalty must be paid in order for relationship between human beings and God to be reunited. Without the shedding of blood, there is no payment for sin. What we are reading in Leviticus is a methodical (and very burdensome) prescription for payment. The sacrificial lamb atones for the sins of the person sacrificing it. It is a brutal and bloody affair designed to address an eternally serious matter.

When Jesus came, He came on a mission. He was God’s son, sent to be the lamb without defect sacrificed for the sins of the entire human race. His death on a cross was a brutal, bloody affair designed to pay the ultimate penalty for sin once and for all:

The old plan was only a hint of the good things in the new plan. Since that old “law plan” wasn’t complete in itself, it couldn’t complete those who followed it. No matter how many sacrifices were offered year after year, they never added up to a complete solution. If they had, the worshipers would have gone merrily on their way, no longer dragged down by their sins. But instead of removing awareness of sin, when those animal sacrifices were repeated over and over they actually heightened awareness and guilt. The plain fact is that bull and goat blood can’t get rid of sin. That is what is meant by this prophecy, put in the mouth of Christ: You don’t want sacrifices and offerings year after year; you’ve prepared a body for me for a sacrifice. It’s not fragrance and smoke from the altar that whet your appetite. So I said, “I’m here to do it your way, O God, the way it’s described in your Book.” When he said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings,” he was referring to practices according to the old plan. When he added, “I’m here to do it your way,” he set aside the first in order to enact the new plan—God’s way—by which we are made fit for God by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. Hebrews 10:1-10 (MSG)

All of these bloody sacrifices accomplish two things. First, they reminded us of how impossible it was, and is, to completely atone for sin by ourselves. Nothing we do, in and of ourselves, can atone for sin and please God. I can’t imagine trying to manage this web of offerings and sacrifices on an on going basis. Second, the sacrifices of Leviticus foreshadow the ultimate plan, which was for God to make the ultimate sacrifice for sin on our behalf.

Understanding the sacrificial system of Leviticus, I gain a much greater appreciation of what we celebrate on Good Friday.

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Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 1

“If the offering is a Whole-Burnt-Offering from the herd, present a male without a defect at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting that it may be accepted by God. Leviticus 1:3 (MSG)

My grandfather was a court bailiff and as a child I spent my spring break with him at the courthouse. I still remember the long bookshelves, stacked floor to ceiling with an important set of leather bound books entitled “Code of Iowa.” It was the “book of law” for the state of Iowa. Call it the rule book for our society. It prescribes the rules by which we live together and on which our judicial system judges those who break the rules.

Leviticus is not an inspirational book of song lyrics (like Psalms). It is not a devotional book of wise sayings (like Proverbs). It is not a biographical story (like Matthew). Leviticus is an ancient book of law. Like the Code of Iowa sitting on the county courthouse shelf, Leviticus is the “Code of (ancient) Israel.”

We also have to remember the time and historical circumstance in which the book of Leviticus was given. A couple of million Israelites had just left slavery in Egypt. An entire nation with their flocks and herds now found themselves wandering in the desert together. There was no system of government. There wasn’t an agreed upon set of rules. It was a law-less nomadic society; Imagine the entire population of the state of Iowa (complete with farmers taking their livestock) grabbing everything they could carry and making their way on foot toward Canada [Canadians will appreciate that I made them “the promised land” in this metaphor]. Leviticus was God’s attempt to provide some basic rules for life and worship to an ancient people whose daily life we can scarcely imagine in a time and culture very different from our own.

Besides being mindful of the historical context, there are two things I always try to keep in mind while wading through the Code of (ancient) Israel. First, the common link we have to that people is our sin nature. We all blow it and fall short of God’s holy perfection. The sacrificial system prescribed by Leviticus is an initial attempt in history to deal with the core spiritual problem: man is sinful, separated from God, and therefore stands condemned to die.

Second, God is a God of metaphor, so the Code of worship and conduct prescribed in Leviticus is going to provide word pictures and foreshadowing to the larger story God is authoring. For example, the first sacrificial offering prescribed is a “male without defect.” Picture Jesus, God’s own Son, a male without defect, dying on the cross. Two thousand years before Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross, God was trying to give people a word picture of the ultimate plan in the sacrifices He prescribed.

Today, I’m mindful of an epic story of grand design which is still being authored, of which I am a part. And, I’m thankful for a God of detail who has a master plan, even though my finite mind can’t completely comprehend it.

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