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Leviticus 23: Moses posted the calendar for the annual appointed feasts of God which Israel was to celebrate.
From the Exodus on the Lord gives the Israelites instructions for annual special events. Those events focus on both past and present blessings and touch on things like the Passover and on the harvest. God’s people are to remember his past blessings and appreciate the present ones. The feasts include their making offerings but they’re also to celebrate all the Lord’s blessings on them. These feasts connect God’s people to God in their daily lives, reminding them of his provision for them in days gone by and in the current events of their lives as well. This concept is not only good for the Israelites of centuries ago but is beneficial for you and me too. Without such celebrations we tend to get lost in the everyday details of life and lose sight of the big picture of God’s provision for, and connection to, our lives. The specifics of those celebrations might look different for us than it did for them, but it has a similar impact on us. Our celebrations might be a combination of civil and spiritual, like Christmas or New Year’s or Thanksgiving or Mother’s Day. However, they may be quite “Christian specific” like Pentecost or Easter (the real deal, not the bunnies and new clothes version). Those celebrations might even be quite personal, like remembering the date of one’s conversion or God’s deliverance in one’s life from some unwelcome event. It’s good to be reminded that even as we read the rules and regulations of Leviticus we find ourselves being ordered to remember and celebrate God’s goodness to us. It’s in things like this that we find the spice of life.
Take Away: God is good to us and is active in our lives, we need to celebrate that.
How do the people of God live?
Leviticus 22: I insist on being treated with holy reverence among the People of Israel.
As worship instructions continue the rules concerning types of sacrifices are given. As God’s people they’re to bring unblemished animals when making sacrifices. If someone wants to give God something less as a freewill offering, okay – but it can never be an “official” offering. Even then, there are many limitations. We get lost in the rules and regulations and are in danger of missing the main point in them. The reason for the rules is that to do otherwise is to treat God with less than reverence. Understanding the reason for the no-sick-animals rule transforms my reading of the passage. That which I bring to God and that which I do in his Name is not to be second rate. There must always be an element of reverence in my dealings with God. One answer to the question, “how do a people of God live?” is this: with holy reverence toward God.
Take Away: How can I best treat the Lord with holy reverence?
Grace plus grace
Leviticus 20: Set yourselves apart for a holy life…I am God who makes you holy.
Which is it? Am I holy because I consecrate myself to God or is it because he works in my life making me holy? You know that the answer is simply, “both.” The Lord works on both sides of this issue while I’m in the middle. He makes it possible for me to share in his holiness through his living in and through me. He also makes it possible for me to accept his gracious offer to fill my life, creating in me the capability to choose him over myself. On one hand, there’s God, ready and willing to “make” me holy. On the other hand, why, there’s God again. He makes it possible for me to say “yes” to this gracious offer. I’m in the middle. If I refuse this grace-filled offer, I open the doors to the possibility of all the horrible things described in Leviticus 20. If I accept it, if I take advantage of this grace plus grace offer, I open the way for God’s life – his holiness – to be lived out in me.
Take Away: The Lord not only makes me holy; he makes it possible for me to want to be holy in the first place..
Holiness everywhere, all the time
Leviticus 19: Be holy because I, God, your God, am holy.
This phrase is a repeated in several other places in the Books of Law. Here, it comes just before a rundown of how to live that includes everything from “no idols” to “no gossip.” This command appears along with items like how to plant one’s crops, how to cut one’s hair, and a warning against getting tattoos. It’s intriguing to see this call to holiness from a holy God surrounded by all these mundane concerns. Clearly, the Lord wants his holiness to be found in the lives of his people and not just when the High Priest enters into the Holy of Holies or when Moses ascends the shaking Mount Sinai. As I see obvious cultural concerns along with universal moral issues all being thrown into the mix together and then am told that the underlying concern in all of it is holiness I realize just how wrong it is to confine holiness to a small area of the Tabernacle. God is calling his people to apply their relationship with him to not only how they conduct worship in the new Tent of Meeting but also how they live their everyday lives. That’s a message I need today. After all, part time holiness isn’t much holiness at all.
Take Away: Living a holy life has as much to do with what happens outside the church as it does what happens inside it.
The Day of Atonement
Leviticus 16: In the presence of God you will be made clean of all your sins.
Built into the Law given in Leviticus is a special annual event called the Day of Atonement. Both priests and people are to prepare themselves for this event by fasting. The High Priest is to follow a precise ritual and on this day only he is to enter the most sacred part of the Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies. Here, in the Presence of the Lord his, and the sins of the whole nation, will be cleansed. Once this is done a great celebration of thanksgiving takes place. I find it interesting that after all the sin offerings with all the shed blood that there remains the need for a specific encounter with the Almighty for their sins to be wiped out. In this I see that, in the end, these ancient Israelites rely, as I do, on the grace and mercy of God. As this High Priest in his colorful and strange garb prepares to enter the most holy place on the face of the earth, I think of my own approach to the Throne of God. When the Priest comes in humility the result is cleansing from sin. It’s also that way for you and me. We approach the throne humbly but in expectation of receiving grace, mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing. It’s only in the presence of God that we are made clean of all our sins.
Take Away: When all else is said and done, we rely on God’s grace and mercy.
The more things change the more they stay the same
Leviticus 13: The priest will examine the sore on the skin.
Here I am in everybody’s favorite part of Leviticus. I’m reading about clean and unclean foods, infections, woman’s stuff, and mildew. Frankly, it’ll get worse before it gets better. A quick peek ahead reveals a riveting chapter on bodily discharges. I can hardly wait! Of course, I’m kidding about these chapters being everyone’s favorite. I wonder how many New Year’s resolutions to read the Bible through have been shipwrecked right here in these chapters of Leviticus! Still, I’m taken with God’s interest in every part of their lives. This call to holiness reaches deeper than their making sacrifices for their sins or their being sure they show proper reverence to the Lord and his Tabernacle. When a person gets an infection he’s not only to deal with it from the aspect of personal hygiene but from a spiritual point of view too. Know what, this isn’t as far off the beam as one might think. A while back I went through two rounds of antibiotics trying to get rid of a sinus infection. Somewhere in the dreary days of the second week of that infection, I reminded the Lord that, while I knew there were lots of other concerns in the world, I wouldn’t mind his help in healing that infection. As I remember those unwelcome days in light of these chapters of Leviticus I’m reminded that God’s in play in the everyday bumps in the road of life. The specifics of dealing with some of those things has changed, but the basics haven’t changed all that much.
Take Away: The Lord’s interest in our lives goes way beyond our reading our Bibles and going to church.
Leviticus 10: Distinguish between the holy and the common, between the ritually clean and unclean.
It starts with another “fire” issue. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu have failed to follow the Lord’s instructions concerning fire used in worship. The result is fire from Above! The fire of the wrath of God kills them. Things have calmed down a bit, and Moses warns everyone to not take the things of God lightly. Holy things must be treated as such; with reverence. If it’s possible to treat uncommon things as common and thus bring condemnation, it is just as possible to treat common things as uncommon. Our society specializes in that. Things that should be treated with absolute reverence are tossed aside as though they’re worthless. Silly things that are either simply common or worse are held up as shining objects of worship. My society does that with sports, entertainment, and so-called success. To treat the holy as common is sin that brings death. The same can be said of treating common things as holy.
Take Away: Priorities are critically important in all of life.
Leviticus 9: Next Aaron presented the offerings of the people.
The sacrificial system has been explained, the priests ordained, and now it’s getting underway. Moses, God’s representative, puts everything into place and now Aaron, the newly anointed high priest initiates the first sacrifices. Before he presents the offerings of the people he has personal business to attend to. He makes offerings of his own in preparation for serving the people. The animals are killed and their blood is applied, a reflection of Precious Blood that will be shed many years in the future. It’s only after Aaron has done that that he turns his attention to the offerings of the people. This passage speaks to me as the leader of my congregation. I want to serve the people who are under my care but I must never forget that I have needs of my own. If I fail to bring them to the Lord I’m bound to fail my people. In addition, this is not a one time effort. In spite of what those outside the clergy think, we pastors stand in need of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness on an ongoing basis. Today, as I read about these events of long ago and regardless of the huge cultural and practical differences, I find myself identifying with these priests of old as they take care of their own business before they can serve their congregation.
Take Away: If we’re to help others we need to deal with the needs of our own lives first.
Fan the flames
Leviticus 6: Keep the fire burning on the Altar continuously. It must not go out.
Instructions for worship continue, and will throughout the book. The command to keep the Altar fire burning stands out. The fire is representative of God. It was fire that Moses encountered in the desert; it’s a pillar of fire that leads them at night. The fire of the Altar also symbolizes the presence and work of Jehovah in their midst. Because of that, the command is that it never be allowed to go out. The application is pretty easy to understand and not so easy to apply. I want the fire of God’s presence in my life to burn freely – and, like that of the burning bush: never go out. It was the work of those who tended to the Tent of Meeting to assure the perpetuity of the flame, and it’s my responsibility to keep that flame burning in my life. I pray, read the Word, and live in fellowship with God and his people. In the midst of my busyness, this is my priority. The fire of God must keep burning.
Take Away: God’s fire in my life must be tended and never taken for granted.
How God’s people live
Leviticus 5: …the moment he does realize his guilt he is held responsible.
So how do a people of God live? How do they conduct business, relate to one another, and worship? That’s the challenge that’s met in Leviticus. There’s a lot of “sin” language here. “If a man sins by…then he must….” Living justly, making things right, even being holy are the goals of Leviticus. Today I read, “If anyone sins by breaking any of the commandments of God which must not be broken, but without being aware of it at the time, the moment he does realize his guilt he is held responsible.” So much of this book of rules and regulations seems out of touch. They’re part of the Old Covenant and therefore subject to modification by the superior New Covenant. Still, there are principles that can be applied anywhere and anytime. This is one of them. Responsibility is linked to knowledge. It’s when I realize that I’ve come up short that I’m responsible for making things right. There’s grace in this – that is, God isn’t waiting for me to mess up so he can come down on me like a load of bricks (if so, I sure wouldn’t be writing these words right now). There’s also responsibility here – once I do know, I can’t retreat to, “I didn’t know.” If possible, I must make it right. I must acknowledge my failure and repent of it. To do otherwise is to presume on God’s grace and to bring condemnation upon myself.
Take Away: To know is to be responsible.