The God of Second Chances
Leviticus 26: On the other hand, if they confess their sins…I’ll remember my covenant….
I can’t imagine anyone enjoying the middle portion of Leviticus 26. It’s the “curse” part of the chapter in which God lists all that will happen if they break their promises to God. Like anyone else, I enjoy the “blessing” section and can happily skip the “cursing” part. However, there’s more to the chapter than those two elements. The final section is about God’s faithfulness. You might say that it’s the best part of all. God says that even if they utterly fail and if the entire “curse” comes to pass…even then, he’ll be just a prayer away. These words are all about grace and mercy and faithfulness. In this the Lord opens his heart to us. When it all falls apart because of sin the Lord waits to reestablish the covenant relationship with them. Here’s a clear view of the Lord as the God of Second Chances. There’s unbelievable power in the words, “I’ll remember.” In spite of failure, in spite of the feeling of a people being utterly rejected – in spite of it all, God remembers. I’m thankful, so thankful, that I serve the God of Second Chances.
Take Away: We all need this God of Second Chances in our lives.
There’s bad news
Leviticus 26: But if you refuse to obey me
While I’d like to linger on the blessing side of Leviticus 26 I have to move on to the curse side of the chapter. God tells them, “If you obey…good things will come. If you disobey…the results will be unthinkable.” The list is filled with everything from disease to famine to war to cannibalism. While these horrible things are framed as divine retribution the last part of this terrible section makes it clear that all these things will come “because of their sins, their sins compounded by their ancestors’ sins.” With that clarification in mind I see that this passage isn’t about God getting them if they don’t behave but, instead, is a clear word of warning that people reap what they sow. I’m not saying that the Lord has nothing to do with some of the promised terrible things, just that if they remove themselves from his blessings this, in general, is what the real world looks like. Apart from the Lord’s provision and protection they’ll find the world to be a harsh, unforgiving place. As one generation after another shrugs off their connection to the Almighty they will fall deeper and deeper into a pit of despair and desperation. God doesn’t have to send bad things into people’s lives because we live in a world where bad things sometimes happen. While it’s beyond the scope of this short devotional, the truth is that bad things come into the lives of both the righteous and the unrighteous. However in this passage the Lord warns his people that if they reject his presence and grace, severing the special connection they have with him the result will be what’s described in this passage.
Take Away: The world is a dangerous place, especially for those who live outside the grace and mercy of the Lord.
There’s good news
Leviticus 26: I’ll set up my residence in your neighborhood…I’ll stroll through your streets.
There’s a bit more to Leviticus but this section is really the grand finale. Chapter 26 is the “blessing and the curse” chapter. Here, God says, “If you do this…then I’ll do that. If you do that…then I’ll do this.” To me the finest part of the blessing is God’s promise to move into their neighborhood and stroll through their streets with them. This is the Creator promising to be fully engaged with his Creation. They wouldn’t go to visit God down at the Tent of Meeting, and he wouldn’t just make special appearances at big events like the Passover observance. This is the promise of continued fellowship with their Creator in all the affairs of life. Amazingly, God wants to walk with us even before we’re aware of him and certainly in spite of the truth that we’re not worthy of such a relationship. What we see promised here is fulfilled to a great extent in Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. It’s further fulfilled when I receive the fullness of God, the Holy Spirit into my life. It will be gloriously completed when I experience the last pages of the book of Revelation. Lord, make yourself at home in my life now, and then.
Take Away: The Lord invites me to an intimate, daily relationship with himself – what an honor!
Year of Jubilee
Leviticus 25: Sanctify the fiftieth year; make it a holy year.
In addition to the weekly Sabbath and the annual feasts the Lord designates that every seventh year the farm land is to lay fallow. This allows the land to rebuild and continue to produce a good yield. Then there’s a once in a lifetime event called the Year of Jubilee that comes each fifty years. Again, there’s to be no dirt farming during that year but there’s a lot more to it. The Israelites will be given land by family. That land is their inheritance for all time. Because of that, they can’t sell the land to another family. Instead, they’re to do a sort of lease agreement that can last no longer than the next Year of Jubilee. In that year, all land reverts to the original families. Still, there’s more. An Israelite can sell himself into slavery to another Israelite, but it really isn’t slavery. Instead, it’s more like indentured servanthood. The term can end at an agreed upon time, but in all cases, it must end on the Year of Jubilee. When the value of the person’s service is being calculated this must be taken into consideration. From what I’ve read the Israelites were unfaithful in observing Jubilee and it was only practiced, I think, once. Still, there’s a lot of wisdom in this approach. It gives the land rest, protects against the wealthy buying up all the land (very important in an agricultural society), and guarantees human freedom even in a culture all too familiar with the concept of slavery. The Year of Jubilee is an example of how the Lord gives rules intended, not to bind to unreasonable laws, but to protect the weak from unscrupulous people of means. Of course, there are some neat spiritual parallels. In Luke four Jesus proclaims his ministry to be “the year of the Lord’s favor.” His ministry is a Jubilee sort of ministry in which things are made right and those held captive by sin are set free. The Israelites may have never put the Jubilee concept into practice, but to our benefit Jesus the Messiah does just that.
Take Away: In Christ we are set free and things are made right.
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.