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?
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.
The frightening side of God
Exodus 19: Warning! Don’t climb the mountain.
Of all the appearances of God on earth in the Bible the coming of the Almighty to Mount Sinai is the most impressive. Earlier, the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush. Now he appears to Israel in a burning mountain. There are thick clouds, thunder, earthquakes, and the sound of trumpet blasts. The people are warned to keep their distance or die. As I read this event I find myself wondering why God came in such a dramatic way. Centuries earlier, he came to the first man and woman for a quiet conversation in the cool of the day. Later on he wrestled with Jacob through the night. However, here at Sinai the appearance of the Lord is the most dramatic event to have ever happened on the face of the earth. I think the Lord’s making the point that he’s not a God to be trifled with. If he’s to make Israel into his own people they must grasp something of his holiness. They need to see him as more than a God who gives them free food each morning and who helps them win battles. Instead, they need to see the awful power of his holiness. This is a God to serve, to reverence, and to obey. Before Moses ever begins his unforgettable encounter with the Divine there are lessons to be learned. We Christians focus on an entirely different view of God. We see him as a meek Carpenter who loves us even to a cross. That, of course, is a correct view of the Lord. However, there’s more to him than that. Each of us must spend some reverent and fearful time at Sinai if we’re to begin understanding who God is.
Take Away: Mt. Sinai is a good place to take some “reverence lessons.”
Exodus 3: You’re standing on holy ground.
Out in the wilderness Moses finds himself in the Presence of the Lord. It’s instructive to note that Moses didn’t go out to that place on a spiritual retreat in an attempt to find God. Instead, the Lord finds him, getting his attention in a unique, unforgettable way. It’s the Lord who calls out to Moses as he called out to Adam and Eve in the Garden and as he will call out to the boy Samuel many years hence. Moses is shocked to hear his own name being called out from that burning bush and he instinctively draws closer. However, the Lord stops him, telling him to remove his shoes because he’s now on “holy ground.” Obviously, it’s the Presence of the Lord in that place that makes, what would otherwise be just dirt, into something sacred. In many cultures today, shoe removal is an act of respect or reverence. The command that Moses remove his sandals isn’t a brand new idea to Moses; it’s just that he’s in a holy place and at first, didn’t realize it. It should come as no surprise that the Lord likes to come into our lives in unexpected ways! He’s been doing that since the very beginning. At first, I may miss what’s happening altogether but as soon as it dawns on me that God has come close, I’m to reverently respond; realizing that, what I thought was common has been sanctified by his presence.
Take Away: Where ever I encounter God that place becomes for me, holy ground.
Haggai 1: Do it just for me. Honor me.
I was out doing some errands this week and dropped by the church for a minute. No one was there but me but when I went into the sanctuary, almost without thinking, I removed my hat. At that point I smiled to myself that no one would know whether or not I removed my hat in reverence and I wondered if the Lord even cared. I’ve seen church guys working in the building who went in and out of the sanctuary without a thought about it and, frankly, I’m okay with that. Still, there’s something about being in that place where we worship the Lord that makes it special to me and I want my actions there, even on a Monday when no one else is around, to reflect that reality. Through his prophet the Lord calls for the people of that day to pick up the task of rebuilding the Temple. Practically speaking, they can worship the Lord anywhere. As Jesus put it in John 4:24: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Still, there’s value in setting aside sacred space. Haggai tells them that God feels honored when people make a special effort to provide a place of worship. While I understand that the Temple has a unique role in the life of the people of Israel I still think there’s a connection between it and the place where I worship. We should seriously think about the fact that the Lord didn’t say, through Haggai, “You can worship me anywhere, just do it with all your heart” but, instead said, “Rebuild the Temple; do it just for me. Honor me.”
Take Away: There’s value in setting aside sacred space.
The Lord is much more than a Friend
Ezekiel 22: They can’t tell the difference between sacred and secular.
It’s a horrible time for the people of Jerusalem. There’s threatening war, a devastating drought, and a collapse of civil authority. Down at the Temple the priests continue in a God-ignoring pattern, treating sacred things as common. The Almighty complains that they profane him by trying to “pull me down to their level.” I like to sing “What a Friend we have in Jesus” and feel humbled and honored at the thought that the Lord is willing to be my Friend. However, I can’t help but think that the “friendship” model only works at one level. This Friend is the King of Kings. He’s holy and eternal. My relationship with him starts with my bowing before him. It’s he who takes my hand and gives me permission to stand in his presence. If I call him “Friend” it’s only because he allows me to. The priests of Ezekiel’s day treat the holy as common. Today, in my blessings and comfort, I don’t want to make the same mistake.
Take Away: I call the Lord my friend only because he has graciously allowed me to.
A visit to God’s throne
Ezekiel 10: Court and Temple were both filled with the blazing presence of the Glory of God.
Ezekiel encounters those “wheels within wheels” once again, this time as part of a glorious vision of God. Most of what I’d call the “personal” side of Ezekiel isn’t attractive to me. Under God’s direction he does some pretty strange stuff and some of it must have been downright painful. On the other side of the coin, though, are encounters like this one with the Glory of God. I’m not saying I can read his words and come away with an accurate understanding of it all. These are complex events and I’m sure I wouldn’t have done as good a job as he does in his attempt to describe his famous “wheels within wheels” or the sound of cherubim wings or the Voice like thunder or a sky-blue, sapphire colored throne. I can’t grasp it all and I can’t help but feel a little jealous (is it okay to be jealous of another man’s vision?) of Ezekiel’s moment in the presence of God. Still, I appreciate his allowing me to tag along as he encounters the Lord Almighty. Even though I know I’m like a blind man in the presence of a rainbow, I still get just a faint sense of it all. In this place I’m fearfully reverent and I know that there are depths to the Glory of God that I can’t hope to comprehend. I still can’t grasp it all but thanks to Ezekiel I know more than I would otherwise.
Take Away: There are depths to the Glory of the Lord that I can’t hope to comprehend.
Talking about God
Isaiah 46: Can you picture me without reducing me?
The topic is handmade idols. God challenges his people to consider their tendency to create idols, not only of pagan gods, but those intended to “assist” them in worship of him, the true God. He tells them that when they whittle an idol of him they insult him, and diminish him in their sight. Now, I haven’t been making any idols, of Nebo or Baal or even of God Almighty, so I’m safe from breaking this commandment on the first level. However, I might come up short here in some other ways. It might be that in trying to understand God that I shrink him down so I can get my mind around him. Or, I might enjoy a good discussion on theology and forget that the One I am talking about is part of the conversation. If I do that, I may come off as less respectful of him than I should. To some extent, even in my finest hour, I struggle to comprehend God. I don’t want to add disrespect or irreverence to my own human limitations.
Take Away: We’re wise to be careful and respectful in how to talk about the Almighty.