Day 41: Numbers 7-8; Offerings and Cleansing

Here, the head of each of the tribes of Israel bring their offerings before the Lord.  As you have read, each offering was the same.  I’m not entirely sure if there is some sort of significance to that, but I would venture to point out that each willingly brought it.  The fact that it was all twelve tribes that brought it leads me to believe that one of the points here is that the offerings were representative of the whole of the people of Israel.  The number 12 is a number that represents all of God’s people.  12 tribes, 12 apostles… and later we’ll read in revelation the 24 elders around the throne worshiping God, which is representative of all of Israel and the whole Church.

Once again here we see a cleansing ceremony.  The Levites have been set apart, as we read yesterday and today, for service to God.  They are chosen by God in place of all of the first born that were to be consecrated to God.  For them to serve appropriately, they needed to be cleansed and purified in the eyes of the Lord.  This is not unlike what we often do in our worship services.  We understand that we are a forgiven people, yet we still sin and those things can (and often do) hinder us from worshiping and serving the Lord with all our hearts.  So we set apart a time of confession and assurance of our pardon, often at the beginning of the worship service, so that we are lay those things down knowing that God has already cleansed us.  We are reminded that we are not a people under condemnation for our sins, but rather we live as a redeemed people!

Sometimes I think that Christians can get a bad wrap.  We are seen as quick to judge and quick to condemn.  Many people also think that we just remind ourselves how bad we are, always sinful… never good.  I think that this couldn’t be further from the truth!  We don’t live in our sin, in our past… or at least we shouldn’t.  Like the Levites and the priests here, we have been cleansed in the blood of Jesus.  He remembers our sins no more!!  In our time of confession, we are not there to condemn ourselves or put others down, but rather to remember the redemption we have in Christ Jesus and the gift of grace that has been freely given to us!  Hallelujah!



Day 40: Numbers 5-6; Significance of Blessings

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

There are several other parts of this particular reading that are significant.  Many of them have to do with the continuing theme of clean and unclean; Holy and common.  In reality, much of what we are reading in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy have to do with this theme.  God has chosen this people, elected them to be His own, and is not describing for them how they should live as people set apart for God.  They need to be free of uncleanliness… and follow certain ways of living.  For those that chose to be set apart from the people that are set apart, there is an entirely different set of rules.  The Nazirite Vow is something that is most notably found in the story of Sampson, which we will cover sometime in the next month or so.

One of the more important parts of this particular reading today, and probably one of the most well known also, is that of the blessing given to Moses for Aaron and the priests to use to bless the people.  I would like to clarify some words in this, bringing in the full range of meaning for them from the Hebrew language and culture:

Bless (יְבָרֶכְךָ֥): To Bless, to Kneel.  The idea of the blessing is not simply a nice word to send you away with or a polite goodbye.  To bless someone is something akin to the transfer of power.  Sending someone away, like at the end of a worship service, is actually to impart the name of (and therefore power of) that one on to them.  In some aspects, it would be like literally writing the name of the one giving the blessing on the forehead of the one being blessed.  As Christians, we believe that the words of blessing, though spoke by the pastor, are actually God’s words empowering us and sending us out in His name.

Keep (וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ): to keep, guard, observe, give heed, protect.  The idea here can be seen in the greater meanings listed.  It the idea is the protection of God.  We not only go out in the power and name of God, we also go out in God’s eternal protection as well.

Shine (יָאֵ֨ר): to be or become light, shine, to be illuminated.  There are several ideas for this particular word.  One would be the idea of us being illuminated by God, shining forth His light in the world to which we go.  The other would be that God illumines our path and brightens our way as we go.  In any case, this is all about the light of God acting on us.

Gracious (וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ): to be gracious, show favor, pity, be shown consideration.  The idea of grace is much more well rounded than I think ours is in modern Christianity.  We’ve made grace to simply be about “me and Jesus” and how God just washes away our sins.  While this is true in every respect, grace has so much more to do with God’s favor toward us, unmerited by our own actions, but having everything to do with the nature of God as being “Gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”  (Exodus 34; Nehemiah 9; Psalm 86, 103, 145; Joel 2; Jonah 2, 4).

“lift up his countenance” (יִשָּׂ֨א): to lift, bear up, carry, take, support, sustain, endure, forgive.  The word countenance actually has to do with the turning of ones face or facial expression towards another.  This is why we sometimes say “The Lord turn His face towards you.”  But as you can see, it is much more than that even.  This particular phrase is about (amongst other things) God’s eternal faithfulness towards us and the fact that He goes with us, supporting and sustaining us, even carrying us.  There is beautiful imagery here that is caught up in the “Footprints” poem.

Give (וְיָשֵׂ֥ם): to put, place, set, appoint, make, direct, lay hands on.  Words like this often get us caught in our contemporary context.  The word “give” brings up images of birthdays, Christmas, and offering plates.  Yet the meaning is so much greater.  God goes with us, as we saw with the last word, appointing and directing us.  This idea, in many ways, represents the idea of touch.  While unfortunately the idea of touching another has been much corrupted in our culture (sexual imagery, inappropriate actions, etc.), what is being conveyed here is the most appropriate, loving, gentle embrace… the wrapping of Gods arms around us as He appoints for us…

Peace (שָׁלֽוֹם): completeness, soundness, welfare, peace, tranquility, quiet, safety, soundness, contentment, friendship.  Again, a word that brings with it connotations.  Yet this isn’t just worldly peace, the cessation of war, or end of violence, this is indeed the ushering in of the true Kingdom of God in which all things are brought to their fully reconciled and redeemed state.  In many ways this is a return to Eden (though I don’t really like that phrase)… when all of creation will again be made right.  The Lion will lay down with the Lamb.  Swords will be beaten into plow shares.  Brother will lay down against brother.  And all will worship together before the Lord.

Amen.  Maranatha!  (Come Lord Jesus)



Day 39: Numbers 3-4; Duties and Tasks

I think I can be quite honest in saying today that I don’t honestly remember reading these chapters in the Bible ever.  I think that they were some of the chapters that got glazed over in my 90 day journey through the Bible a few years ago.  It would seem that there is not a great deal of interest in all that these chapters have to offer.  I have to admit too, that I am at a loss for what to write about.  That being said, when things like this happen, I turn to some good friends of mine… the Church Fathers, Calvin, and other theological writers for wisdom and guidance.

People tend to cringe when they here names like “Basil” or “John Calvin” or “Chrysostom” or “Athanasius” but let me assure you that these folks, even as they have been dead for many hundreds, or even thousands of years, are actually wonderful conversational partners when it comes to particularly unfamiliar, or perhaps confusing parts of the Bible.  They may not always be the easiest to read, but they were faithful in writing down those things that they learns and what was revealed to them through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Much like the Levites, and all the related groups within that clan, these Theologians were faithful to the duties and tasks to which they were called.  Our faith, how and what we believe, have been largely shaped by the works of these and many others throughout the ages.  While nothing that they write stands on the same level as the Bible, there is a reason why Augustine’s Confessions is the #2 all time best selling book (second only to the Bible of course).

Turning to a somewhat familiar name in the history of Church writings, John Calvin would point out to us that the whole of the book of Numbers stands in harmony with the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.  What we are reading here is a continuation of the laws that were passed down and the explanation of how the people were to live.  The Tabernacle was place Holy unto the Lord and all that was within it was considered Holy.  Therefore the people of Israel could not just walk into it.  Indeed, the duties of the Levites were to guard the Tabernacle on all sides, to shield the people from it as a way of protecting the Tabernacle from defilement, but also as a way of protecting the people from inadvertently getting themselves killed by wandering too close.

I think it is important in looking back on the wisdom of others to have a more contemporary voice in the mix as well.  Dr. David Stubbs is a professor at Western Theological Seminary, where I am attending, and he has written a commentary on the book of Numbers as part of a whole series called the “Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible.”  Dr. Stubbs makes two points that are very important here.  The First is the duties of the priests.  He groups them into four headings: to serve, to protect boundaries, to mediate across those boundaries, and to represent.  The service part seems fairly self explanatory as they are charged with the care for and transport of all things related to the Tabernacle.  We spoke of protection in Calvin’s points in the last paragraph as well.  The third part, the mediation across the boundaries takes the protection of the Tabernacle suggests that it is the job of the priests to “extend the holy into the common and help the common to move toward the holy.”  The final category is that of representation before God.  This happened in ways of representation, but also as substitution.  What is important, Dr. Stubbs points out, is that in this duty of representation and substitution, “the priests do not undercut the calling of all the people to be a priestly kingdom, but represent it.  And as the priest is to the people, so Israel is (ideally) to the nations.”

Another major theme here that Dr. Stubbs writes about is the “redemption of the Firstborn.”  Remember that in Exodus 22, after the Passover and the giving of the Ten Commandments, “God claims for himself the firstborn of humans and animals, as well as first fruits of crops.”  These are gifts that would be understood to be the best gives, the most precious gifts.  For them, this would have been one of the signs of faithfully serving the Lord.  While the nations of the world often did things like this in the form of sacrifice, sometimes even human sacrifice, God does not delight in death, nor does he need animals sacrificed to him, but rather desires and delights in “our obedient and faithful dedication as well as the acknowledgement of His claim over all aspects of our lives and possessions.”

But here in Numbers, God states that the Levites will themselves be given in place of the first born of the nation. This is again a foreshadowing… the substitution of someone or something for something else.  The firstborn were still dedicated… we see this happen time and again in Scripture… but often were not given up after this point.  We see this ultimately in the substitution of Christ, who fulfills the role of priest in His life and ultimately the sole sacrifice for the true redemption of the world in His death.  However, once again we remember that the call on our lives, to live as the covenant people of God, does not change.  We too are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” as Peter writes.  We no longer have to guard the boundaries between God and humanity as that barrier was torn open at Christ’s death.  We do, however, still traverse that boundary, mediating and representing God to all that we meet.  And we may not offer our firstborn or the first fruits anymore, but we will give back, and we are still called live for God in the words of Romans 12, “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  In Jesus’ death we are all consecrated for service to the Lord, not in death, but in the New Life we have in Christ Jesus our Lord.

**Citation for quotes:  Stubbs, David L.  Numbers (Grand Rapids: BrazosPress, 2009), 43-50.



Day 38: Numbers 1-2; The Census

Welcome to Numbers!  This particular reading isn’t a very inviting text to bring us into a new book… but I think that it brushes over a few topics that we’ve talked about already and gives us an opportunity to look back and remember where we’ve been.

First of all, the numbers (no pun intended):  We see again God’s marvelous provision for the people.  As we talked about at the time of the Exodus, only 70 people came down to Egypt, and now their numbers are listed at over 600,000 people!!  It’s actually probably more than that, but they didn’t include the Levites because of their work with the Tabernacle.  God has been with them all along, growing them into a nation, just as He promised.  Also, I think it is important to note that this is just the Men… there were likely as many women and, if you think about the normal nuclear family we like to think of in America, at least 2 kids per couple.  So… doing the math: 600,000 x 4 = 2.4 million people.  “As many as the sand on the seashore” and “more numerous than the stars in the sky.”  We know now days that there are a lot more than 2.4 million stars in the heavens, but remember, seeing it from their worldview… God has kept His promise!

The other thing that we read about today is the way that the Israelites set up camp.  This is very reminicent of something we talked about in the middle of Leviticus.  One very important part of Hebrew culture and life is their connection to the Divine.  God was their center and so they always wanted to be close to the center.  Upon the construction of the Tabernacle, they had a physical Center… the place that God dwelt.  For them, the Tabernacle was the point on which the whole universe turned, the link between God and humanity… the place that Heaven and earth touched.  So, you can see, as you read through Numbers 2 that the way they camped reflected this.  They camped around the Tabernacle, with their doors always facing it.  The picture below is, I think, a good depiction of how it might have looked.  Notice the Tabernacle in the middle, and all the lights of the tents coming out their front openings which are facing toward the dwelling place of God.  Credit for this photo goes to The Razzberry Press.

Tabernacle Encampment



Day 37: Leviticus 26-27; The Covenant – Rewards, Punishment, and Us

And so we come to the end of the book of Leviticus.  Israel is still at the base of Mount Sinai, receiving their instructions from the Lord.  This picture, vaguely similar to an image of the Mountain of Doom in Mordor, is somewhat reminiscent of the description of God’s presence on the Mountain in Exodus while the people were encamped around it.  (Credit to this picture goes to: BJPA.org.

sinai

In many ways this is a difficult book to read through for people in a contemporary context.  Yet for the nation of Israel this was very much a part of their spiritual life, which as I have mentioned really means their entire life.  We have talked a lot about the Covenant in relation to the nation of Israel.  I think it is important for us to know more about what this means for them and maybe for us as well.

A great deal of contemporary Theology has centered around God being a relational God.  We’ve even gone so far as to create a relational hermeneutic (way of interpreting) for the Triune nature of God.  There is a lot of talk about “the social Trinity” and how we relate to each other based on this idea.  While these ideas have merit, we really need to work towards being faithful in how God has chosen to reveal Himself through Scripture in relationship with people, and that is via a Covenantal relationship.  We saw the beginning so of this with Abraham, the vision of the smoking fire-pot, and through Isaac, Jacob, and again through Moses.  All of these have been times when God has either “established a covenant, “remembered the covenant,” or been faithful to said covenant.

The idea of the Covenant is structured around a relationship that would have been well known in the times of the Old Testament.  It is called a Suzerain/Vassal Covenant and has a very specific construct, one that, when understood, makes God’s actions in this relationship abundantly more beautiful and full of grace!!  A Suzerain/Vassal Covenant was generally made between nations or groups of people during this time.  It would always be between someone of greater power and those of lesser power.  It generally looked like this:

Suzerian/Vassal Covenant Structure

Now, if we were to look back over the last three books that we’ve read, we could see each of these things laid out, almost in progression:

1.  Prologue:  I am the Lord.  Later, I am that God of your Father(s)… you shall be My people.  This is the Covenant relationship between God and His people.

2. Stipulations: We see statements like Be holy as I am Holy.  Other statements like: You will be set a part or a kingdom of priests.  This particular section is most notably located in the second half of Exodus and generally all of Leviticus.  It will be repeated again throughout the Torah (first 5 books of the Old Testament).

3. Act of Commitment or Witness: This is first seen in the vision of the smoking firepot.  It is also seen later in the Passover Meal, and the continual sacrifices offered to God.  Generally speaking, this act of commitment or witness has some relationship to the spilling of blood as part of the oath.  We see this later in its fullness around the Table of our Lord and the “Blood of the covenant.”

4. Sanctions:  Leviticus 26 is the most notable example of this; the text that we just read today.  If the people are faithful, God will bless them.  If the people are not faithful… well… there’s a whole lot of hurt to come.  Notice though, a point that I want to articulate very well… God uses words like “discipline” and “listen to me.”  There are some pretty intense punishments that are to come if the people of Israel don’t obey this covenant.  We often associate this with the wrath of God… and that wouldn’t be entirely far from the truth.  However, the primary language here is not that of a vindictive smiting from God as much as it is God’s attempt to get their attention, to teach them a lesson that they may turn back to Him.

God’s hatred of sin has as much to do with God’s nature, His Holiness and Perfection, as it does with God’s desire for us to live in ways that are best for us.  God abhors those things that are not good for us, the poor decisions that we make that serve only to inflict harm unto ourselves.  These things that God is telling us not to do are things that, in all reality will hurt us.  That is not God’s plan for our lives.  Though He is readily willing and able to use our bad decisions to teach us things and help us grow, He also desires for us to make the right decisions that are honoring to Himself and good for us as well.

So what’s the big deal with the covenant then?  Why do we care?  Well, for one thing, this is the way that God has chosen to relate with us.  This hasn’t changed at all.  Jesus’ address in the last supper wasn’t “here drink this and the covenant is done.”  He says, “this cup is the New Covenant in My Blood.”  This extends the covenant, enhances it… but never does it do away with the Covenant.  For the Hebrews, we know that they were (spoiler alert) unfaithful to the Covenant.  However, what we don’t see is God abandoning them to their idolatry and apostasy.  What we do see is a God that is faithfully, and often painfully upholding both ends of the covenant, reminding them time and again what it means to be His people.  We see a God that is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” as the Psalmist writes.  Yes the people are punished… yes they even go into exile… but they are never forgotten and are always cared for, even when their are scattered… separated from their “center.”  God does not abandon the people and remains faithful to them, showing them grace upon grace.  This is the nature of God’s covenantal relationship with Israel, and also with us.  Through Jesus, we are made a part of this covenant, something we celebrate in baptism.  This picks up on our doctrine of election, the idea that we have been chosen by God through no merit of our own.  Through baptism we are included into Christ, through the Blood of the covenant, made a part of God’s people to whom He is eternally loving and faithful.

This idea of the Covenant, and the four movements in it is not something that only pertains to that time either.  The Church, in its tradition and worship have picked up on this and modeled our worship services after it as well.  We can see this best depicted here, in an expanded version of the earlier table.

Covenant and Worship

In worship we Gather together, God greets us and we respond in praise.  Often times this is (or rather should be) a time in which we can also reflect on where we are in our relationship with God.  Corporate worship, and times of individual worship/devotions are times when we encounter God.  In doing so we are reminded of our own sinfulness.  Whether by the Word of God or the moving of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we are convicted of those things which we have done against God (and others) and are moved to repentance.  HOWEVER… we DO NOT remain in this stage of guilt but are reminded again and again of our forgiveness, the redemption that we receive through the Blood of Jesus Christ.  Remember friends, we live on the other side of the resurrection… the other side of the Cross… Our sins are atoned for (which is why we do not offer sacrifices).

From here we move into a time of the Word (stipulations section) in which God speaks to us.  This isn’t simply a time that is relegated to the teaching of moralistic living, but has to do with the proclamation of God, glorifying Him through the reading and teaching of the Word, and being transformed by it as well.  We enter then into a time of response to the Word… here we see written “Table.”  The cerimonial meal is one of the main ways in which we respond to God’s Word, by coming to the Table and eating… communally saying “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.”  There are other reasons for this as well which we will discuss at another time… this is one relation though.

Finally we are sent out with a blessing.  This is a time of more than just some nice words to end the service.  We believe it to be an empowering time when we are charged to go into the world and live out what we have heard.  We are (or should be) sent out in the one name of God: “Father, Son, Holy Spirit” knowing that our God is not confined to the walls of our worship space, but that God goes with us empowering us each and every day, faithfully walking with us as He has always done, as we live our lives for Him.



Day 36: Leviticus 24-25; Bread, Candles, and the Sabbath

The bread of the presence and the candles that were placed in the “Holy Place,” that is the inner (but not most inner) portion of the Tabernacle were of the utmost importance, as we read here today.  These particular pieces of furniture are made of pure gold.  Remember that almost everything else was made of gold coated acacia wood?  But not these, these were pure, solid gold.  We again see another symbolic set of numbers… the lampstand has 7 lamps, while there are 12 loaves of bread set out on the table at all times.  We talked about the significance of the number 7, and I think that the significance of the number 12 is fairly self explanatory   12 tribes of Israel… and later the 12 disciples/apostles.  These are set before the Lord at all times.  I’m not entirely sure what it all means, and I would love some feedback or suggestions on this.  The only thing that I am drawn to here is the imagery of the 12 tribes of Israel always being in the presence of God, symbolized by the lampstand and the fire that was always lit above it.

Here we see a depiction of what the lampstand might have looked like.  This comes from a page called Art in the Old Testament.  There are several other pieces there that are worth taking a look at.

golden lampstand

In the rest of this section, apart from the story of the Blasphemer being put to death, we read a great deal about rest.  Sabbath and rest are topics that come up often in the Bible and are very important to God and to the people of Israel.  We don’t often look at these things as being very applicable anymore.  I remember some kids on my street growing up that wouldn’t even be able to play outside on Sunday (which I always thought was a bit weird), but that’s a very rare occurrence in homes now days.  We live in a fast paced world that is moving 24/7.  While I don’t know if it is appropriate to say that busyness is a tool of the devil, I do believe that it can be used against us.  Every scientific study that has ever looked into this particular topic has concluded that periodic rest is good for a person.  In fact, people that don’t rest or ever stop tend to be more unhealthy.  The Sabbath is a good and necessary thing for us.  It is also an act of trust.  Too often I think we fear not doing anything… we feel like we need to work stronger and harder to get things done so that we can support ourselves and take care of ourselves.  This too is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it can lead to some bad things.  God points out in his description of the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee (which, if you do that math every 50 years you get 2 years in a row off) that He will provide for the people of Israel during that time.  He says that the harvest in the years before would be so plentiful that they would still be using that bounty by the next time they harvested.  Well that’s all well and good, and easy to say… its much much harder to actually put that into action.  Do you make sure you take a Sabbath once a week?  It doesn’t have to be on Sundays… but it absolutely should be sometime!  It make be a step of faith for you… but it certainly is a necessary one.



Day 35: Leviticus 21-23; Priests, Offerings, and Festivals… oh my?

Today’s reading contains much of the same in regards to levitical law.  Not that I would want to downplay any particular part of the Bible, because I certainly am not wanting to do that… but I feel like we’ve hit home the Levitical Law, Holiness Code thing in these past couple of days.  The rules for priests continue in this line of thought, perhaps a bit more accentuated being that these particular people are the Priests of the “priests.”  They were the mediators between Israel, the kingdom of priests, and God.  Israel was called to be Holy… the priests were required to be, lest they defile and profane God’s dwelling place and wind up dead.

Today I would like to draw our attention to the later portion of our reading, to the feasts and festivals that are held by the Hebrew people.  You might be thinking “why care about these outdated festivals?”  You would be right in thinking so.  As Christians we really don’t celebrate any of these festivals anymore.  Often times, we struggle just to keep the Sabbath.  What is the point of looking at these things then?  Well, they are, in many ways, the basis for which the Church has crafted the Christian Church year as well.  Some might know this as the “Liturgical Calendar.”  Some might not even know that it exists… or at least you don’t think that you do.  But we celebrate things on it every year… like Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

There is, however, so much more to the church calendar; a tradition that has been relatively down away with in many of the mainline denominations of the Christian church, much to our loss.  Celebrating the main events like Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost seem important, but their meaning tends to get lost in the shuffle of preparation when there is no foundation for them.  The Liturgical calendar is just that… a foundation…  The image below is a general idea of what the church calendar looks like each year.  Picture it in a circle with “Christ the King Sunday” being the last Sunday of the year, and the first Sunday of Advent being the “Christian New Year.”  This Calendar comes from the website: One Eternal Day.

Church Year Calendar

So what’s the point?  One of the main reasons why the Church calendar has fallen into disuse is a lack of understanding about it (another being it’s over use to the point of making it more important that the important things).  What is the point of the festivals that the Hebrew’s celebrated?  They serve as a reminder, a way of guiding our focus and attention, pointing towards the greater story that we celebrate.  Every year the Hebrews walked through their own story of how God graciously and powerfully provided for them.  Leviticus 23:41-43 points this out:

“Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

All of the other festivals do the same thing… remind them of where they came from and connect their story to the greater story of God, like we spoke about on January 31 with the people always seeking a connection to their Center… to the Divine.  It would have been very easy for them to forget where they came from once they entered into Canaan and settled down, and it can be very easy for us to forget where we’ve come from in the busyness of preparing for Christmas or Easter holidays.  Yet we find ourselves in a greater story… God’s story!  Each year, following the weeks and months (all of which have their purpose and tell part of the story) of the Liturgical Calendar we can be reminded of the life of Jesus, His work on Earth, and the many other very important events that are part of God’s grand story of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration.  We are part of something bigger than ourselves.  We are not isolated in our lives, alone trying to follow after God… the Church Calendar reminds of us this and of the things that God has done for us and for the world!!



Day 34: Leviticus 18-20; Be Holy, Love Your Neighbor (and the immigrants?)

I remember my mom sometimes justifying her rules saying “Cause I’m the Mom, that’s why!”  That carries a lot of weight with children; or at least it did with me.  As we continue to read these laws, we come to phrases where God ends the though by saying “I AM the LORD.”  I’m sure there are other reasons why God does this, but I have to think that one of them simply is saying, “Cause I AM God, that’s why.”  Surely there are many reasons, but that has to stand at the top.

Later we read that the reasons for many of these statues come because God, again, wants Israel to be set apart from the other nations.  Leviticus 18:24-28 reads, “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean,  and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.  But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you  (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean),  lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.”

Clearly, God is setting up a way of life for them that is glorifying to Him and wholly different from the world around them.  Again, they were to be holy as God is Holy.  They were to be a “kingdom of priests,” being the mediators between the nations of the world and God.  This is the reason for all the laws… because this is the way God would have them live, which is contrary to the nations around them that were clearly doing all these things.

Interesting in this section is Leviticus 19:18, which impacts earlier the verses on foreigners in your land… The English version reads “you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”  In Hebrew, the connotations of this are a bit more… impactful.  “Love your neighbor” which Jesus points out is actually everyone, “as yourself” or what could be translated as being “who is like you are.”  Our neighbors, all those people around us and in our lives, are like us.  How you say?  We are all humans, sinners, created by God, and made in the image of God.  Our neighbors may not dress the same, eat the same, believe the same, or even look the same… but they are like us and they bear the image of God just as we do.

Earlier, in Chapter 19, God lays the groundwork for (or expands on) this talking by saying, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord, your God.”  It is interesting to see this all in the context of the current political debates that are going on…  Love the stranger (foreigner) who is in your land, treat him (or her) as one of your own.  Why?  Because he or she is like you, a neighbor… and we are commanded to love our neighbor… There are no exceptions to this rule.  No loopholes.  God doesn’t say “except when…”  You shall love your neighbor who is like you.  Jesus expands on this later in Matthew 25:31-46 saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”



Day 33: Leviticus 15-17; The day of Atonement (at-one-ment)

Mmmm… yes… reading about discharges.  Leviticus is an interesting book to read at times.  Chapter 15 is one of the more interesting ones in there.  We’ve talked about some of this, reading it in the “holiness codes” from the last two days.  Adding to those codes I did notice somethings today that I didn’t the last couple days, some more symbols that don’t necessarily pop right out at us.

First, there are several mentions to the numbers 7 and 8.  Seven is the number of completion and perfection.  It is a number that comes up time and time again.  It took seven days for God to complete creation.  So, it takes a complete amount of time for someone to become clean again once they are unclean.  8 is also a number of perfection, it is the day beyond days… the day which someone then can come before God and make atonement for their uncleanness and be reconciled with God.  Consequently, if you remember some details from the book of revelation, the number for the “anti-Christ” is 666… a number that actually symbolizes imperfection and unholiness.

Another thing that is just interesting to note here is that people are unclean until evening.  Just to clear something up… this actually means that they are unclean until the day ends.  The day, for Hebrews, starts in the evening.  There is a whole lot of imagery and reasoning for this, but it is drawn from Genesis 1, when there “is evening and there is morning”… in that order.

The Day of Atonement, or at-one-ment as we could call it, is one of the most important days in the Hebrew Calendar.  While it is true that throughout the year people are making sacrifices for their sins, making peace with God through offerings and the like, the Day of Atonement is the day in which the High Priest intercedes for all of Israel, for the sin and uncleanness of the entire nation.  There are special sacrifices that happen, and it is the one day out of the year in which the High Priest gets to go into the Holy of Holies, into direct communion with God.  For the Israelite people this meant that the High Priest crossed over the barrier between Heaven and Earth, a point at which any one else would have died instantly.  Exodus 28 points out that this is one of the reasons for the bells on the High Priest’s robe, lest he die in this encounter… or perhaps it was to make sure that the people knew he was still alive?  One interesting fact, the vision of Isaiah in Isaiah 6 is thought to have happened on the Day of Atonement when Isaiah (who is thought to have been the High Priest) entered into the Holy of Holies.

This special day is full of imagery and foreshadowing for us.  There are, of course, the sacrifices and the blood, which we read in chapter 17 that blood is a symbol of life, and the many rituals that need to take place for the people’s sins to be forgiven.  But what this day is really about is the at-one-ment, or what we call reconciliation.  It is about the restoration of the relationship between God and His people.  God being Holy cannot be with a sinful people, hence the sacrificial system, yet even that isn’t enough and once a year the sins of the people are atoned for by the High Priest.  We read too that they are laid on a goat (a scapegoat if you like to know where words come from) and that goat is sent out of the camp never to return.  This is a symbol of the people’s sins being laid on an innocent and that innocent taking them away forever.  Fast-forward about 1,500 years and we see that even this, the Day of Atonement is not enough to save us.  God must send His Son to be the spotless lamb.  Jesus serves in two roles, taking on all of our sins and being the sacrifice for them.  In this, the sins of the world are forgiven, and true reconciliation is once again possible between God and humanity.  Atonement, Redemption, Reconciliation, Restoration… none are possible without the saving blood of Jesus Christ on would could be known as the very last Day of Atonement, when the curtain was torn and the relationship restored.

Thanks be to God.



Day 32: Leviticus 12-14; Holiness Codes (Part 2)

This is day two of what I would consider to be the “Holiness Codes.”  As I started the post yesterday, The last verses of Leviticus 11 really sum up where we are going with the Holiness codes.  They read, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground.  For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

So what’s with all these codes anyway?  Some of them seem like common sense, others seem a bit ridiculous, all are ordained by God.  If that is the case, then there must be some meaning here, for them and for us.  Again, I think that the key here is God’s statement, “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Israel was to be a light to the nations, a kingdom of priests as we talked about on January 25.  They were to be set apart as a testament to the glory of God.  To do this, they needed to be different than the nations that surrounded them.  It is suggested that these were all animals that other peoples would have no problem eating or touching.  (It is relatively ironic that I am eating shrimp as I write this… which are considered detestable to the Israelites).

Another thing that could be said about this is that many of these animals, like those that have skin diseases, carried disease infectious agents that could harm the people.  This could be another reason why certain animals, people, and even things like mold and mildew were considered unclean.  The laws for the uncleanness of a woman after childbirth or menstruation, though cruel by our standards, are actually somewhat healthy and not necessarily odd if you think about them.  A woman’s body needs time to recover after Childbirth.  It is unhealthy for a woman to become pregnant right away after the birth of a child.  Some of you may also know that the best time for conceiving a child is in the second week after a woman’s period (aka after the 7 days of uncleanness)… This could be seen as a form of  natural family planning if you will, or contraception I guess. 

If you’re interested in the break down of this, I recommend reading a blog from The Sent One.  There is a great breakdown of what is clean and unclean here.  The image below also belongs to the writer of this blog.

uncleanness

Finally, though, getting back to the main reasoning of this section, the whole purpose is holiness.  A state of being in which the people of God are set apart from the world, living lives to glorify God.  We’ve read in the past that the dead are unclean.  Many of the animals that are considered unclean would eat other dead animals, meat that had not been sacrificed to God.  This would make them unclean, thus passing their uncleanness to the one that ate them.  Others of these animals, insects included, would eat dung which is also considered to be unclean.  Again, this would pass the uncleanness to its eater.  Disease and destruction  are also unclean… thus people with them or around them are unclean… why?  Because it is contrary to the nature of God, the nature of the world as it was created, and thus contrary to God’s holiness.

If we think back to Genesis 1, the world was created perfect, with all creatures living in harmony towards one another.  The Hebrew word for this is “Shalom” or a state of peaceful, perfect existence.  In the Garden of Eden there was no death, no destruction, no disease.  Adam and Eve’s diet?  Plants.  Genesis 2 tells us that God said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden…”  We actually don’t have an account of animals dying until God makes coverings for them later in Genesis 3.  In fact, we don’t see that humans are given permission by God to eat animals until after Noah gets off the Ark later in Genesis 9.

So this is how God created the world, without death, disease, and destruction.  Therefore we must assume that these things are contrary to the purpose of creation and the nature of God.  Engaging in this brokenness of creation would thus make one unclean… separated from the holiness of God.  For the people of Israel, there were things they would then have to do to make themselves clean.  Sometimes wash… sometimes sacrifice… sometimes wait until evening…

We too are sinful… unclean… and by our very nature cut off from relationship with God.  For us though, something was done to restore this relationship.  Thanks be to God that He sent His Son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sins!!  In Christ, all things unclean are made clean.  We see this in Peter’s vision in Acts 10.  All we need do is believe in Jesus Christ and we too will be made clean in the eyes of God, washed and cleansed in His blood.  Amen.  Praise the Lord!



Day 31: Leviticus 8-11; Holiness Codes (Part 1)

The last verses of Leviticus 11 really sum up where we are going for the next couple of days.  They read, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground.  For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Before we go into that though, (which we will be talking about for the next couple days) there is the story of Aaron’s consecration, and also of his sons’ death.  We read that Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons go through the whole consecration ceremony that was originally described in Exodus 29, and that in doing so they are ordained as priests.  After this happens, we see once again the manifestation of the glory of the Lord coming to rest on the temple.

tabernacle

With God’s presence clearly seen, it is somewhat of a mystery as to why it is that Aaron’s sons would do something so obviously flawed to them as offer inappropriate sacrifices before the Lord.  They are consumed with “the fire of the Lord,” yet another image of God’s holiness.  It was interesting to read yesterday in Leviticus 6, in relation to this, that the fire of the alter of burnt offerings was never to go out.  God’s refining, purifying fire never goes out… There is never a time in our lives when God says its ok for us to sin, even if it is just a little sin.  The fire of God is always active and ever consuming.  We see here that God does not stand for sin, for us to act contrary to His commands.  It is wholly against and contrary to His nature.  What we don’t read in this passage is the motive or the attitude of Aaron’s sons when they do this wrong thing.  Did they even know?  Were they doing it on purpose?  This is something that the writer, presumably Moses, chose not to include in this narrative.  I guess we could ask ourselves if it really matters what our motive is… sin is sin.  Thanks be to God that we ourselves have been consecrated in the blood of Jesus and our sin has been washed away!

A little side note to all of this (we will get to the Holiness codes of conduct and stuff tomorrow)…

I think it is important for us to understand some of the back ground of the narratives in the Old Testament, these stories that we are reading that sometimes seem so distant to us.  To do this, we must understand better the nature of the Hebrew worldview… it may actually enlighten our own perceptions of the world as well…

For the Hebrew people, the world was not as cut and dry as we like to think it is now days.  Western culture especially has a very hard, mechanistic worldview in which everything is a secular, physical, and material.  In many ways we look at the world through a deistic perspective… “God is out there somewhere, but this physical world is not His realm.”  We talk about all things spiritual as being mystic… other… out there… not normal reality.

Not so the Hebrew people.  For them, the realities of the physical and the spiritual world were very intertwined.  They believed, as maybe we should, that the physical world is really a manifestation of the Glory of God, an eruption of God’s majesty.  God wasn’t just over and above the world that we live in, He is alive and active in it.  For them, the whole world was a sacred place; a place in which God could be manifested in a tree, a rock, some sand, the water, or in the sky, rain, etc.  It isn’t that any one of these was God, nor did any one thing contain God, but God is present in all of creation.  So really then, in a world in which God is revealing God’s self to God’s chosen people, every place, event, and object had the ability of being an encounter with God, or in Theological terms, a “Hierophany.”

With this being the case then, we move on to the stories, the details, and the narratives of the Old Testament.  If God is present everywhere, and the world is a sacred place, manifesting God’s glory, then every move one makes, every action taken, every activity participated in has very real religious implications.  In fact, it could be said that every activity is a religious activity.  What would life be like for us if we thought this way?

To take this a step further then, the goal of life for the Hebrew people would be to be as close to the center of this religious life, as close to the presence of God, as they could possibly be.  Now this center really wasn’t a single place for quite some time.  If you remember with me, when God reveals Himself to Abraham, a stone is set up as a way of remembering, and Abraham dwells near to that place.  He wants to be close to that “center” as he can be.  Why?  Why couldn’t he just travel back whenever he wanted?  Well… with all the world being sacred, and the understanding that God sustained the world, these people believed that they needed to be as close to the center as they could be to keep their link with the Divine.  If they lost that link, they would loose their lives, their purpose, their everything.  This is why Moses pleads with God to go with the people of Israel when they leave Sinai in Exodus 33, because if they leave that center and God doesn’t go with them… they would die.

So, what does this have to do with the Tabernacle?  Well, God agreed to Moses and said He would go with, and then commands the creation of a dwelling place.  This would become the center for the people of Israel… religiously and quite literally as the people camped around it.  In today’s reading we see that the glory of the Lord comes down into the Tabernacle and dwells there.  Upon the completion of the Tabernacle, it became, for Israel, the very center of the universe… the hinge on which all other things turned.  We talked about this several days ago at the end of Exodus… The Tabernacle is the place at which Heaven meets Earth… it is the One True Center, around which all the other centers, those hierophanies (the burning bush, Jacobs ladder, water from a rock, etc.) came around.  This was their link to the Sacred, to God and to life.

So… to get back to the Narratives of Scripture then, what is the point of telling these?  The reality is that these were passed down orally for many hundreds of years before they were written down.  This includes the instructions for the making of the Tabernacle and those genealogies that we all “love” to read.  But for the Hebrew people, this was all about connection to the center.  When they told the stories, they relived the experiences, became part of that time and that place… when the glory of God descended on the Tabernacle… when God appeared in the burning bush… when Abraham saw the smoking fire-pot and passed between the animals…  As they relived those connections to the Center, to the divine, they also participated in and received the blessings given to their Fathers and Mothers at that time.  They became part of the narrative and found, as we should find, their story in the greater story of God’s actions and working in redemptive history.  And, just to toss something else out there… this changes the whole meaning of “honor your father and mother” when you consider your father and mother to be not simply your parents, but everyone that was ever in your family tree.

A special thanks to Professor Travis West for a great class yesterday on this!  More to come on this in the future as well!



Day 30: Leviticus 5-7; Laws for Offerings (Part 2)

Well, part two is seemingly similar to part one and as I was reading and reflecting on this I didn’t necessarily know exactly what it was that I was going to write about today.  However, I started to think about these sacrifices and the people of Israel.  Have you ever considered how much blood would have been poured out on this alter?  The sheer enormity of the population of Israel coupled with the propensity of the human race to sin constantly, would mean that these priests were likely busy 24/7.  Which would mean that wherever the Tabernacle was set up, and wherever the alter of burnt offerings stood, would have been saturated with blood… blood of the covenant… cleansing blood.  Wow… and yuck…  We don’t like to think about blood in our culture.  Some people even freak out when they see it, even a drop of it, but for these people, this was their life and their connection to God… and their forgiveness.

alter

Upon some further reflection here, there is a lot of language that might be semi-familiar to us… like the echo of a friend’s voice, it is distant, but somewhat recognizable.  Blood is one of those things.  What do you think of when you hear the phrase “blood poured out”?  Images of the crucifixion, the sacrifice of Jesus, and perhaps the words of some great hymns come to mind for me.

How about the idea of the grain offerings?  Perhaps this is a bit more distant.  The echo of an echo.  Here the priests are taking unleavened bread and offering it to God.  In that act, the bread is broken… and some of it is given to the priests to eat… as a way of sustaining them.  Perhaps that sounds more familiar?  Perhaps “this is my body broken for you?”  Perhaps the words of institution of Communion from 1 Corinthians 11 come to mind?

We hear this: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Jesus wasn’t doing anything “new” when he was introducing the elements of what we know as “The Last Supper” or “The Lord’s Supper” or “Communion” or “Eucharist.”  The disciples would have recognized this… which is why Jesus this is a “New Covenant” in the blood of Christ.  For us and for our salvation, it only took the blood of One for us to receive forgiveness.  For us and for our salvation, His body, the bread of life was broken for us.  While they wouldn’t have known this then, it is for us now a foreshadowing (amongst other things) of what we now experience in Jesus Christ.



Day 29: Leviticus 1-4; Laws for Offerings (Part 1)

We’ve made it four week today!  To me it doesn’t really seem like that long ago that we started.  I don’t know about you, but it seems like just yesterday that 2013 started, and now its almost February.  One thing that this means though, is that we are entering into the Books of Leviticus and Numbers… some of the most difficult books to read if you ask me.  This is where I’ve always fallen away from the reading because it seems so dull and so completely out of touch with our lives today.  My hope is that through some discussion and reflection, we can discover more to these books than some outdated laws and sacrificial rites that we don’t follow anymore.  I will confess though, that I am a bit out of my league here as far as what I know about these things.  Throughout the next few weeks I will be drawing on a lot that I have learned from my Old Testament classes at Kuyper College and Western Theological Seminary.

As we get into these laws and regulations set down by God, I think that it is appropriate to start with a foundation of perspective in regards to what we are reading here.  While It is entirely true that God set these laws down as a way for the people of Israel to live, they are also meant to be a foreshadowing of things to come.  If you remember with me, ever since the incident in the Garden of Eden when humanity rebelled and fell into sin, God has been working towards restoration.  The whole course of redemptive history is about God’s work towards restoration and ultimately reconciliation.  Redemptive history isn’t simply about God bringing Jesus for the sake of individual salvation, but about God working His will to restore His creation to the perfection it was created in and for.  We see examples of this throughout the Bible, some that we have just read in Exodus about what happens when animals do bad things and whatnot.  We’ll read more about this in Leviticus and Numbers as well.

Much of what we are about to read is about living in right relationship with neighbors, with creation, and with God.  The Law was one way that God could set down a code of conduct for the people of Israel in which He could instruct them to live differently, as a testament to God.  The people of the earth would see them and through them see the Glory and Love of God.  This is perhaps one reason why the rules seem so strict and precise.

The alter of burnt offering

The Hebrew Sacrificial rite was one of the ways in which people were to show their desire to live in right relationship with God.  A way of atoning for sin had to be established for God’s people.  Again we see the symbol of blood, as we saw in The Passover which we read about in Exodus 12, and in the consecration of the Priests which we read about just a couple of days ago.  That symbol of blood, death for life, is a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice that would come in the form of Jesus Christ.  See… the killing of animals was never meant to save… but as a way of showing faithfulness, and of creating an understanding of the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice.  When we look at these laws of Leviticus we are given the setting, the background, and the context for the that “once for all sacrifice” of Jesus Christ, the Messiah… the only true way of redemption, atonement, and reconciliation.



Day 28; Exodus 38-40; Completion of the Tabernacle

Exodus 39:32 says, “Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished, and the people of Israel did according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses; so they did.”

Apart from the final verses of today’s reading, my feeling is that these are some of the most important (if indeed we can label some verses more important than the others).  The reason that the last 5-6 chapters of the book of Exodus, the past 5-6 chapters that we have read are basically a rehashing of all that God had commanded Moses, and thus the people of Israel, is to point out the fact that they have followed these commands to the letter.  As we talked about yesterday, God has impressed on certain people the gifts and abilities to do the work that God had set out for them.  And when they all responded to God’s call, and did it all the way that God had, there was an abundance… the cup overflowed.

Once the Tabernacle was set up, we read that the glory of God descended upon it.  We read again that it was in the form of a cloud that the glory of God appeared during the day and by fire during the night.  Why is this significant?  Because God was dwelling with His people.  All the other nations of the world worshiped images they had created of a god that was far off.  We call this deism, or at least a form of it.  It is the belief that there is a creator deity, but that it is somewhere out there… not interested or interfering with the created order.  But here we see a difference between Israel and the rest of the world too… God dwells with His people.  As a matter of fact, there are even times, we read, when certain people could actually commune with God.  Actually, there is a great deal of symbolism to go with this as well.  Both tablets of stone were placed in the Ark of the Covenant; these were tablets of the covenant.  Generally, when a covenant is made, two copies of the wording were made and each party would take one of the copies.  In this case, God dwelt with His people and thus both copies were kept in the same place, at the mercy seat… the Holy of Holies… God’s dwelling place… the place at which heaven meets earth.

And so the Glory of the Lord came down and rested on the Tabernacle, dwelling with His own people.  This too is foreshadowing… a foretaste of the fullness of things to come.  As we talked about on day 24, the word “tabernacle” actually means “dwelling place.”  That word comes up again in the book of John when he writes in chapter one that “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”  And, as we said as well… this too is a foreshadowing of the time to come, when all things are consummated and reconciled and when, as we read in Revelation 21, the dwelling of God will permanently be on earth and all things will be made right once again!  Amen!  Come Lord Jesus!



Day 27: Exodus 35-37; Constructing the Tabernacle

The reading today has to do with the giving of gifts for the building of the Tabernacle.  It is a fairly straight forward reading… and I’m really at a loss for words about this.  Here we see that God has called certain people and put it on their hearts to be craftsmen… and put it on other people’s hearts to give of their possessions… and still others to sew and spin thread… and all answered the call!  Scripture tells us that they gave in a way that yielded over and above all that they needed.

I am reminded of Paul’s writing in the New Testament how everyone has their own gifts and should give as they have been gifted.  In Romans 12:3-8, Paul talks about the different gifts that we are given and that if we have a gift we should use it.  I am also reminded of the parable of the talents.  The good servants were the ones that put their “talents” to work and yielded double what they were given.  But to the one who hid his talent, he was punished and deemed wicked and lazy.

Sometimes I wonder if we think in this way.  We have a gift (or talent) but we chose not to use it because we don’t think its good enough.  Maybe we think that we won’t do a good job… or that someone else will do it instead.  That is simply not message being communicated here.  God’s people gave joyfully… and gave an abundance.  They certainly weren’t rich… they didn’t even have land to call their own.  But they answered the calling of God and gave until they were turned away.  Is this the nature of our giving?  It is absolutely true that God has given each of us unique gifts…  is it true that we are using them according to God’s calling?