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 9: Genesis 29-30; Jacob in exile

At the end of our reading yesterday, Jacob had a vision.  In this vision God speaks to Jacob reassuring him of the covenant made with Abraham and Issac and promising to him that one day Jacob would return to the land.  I think his response to this dream is interesting…

“So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.  He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.  Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,  so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,  and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”  -Genesis 28:18-22

An icon depicting Jacob's dream.

An icon depicting Jacob’s dream.

In our reading today we find Jacob in exile, and God still very much with him.  Exile is really one of the worst punishments in my opinion.  Being forced to live without anything or anyone that you once found familiar would be awful.  Yet God promises to be with Jacob and Jacob vows to honor God if God keeps His side of the covenant.

So what do we see?  God keeping His promise… and Jacob becoming abundantly wealthy.  If there were a good version of being exiled from your family… this is it.  We see that God’s presence isn’t limited to a specific time or place, but rather that God is present with Jacob, and us as well, anywhere that we go!  This theme, God’s omnipresence, is one that is played out time and again in Israel’s history, from Jacob and Joseph to Isaiah and Ezekiel, Egypt to Babylon, in good times and in bad, in the promised land or in exile… God is always present, always working, always there for His people.