God is accepting.
In the book of Leviticus, God begins laying out instructions for the Israelites so they would know how to bring offerings to the sanctuary. There was a specific reason for this: so they would know that they were accepted by their God. “If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.” (vs 3-4)
Knowing you were accepted by your god was a huge thing in the Old Testament world. Every nation was engaged in “communion” with the gods. They offered sacrifices, they prayed, they pleaded, they hoped and waited. Of course, if they were making offerings or sacrifices to a god that didn’t exist, they would never have the satisfaction of having a personal reception.
But our God is different. He not only wanted the Israelites to know that He was interested in having a relationship with them, but in the context of that relationship, He wanted them to fully realize that they were accepted.
This is still the case today. God loves us. He accepts us. May I repeat that? He accepts us . . . just as we are! So often, we mistakenly believe that the problem with sin is that God won’t accept sinners. Well, after reading the accounts of Jesus’s life on this Earth, we can’t believe that any longer. He was accused of hanging out with sinners!
The problem with sin is not that God won’t accept us, but that we won’t accept Him. We don’t always understand how that could happen . . . but if we don’t allow God into our lives to heal us of sin, we won’t want to have anything to do with Him. (Not the other way around.)
God always loves us. God always accepts us. And, at the beginning of Leviticus, we see that He is interested in finding ways to help us understand that He accepts us. We can relax and know that our problem is not with God! His arms are always open.
God is pleased with you.
As the instructions about offerings continue, God’s assurances of acceptance switch to assurances of pleasure. “Bring the grain offering made of these things to the Lord; present it to the priest, who shall take it to the altar. He shall take out the memorial portion from the grain offering and burn it on the altar as an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.” (vs 8-9)
I remember Christian comedian Mark Lowry once telling the story of his third-grade teacher who told him one day that God liked him. He said it really made an impact on his life. He had heard before that God loved him, but figured that God was sort of forced to do that because “He is love.” But, he mused, it’s an entirely different thing to say that you like someone.
God likes us. He is pleased with us. Again, He wanted the Israelites to have a tangible way of understanding this. He wanted them to know that, not only were they accepted, but they were pleasing to Him. In other words, God didn’t just love them, He liked them.
As God’s special, one-of-a-kind child, He is well-pleased with you. He looks at you and sees beauty! He looks at you and sees value. He wants you to know that He doesn’t just tolerate you. You bring joy to His heart. You bring a smile to His face.
At the beginning, during Creation week, God finished every day by surveying His work and declaring, “It is good.” And when He looks at you, He does the same thing. He says, “You are my beloved child in whom I am well-pleased.“
God wants to hang out.
Have you ever thought about God as a guy who just wants to hang out with His friends? Perhaps it’s not our usual picture of God. It’s easier to think about Him doing big things, like creating planets or running the universe. But, in Leviticus 3, we get a glimpse of a God who has (among other things) set up a local hangout in the sanctuary.
“If someone’s offering is a fellowship offering, and he offers an animal from the herd, whether male or female, he is to present before the Lord an animal without defect.” (vs 1) The interesting thing in this verse is the word translated fellowship. It comes from a Hebrew word that means “a sign of alliance or friendship.” Its root word means “to be in a covenant of peace.”
I find that very interesting. What it says to me is that sacrifices and offerings in the sanctuary weren’t just about “atoning for sin.” Of course, a very big part of the sanctuary service was given to help the Israelites understand the severity of sin and the reality of God’s forgiveness. But from this chapter, we know that specific sins weren’t the only reason an Israelite took a sacrifice to the sanctuary. Bringing a fellowship offering was for the sake of friendship. God wanted people to know that they could bring some meat down to His place and hang out.
I don’t know about you, but I find that extraordinary. It’s just one more evidence that God not only loves you, but He likes you. He wants to spend time with you, talk to you, find out what’s on your mind.
He always has time to listen. Have you checked in with Him today?
God deals in reality.
Yes, it looks like we will be reading about sacrifices and offerings for some time to come. I think it will be interesting, then, to note some of the differences between the different sacrifices.
For instance, in today’s chapter, all the sacrifices God describes are for anyone who “sins unintentionally.” I thought that was sort of strange. So often, we think of sin as something defiant, a choice we make to do something willfully. If that’s the case, why would God ask the Israelites to make sacrifices for something they didn’t mean to do?
I think it has to do with the nature of sin and something wonderful we can learn about God. Let me use an example to illustrate. Last week, I unintentionally spilled scalding-hot coffee all over my leg. Yeeeeooowwwch! Fortunately, I was in a place where I could immediately put ice on the burned area, and I ended up without a single blister. I was totally shocked. If I hadn’t been able to address it that quickly, I know I would have ended up with second-degree burns. It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced.
Now a second illustration. I have heard God-awful stories of parents who have abused their children by burning them—sometimes with a hot liquid or sometimes with matches or cigarettes. I can’t even imagine such a thing. Children who are subjected to such torture end up with two kinds of scars—physical and emotional.
Both of these scenarios have something in common and something unique. The difference is that my burn was unintentional, but the burns on an abused child are inflicted intentionally. However, the thing these two examples have in common is the result of heat on flesh. Hot liquids or hot objects burn skin, no matter if they are brought together on purpose or on accident. The result is the same.
The point of all this is that our God deals in reality. Sure, willful sin is a major problem. God sometimes has to use strong measures to deal with a rebellious attitude. However, the nature of sin is destructive—whether we have entered into it knowingly or unknowingly. The fact that I spilled hot coffee on my leg on accident wasn’t going to change the fact that if I didn’t get it taken care of, it was going to greatly damage my skin!
God wanted the Israelites (and us) to know that sin hurts, even if we have gotten into it accidentally. And because He deals in reality, He confronts all of our sin head-on and with seriousness—even when we haven’t knowingly put ourselves in harm’s way. What God is saying is, “What you don’t know can hurt you.” And He doesn’t want anything to hurt us!
He takes all of our sin seriously, and He wants us to take it seriously too. As we learn to appreciate the seriousness of sin, we will also continue to grow in our admiration for the generous and gracious Spirit of God, for He is able to heal all the damage done by sin in our lives.
God deals with our problems.
As we discovered yesterday, God deals in reality. When it comes to sin, He doesn’t wink and wish it away or ignore it. He deals with it as the real problem that it is. There is more evidence of that in today’s chapter.
We all come to God with real problems, real baggage. Along the way in our journey of life, we accumulate this baggage. It might come from our parents, friends, or teachers. We might be severely damaged by the environment in which we grew up. We might have a very, very long list of misconceptions about God (and life) that He needs to help us address and deal with.
And one of the things we can learn from Leviticus 5 and, indeed, the entire sanctuary system is that God knows how to deal with our problems. Nothing we can bring to God is too difficult for Him to figure out. Our wrong ideas aren’t so complex that He doesn’t know how to unravel them. He can straighten out all our crooked thinking.
How do I know this? Well, I started to get curious about all this animal sacrifice. Here’s another example from our chapter today: “When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned and, as a penalty for the sin he has committed, he must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.” (vs 5-6)
So, we have God requesting lambs and goats for sacrifice. In yesterday’s chapter, bringing a bull was mentioned. These (along with birds and grains) are the main animals in the sacrificial system: bulls, goats, and sheep. Have you ever wondered why? Why those animals? Well, I suppose we could speculate that these were the animals the Israelites would have handy. And that’s true.
But how about this? The Israelites had just come out of a culture that threw itself into the worship of animals. The Ancient Egyptians worshipped nearly every animal, from cats and dogs to chickens and crocodiles. Their temples were full of live, noisy animals (although they also practiced some animal sacrifice). Imagine the cacophony of noise! But goats and bulls were especially sacred to the Egyptians, because they represented the gods of sexual and creative power.
By contrast, the sanctuary of the God of Israel was where you took animals to be sacrificed. While this might sting our 21st-century sensibilities somewhat, it was a major slap-in-the-face to the religious system of the Egyptians—which the Israelites were so comfortable with. In Egypt, they had worshipped goats and bulls; but now, when they went to meet with their God in His sanctuary, they would be reminded that He alone is sovereign—not the bull or goat they had brought which was now dead on the altar in front of them. If God had used the Ten Plagues to try to communicate to the Egyptians that their gods were false, the sanctuary system was an ongoing reminder to the Israelites.
God must have wanted to especially deal with bulls and goats, since they represented something so potent to the Egyptians and the Israelites. Your personal wealth (i.e. the size of your flocks or crops) was second only to the size of your family. Everything depended upon your offspring. Did you have lots of sons? Or did you have only daughters? Was your wife barren? These were major concerns to people in Bible times.
People were concerned about their offspring because it was of the utmost importance that the family line was preserved. A son (particularly a firstborn son) was almost a literal extension of yourself. He would carry on the family line. And in Egypt, worshipping the fertility gods (represented by bulls and goats) was one way to try to manipulate your family’s success in this area. But God wanted Israel to know that He was the only true God.
I don’t think it was any coincidence that the Israelites were offering bulls, goats, and sheep in the sanctuary. And this is the point: God knows precisely where we have come from. If we have prejudices, He knows it. And He knows how to deal with them. If we have based conclusions on misinformation, He knows it. And He knows just how to address it.
Let’s not let our problems keep us from coming to God. Since He knows our hearts better than we do, He knows just what we need. He is willing and so able to address our problems. We can trust Him to deal with us in just the right way for our best good!
God doesn't shy away from commando-style parenting.
What is the big deal with yeast? I wondered that again as I read Leviticus 6. During the Passover in Egypt, the Israelites were strictly warned to eat bread prepared without yeast (Ex 12:20). And now, in the instructions for the sanctuary system, the priests are warned that none of the bread brought to the sanctuary as an offering is to be baked with yeast. In the New Testament, Jesus continues to bang that particular drum, warning people to be on guard against the “yeast of the Pharisees” (Mk 8:15).
What’s the big deal with yeast? Well, I did a bit of highly-unscientific internet research and discovered that many scholars believe yeast was discovered by . . . drum roll, please . . . the Egyptians! They used it to make bread and alcoholic beverages, and it would have no doubt been a very big part of the Israelite’s experience of living in Egypt.
So, what can we sense about God from this command over yeast? That God is not afraid of a little radical parenting. No sir. Have you ever seen The Dr. Phil Show when he has guests on with problem children? Sometimes the problems are so out-of-control that he advises the parents to do things like take away everything the child has except for the basics necessities: a bed, a set of clothes, food, and water. All the luxuries, gone. All the extras, history. Those are drastic measures, to be sure. But sometimes drastic situations require drastic measures.
Dr. James Dobson once wrote a book called Love Must Be Tough. And here we see that God is not squeamish about tough love. He has removed the Israelites from Egypt, but He knows that it will be infinitely harder to remove Egypt from the Israelites! Nevertheless, He sets about doing just that, mercilessly cutting out of their existence anything He can that would tie them to their previous home. (Wow, I don’t think I have ever used the term “mercilessly” to describe God before. But He will love us with a vengeance! As Paul said, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” —Heb 10:31)
This might be sounding pretty bad for God. But the fact is that separating Egypt from the Israelites in such swift, decisive, and unrelenting ways was the kindest thing He could do for them. Although they didn’t know it at the time, their ultimate happiness and best good was in coming to believe and surrendering to the fact that God is the one, true God. Anything else that they clung to, put their trust in, or worshipped was going to end up destroying them. Putting their faith in God was what they needed in order to have true life, and God was willing to help them realize that, even when it meant doing things that were extremely uncomfortable for them.
God practices commando-style parenting, and that’s great news! For we are still like little children in many ways—children who don’t know where all the dangers in life are, children who need guidance, direction, and (sometimes) a very firm hand. Yes, Paul said it can be a terrifying thing to fall into God’s hands. But it’s only terrifying to us because we don’t want Him to remove the things we love so much that are hurting us. It’s terrifying to us just as it’s terrifying to a two-year-old who throws a tantrum because he doesn’t get his way.
But as wise parents, we know it’s not right to encourage the two-year-old in the tantrum. Instead, we correct him and discipline him. And in that way, we can glimpse the marvelous grace of God in His refusal to leave us attached to the things that harm us while we run willy-nilly into destruction.
To the Israelites, yeast was a big-time reminder of Egypt. And for God to restrict them from yeast was to tell them, “Hey! I don’t want you to have anything to do with that old land of slavery. Come with Me to the Promised Land instead.”
You and I have yeast that God would like to separate us from. So be prepared! When necessary, God practices very tough love. And thank God for that!
God takes care of the little things.
In this chapter, I was struck with the provisions God made for the priests in the sanctuary system. For each of the offerings and sacrifices mentioned, there was a portion which was specifically reserved for the priests. This means that, as the Israelites brought meat and grain into the sanctuary and offered it to God, the priests would be sustained in their work.
This is so much like God: to take the things that are offered to Him and turn around and give them to benefit others. He’s not a hoarder. He doesn’t store up treasure and honor and glory for Himself. Instead, His attitude is always geared toward blessing His creation. He spends His energies taking care of His children.
As God’s children, we need to remember that our Father is taking care of everything, including the little things. He doesn’t abandon us or leave us to “figure things out for ourselves.” All along the way, He makes provision for everything we need—even when it feels like He’s not. There are times in life when we wonder where God is and if He’s forgotten about us. But when we feel that way, we can remember that God has shown us time and again how He takes care of the little things and trust that He is also going to give us everything we truly need.
So now we come to the point where all the sacrifices God has described in preceding chapters begin to take place. And, as Leviticus 8 describes one sacrifice after another offered during the ordination of Aaron and his sons, this was my thought: The sanctuary system was devised so that the Israelites would know that dealing with sin involves sacrifice.
Duh! As if this was any sort of a novel thought. But it struck me in a new way. You see, because of the sanctuary system, I think we view God as a Deity who requires sacrifice in order to forgive sin. And when we start from that idea, we naturally end up assuming that Christ’s death on the cross was The Ultimate Sacrifice that God required in order to forgive us “once and for all.”
But I don’t think it’s that way at all. What if God was trying to help the Israelites understand that the relationship between sin and sacrifice involved God’s sacrifice? That to truly love and be loved requires vulnerability and, sometimes, hurt. I once read a statement about how the cross helped us understand the pain God had been feeling ever since the beginning of sin. And I think the sanctuary system was the first step in that understanding.
In dealing with the problem of sin, nobody has ever sacrificed more than God. He has borne the brunt of the pain and cost in the cause of our redemption. As the Israelites brought their sacrifices to the sanctuary, they were supposed to reflect on all the sacrifices God was making for them.
God's presence brings joy.
I think it’s hard for us to relate to the Israelites and what was going on in the wilderness. We don’t live out in the desert, exposed to the harsh elements, wondering where our next meal is coming from. We live very cultivated lives in sanitized conditions. You have a computer connected to the internet—that’s how you’re reading this blog right now!
For a lot of people I know, it’s hard to understand the whole idea of the sanctuary system. Why would God ask His people to kill animals? In today’s world, we have organizations dedicated to stopping cruelty and violence to animals. Something like the Old Testament sanctuary system would not be okay in modern society.
In recent days, we’ve explored some of the why questions of the sanctuary system, and today, finally, we get a first glimpse at the results from the perspective of the Israelites: “Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.” (vs 22-24)
Regardless of what we may think about the sacrifices offered in the sanctuary system, it’s clear that the Israelites responded to the whole exercise with unrestrained joy. Why did they do that? Was it watching animals be killed? Was it seeing Aaron and his sons sprinkle the blood of the animals around the place? Was it watching the fire come out from the Lord’s presence and burn up the offering—maybe like a really cool pyrotechnics trick? Or was it the reality of being in the presence of a God whom you believed you were totally right with?
Imagine what it was like to have practiced animal sacrifice and different worship rituals for years in Egypt—and to never have actually been confronted with the presence of said god. None of those false gods was ever going to show up! But the true God of Israel was different. He devised a system by which the Israelites would know that they were forgiven and that everything was right with them and God. And once they engaged in worship, God showed up. And it made the Israelites so giddy, they fell facedown.
God longs to be with us. As our Creator, to be in our presence is His desire. And when He breaks into our time and space and we see His glory and feel His presence, we know joy.
God is unfathomable.
There is a little mystery in this chapter of Leviticus, and I think it points out something interesting about how we read the Bible. There is a “scandal” in this chapter, but when we get so focused on the fact that Nadab and Abihu “died before the Lord,” we could possibly miss something very interesting.
Nadab and Abihu (who had just been ordained as priests, along with their father Aaron) did something very foolish. They took their newly-appointed position, along with their newly-issued censers, and offered “unauthorized fire before the Lord.” That was apparently the wrong thing to do. It was “contrary to [God's] command.” (vs 1) The brothers paid a heavy price for their actions: “So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” (vs 2)
Consumed by fire. That doesn’t sound good. Having written last week about scalding my leg with hot liquid, I have to say that I don’t think burning to death is a great way to go. Fortunately, the majority of people who die in fires don’t die because they’re burned alive, but because they inhale smoke. Still . . . what about these poor boys who were consumed by the fire of the Lord?
It’s easy, perhaps, to be so offended by what happened to Nadab and Abihu that we fail to ask questions. What does it mean that they were consumed? What is the fire that came out from the presence of the Lord? Is it fire like we normally think of fire?
If we continue reading, we stumble upon something odd. After the boys died, “Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, ‘Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.’ So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.” (vs 4-5)
So, after “fire” came out from the presence of the Lord and totally consumed them, there were still whole bodies left to carry out of the sanctuary . . . and their tunics were completely intact. Intact enough to make a specific mention of it in the text. How could someone die from being burned (as we think of it), yet their clothes aren’t touched?
When I read this chapter again, it occurred to me that there are many things about God that we can’t fathom right now. What is the fire that came out from His presence? How did it consume the boys? What did that mean? If a coroner had been present, what would he have listed as “cause of death” on the autopsy?
This theme of fire and God is all throughout the Bible. In Hebrews 12:29, Paul says, “Our God is a consuming fire.” The book of Revelation describes the wicked being thrown into a lake of fire. Leviticus 10 and other places in the Bible (such as the story of the burning, but not-so-burning, bush) should make us question our preconceived ideas about God and fire. We may think we have God all wrapped up in a neat, little box, but the fact is, there are some things about God that remain unfathomable to us . . . at least right now.
God meets us.
As I have been preparing for some upcoming Christmas concerts, I have been thinking a lot recently about how God meets us. In fact, when you consider the sinful history of mankind and God’s activity throughout the Bible, it is pretty much only Him coming to meet us. Not the other way around. If He didn’t come to where we were, we’d have no way to seek Him out.
Saying that God comes to meet us doesn’t just involve the physical. Certainly, the Incarnation is the supreme example of God coming to meet us—in the flesh. But God also “meets us” in many other ways that involve our limited understanding, culture, and present knowledge.
Leviticus 11 is a great example. Ah, the dietary laws. I’m quite familiar with these, having grown up in a religious denomination that still espouses the kosher tradition. (Taking it a step further, many people I go to church with have given up all meat entirely—the “clean” as well as the “unclean”—and have returned to a vegetarian diet.)
Why the clean and unclean animals? Why the restrictions on eating, among other things, pork and shellfish? I once asked my father (who was an incredibly reasonable man) why we still followed the Levitical instructions regarding animals but disregarded other Levitical commands, such as not touching a woman during her period. His response was that, while cultural things shift with time, our bodies remain pretty much the same. Thus, if it was harmful for Israelites to eat pork, it’s probably still harmful for us, too.
I thought that was an interesting response. It made some sense to me.
However, regardless of where you stand on the issue of eating pork, I think Leviticus 11 can tell us a lot about how God meets with us. In the immediate context, God was dealing with people who were living in wilderness/survival conditions. Sanitation was, at best, difficult. The risk for disease was sky-high.
How interesting, then, that God prohibits the people from eating animals that feed on other animals. Did you know that? The difference between the clean and unclean animals was that the clean animals were primarily herbivores, while the unclean animals were primarily carnivores and predators—animals who lived on rotting flesh. Yum.
In addition to this distinction, eating the blood of any animal was absolutely prohibited. Does that seem strange? Before you answer too quickly, does this look familiar? Warning: Consuming raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish and eggs may increase the risk of food borne-related illness. Even in today’s society (with our modern technology), most of the animals which carry the greatest risk when eating are those which were on the “unclean” list for the Israelites. My husband, who used to work in the restaurant industry, can tell you about the strict regulations surrounding the preparation of pork products! Many diseases are carried in the blood of animals; therefore, eating undercooked meat is dangerous and can be potentially fatal.
And what about the commands not to touch dead animals? Do we think that’s so crazy? When was the last time you wanted to touch a dead, rotting animal with your hands? And if you had to, what would be the first thing you would do after that? Scrub your hands with some good, sanitizing soap—something the Israelites couldn’t do. Being commanded not to touch dead animals was sure to prevent the outbreak of diseases such as rabies.
The point is that the Israelites didn’t know anything about germs, parasites, and bacteria. They didn’t have meat thermometers or antibacterial soap. They were living in survival mode, and God communicated what they needed to know in a way they could understand and follow. He came to them, not only physically in the sanctuary, but intellectually as well, structuring safety standards that they could relate to.
Several years ago, an epidemic of Mad Cow Disease swept through England. Do you know what caused that epidemic? Cattle farmers who fed their cows a mixture of grain and dead, chopped-up animals. They turned the cows into carnivores—the very kinds of animals that God warned the Israelites not to eat—and humans became very sick and died from eating those cows.
Aren’t you glad we serve a God who knows what He’s doing and knows how to communicate what we need to know in a way we can understand? Truly, in every way, He meets us!
God has great benefits.
When looking at potential employers, one of the first questions on your mind (after how much do I get paid?)is usually what are the benefits? Employer benefits vary as widely as jobs themselves—from no benefits, to healthcare, to paid vacation, and even free spa services. Benefits are the extra perks on top of the salary.
So, I know you must be wondering, what do employer benefits have to do with Leviticus 12? Well, when it came to the ancient world (and even today in most cases!) God had the best benefits around. This chapter is all about the expectations for women after giving birth. In other words, what is God’s FMLA (Family Medical and Leave Act) policy?
Simply put, if a woman had a son, she was considered “unclean” for forty days. And if she had a daughter, she was considered “unclean” for eighty days. Scholars aren’t sure what to make of the time difference. It could have to do with the cultural inferiority placed on women and girls at the time. Or it could have to do with something biological that we aren’t even aware of. For instance, we know that there are hormonal differences in a woman’s body depending on the sex of the baby she is carrying. It’s possible that some of these hormonal differences contribute to the body’s ability to heal following pregnancy.
Regardless of the gender of the baby, however, a mother was considered “unclean” for at least nearly six weeks following any birth. What would that mean, in practical terms?
1. She couldn’t go to the sanctuary. What did this mean? She wouldn’t have to worry about finding animals for sacrifices and getting everything ready to go make offerings. She was relieved of that entire part of Israelite life for at least six weeks.
2. She was exempt from household work. As an “unclean” person, anything she touched would become unclean. Unless you wanted your home environment turned into an unclean place, Mama wasn’t sweeping the floors for six weeks!
3. Her body was given time to rest and heal. Given the “property” status of women in the Israelite culture, it’s likely that—without the “unclean” label—women would have been expected to have their babies and continue being of service to their husbands, whether that was in the household realm or the sexual realm. Prohibiting others from having significant contact with a woman who has just given birth meant that her body would be given plenty of time to heal before she was expected to engage in wifely duties.
So, at the very least, a woman who had just given birth was pretty much ordered to take at least six weeks off to rest and bond with her baby. Sounds pretty good to me! This was much longer than the usual resting period for Egyptian women who had just given birth; they only received two weeks of rest. God offered at least three times as much opportunity for healing/bonding.
This extended time included an initial “unclean” period which was even more stringent—where nobody could have any contact with mother and baby. Does that seem a bit harsh? Perhaps. But consider this: until the 19th century, as many as 1 in every 5 women died following childbirth as a result of puerperal fever. When this was discovered, it was noticed that women who gave birth in their homes and were more isolated rarely became infected with this disease, while women who gave birth in public hospitals died in high numbers.
Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweiz determined that this fever was caused by bacteria and that women who had just given birth (as well as the newborns) were highly susceptible to it. Additionally, it was something that couldn’t be remedied with simple soap and water. Nowadays, antibacterial soap and gloves have virtually eliminated the hospital risk of puerperal fever. However, out in the desert, the Israelite’s “antibacterial soap and gloves” was God’s pronouncement that the mother was “unclean, so stay away from her!” Sort of ironic, isn’t it, that she was the one who received the “unclean” label in order to save her from the true uncleanliness?!
You know, the more I write about this chapter, the more I love it. But I’ll close with one more thought: even as I’m writing, I have been wondering if God doubled the bonding time given for a daughter in order to help lift the Israelites out of their male-dominated thinking. By extending the “vacation” for the mother to nearly twelve weeks, perhaps God was trying to confer some special honor upon the female sex—certainly the mother would have been ecstatic to see a girl! (Woohoo! Twelve weeks of vacation!) And with the extra family/husband help that would have been required to keep the household running smoothly for a longer period of time, the birth of a daughter probably contributed to increased family bonding overall.
Even though God was dealing with a seriously male-dominated culture, He proves (quite unabashedly) in Leviticus 12 that women are important and ought to be cared for. Far from advocating for the slave-status of women (as has been charged against Him by many feminists and others who read the Bible), here He is doing just the opposite: advocating for, outright commanding in fact, policies that have the health of the mother and the nurture of the baby in mind.
So, I don’t care where else you look in this world. Hands down, God has all the best benefits! I’ll take His FMLA policy any day of the week!
God is into damage control.
In preparing to write this blog, I read a lot of commentaries on Leviticus 13. I was intrigued by the detailed instructions God gave regarding the “infectious skin disease” which most scholars agree refers to leprosy. Why send people to the priests for a diagnosis? They were spiritual leaders, but doctors?
I was really surprised to see that the vast percentage of commentaries remarked on the striking similarities between leprosy and sin:
1. Leprosy and sin both begin on the inside and quickly move to the outside. Both seem innocuous at the beginning.
2. There is no known cure for either leprosy or sin. Divine intervention is required for healing.
3. If not addressed, both leprosy and sin will quickly spread to every area of body or life.
4. Neither leprosy nor sin can be hidden forever. If left unhealed, both will rear their ugly heads in time.
5. Both leprosy and sin are highly contagious.
It was the first and last points that captured my attention most. Leprosy usually begins with a very small wound—something that would be visible, but not alarming and certainly not perceived as life-threatening! The first sign a priest would have that a person was suffering from the “infectious skin disease” is that the hair in the wound was white. That’s hardly a big sign at all!
This is how Satan lures us into sin as well. He didn’t come to Eve at the tree and say, “Come, Eve, and join me in rebellion against God’s government! I’m smarter than Him . . . and more powerful. Together we can rule the universe!” No . . . he was much more subtle than that. He made eating the fruit seem like a good thing. That’s how he works. Only after we’re sucked in and the disease is spreading like wildfire do we understand that we’re in big trouble.
And that brings us to the last point on the list: leprosy and sin are highly contagious. Leprosy is contagious because of bacteria. Sin is contagious because it’s deceptive. From the beginning of the rebellion, Satan has been lying, deceiving, and twisting God’s words. He has been trying to turn everyone against God. Unfortunately, it worked on this planet. We have become the leper colony of the universe.
What is interesting about God is that He hasn’t squashed the rebellion. Instead, He has given Satan the freedom to make his charges and accusations and—in the process—reveal the true nature of sin. How does this equate to “damage control”? Because in answering the questions that Satan has raised, God is working to preserve the freedom of all of His creatures.
For me, this is really something to think about. When Lucifer began to subvert the government of God, it was as if he was introducing a mental leprosy into God’s creation. The questions he raised and the accusations he made threatened the love and freedom that God’s government is based upon. How would God respond to the charges? What would He do with the lepers?
Well, He could have gotten rid of Satan. Let’s face it. If you are confronted with a person who has a highly-contagious disease, one way to keep the disease from spreading would be to kill the person. That would stop the disease in its tracks. But in God’s predicament, to “get rid of” the opposition would confirm the charges that had been brought against Him. Killing Satan would only have proved that what he had said about God was true. Then, the mental leprosy would have run rampant.
Instead, God decided to do with Satan what He suggested for lepers in Leviticus 13. He quarantined him. He limited his movements to certain times and places. He didn’t destroy Satan’s freedom, but He protected the others in the community from being overexposed to the mental leprosy.
Case in point: Satan (in the serpent) met Eve at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Since we don’t read of her encountering this subversive voice at any other place, it seems reasonable to me to conclude that God gave Satan access to the Garden of Eden, but He restricted him to the tree—and then He warned Adam and Eve to stay away from it. In so doing, God preserved the freedom of all parties involved. Satan would have the freedom to try to infect Adam and Eve . . . but only if they opened the door to him by their free choice.
The problem was that Adam and Eve ultimately decided to voluntarily join the leper colony. And we’ve all been born into it ever since.
There is so much more that could be said on this topic. Perhaps it will unfold more in the chapters to come. But what struck me most about Leviticus 13 is that God is into damage control. He faces problems head-on with the utmost compassion, and He acts in ways that are best for all parties involved.
I imagine it must have been hard to live quarantined in a leper colony . . . but what of the others in the community? Surely their needs were worth taking into consideration as well. And it seems clear to me, from this example, that in every situation we encounter in life, God acts to minimize as much damage as possible for all parties involved. Here, He addressed the needs of the lepers. He didn’t command the priests to put them to death, and quarantine was the last resort. On the other hand, He also took into consideration the needs of the others in the community.
I think this is an excellent microcosm of God’s actions in the universal war against Christ and Satan. He hasn’t gotten rid of Satan; He hasn’t destroyed his freedom. But neither has He allowed Satan to destroy anybody else’s freedom either. He has acted in just the right ways to minimize as much damage as He can.
In the end, those of us who are in the leper colony (and even those who remain disease-free in the universal community) have a choice. We can accept divine intervention and be restored to the community. Or we can resist every divine effort and allow our disease to go untreated until it kills us. The choice is up to us. And God has acted precisely to secure the freedom of that choice for us.
God values intelligence.
After the description of the sacrifices cleansed lepers were to make, Leviticus 14 goes on to describe how a priest could determine whether a house was infected with mildew. These instructions sound very much like the instructions in the previous chapter for how the priests could determine whether a person had leprosy. Involved were inspection, incubation periods, diagnoses, and treatments.
What I began to think about as I read this chapter (in light of the previous one, as well) was just how much God entrusted to the priests. Certainly, in ancient Israel—especially given the time and place in which they lived—leprosy or anything that could “spread” was a major concern. With a couple million people living in wilderness conditions without sanitation, anything that was capable of spreading could easily and quickly become an epidemic.
So, since God was in the midst of also establishing Himself in the minds of the Israelites as the Sovereign God, why leave such a major concern to the judgment of the priests? Why not dole out the pronouncements Himself? He could have set up a little “lab” in the sanctuary and had the people come in one at a time to receive their pronouncement. God, of course, knew whether they were infected with a disease or not. His “clean” or “unclean” pronouncement would have only taken five seconds—eliminating the need for the seven-day waiting period, to see whether the rash or mildew would spread.
How come God didn’t elect to do things that way? I think it’s because God values intelligence and because He acts in ways that promote our reason and encourage us to use it. He cares about whether we use our brains or not. He doesn’t want us to become unthinking doofuses who merely hear His pronouncement and say, “Yes, sir. Thank you very much, sir.” Even with such an important matter as a potential epidemic, God preferred to let His priests handle the investigation and diagnosis, even though it took a lot more time, energy, and effort for them to do it than for Him to make a simple pronouncement.
God cares what we think. God cares that we think. This is why I think it’s such a shame that, often, Christianity has portrayed faith as something you must do with your mind switched off. Sometimes we have implied that in order to believe in God or trust in Him, we have to ignore reality and forget about the evidence that’s right under our nose. Some people say that faith can only be blind, that it requires a leap.
On the contrary, I think Leviticus 14 should tell us how highly God values our intelligence. He wants us to investigate, to ask questions, to make judgments, to diagnose. He gave us a brain for a reason . . . because He intended us to use it. He wants us to think!
God's boundaries draw us in.
I must admit that, as I began to read Leviticus 15, it all seemed a bit ridiculous to me. I mean, really, if the rule is that “when a man has an emission of semen . . . he will be unclean till evening” (vs 16), an Israelite man must not have spent many days being “clean.” Furthermore, in addition to the rule for men was the law that said menstruating women were also unclean. After this type of ceremonial uncleanness, the men and women were required to bring a sacrifice to the sanctuary in order to “make atonement before the Lord.” (vs 15)
The reason for all of this, given in verse 31, was to “keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.” To keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean? How is a man to be separated from emissions of semen—especially when these commonly occur during sleep? And how is a woman to be separated from her menstrual cycle? (Really, I’d like to know!)
As all these questions were swirling furiously in my head, it occurred to me that, perhaps, the “unclean” things God was trying to keep the Israelites from weren’t menstruation and semen emissions. Perhaps the rituals of sacrifice surrounding menstruation and semen emissions were one of the tools God was using to keep the Israelites separated from the things that could really make them unclean.
Did you find that a bit hard to follow? Let me try to elaborate.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about my father. He was a media hawk. He managed to live in the middle of the media road, a road on which many other parents find themselves in one of two ditches—either they ban any kind of media for their children altogether or they practice no type of discerning restraint over what their children are exposed to.
My father was different. He had boundaries for us, and I must admit that, at the time, those boundaries seemed rather restrictive. While most of the peers in my seventh-grade class were listening to bands like Aerosmith and Guns ‘N Roses, I was trying to get my father to let me listen to the latest Wilson Phillips album. (In order to have music approved, he had to thoroughly review the lyrics to make sure there weren’t inappropriate sexual or violent references.)
This was also the case with movies. While my teenage friends were attending PG-13 and R-rated films in the theater, we were watching films on Saturday night at home with my parents—which would promptly be turned off if there was inappropriate matter. I can remember being frustrated more than once when my father felt it was in our best interest to push the “stop” button on the VCR.
With regard to media, my father set boundaries early and often. By setting a close boundary, by carving out the “battlefield” over cleaner films and musical groups, we never even made it to considering the “harder” stuff. That wasn’t even an option. When you’re trying to convince Dad that New Kids On The Block is “innocent” music, you never even think of diving into the realm of Madonna.
I suppose there were times when it seemed a bit unreasonable to me when I was a kid, but I am so, so grateful now. You see, my father knew then what I wasn’t yet aware of: you can put things into your mind, but you can’t take them out. Once you’ve seen it or heard it, it will be there for life. I have learned that lesson the hard way more than once.
I think God was doing a similar thing in Leviticus 15, setting a “close” boundary for the Israelites. Let’s consider some facts here:
1. For nearly all adult men, semen emissions are a given in life. Most are voluntary, but many are also involuntary—happening while the man is sleeping. Therefore, all men would be affected by this law in Leviticus 15.
2. All adult women deal with menstruation. And, of course, this is completely involuntary. Therefore, all women would be affected by this law in Leviticus 15.
Requiring sacrifices for regular, naturally-occurring events (for both sexes) would have easily served as a “close” boundary. God didn’t ask the Israelites to wait until they were dealing with the “harder” stuff—murder, adultery, theft—to bring sacrifices. By requiring them to deal with the “uncleanness” of normal, everyday parts of life, maybe He was hoping their regular interaction with Him over these things would help to keep the heavier sinful acts at bay. If a man’s semen emission or a woman’s period reminded them of their sin and their need for God, maybe they’d be in a mindset to think twice before being led down the path of external temptation.
I must confess that I like this idea very much, because I believe that God’s “close” boundaries are designed to draw us closer to Him. We are accustomed to drawing boundaries that keep things out. But God’s boundaries in our lives are designed to keep us in and close to Him.
I like the idea that the Israelites were summoned to the sanctuary to meet God over events that occurred naturally and regularly in their lives. It was as if God was sending a message to them: “I’m here to be with you in every part of life, not just for sin and evil. I want to be remembered and included in your everyday life—not just when you’ve done something that you feel guilty about.”
And so it happened that the Israelites were given a very good reason to think of God often. Frequently. In the course of everyday life. I don’t think that happened by accident.
And I don’t think it’s any less God’s desire today that we remember and include Him in every part of our life—even the mundane things. When He sets “close” boundaries (oh, and He does, early and often), they are still designed to draw us closer to Him and keep us separated from all the things that can truly make us unclean.
God is strong.
There is a mystery in Leviticus 16. It is a mystery surrounding the scapegoat. It is something I have been thinking about for quite some time, and today, I’m just going to share a few thoughts about it with you.
The scapegoat in Leviticus 16 is, indeed, quite a mystery . . . even to most scholars. Nobody seemed to know what the name given to this scapegoat, “Azazel,” meant. The English Standard Version of the Bible includes this footnote: “The meaning of Azazel is uncertain; possibly the name of a place or a demon, traditionally a scapegoat. Most scholars accept the indication of some kind of demon or deity.”
In the Hebrew interlinear Bible, it says the name comes from two words: “aze,” meaning a female goat, and “azal,” meaning to go away. So, literally, it would mean the goat of removal. That would make sense, for this was the goat that was used to “take away” the sins of the Israelites and carry them into the desert.
The more I thought about this scapegoat, however, the more intrigued I became. I knew that the entire sanctuary system pointed to God, especially to Christ. Every single thing in the temple was a symbol of Him: the bread, the lampstand, the sacrificial lamb, and even the priest! It was all designed to help us understand that God wants us to bring our sin problem to Him. He has taken on the responsibility of dealing with it!
Thus, I wondered if the scapegoat might also have a significant tie-in with Christ. This goat was symbolic of the thing or the person that:
1. Takes away, or carries away, our sin. (Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.)
2. Removes our sin from us. (If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.)
3. Was led away to die alone. (My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?!)
Whether we’re ever ready to declare that Christ is also the scapegoat, it’s evident that there are some striking symbolic parallels here! Not to mention that when John the Baptist announced the arrival of Jesus, he shouted, “Behold! The Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.”
But I wanted to dig a little more. I was still intrigued by the name “Azazel,” shrouded as it was in mystery. From some previous study, I remembered that “El” was one of the names of God in the Old Testament. I also remembered hearing that the Old Testament scrolls were written with “consonants” only . . . which is one reason why there can be different opinions on which words to use at times.
Knowing that “El” was the name of God used in the Old Testament, I was curious to find out if “azaz” was a word. So I looked it up in the Hebrew lexicon. Imagine my surprise upon finding out that “azaz” is a Hebrew word! It means “strong.” Wow! Was it possible that “Azazel,” the goat of removal, means “Strong God”?
I wish I could give you a definitive answer, but I’m not a Hebrew scholar. All I know is that there are too many parallels for me to simply overlook, especially when everything else in the sanctuary system points to Christ. At the end of the day, what I do know is that—scapegoat or not—we definitely serve an azaz El who continually invites us to bring all of our problems to Him. He has the solutions. He is the solution! And He is eager to infuse His strength into our lives.
God wants to be included.
Growing up, I attended a small, private school. Each class was small—no more than 15 to 20 students—and the majority of classmates remained together through school, all the way from Kindergarten to the senior year of high school. After nine weeks of first grade, someone decided that I knew enough to be advanced into second grade, and away I went. Entering second grade in the middle of the year wasn’t easy. I was the youngest kid in the class, and—what’s worse—my older brother was already there.
I wanted to get along with my classmates, but it was never a particularly good fit. I had friends on and off through school, but given my abrupt entrance into the class and the fact that I was a bit further behind in social development due to my younger age, I was a shoe-in for the “odd girl out” role. Consequently, I have a heart for anyone who just wants to be included. Being on the “outside looking in” isn’t a fun place to be.
God loves you. He doesn’t want to be on the “outside looking in” at your life. He wants to be included. He wants to be in the inner circle. That’s one of the major messages in Leviticus 17: “Any Israelite who sacrifices an ox, a lamb or a goat in the camp or outside of it instead of bringing it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to present it as an offering to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord—that man shall be considered guilty of bloodshed; he has shed blood and must be cut off from his people. This is so the Israelites will bring to the Lord the sacrifices they are now making in the open fields.” (vs 3-5)
This is interesting, isn’t it? For anyone who thought it was God who established the practice of slaughtering animals, read Leviticus 17:5. The people were already making these sacrifices in the fields! To whom were they offering sacrifices? That’s debatable, but having just left a country where they worshiped more gods than you could count, chances are they weren’t approaching the God of Israel with their offerings.
Isn’t it wonderful that God took something they were already doing and made it a meaningful symbol in their relationship? That is so like Him! He always begins with us where we are, and He takes the responsibility upon Himself of leading and guiding us into truth. Where we are is not a problem for Him. He will come to us where we are.
God wants to be included in our lives. He wants this inclusion, not just for His benefit (although it brings Him pleasure), but for our best good. He knows that it is only in inviting Him to be the Lord of our life that we will find true contentment, happiness, and joy. He wants to give us these things . . . and a whole host of other wonderful gifts!
Sacrificing to other gods in other places is going to get us nowhere, and God knows it. He will do whatever it takes to get our attention and let us know that He wants to be in our personal, inner circle.
God: Morality Policeman.
How long has it been since you read Leviticus 18? Really, you must read it. It’s incredible. It reads like a laundry list of things not to do if you want to avoid being a guest on The Jerry Springer Show. It’s mainly about sex. Just for kicks, let’s chronicle the list here.
In Leviticus 18, God says, “Men of Israel, please do not have sex with . . .”
- Any close relative
- Your mother
- Your stepmother
- Your sister
- Your granddaughter
- Your stepsister
- Your aunt
- Your uncle’s wife
- Your daughter-in-law
- Your sister-in-law
- A woman and her daughter
- A woman and her granddaughter
- A “rival wife”
- A woman during her period
- Your neighbor’s wife
- Another man
- An animal
Wow! It sounds like God cares very much about what happens in the bedroom. Can you imagine even having to say these things to people? Who would have to be told not to have sex with their granddaughter? Or with animals?
This is yet another indication of the depravity Israel had been exposed to in Egypt—and, no doubt, in their own heads. Our sin-riddled natures don’t need very much help in the pursuit of the revolting. In Egypt, sex and religion were intimately (pun intended!) linked. Egyptians considered the orgasm to be the key to eternal life. In their spiritual myths, their “creator god” birthed all the other gods during an act of self-pleasure. Egyptians embraced promiscuity, incest, adultery, homosexuality, prostitution, masturbation, and necrophilia. Abortion was also a widely-accepted practice.
What a great deal God had to contend with!
But the thing I find most highly interesting about this chapter is verse 21: “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” The whole rest of the chapter is about sexual deviancy, but stuck right in the middle is this verse about child sacrifice. What in the world is that doing there? Was it a random thought? Don’t sleep with this person, don’t sleep with that person, and, oh by the way, don’t kill your children . . . Or is there a connection?
I remember my mother telling me about an interview she saw some years back about abortion in America. One of the arguments for abortion in the past has been the idea that children shouldn’t be born into situations where they’re unwanted. Unwanted children, after all, are likely targets for child abuse since they enter situations where they aren’t cherished. Sounds reasonable, yet—given all the abortions of unwanted children in the last 30 years—wouldn’t we expect child abuse rates to have gone down? On the contrary, however, child abuse rates have skyrocketed.
Is it such an intellectual bombshell? The more we devalue life, the more it is devalued. As it becomes acceptable to throw children away with abortion, they become easier to neglect and abuse. Yes, this verse about child sacrifice nestled into Leviticus 18 is no accident. I believe God intentionally meant to link sexual depravity with child endangerment.
Why would those two things be connected? I would like to offer this suggestion: God created us to be creators of little people in our image. These little people were designed to result from the intimate, loving act of a man and a woman in a committed, marital relationship. And as this act of intimate love is disrespected and abused, the products of that act are necessarily devalued in the process. As we lose the meaning and purpose of our sexuality and squander that priceless jewel in the meaningless pursuit of selfish pleasure, we will become so blind that we will even end up destroying our children.
God included the prohibition against child sacrifice in this chapter because it was a reality in the world at the time. People were burning their children in ritual sacrifice to the god Molech. However, it also continues to serve as a warning to future generations and civilizations. Instead of a warning like “Swim at your own risk,” it becomes “Dabble with sexual immorality at your children’s own risk.”
The idea of a “moral police” isn’t something we like, especially in our society. Especially in our bedrooms! But God is a morality policeman to the extent that He is a champion and protector of children. The two are linked, and by pleading with the fathers to curb their sins, He’s hoping to spare the children to the third and fourth generations.
God doesn't change.
I have recently been thinking quite a bit about the “God of the Old Testament” versus the “God of the New Testament.” I have seen some debates on TV where prominent Christians have basically advocated for “throwing out” the Old Testament in favor of Jesus and the New Testament. I have read blogs and forum postings from confused Christians, wondering how we can possibly “defend” the Bible when things (many of them things God supposedly said!) in the Old Testament look so awful.
I can sympathize. Contrasted with our rosy view of Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild, the God in the Old Testament often looks wild and out-of-control. Jesus might have rebuked the disciples for asking Him whether they should call down fire from heaven on wicked cities, but where do we think they arrived at such an idea? These disciples had heard the stories of the Old Testament, and they thought that’s what God would do.
At some point in the recent past, however, it dawned on me that the disciples weren’t the only ones who were familiar with that Old Testament. So was Jesus! In fact, the Old Testament was the only Bible Jesus had. And, unless you subscribe to the view that Jesus came out of the womb as an adult and not a baby, He learned about God through the Old Testament. In His life, He revealed the character of the God He saw reflected in the Old Testament. So . . . something doesn’t add up. How could Jesus’s study of the Old Testament lead Him to the gracious and merciful character He showed us, while we can’t seem to see much of anything except a vindictive, harsh God in those same Scriptures?
Perhaps our lenses need a little refocusing. Leviticus 19 would be a great place to start. In fact, Jesus summed up this chapter in perfect brevity when He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk 10:27) Jesus didn’t make up a new commandment when He spoke those words; He took the concepts right out of Leviticus 19 (and other places in the Old Testament).
This chapter is all about loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. Included are commands to:
- Deal honestly with people
- Be fair and do what’s right (don’t steal from the rich to give to the poor, and don’t use the poor for your own personal advancement)
- Not hold grudges
- Not seek revenge
- Treat senior citizens with respect
Also, in this chapter, we find a favorite tactic of moral social development that Jesus liked to use. Do you remember when He would say, “You have heard it said that . . . but I tell you . . .”? When Jesus used that method, He wasn’t annulling what had been previously said. Instead, He was expanding the concept in the minds of His listeners. For instance, instead of asking His followers to deal with adultery by simply refraining from the physical act of sex, He asked them to not think of women as sex objects in the first place.
We see that in this chapter as well: “If a man sleeps with a woman who is a slave girl promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed. The man, however, must bring a ram to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting for a guilt offering to the Lord.” (vs 20-21)
One of the interesting things to note in these verses is that God commands that the slave girl not be put to death for this act of “adultery.” (I put that in quotation marks because the text doesn’t specify if this was a consensual act or not.) What does that imply? That a slave girl who was engaged would normally have been put to death if a man decided to sleep with her! In other words, “You have heard it said . . . but I tell you . . .” Sparing her life in this situation is an example of God taking the Israelites one step closer toward His kind of mercy. (Dealing with the slavery issue would come later.) Also, it’s interesting to note who must bring the guilt sacrifice to the Lord. Only the man. The woman wasn’t required to offer anything, most likely because, as a slave, the assumption would be that she didn’t have a choice in the matter.
So even back here in Leviticus with the neanderthals, we see the Jesus we love, admire, and respect so much. He’s right there! So, this idea that a loving Jesus came to somehow change or appease the wrathful God of the Old Testament just doesn’t hold water with me. I think the much more likely scenario is that Jesus, in His sinless state, could see and hear the truth about God in the Old Testament. And when we read the same Scriptures through our sinful lenses of guilt, fear, and shame, we see what sinners see in God: condemnation, judgment, and wrath.
No wonder Jesus came to clear it up for us! He wanted us to know that God doesn’t change! He has always been, and He will always be, Love Personified!
God is the only cure for conformity.
There is a clear connection between wandering away from God and losing your individuality: “You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, ‘You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations.” (vs 23-24)
The heathen nations surrounding the Israelites practiced adultery, sorcery, idolatry, sexual immorality, and child sacrifice. And what God was telling them in Leviticus 20 is that the further they went from Him, the more they would become like the nations around them. Instead of standing out, instead of being set apart, they would simply blend into the depraved background of the rest of the world.
I think there could be a very valuable message in this for us. Growing up in America, there is a high value placed on individuality. Most people in our society are striving to find their “authentic self” and stand out from the crowd. We are a nation of superstar wannabes. Everyone wants to be a celebrity. Nobody wants to be ordinary. Nobody wants to be just like everyone else.
We weren’t created to be like everyone else. We were created to be individuals. But that individuality is a birthright of our creatureliness. It is only in acknowledging God as our Creator that we begin to discover our true uniqueness. If we try to deny our creatureliness, we will also begin to lose our individuality. As we seek to find meaning and purpose in the culture around us, we will attempt to assimilate more and more in an effort to find acceptance. After a while, our efforts to conform will erode our true, God-given beauty.
There must be something in our sinful nature that wants to conform. We may say we want individuality, but submitting ourselves to God, the one who “makes us holy,” doesn’t come naturally. Far beyond the Israelites and Leviticus, all the way down the line in Romans 12, Paul was still pleading with his audience to “not be conformed to this world.” God wants to transform us back into the beautiful, unique creatures He had in mind when He designed us. He is the only cure for conformity!
God redefines sensitivity.
This chapter really bothered me. Given a cursory reading, I think it makes God look pretty bad (according to our oh-so-enlightened 21st-century heads). Check this out:
“For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the offerings made to the Lord by fire. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the Lord, who makes them holy.” (vs 17-23)
Wow. It doesn’t sound like God is much of an Equal Opportunity Employer. Where was the ICLU (Israeli Civil Liberties Union)?! Why weren’t they trying to pass an Israelites With Disabilities Act?! At first blush, it doesn’t sound like God is very sensitive to the needs of disabled people.
That was the first thing. Here’s the second:
“A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean for any of his people who die, except for a close relative, such as his mother or father, his son or daughter, his brother, or an unmarried sister who is dependent on him since she has no husband—for her he may make himself unclean. He must not make himself unclean for people related to him by marriage, and so defile himself.” (vs 1-4)
I guess that means that if you were a priest, you didn’t get much (if any) bereavement time. What’s wrong with grief? And this is just for the regular priests. If you were the high priest, you couldn’t even go to the funeral of one of your parents. Having lost a parent a year and a half ago, I found this command highly insensitive. Perhaps that’s part of the problem. In our feminized and gender-blurred culture, we have let sensitivity begin to trump just about everything else.
Is there anything going on here under the surface? What do these odd things tell us about God?
Let’s take the disabled thing first. Once again, I find God fascinating. In something that looks so harsh and insensitive to our eyes, I believe God was actually providing for and protecting the disabled Levites of future generations. Here’s how.
1. The priesthood was restricted to the Levites only. And it was highly likely that, in generations to come, there would be some male Levites born with disabilities. The majority of the handicaps God listed were things that the individual would likely have no control over and would probably have been born with. They were handicaps that would make regular sanctuary service difficult, at best. Let’s face it: do you want a blind priest firing up the grill for the burnt offerings? Probably not the best idea. By restricting the priest’s duties to people in full health, God was protecting those with disabilities from having to do jobs that might have been impossible for them.
2. However, the Levites weren’t allowed to own land or flocks. Their entire inheritance was in service to God at the sanctuary. So, you tell me. You know the sinful human heart. If a Levite male was actually unable to perform temple duties, yet restricted from making a living any other way, what would happen to them? God wanted to make sure they weren’t tossed out in the street! Thus, He said that they were still welcome in the sanctuary and free to eat the priest’s food—even the most holy food. So, obviously, God isn’t out to get rid of disabled people. On the contrary, He’s out to see that they are truly cared for.
3. By restricting the work of the disabled as priests, God was also protecting the spiritual aspect of the sanctuary service. Think that’s far-fetched? What’s the first thing you do when you see a person with a disability? You notice it. You immediately focus on it. Now, we do try to be somewhat sensitive and civilized in our culture, so your parents probably taught you not to stare. But it’s in our nature to notice what makes others different from us—even when it’s not a physical handicap we’re dealing with. The point of the sanctuary wasn’t to give the Levites a job so they could make a living. The point was to help the Israelites internalize God’s forgiveness. It was in their best interests to not have anything that would distract their focus from the spiritual reason they were there.
This sort of brings us naturally to the second thing I had such a problem with in this chapter. Why were the priests so restricted when it came to funerals? Were they not allowed to grieve?
As I thought about this, I thought about how the priests represented Christ (who was perfect, without soul blemish or defect). And they also represented Him in His mission—to minister to us. When the priests engaged in anything that made them unclean, this effectively stopped their ministry for a period of time. If they were grieving, they were unable to attend to their ministry. In representing God to the people, they were to be available to meet with them. God wanted the people to know that He was always there for them, available to them. And, as His representatives, the priests were supposed to portray that.
In a way, the Levites were to the rest of the Israelites what God wanted Israel to be to the rest of the world. Their job was to be the sacred among the profane, the holy in the midst of the unholy, the set apart but not isolated. That is exactly what God is like. Jesus was the sacred who came among the profane, the holy in the midst of the unholy, the set apart but not isolated. He was the clean who came to the unclean, and He is still coming to us.
These two examples from Leviticus 21 serve to show us that—far from being insensitive—God is truly sensitive. He will do what it takes to be sensitive to our needs, even if the prescribed method sounds insensitive. That’s one thing I love about God: He doesn’t care how it sounds; He cares about the outcome. He is always caring for us, protecting us, and ministering to us!
God means business.
My husband and I are a “big brother and sister” to a young boy who has severe emotional problems. He is eleven years old. His mother died of a drug overdose when he was five. And his father, who is also a drug addict, recently gave guardianship of him to his aunt. He has been living at his aunt’s house (which is about 15 minutes away from his father’s house) for nearly five months, and in all that time, his father hasn’t come over to see him once or even called to talk to him on the phone. That tells you what kind of “father” this guy is.
This poor child has been neglected and abused pretty much since he was born. He has an unbelievable amount of rage inside of him—particularly toward his father—and he basically doesn’t know how to function emotionally in society. He mistreats girls, cusses at his teachers, and gets into fights with boys. He has no impulse control and has no boundaries at home. He tries to hit, bite, and kick his aunt—when it gets to the point where he outweighs her, he’ll be able to do some serious damage.
Because of this, I recently decided to sign him up for a martial arts class. My hopes weren’t high. The class is an hour and a half long, and this boy has the attention span of a flea. Plus, it’s an hour and a half of someone telling you what to do—and a lot of it is hard, physical stuff that you wouldn’t normally want to do unless you were personally motivated. When we visited the dojo and signed up, I had a talk with the instructor and let him know about my concerns. He promised me that he had yet to meet a child that he couldn’t help. So, cautiously optimistic, we began taking him to martial arts twice a week.
Whoa. I am so glad I didn’t bet any money on what I thought he would be like in that class. He is a different kid when he walks through the doors of that dojo. The atmosphere is positive, but it’s hard. There are definite expectations, and all the instructors are alpha males. But this boy is soaking it up. I don’t know if it’s the attention or the challenge or the atmosphere of respect. Maybe it’s a combination of all three, but whatever it is, it’s like a miracle.
I realized something interesting this week, however. One night after class, when I took the boy home, I realized that he was still relating to his aunt differently than the master in the martial arts class. He doesn’t treat her with the same respect or authority (yet) as he gives his martial arts instructors. I was curious about that, but the more I thought about it, I think it’s because he knows that, at home, he’s still calling the shots. His aunt, while loving and nurturing and at least not abusive and neglectful like his father, is weak on discipline. And he knows it. He knows that he can still get away with just about anything there. And he does.
Let me tell you, he doesn’t try any of that stuff in the dojo. Even for a small boy, he’s brilliant, and he knows better.
In one corner of the dojo, there is a box with broken-up stones in it called The Box of Pain. If a child has gone off the deep end or is refusing to follow an instruction or just not listening, they end up in this box doing push-ups on their knuckles. Ouch. Mostly, you try to stay out of The Box of Pain. I thought my little guy would be spending whole class periods in there doing push-ups on his knuckles. But he hasn’t been there once.
He knows that his martial arts instructor means business. And he is totally responding to that! Every time I take him to a class, I can’t believe how positively he responds. And although he’s only been going for a few weeks, he is starting to think differently. This week on the way to class, he asked me how I control myself when I get angry. He’s beginning to think about discipline, self-control, and respect. And I know he is already starting to feel more confident and good about himself.
I couldn’t help but think of my little guy as I read Leviticus 22 and encountered God’s instructions for “respecting” the sanctuary and its offerings. I think God was trying to do with the Israelites in a spiritual way what these martial arts classes are doing for my little friend. God had pulled the Israelites out of a land of spiritual chaos and confusion. They were wild, with little impulse control, willing—at a moment’s notice—to strap on a sword and start killing each other.
So, one of the first things God needed them to know was that He meant business. They would respect Him. They would respect each other. They would follow the rules. Or they just might end up doing knuckle push-ups in The Box of Pain.
God wants us to approach Him with respect. And, if needs be, He will begin with smoke and thunder at Mount Sinai (although He prefers the still, small voice). Yes, He is infinitely friendly. So is the instructor at the dojo. But neither will He shy away from “harsh” rules and regulations, if necessary. When He uses those, however, they are for the benefit of the students, not the teacher.
Only when we come to God and take Him seriously are we in the right frame of mind to learn from Him. He has so much He wants to teach us. And so much of it has to do with forgiving and loving ourselves so that we are willing to forgive and love others. But first, we must know that He means business.
God is romantic.
Right now, I live for the weekends. My husband is a truck driver, and that means he’s gone all week. He gets home on Friday and leaves again on Sunday morning. I try not to complain, though. For the first two years of his job, he used to be gone for two weeks at a time, and I would only get to see him every other weekend. Compared to that, getting to see him every weekend is a treat!
One of the things my husband will tell you about me is that I’m an incurable romantic. And, in my experience with the male gender, for the life of me, I can’t understand why the word man is in the middle of the word romantic. It just doesn’t seem like a task they’re up to. Every once in a while, there are flashes of brilliance, but I don’t think a man’s brain can begin to go to the romantic depths that a woman’s brain is capable of.
We women remember all the little things, you know? When my husband and I first began dating, I could list all of the “special” calendar dates in our relationship: our first date, our first kiss, our “officially dating” date, and even the date when we first “noticed” each other. (It was a very interesting moment! Not one to be forgotten!) A few years after our relationship began, I gave my husband a clock engraved with a small saying and the date of that first look. He had no idea what it was referring to.
So, perhaps the majority of the male population is romantically-challenged. But in Leviticus 23, we find that God is not. He wants to have a romantic relationship with us! I admit this sounds a little weird, but the evidence is right there. In this chapter, God is asking the Israelites to remember all their “special dates,” and He hasn’t changed much since then.
In fact, back in Exodus 20, when God asked the Israelites to remember His Sabbath day, the word translated “remember” is the Hebrew word zakar. This word doesn’t just mean to mentally think of something—”Oh, I just remembered I had a dentist’s appointment today.” It includes action, specifically to act in a way that honors a relationship. It’s just like when I want my husband to remember our anniversary. That doesn’t mean I want him to simply remember what date it falls on, but to remember it by doing special things that honor our relationship.
The special feasts God asked the Israelites to remember and observe in Leviticus 23 were reminders that He is the only true Source of rest, freedom, wealth, sustenance, healing, and shelter. He wanted them (and us) to remember and celebrate these things about Him—not for His sake, but because we are blessed by the remembering.
Remembering is the first step in restoring (or maintaining) a relationship. Why? Because the opposite of remembering is not forgetting. The opposite of remembering is dismembering. When you re-member something, you bring it back together, you heal it, you restore it. Our relationship with God has been broken, dis-membered, but God is out to re-member it! That’s why He’s such a romantic!
God holds all the blessings.
This is a very strange chapter, in the way it’s divided. The first part is about the oil and bread to be laid out before the Lord in the sanctuary. The middle part is about a blasphemer who was stoned to death. And the last part is the famous “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” passage. At first, I was going to try to find something inspiring to say about oil and bread (I like them as appetizers at Italian restaurants), but then I decided that would be a big, fat cop-out.
All right. Let’s deal with one of these awful stories that makes everyone (including many Christians!) want to throw out the Old Testament altogether. Or, at least it makes them want to say that the men who wrote the Old Testament were “making it up” as they went along and simply projected their misunderstandings about God onto their picture of reality.
For the sake of this blog, however, let’s pretend that the record is accurate and that God, in fact, told Moses to stone this boy. (And if you haven’t already, you should actually read the story in its context.) How could a loving God command that someone be stoned to death?! And how can we reconcile a God who would do that with the picture of a loving, caring Creator we see in Jesus?
Well, let’s say you have a twelve-year-old child who is bent on smoking cigarettes. One day, you catch him smoking behind the garage, and you go nuts. You try to tell him about the dangers of smoking—the cancer, the stained teeth and hands, the disgusting smell. But mostly, the cancer. These things will kill you, you say.
But what does he care? He’s a twelve-year-old child who has no sense of reality and can’t imagine that anything is ever going to happen to him. Old people may die of lung cancer, true, but he can’t be bothered to think fifty years down the road. As a smart parent, you know that when he can be bothered to think about it fifty years down the road, it will be too late. His lungs will be all black and shriveled up. The damage will have already been done.
So, what do you do? You bring him face-to-face with some immediate consequences, that’s what. Who knows what that would be? But he’s your child, so you must know where the hot buttons are. And so you begin to make his life unpleasant in an effort to get him to stop what you know will be destructive to him.
It is my belief that this is precisely what’s going on in Leviticus 24, except it’s happening on the spiritual landscape, a landscape that’s not so easy for us to discern. This is an ongoing problem for God—helping us (who are virtually blinded by sin) to sense and understand the spiritual, the intangible.
I think this is what He was also doing with the sanctuary system. I don’t believe for one second that God required a bloody sacrifice in order to be willing to forgive someone. But I do believe that it was important for the sinner to take firm hold of the reality of God’s forgiveness. In order to deal with the guilt and shame of sin and have the relationship restored, they needed to know that they were forgiven. How was that accomplished? By giving the Israelites something tangible to do. By asking them to bring sacrifices to Him, God established a concrete method of delivering an intangible reality.
The boy in Leviticus 24 had cursed God. An investigation into the meaning of the Hebrew words reveals that this wasn’t some offhanded swearing. It was a deliberate “defaming” of God’s reputation. It was an intentional act—treating God with utter disdain, mocking Him (perhaps to others), and denigrating His character. The boy apparently went out into the camp and shared this contempt of God with other Israelites, and this was what landed him in custody.
I will admit that, given a surface reading, the punishment seems harsh. Stone him.
Let’s pause here for a moment and consider whether God was dealing with the physical landscape or the spiritual landscape. We automatically think physical because there was a very real, physical consequence to the boy’s actions. But was that what God was concerned with? Was He trying to keep the Israelites from dying? If so, I don’t think He did a very good job, because none of them are still alive today.
May I suggest that God was trying to keep the Israelites from death, but that He was trying to keep them from ultimate death? He was trying to keep them from the eternal death from which there is no return. Jesus proved many times while here that God is easily able to raise people from the dead. But there is a death He can’t raise us from, and that is the eternal death which comes when we persistently close off our heart to Him.
That was what He was trying to teach the Israelites: Don’t curse Me! When you curse Me, you curse yourselves! I am the One who holds all the blessings. I am the only One who has life, love, and liberty. If you aren’t willing to come to Me for life, where do you think you will find it?! If you curse Me, if you don’t take Me seriously, you do so at your own peril. And I don’t want you to die!
As Paul says in Romans 6:23, sin pays a very heavy wage—death. But God’s gift is eternal life. And this story (and, I’m sure, many others like it that we will encounter in the books to come) was God’s way of bringing the consequences up close and personal to the Israelites. He couldn’t wait until they had wandered so far down the road and out of His reach to prove that they would die if they held Him in contempt. He wanted to save them, not let them run headlong into destruction.
Ultimately, I believe that God does not run His government based on fear and force. Just like you prefer not to use threats in your relationship with your children. But if your children won’t listen to gently-spoken reason and you know their actions—if not curbed—are going to lead to permanent consequences, what would you do? And when God was faced with an unruly mob with no understanding of love and respect, where was He going to start? If He couldn’t get the people to “respect” Him long enough to listen, He might have lost the whole bunch.
Maybe you don’t like my explanation. If you don’t, I’d love for you to comment or send me a message and let me hear yours. At the end of the day, by demanding respect from the Israelites, God was trying to save them. He holds all the blessings. If we won’t come to Him, if we won’t take Him seriously, if we won’t listen to Him, there really is nothing He can do for us. If we curse Him, we curse ourselves.
God is all about freedom.
There is something really beautiful in this chapter of Leviticus: “Even if [an Israelite slave] is not redeemed in any of these ways, he and his children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (vs 54-55)
In this chapter, God has laid out the instructions regarding the ownership of land and property (including servants) in Israel. Yes, there was buying and selling of both land and people that could take place, but every 50th year was a Year of Jubilee. In this year, with few exceptions, land that had been sold as income was returned to its original owner and people who had sold themselves for work were released.
While laying out the instructions for the return of the land, God reminded the Israelites not to cheat and take advantage of each other. Remember, He said, “the land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” (vs 23) I found this interesting. Right in the middle of detailing property rights, God reminds the Israel that He is the land’s rightful owner. Do you realize what this means? That as rightful owner of the land, God wasn’t hoarding it for Himself. Instead, He has freely given it to us for our use. He only asks that we remember where it came from in the first place so we don’t start trying to hurt others by abusing the privilege of owning it.
Later, He says something similar about slaves and servants. He asks the Israelites to not rule mercilessly over their servants, but to be kind. And, every 50 years, slaves were set free. The point was there would be no more permanent slaves in Israel. Servants were given the choice to go or stay, but they couldn’t be forced to work for their master beyond the Year of Jubilee. And what was the reason given for that? Because, God said, they are really My servants.
Wow! In Leviticus 25, God ensures the opportunity of freedom for those whom He calls His servants. And it’s still the same today. With God, we never find ourselves shackled and enslaved. Rather, we are free to come in and go out. We are never freer than when we are called His slave.
Liberty. Opportunity. These sound like great American values, but they are rooted in the One God of Heaven and Earth. The further we stray from Him, the further we will find ourselves from liberty (for proof, one need look no further than current events in America). It is only in God that we can find true and lasting freedom!
God has a battle plan.
I don’t know that I’ve ever had more utter respect for God than I have at this moment, after going through 26 chapters of Leviticus. There’s this image I have of Him in my mind as a strong, hulking man with bulging muscles who has encountered a rip-roaring, flooded river, and on a tiny piece of land in the middle of this rushing river is a huddled group of soaking-wet, desperate people who have no way to get out of their predicament. And with no thought for Himself, this strong God, with sleeves rolled up, strides mightily into the midst of that roaring river, dodging the debris and deflecting the uprooted trees, with every fiber of every muscle straining against the current to reach and save those people.
After He has spent considerable time outlining His Ten Commandments to the Israelites (and then expounding upon them in greater detail, since they apparently didn’t understand that “do not commit adultery” means things like “don’t have sex with your granddaughter”), God finally comes around to the consequences of following or disregarding the rules. The obedience part is easy: If you do what I have asked you to do, things are going to go very well for you.
The disobedience part, by contrast, is like a speech. It has seven parts. (That’s significant, I think.) Paragraph by paragraph, God unfolds what will happen to His people if they ignore or reject what He has commanded. It reads like a battle plan, really. If you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands . . . then [terrible thing #1] will happen to you. And God goes on to describe what that thing is. And then comes the next sentence: “If after all this you will not listen to me . . .” (vs 18)
Interesting, huh? For me, this completely changes the tenor of the speech. This reveals that the intended result of the punishment is not some sort of retributive justice, but restoration. The point of Terrible Thing #1 is to get the people to wake up and think, Gee, maybe we should listen to that Guy after all. If (and only if) that failed to get through to them, God would move on to Terrible Thing #2. And after each of these Terrible Things is that same phrase, If after all this you will not listen to me . . .
God was trying to help the Israelites understand that pursuing sin has dire consequences. Perhaps some of these Terrible Things were “imposed” by God. Perhaps some of them were “intrinsic.” I don’t think it matters very much. The point was to make it very hard for the Israelites to go down that road. God was laying out His battle plan to wage war against their sin, and He warned them that if they did not listen to Him, they would, by turns, experience:
- barren land
- wild, ravaging beasts
- spiritual emptiness
That little speech should have been enough to keep the Israelites from heading down that road, don’t you think? Or maybe not. How many people, when told of the dangers of eating certain foods or smoking cigarettes or consuming alcohol or abusing drugs, will happily continue on in their same patterns of destructive behavior? Maybe we’re no different from those Israelites after all.
But wait, I said this was a seven-fold battle plan, right? Here’s part seven: “They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the Lord.” (vs 43-45)
Just as I wrote about a couple of days ago, in this context, the word remember means to act in a way that honors a relationship. This whole six-fold battle plan against sin is God’s acting in a way that honors a relationship. By working to counteract the stubborn sin of the Israelites and trying to get them to come back to Him, He was honoring them. He was helping them, saving them, striding through raging waters to rescue them. Even if they followed after sin like drooling puppies and reached the point where they were taken into captivity, God promised that He wouldn’t abandon them. His ultimate purpose was not to force the Israelites to obey Him but to save them from the raging river of sin.
God takes us seriously.
People who say whatever they think you want to hear. You know some of those, right? I certainly do! And boy, do they ever get on my nerves. I’d rather people just be honest about what they think and feel instead of thinking that they have to try to manipulate my moods with their words . . . especially when they don’t mean what they’re saying.
Well, if you can resonate with that, too, then I’ve got news for you. You’re in very good company. God doesn’t like people who say whatever they think He wants to hear either.
I know this blog is about Leviticus 27, but before we get to that, let’s jump to Ecclesiastes 5:4-5. Don’t worry, it’s related: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” That’s blunt, huh? Just the way I like it!
I think Solomon was referring back to Leviticus 27 when he wrote those words. You see, the Israelites were big on promises and skimpy on follow-through. God is sort of the opposite. He’s skimpy on His promises . . . compared to what He actually gives us in the end! He is BIG on follow-through!
So, the Israelites were big on promises, but they often didn’t do much of anything they promised. And that’s why Leviticus ends with chapter 27. God wanted the Israelites to know that, when they promised something, it meant something to Him. You can see it from His point of view, right? What if your significant other kept promising to give you great gifts or to do wonderful things for you . . . but you never got a gift or a favor? What would you start to think about all those lovely-sounding words? A promise from a significant other means something to us because that person means something to us! The same is true for God.
This is such a fitting way to end the book of Leviticus. It’s just perfect—like a period at the end of a sentence. The previous 26 chapters of this book have detailed God’s instructions for and expectations of the Israelites. If there is one “mantra” that God has repeated in various ways throughout this book, it has to be this: Take Me seriously. Leviticus has a whole lot do with honor, respect, and reverence for God.
But here, right at the end, God includes this chapter on vows to say this: By the way, I take YOU seriously. So all I’m asking is that you treat Me the same way I treat you!
Don’t you just love that? God never asks us to do something that He is unwilling to do Himself! He takes us just as seriously as we should take Him. That’s because a true relationship is a two-way street. God didn’t create intelligent beings for the purpose of self-glorification. He wants the respect and admiration to flowboth ways. He only wants us to make promises to Him if we want to, not because we think it’s what He wants.
To me, it’s incredible to think that the God of the Universe cares about what we say! If we make promises to Him, they’re not just meaningless words. He takes them to heart. Our words are meaningful to Him. He really does take us seriously.