Saturday, November 21, 2015

Reading in Leviticus This Week #1 (Chapters 1-10)

RossThis post will begin a discussion on the book of Leviticus, with the commentary, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus, by Allen P. Ross. When I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary I missed having Dr. Ross as a prof by a year or two, but we were still using his materials in Hebrew language and Hebrew exegesis classes. His commentary on Genesis, Creation and Blessing, is still one of my favorites, so I have been wanting to read this one for a while. His style is to give an exegetical and homiletic statement and outline on each preaching section along with commentary on the text. I find his commentaries very helpful for preaching and teaching through a whole OT book. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The message of Leviticus is focused on the holiness of God and how human sinners can have relationship with a holy God:

God set about to restore the human race to the place of blessing. He began by graciously calling people into covenant with himself, providing the means of forgiveness and purification for them so that they might maintain their relationship with him, and preparing them to be the messengers of his grace and peace. 49–50.

Thus the purpose of the book of Leviticus in its original context was…

The Book of Leviticus, then, contains practical instructions for priests as they lead the corporate and individual worship of Israel at the sanctuary and as they develop the collective and personal holiness of the nation, so that the holy LORD God might dwell in peace with them and bless them. 43–44

The first section of the book provides instructions for the many sacrifices that Israel was to make. The most important sacrifice was the regular "whole burnt offering." This sacrifice was the basis by which people were able to come into the presence of God who lived in their presence in the Tabernacle. It symbolized both the sacrifice that initially allowed them into the presence of God and the provision of ongoing holiness that maintained the relationship. Leviticus begins with good news that all people may have access to God. As Ross states the message, "The LORD accepts with pleasure whoever comes into his presence by substitutionary atonement through the shedding of blood."

Everything that believers do, then, must be based on the firm conviction that by the shed blood of Jesus the Messiah, and by his blood alone, they have free access to the Father, now and in the world to come. Believers must be reminded to retain this doctrine as the foundation of their meditation and worship. And then praise will naturally spring forth from those who truly understand what it means to be accepted by God—with pleasure. Leviticus 1, 97

The "meal offering"" in chapter 2 is a sacrifice of dedication to God and a acknowledgment that they owe everything to Him. "The LORD expects his people to offer themselves and the best they have as a token of their dedication and gratitude."

Once believers offer themselves and their possessions to the LORD, everything in that dedication becomes holy, separated from the world of sin and set apart to God’s service. Though the LORD returns it to them, they must remember that it is most holy; and though it can be used by them, it must be used for holy and not for ungodly or sinful purposes. This is what dedication at the altar is all about. Leviticus 2, 108–109

The "peace offering" was a sacrifice that led to a shared meal that represented the effects of the atonement and celebrated the benefits of relationship with God. This is the thanksgiving that we Christians celebrate in the regular observance of the Eucharist. It celebrates what Christ has accomplished for us and reminds us of our obligation to serve him. Ross summarizes, "Those who surrender their hearts to God and come before him on the basis of the shed blood of the sacrifice may celebrate being at peace with God (in a communal meal)."

All of the effects of the atonement speak to us that we are at peace with God. All the promises of God that come to us through him enable the peace that passes all understanding to reign in our hearts. All the daily benefits of his goodness as a loving God speak words of peace to remind us that we belong to him. Such bounty must be publicly acknowledged and shared in the congregation. But the passage reminds believers that (1) in all the enjoyment of his benefits they must never forget that the best they have should be given to him; (2) in offering their praise to him they must never forget that the blood atonement is the basis for the benefits; and (3) in their celebration of his bounty they must remember to surrender their lives to him. Leviticus 3, 121

Leviticus 4 describes the "purification offering." This offering emphasizes the seriousness of sin and that it separates from the presence of God. It also negatively affects the entire community. Sin must be dealt with by a blood sacrifice for both initial and continued access into God's presence. It also assures that God will grant access, "God will restore the sinner who appeals to him for forgiveness on the basis of the purifying blood of the sacrifice."

Because his holy and undefiled life was sacrificed for us, we who are defiled sinners by nature and practice have been purified and reconciled to him forever...Thus, the blood of Jesus shed for our sins has a continual cleansing effect in our lives just as the repeated purification offering did for Israel. Leviticus 4, 136

Chapter 5 extends the provisions of the purification offering to make it available to the poor and to those who have hidden their sin for a long time. It extends the provision to the overlooked sins, the sins of omission. Ross summarizes: "Anyone who becomes aware of obligations left undone or impure contacts left unpurified must make confession and find forgiveness through God’s provision of atonement." (144)

The law reminds people of sin—not just the major sins, but sins that are often overlooked, like not keeping one’s word, failing to do what is right, or living in a defiled world and never considering what that does to the spiritual life. These things also defile the holy place and bring guilt that has to be dealt with, even if they have been let go too long. But the good news is forgiveness. Leviticus 5.1-13, 144–145

The "reparation offering" dealt with "defrauding God" or "defrauding others of their possessions." The emphasis was that for some sins more was required than just remorse and confession. The guilty must make things right with God and with the people they have hurt. Thus, this offering required both a sacrifice and reparations to the victim. Ross summarizes the section, "Anyone who violates the covenant by defrauding the LORD or another person must confess the sin and make full restitution in order to find full forgiveness and restoration."

To put it in the language of the cultic law, not only are we sinners, we are sinners who have defrauded God of his due and his service, who have committed sacrilege in the holy things; we are “lepers” who need to be restored; we are Nazirites with broken vows; we are the ones who defraud one another. When Jesus gave his life a ransom for many, the fullest satisfaction was made to God. What Jesus paid on the cross was more than the penalty for sin; his death was sufficient to make reparation for all that had been defrauded by the human race. And upon his offering for sin, God the Father could say, “I have all back, and more!” Leviticus 5.14-6.7, 153

Chapters 6,7 repeat much of the material on the offerings from chapters 1-5. However, the emphasis is more on the practical aspect of what the priests do with each of the offerings and how they use them to teach the people. There is a large emphasis on the responsibility and privilege of the priests to represent God and to make their living from the offerings brought to God. The priest was to represent God in his offering of atonement, forgiveness and presence to the people and represent the people, in sacrifice, praise, giving, loving one another, to God. The sacrifices emphasize the responsibility to offer our best to God in recognition that all we have comes from him.

When people give themselves, their time, their talents, or their money, ministers must find ways to affirm to them that God is pleased to receive their offering and that it, or they, will be greatly used in the life of the church. Confirmation must go beyond mere expression of appreciation; it must begin some development for usefulness or service in the church. Leviticus 6.19-23, 66

If ministers seldom emphasize forgiveness, are insincere, or are themselves unforgiving, then their words to those who are burdened with guilt will be far less than convincing. Ministers have to live what they proclaim; they have to be forgiving themselves. The body of believers functions in this priestly work: they are a kingdom of priests after all. It undermines the teaching of the church on forgiveness if the people themselves do not forgive and accept. Leviticus 6.29-30, 172

It is the privilege of the minister to play the role of arbiter and mediator on such occasions, not just between God and the people, but between the people themselves. Where reconciliation is at work, one can see the Spirit of God at work. Leviticus 7.1-10, 177

Rather than gain a good price at the market, the devout worshiper saved the best for the LORD. And even then the actual fat of the animal was designated as the LORD’s—no doubt a symbolic gesture that what represented the best and the healthiest was given to God. To eat the fat was an encroachment on divine property. Leviticus 7.22-25, 187

Chapters 8-10 deal with the laws of priesthood. The first two deal with the cleansing and ordination of the original priests of Israel and chapter 10 deals with how sinning priests are to be disciplined. The point is that priests are responsible to show God's way to bring people into the presence of God. The whole goal of the ritual was for God to appear to the people. This is a blessing to the faithful, but quite dangerous to those unwilling to obey God and worship his way. The order of the ordination emphasized that the priests had to be cleansed from their own sins before they could help others with theirs. It also emphasizes that it is up to God to choose leaders. Our role is only to recognize those whom God has chosen.

Because these men had spiritual authority over the people, it was imperative that the congregation witness their consecration as priests in order to be convinced that they were made priests by God. This is the point of all ordination services: it is God who calls people and consecrates them to his ministry. Both the one entering ministry and the congregation must acknowledge this from the outset if ministry is to function correctly. Leviticus 8, 209

The striking thing in this chapter is the threefold emphasis on this goal of worship—that the LORD (or the glory of the LORD) would appear to the people. Leviticus 9, 221

Many ideas and practices may appear to harmonize with the faith, but in fact violate what the LORD has actually commanded. And since the tempter is able to change himself into an angel of light, one should not be surprised to see in the professing church today “strange fire” that the LORD has not commanded—a softening of the offensiveness of the blood, a proposed way to God that is not biblical, false teachings and practices that only confuse and turn people away from true worship, or modern ideas that in fact are pagan. Leviticus 10, 238

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