Saturday, December 05, 2015

Reading in Leviticus This Week #2 (Chapters 11-15)

RossThis post continues 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. 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…

Chapters 11-15 deal with the issue of purity. If God was to dwell with the people they must be pure. Sin, death and disease, could not be in His presence. The Israelites as God's people were called to demonstrate this purity. Thus, the food laws were to point out that Israel was a people distinct from the nations and in harmony with the divisions and boundaries God has placed in his creation. The food laws symbolized this in the Old Testament covenant. A Lifestyle that reflects Jesus Christ symbolizes this under the New Covenant.

The principal design of laws like these enabled the Israelites to exist as a distinct people in the land of Canaan. The underlying motive was doubtless to prevent them from being influenced by the beliefs of the neighboring nations and to preserve them from the degrading defilements and vices of the Canaanites. Leviticus 11-15 250–251

The dietary laws, then, were designed to make Israel distinct from the other nations, associating unclean animals with the nations and clean animals with Israel. They legislated that the diet should follow the order of creation in which God made a number of distinctions. Thus, by their diet the people were imitating the holiness of God and living according to the design of the Creator of all life. Leviticus 11, 255

If God is interested enough that our eating be to his glory, then self-indulgence, waste, and worldliness in one’s perceptions (especially in a world plagued with starvation) should be matters of great concern. It is not surprising that throughout Scripture the devout fasted when they wanted to give full attention to prayer and spiritual matters. It was a way of saying no to the physical appetites when a higher concern was present, for food also can get in the way of spiritual concerns. Leviticus 11, 264

The laws of childbirth were not saying that the woman or baby were unclean. It was the loss of blood (life) that rendered one unclean. Entry to the tabernacle area was to be like entering the glorious presence of God in heaven and looks forward to the day when the new heaven descends to the new earth and God's kingdom is complete.

The theology behind this passage reminds believers of the doctrine of glorification so that people who feel the burden of enduring the diseases and defilements of this world in the process of living will have a better understanding of how the LORD will complete the good work that he has begun...All of our diseases and infirmities were taken by Christ to the cross. He has sanctified us with his blood; and he will glorify us when the time comes. Leviticus 12, 274–275

The laws of purification dealt with living in a broken world. Sometimes purification was needed because of one's own sin, but often the defilement came just by living in the world. We must be aware of the possible corruption and be vigilant to deal with it. These laws also reassured the believer that God had provided the way to be cleaned and enter into his presence. Ultimately, this is accomplished by Jesus who directly overcame these diseases and defects and thus, showed himself able to overcome all the effects of sin. Healing breaks out today, but will be complete when all sin is finally dealt with in the final expression of the kingdom.

Neither is there in the church today any ritual for reentry into the congregation. All such ritual in the Old Testament found its fulfillment in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which provides the way for us to enter his heavenly sanctuary free from sin and its effects. Such a spiritual reality brings comfort and hope. Just as on occasion the high priest in Israel pronounced people clean physically and made the ritual sacrifice that pronounced them holy spiritually, so too has our high priest, Jesus Christ, done the same once and for all. Leviticus 13, 283

The atoning work of Christ, then, touches the whole life (body and soul), restores us to fellowship with the holy LORD God, and fits us for glory. It is a restoration to complete health, a pledge of life in the world to come. Leviticus 13.1-46, 292

It must be kept in mind that it is not dealing with sin but decay in and of the environment due to the presence of sin in the world. The point is that the decaying, corrupting world makes worshipers unfit for the presence of God; it defiles them. The contamination of our physical surroundings serves as a perpetual reminder of the presence of evil in the world and of its not being present in the glorious world to come. Leviticus 13-47-59, 297

Restoration to fellowship in the presence of God therefore required the remedy for sin and its consequences. Thus, Jesus often connected healing with forgiveness (e.g., Matt. 9:2–5). He demonstrated his authority by showing that if he could cure the effect of sin—disease—he was fully able to cure the cause—sin. Complete healing of body and soul must come before complete restoration of the fallen sinner. And all of that was provided in the sacrifice of the Son of God. Leviticus 14.48-53, 303

The subject of Chapter 15 is bodily emissions. This reveals that God is concerned with the most mundane, normal things of life (eating and sex) but there is a need to step away from these normal bodily functions to focus on being in God's presence. There may also be the element here of distancing the worship of Israel from the very sexual worship of the other cultures in the ancient Near East in order to maintain the distinction between God and his creation.

It is important to remember that sexual activity was so prominent in the religions of the ancient world, especially in the land of Canaan, that it was part of the ritual services of fertility in the temples and shrines. This world into which the Israelites were moving had to have some significance for these laws. God was saying very clearly that sex, any aspect of sex, any bodily functions connected with sex, had to be kept completely apart from the holy place. He was not saying that sex and bodily functions were dirty or sinful, as some see in this passage. God created male and female and sexuality. Fertility came from God through creation, not through ritual sexual acts in a sanctuary. The law was simply restricting sexual acts from the sanctuary, keeping the boundaries between the physical and the holy. Leviticus 15, 307–308

Chapter 16 is the thematic center of the book of Leviticus as it describes the Day of Atonement ritual. Each year the Israelites were to humble themselves as God provided the sacrifice that would remove the sin of the nation, atone for its guilt and remove the guilt and corruption of the nation, so that they could have access to the presence of God in their midst. The elaborate ritual foreshadowed the absolute completeness of what Jesus did in his cross and resurrection as he was the sacrifice that paid debt of death for sin, as the great high priest entered the Holy of Holies on behalf of his people and, as the scapegoat removed the sin and guilt of the people to an inaccessible place. The people did nothing but humble themselves and receive the gift of access to God.

The central idea of this passage is God’s gracious provision to provide complete atonement. God made a way to cleanse and sanctify people for every sin and every defilement, so that they might retain their relationship with him. Full atonement means even more than this: it means that God provided access into his presence. Leviticus 16, 314

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