Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Reading in Leviticus This Week #3 (Chapters 17-27)

Sorry to take so long with this one. I have been having some problems with Blogger. But I will carry on with this post which continues a discussion on the book of Leviticus, with quotes from 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…

Chapter 17 focuses on the holiness of blood. Blood represented life and the Israelites were to show their respect for the sanctity of life by sacrificing only to God and not eating the blood of any animal that they killed. God is the giver of life and life is sacred to him. Ultimately, our atonement is accomplished only by the blood of Christ and this must be held in reverence as we remember this regularly through the Eucharist. 
The main theological theme, then, is the sanctity of blood. The basis for this emphasis forms the second significant idea: life is in the blood. To pour out blood is to pour out life. Third, the punishment for violating these laws was premature death. This theme of judgment for sin surfaced a few times before in the book, but it is now brought out forcefully. Leviticus 17, 332–333
Chapter 18 deals with the holiness of sexuality. The passage is framed with the phrase, "I am the LORD God" which shows that these prohibitions reflect the character of God and the boundaries which he has placed on his creation. To violate these boundaries places one in opposition to the way the universe works and causes the "land" to expel the violator. Human beings are meant to reflect the character of God and thus, must respect each other's dignity, privacy and body sanctity. God's prohibitions here keep the family and society intact and avoid the kind of confusion that destroys a people. 
At the center of this chapter is the contrast between holiness and sexual violations. Sexual intimacy is part of the institution ordained by God at creation; any acts that cross the sexual barriers not only desecrate what is holy but also bring chaos and confusion into human relationships. Leviticus 18, 340
Women were not to be the indiscriminate objects of men’s passions; and no one who held a position of power in a family could exploit that position for sexual gratification. Honor and dignity were supposed to be preserved in the family, and this meant that sexual intimacy was reserved for marriage. Leviticus 18, 349
Chapter 19 is a reiteration of the Sinai law, especially the 10 commandments, with examples and illustrations that show how to be holy. The section discusses the motives for keeping the law which are: love for God and a desire to be like him and love for one's neighbor which comes from the heart and genuinely desires his/her well-being. Ross emphasizes that each law shows an aspect of God's character and, in the New Covenant, we must find the eternal principle that operates in order to apply it, much as Jesus did in the NT. We need to do this in a consistent way. His summary of the passage is, "God’s people must conform to his holiness by keeping his commandments (the letter of the law), by dealing with others in love (the spirit of the law), by living according to his standards of separation in the world, and by demonstrating kindness and justice to others." (365)
The approach put forward in this commentary is designed to determine the timeless theological truth in the text so that it is clear what were the regulations for Israel and what are the timeless truths that informed those regulations. Every law involved regulations for the nation of Israel; but every law also revealed something of the nature or the will of God. These timeless truths found in or behind every passage are applicable and often confirmed by New Testament teaching. Leviticus 19, 356.
The motivation for avoiding these sins is expressed by “I am the LORD.” This reminded them that their duty was to be like God. And what was God like? Well, the theology that informs these commands reveals that God provides people’s needs (so trust him and do not steal from others) and that he is the God of truth (so deal honestly and faithfully). Leviticus 19.11-18, 360
Chapter 20 continues the discussion of holiness by urging the nation to avoid the religious and immoral practices of the nations around them so that they would reflect God and his character to those nations and they would live within the boundaries that God placed on the world in creation. The chapter shows what kind of behaviors violate the 10 commandments. It deals with religious practices, family life and sexual practices, which were often bound up with religious practices. It also delineates the penalties for these violations beginning with those that brought the death penalty administered by the community, then those that God would deliver the death judgment, and then those that brought lesser penalties. Ross emphasizes here that the expositor must emphasize the judgment that these deeds bring, but also that Christ's death paid the penalty for all of them. He summarizes, "God’s people must avoid the world’s false religious systems and immoral practices and follow after the LORD’s holy plan. (378)

A brief review of the history of Israel’s faith shows that when the people held fast to their monotheistic faith, they usually preserved the divine order in all aspects of life; but when they turned aside to corrupt religions they adopted the practices that these religions promoted. Leviticus 20, 369
The New Testament also condemns the practices listed in this chapter: adultery, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, idolatry, and self-gratification in preference to the holiness of God. But this chapter gives the penalties for each sin (in accordance with the seriousness of the offense) because it was written as the law for a nation. In the New Testament the apostle declares that those who commit such sins “deserve to die” (Rom. 1:18–32)—but he must leave the punishment to God. Since, however, God will deal with these violations, the church must not approve them. Scripture also teaches that God stands ready to forgive people and transform their lives. The gospel declares that the Son of God came into the world to die for all the sins of the world, and those who truly repent will be forgiven. It is in this light that the church has the ministry of reconciliation with God. Leviticus 20, 379
Leviticus 21 and 22 focuses on the qualifications of the priests, and their sacrifices, who would serve in God's presence in the Tabernacle or Temple. Because the tabernacle represented God's "physical" presence on earth (now represented by the presence of Christ in believers through the Holy Spirit based on the purity provided by Christ) OT priests were had very stringent physical requirements. They were not allowed, to touch the dead, with only exceptions for close family members, or marry a divorced woman. They also were forbidden to minister if they had any physical defect. This was a picture of the future kingdom in the presence of God in which there would be no death, defects or illicit relationships. The High Priest, a symbol of Christ, had even more stringent requirements. As Ross summarizes, "Those whom God has called to be spiritual leaders must reflect the holiness of the LORD in all they do and exemplify the faith in the eyes of the congregation." (388) The same principles applied to the sacrifices that the priests presented to God. Only the whole, pure and best could be offered to God. 
God put very high standards on those who represented him to the people. The people had to be reminded of the holiness and the hope of their covenant even in times of bereavement. After all, God was the God of the living; he created life, he preserved life, and he would restore it. The priests—of all people—could not weep and mourn as the world mourns. For them to do so made the covenant profane. Leviticus 21, 384
The Old Testament dealt with physical features because the cultic laws required physical wholeness for temple worship—because it foreshadowed the actual going into the presence of God in glory. Churches today have no ruling corresponding to the physical defects listed here; the church is primarily concerned that ministers meet the spiritual qualifications for leadership.  Leviticus 22.1-16 387
Ross uses the Sabbath section in Leviticus 22.1-3 as a paradigm for how one must exegete and interpret the OT law. He notes that the original Sabbath was a celebration of God's finished work at creation but this was lost in the first pair's sin. 9 of the 10 commandments are placed on all nations, but nowhere in scripture was any nation but Israel required to keep the Sabbath. It is never repeated in the NT. Ross's theological statement for the section is, "The Sabbath is not Sunday. Sunday is a day set aside to commemorate the beginning of the new creation with the resurrection of Christ." (405) Sabbath observance was the sign of the Old Covenant between God and the nation of Israel and was fulfilled in Jesus. Christians, as they walk in the Spirit, live out God's "rest" and anticipate the full rest that will be experienced in God's kingdom. 
The fourth commandment is unique in the Decalogue. The Sabbath was never imposed on any people other than Israel. All the other commands express eternal and moral principles that are binding on all of God’s creatures; they were not altered at the fall. Nor have they been set aside in the New Testament. They all find ratification in the New Testament—all except the commandment of the Sabbath. Unger says, “Nowhere is Sabbath keeping ever imposed upon a Christian in this age of grace. Indeed, the very opposite is true.” Leviticus 23.1-3, 398
Christians may have grown accustomed to going to church on Sunday morning, but that is not keeping Sabbath. Making one day more holy than another is not living in the fulfillment of the promises or according to the teaching on sanctification. When Christians truly understand what it means to sanctify their lives to God—their time, their talents, their activities, their priorities—then they will find greater blessing and greater fulfillment in their Christian lives, and then they will begin to enjoy what God has planned in his Sabbath rest. Leviticus 23.1-3, 406

The subject of the rest of chapter 23 is the annual feasts in which God commanded the nation to come into His presence and celebrate. The Passover was a celebration of entrance into God's kingdom family and commitment to live as a kingdom person. In the festival of first fruits Israel came together to offer their first and best of their harvest to God and thank him because they know they could trust him to care of them and provide the rest of the harvest. 50 days later came the festival of Weeks or Pentecost. This feast celebrated the end of the harvest as the Israelites brought baked loaves of bread, a purification offering and shared their bounty with the poor and needy. The Feast of Trumpets marked the beginning of the New Year. The Lord gathered his people with a trumpet blast to prepare them for their spiritual service. The Day of Atonement was the day of national sacrifice for removal of the sins of all the nation. The people prepared themselves with fasting to recognize that only God's appointed sacrifice could bring them into and keep them in the presence of God. Finally, the Feast of Booths celebrated the final harvest of the year of the summer fruit and reminded the nation, as they lived in shelters made from tree branches, of God's provision in the exodus and bringing them into the land God had promised to them. 

For Christians, Passover foreshadowed redemption in Christ, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread looked to the life of holiness that should follow—not just for a week, or for a month, but forever. The point is that a life purged of corruption is evidence of a deliverance begun; if that was true in the old covenant, how much more is it true in the new. Leviticus 23.4-8, 414
What a difference is seen between Israel and their ancient Near Eastern neighbors: other nations tried to manipulate their gods to obtain good crops, but Israel thanked him for his gifts. Leviticus 23.9-14, 418
But if bounty comes from God, so also does duty. The harvest may be used by worshipers for their food, but it also had to be treated as a stewardship from God. And so there should be no selfish hoarding of what people might erroneously think to be their possessions. Gleanings were left for the poor and strangers so that they could share God’s provision. Leviticus 23.15-22, 424
This summoning by trumpets prompted the people to gather with expectations of things to come. Trumpets were blown on the first day of every month in Israel; but Tishri 1 was a great festival of the sound of trumpets. Tishri was the seventh month of the year, and the number seven may signify among other things the consummation or completion of God’s program, bringing about the fullness of time—the times of the restitution of all things, spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began. Leviticus 23.23-25, 428
People must not only find salvation through the death of Christ, but believers also must base all subsequent appeals for spiritual renewal on the efficacious atonement of the sacrifice... Every time they draw near to him in worship, whether annually or weekly, the central point is the efficacious nature of God’s provision of sacrifice. In fact, it is for that spiritual cleansing (forgiveness and renewal) of our lives that we come into his presence. Leviticus 23.26-32, 432
The obvious way to acknowledge God as the giver of all good things is by giving praise. And we should render praise not only by our lips but also by our lives. If God blesses us with good things in life, we are not to be selfish and think only of ourselves. God’s merciful dealings to individuals (or to their ancestors) bring a spiritual obligation. Those who are truly thankful will seek ways to use what God has given them for his glory. Israel’s true identity was as a pilgrim people who traveled light by this world’s standards. Leviticus 23.33-44, 437.
Chapter 24 is concerned with the arrangement for the light and bread within the Tabernacle and how to penalize a person who curses the name of the LORD. The bread and light were very practical as they provided food for the priests who did the work and light within the tabernacle so they could see to do it. But both were in the presence of God and symbolized thanksgiving for God's provision of food and the "light" of knowledge of him and relationship with him. The point of the 2nd section is that misusing the name of God is a very serious offense (This is not just saying the name of God. This was a curse that showed contempt for the character and person of God.) and justice required that the punishment fit the crime. It was a warning to Israel that is was a very serious thing to misuse the Name of God. 

The people were also required to present bread as a token of their thanksgiving for God’s provision of food. Even today gifts of thanksgiving offered to the LORD, which may be used by ministers as part of their provision from God, are offered in gratitude for all his provisions, both physical and spiritual, but most of all for the provision of the bread of life, Jesus Christ. Leviticus 24.1-9, 443
The exposition of this passage has to provide positive instructions about how believers should treat the name of the LORD. They must speak and live as if God’s reputation is at stake. Part of the application should be to be on guard against the improper use of the name of the LORD; but the primary application is to sanctify the name of the LORD, for it is a holy name, a name above every name, a name before which every knee will bow. Leviticus 24.10-23, 448

The main theme of chapter 25 is the Sabbath and Jubilee years. The main point this made to Israel was that God owned the land and the people and they were the tenants who served God. However, God is a very gracious landowner who allows the use of its bounty for their enjoyment and need. The Sabbath year was to happen every 7 years and the land was to be unworked, and the spontaneous growth during that year was to be shared by all. After 7 Sabbath years the ram's horn was blown to announce the Jubilee 50th year. This year was a kind of economic restart. Debt slaves were freed, land was returned to its original owner and loans were forgiven. This was to prevent the rise of a landed minority that could oppress the poor. Ross summarizes the point of this section, "The acceptance of God’s sovereignty over his people and all their possessions leads to the magnanimous and compassionate treatment of the poor and the destitute, because at the end of the age everyone will be released from bondage." (463) Sadly this instruction rarely was followed in Israel and is given as one of the main reasons that the Exile was necessary. 

The specific applications of this for modern believers should include the following: acknowledging that everything one has belongs to God and must be used for his glory; taking care of what has been entrusted to them so that it will be productive for God; making what they have available to others so that unity and harmony result; and finding ways to prevent people from being enslaved or indebted for long periods of time. Leviticus 25.1-7, 455
God is sovereign over the affairs of the world; thus he has the right to release from bondage or slavery whom he wishes, to remove the land from the rich and distribute it as he wishes. This truth kept any Israelite in the physical world, and should keep any minister in the spiritual world, from personalizing the work given to him or her, from taking credit for it, or from jealously guarding it as his or her own. Leviticus 25.8-55, 464

Leviticus 26 and 27 form the two concluding sections to the book. Chapter 26 consists of the blessings for keeping the covenant contained in Leviticus and the curses for rejecting the covenant. The curse section is twice as long as if the expectation is that the nation will reject God and His covenant. Blessing and cursing are based on the presence or absence of God in the midst of the nation. The people will enjoy the results of obeying and following God but they will not like what happens when they reject and leave the protecting presence of God. The final section in 27 balances the opening section 1-7 with a discussion of the redemption of offerings to God. If people vowed to dedicate people or property to God they should keep their word. If they wanted it back they had to pay 20% more than the value of the property. 

Because of the covenant the LORD dwelled among his people; and as they lived faithfully before him, he blessed them with the fulfillment of the covenant promises. Leviticus 26.1-13, 473
Severe judgments will be poured out at the end of the age on nations who have refused to obey God’s words. The great judgments of wars, famines, and pestilences recorded in Rev. 6–19 no doubt find their original setting in Lev. 26 and Deut. 28. The warning is clear because God desires that all should repent and not be judged. Leviticus 26.14-46, 483
The Bible reminds people that what they promise God they must do. Believers must keep their word and show to the world that truth and faithfulness can be found in the household of faith, for the faithfulness of the LORD’s word is often seen in the words of his people. Leviticus 27, 495

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