Let’s get into Leviticus!

A new day, a new set of aches and pains (wry smile). Today I had, on top of the typical muscles jumping all over the place and headache/feeling like my brain is dead weight, I also had a pain and tender feeling on the left side of my chest. I don’t know what to make of it at this point, but I did reach out to several resources and got names of new doctors I should try. I will be calling them tomorrow to check on their availability. In the meantime, I have better things to do, such as shop my manuscript. I am tired of going into bookstores and looking at shelves longingly, trying to imagine my book in print. It won’t get that way unless I discipline myself. I am going to buckle down and get that thing completed and get a publisher if it’s the last thing I do. I am very excited about the prospect of seeing one of my own works in print. I have been featured in a published work before, but the operative word there is “featured”. It was not my book, I just provided an excerpt for one. What I am working on now, The Dutiful Deaconness, is 100% my brainchild (empowered by God!). I have read novels in the urban Christian fiction genre and I definitely think I have a future there. I would love to use my writing to discuss problems within the church. This one discusses an issue that is rarely mentioned in church–domestic violence.

It brought me both sadness and a sense of accomplishment to make it through Exodus again, because as I have mentioned, it is one of my favorite books. It is the third of the five books written by Moses (collectively those five books that comprise the Hebrew Bible are referred to as the Torah or the Pentateuch). The origin of the Greek word that translates into Leviticus means “relating/pertaining to the Levites”. The Levites had been appointed the priestly tribe of Israel (by God, of course). Not all Levites were priests, but all priests were Levites. The Levites included those members of Aaron’s family who were not ordained as priests but still served in the tabernacle. Before I began reading Leviticus for the first time, I did a little background research about the Levites and wondered what some of the functions of those members of the tribe of Levi if they were not priests. Then I thought about the functions of the other members of my church today who are not the pastor. Someone has to keep the church clean, account for all of the expenses, help the pastor, etc. I assume that the Levites did the same things–make sure the candles were lit, the shewbread was prepared, the utensils were clean, the tabernacle didn’t spring any leaks, etc.

Indeed this book is for the Levites. It contains detailed instructions for them concerning sacrifices, feasts, and definitions of what is considered clean vs. unclean. At the end of Exodus, we see that the tabernacle which serves as the center of the Israelite community has been completed and God has approved of it–that is obvious when His glory comes upon it. Now, God speaks to the Levites from the tabernacle. Admittedly, this book gets a tad redundant, and I will refrain from simply reciting each detail. I remember the first time I read Leviticus.

That was how I felt.

But again, even in the midst of what may seem repetitious, I now have a better understanding of why God had to be so super-specific and incredibly detailed. So, before we begin, let me put up that disclaimer on God’s behalf–He was providing instructions to a very stiff-necked people who had just escaped hundreds of years of bondage in a pagan nation. I kind of think of it as how when someone gets out of a cult and has to be deprogrammed. I assumed the process here was kind of the same. I think I described the Israelites as blank slates before, but let me amend that. They were not blank slates–they had information available to guide their beliefs, but it was incorrect information that needed to be erased. Instead of thinking of the Israelites as tabula rasas, maybe we can think of them as dry erase boards. God had to erase what was initially written in the minds of the Israelites with a dry erase marker and replace it with His words (with a Sharpie, nonetheless. There is no erasing/replacing God’s Word).

Leviticus will also bring us more illustrations that define the importance of blood in the Bible in terms of sin. We know that the Old Testament sacrifices that will be outlined do not get rid of sin permanently. But in the OT, the shedding of the blood was absolutely necessary for proper atonement for sin. Already we see the need for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, our Sacrificial Lamb.

The first chapter of Leviticus, God outlines several sacrifices that are acceptable–all must be male and without blemish. Israelites have the option of producing a sheep, goat or cattle. The animal is to be brought to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Just for referential purposes, here is a replica of the tabernacle, so we can see what is going on here:

In these Scripture passages, the people are instructed to put their hands on the head of the animal that is being sacrificed as it is being dispatched. The purpose of this was to symbolically show that the person identifies with the animal and that they are fully aware that the animal is taking their place, as the wages of sin is death. The blood of the sheep offering is to be splashed over the four sides of the altar. Doves or pigeons are also acceptable sacrifices. Certain pieces of the animals are to be removed and washed. At first I found it interesting that God would go from talking about cattle to birds, because my assumption was that these animals had very different values–of course the cattle would have more value than a little bird, right? But I suppose that was for a couple of reasons–not everyone had the same wealth or resources. Since everyone was a sinner, everyone would need to atone for their sins, and by allowing minor animals to be considered acceptable, there was no excuse for any Israelite to fail to make atonement. (This is my humble opinion).

Chapter 2 provides instructions for grain offerings. Just like the offerings in the previous chapter, grain offerings had to be of the highest quality possible. The grain could be raw (it would then be mixed with frankincense and oil) or it could have been baked in an oven (with oil, but without yeast). These offerings must always have salt, but no yeast. Salt is a sign of God’s agreement with the people. Why? This seems to be symbolic and reflective of salt’s properties to preserve food and protect it from decay. God has high expectations for this covenant, as he knows he will keep his half of the bargain, but unfortunately as we have been studying in Sunday School (we’ve been covering material from the minor prophets. Good stuff) Israel is not content to have God be their one and only.

In Chapter 3, God discusses fellowship offerings. Let me make a point I should have made before as to another reason why I found Leviticus to be difficult–there are SOOOOOOOOO many offferings!!!! I had a hard time keeping up with them all, even making several pages of notes to try to make sense of them all. It made me further appreciate Jesus. Jesus’s shed blood abolished the need for these many various offerings. He truly fulfilled the Law, just as He said! Burnt offerings, grain offerings, fellowship offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings… and then I had another thought. What if I had to provide an offering for each sin I committed? My list would be long too…

1. Occasional curse word offering…

2. Angry thought about my husband offering…

Image result for annoying husband

3. Impatience with my kids offering…

(snickering)

4. Bad thought about the person who cut me off offering…

Image result for road rage pictures

5. Watching something I shouldn’t watch… (I will admit it, I still love my Eddie Murphy movies, amongst others).

Image result for black people watching movie

The list can get longer, and that does not even include spontaneous offerings of thanksgiving. To sum it up, I guess I understand the need for various offerings. Now where was I?

When an Israelite brought a cattle to the Lord for a fellowship offering, the same rules applied, except that God didn’t mind if the cattle was male or female in this instance. The person presenting the animal for sacrifice still had to ensure that the animal was without blemish and place his hands on the animal’s head. A sheep or goat is also acceptable. The priests are to splash some of the animals’ blood on the altar and specific instructions are given as to how the animal is to be prepared–certain innards are to be removed, certain parts are to be offered to the Lord, etc., in the same manner as sheep offering in the first chapter. This offering is unique in that the person providing the sacrifice received some of it back to eat, and the meal was to be a joyful one, as this offering was symbolic of the barrier of sin being removed from between God and the sinner.

Chapter 4 provides an interesting concept–covering accidental sins. When I first read this, I had to wonder, what is an “accidental” sin? Isn’t all sin committed willfully? I thought about this for awhile in terms of my own personal spiritual growth. When a bad word slips out, I know right away I shouldn’t have said it. But, for example, I did not always know it was wrong. Just like I didn’t know that impure or improper thoughts were sinful. I just assumed as long as I kept my actions in check, my personal thoughts were good to go. But God knows that inner thoughts can easily become external actions, and that all sin starts in the mind. While it was obvious that curse words are a no-no, and it has been easier to control my tongue than it has my mind, I still had to be taught that certain things were not okay. It is safe to assume that someone who does something they did not know was a sin has committed a sin accidentally. Is that perhaps why people would rather not get into the Word of God and face that conviction that is sure to come? Because they know that once they read the Word of Truth, they will see the err of their ways and have to finally admit that they are living foul?

I have not yet decided whether or not my mental sins are accidental or not. I tend to think they are, because I don’t actively seek out opportunities to get angry enough to want to swear at someone, but yet, I know it’s wrong so… no excuses 🙂 I have thought of other times I have accidentally done something wrong. A few times when I have gone grocery shopping, I have placed something on the bottom of my cart, walked out with it without paying, and not realized it sometimes until I got home. I’m the type of person who loathes thieves, so I have gone so far as to call the store and tell them I will be back to pay them for the item tomorrow (and actually do it)… but in the meantime, whether I meant to or not, I stole something! Perhaps that falls in the category of accidental sin.

In church we often refer to sins of “omission” and “commission”. Sins of omission are when we have the opportunity to do something good in the eyes of God, like tell someone the Gospel message about Jesus Christ, and refuse to do so. Sins of commission are when we deliberately do something we know does not align with the Word of God. Basically these are sins of inaction vs. action–failing to do something we should versus doing something we should not. I used to think that these two phrases were somehow related to the concepts of intentional, willful sinning versus unintentional, accidental sinning, and in a way, they are. The only way we can know if we have committed sins of omission or commission is if we know our Word and know what God tells us are the principles of holy living. The only way we can cut down on willful and accidental sinning is by actively growing in the Lord. However, I do not think it is safe to say that sins of omission are always willful or always accidental, and the same goes for sins of commission. All I can say is that the frequency of those sins and the intent of our sins depends on our relationship with God (excuse the babbling. It is getting pretty late).

In 4:1, the Lord describes what he is referring to:

…”Tell the Israelites this: A person might sin without meaning to and do something the Lord has commanded should not be done”. God goes on to provide several examples, including a priest who makes a mistake during the process of atoning for the people’s sin (the remedy for this is one young bull). God then goes on in verse 13 to say “The whole nation of Israel might sin without knowing it. They might break one of the commands of the Lord and become guilty of doing something he said must not be done”. The remedy for this is also a young bull. The penalty for an accidental sin committed by a ruler is a male goat, and the fee for a commoner who has accidentally sinned is a female goat. A female lamb is also acceptable, but she must be spotless. In each instance, the importance of the animal’s blood cannot be underscored.

It is notable that a high responsibility is placed on the priest. Look at the penalties for a sinning priest–they are equivocal to the penalties for a sinful nation (cattle). As I have learned from my recent study of the minor prophets, the reason for this is simple. If a society’s religious (and civil) leaders are out of line, they can lead their people astray. (You know, every now and then I think the Bible was written specifically about America. SMH. (Although I know that it wasn’t. It is just disheartening to see a nation I love going off the rails)).

It gets good in chapter 5, because here God outlines some of the accidental sins to which the rules in chapter four would apply: Giving only partial witness when called to testify in a legal hearing of some sort; coming into contact with something unclean, not keeping a promise, and failing to give God what had been pledged to him. The first penalty discussed is a lamb, but God says this in verse 7: If you cannot afford a lamb, you must bring two young doves or two young pigeons to the Lord”. Then, in verse 11, he further states that If you cannot afford two doves or two pigeons, you must bring 8 cups of fine flour as your sin offering”. Those very verses confirmed my earlier inkling that God was making sure everyone would be able to atone for their sins. Even now, everyone has access to Jesus Christ. He is no respecter of a person’s wealth or socioeconomic status. His love and salvation are free to all of us who accept it!

What do these first five chapters of Leviticus teach me?

1. Thank God for Jesus. I could not imagine living under this restrictive sacrificial system.

2. We all have to pay for our sins. God has provided the Israelites a way to do just that irregardless of their financial standing. We Christians today are spoiled in a sense in that we have received the free gift of salvation by our identification with God’s Sacrificial Lamb.

3. These sacrifices were a way of connecting people with God, just like Jesus the Son is our connection to God the Father.

4. Did I mention thank God for Jesus?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Now, that’s love. What can we do for God in return?????

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