Making a Differing People : Lex Talionis and the God of Justice.

Leviticus 24-25

Leviticus 25 55 NIV
Depending on your source, Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. both believed that “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
While we know from our reading and devotions that Jesus completes the laws of the Old Testament, and specifically changes the interaction of Lex Talionis, or the Law of Retribution, in Matthew 5:38-42, we must also not pass over the laws given in Leviticus 24 and 25 too quickly.
For example, the year of jubilee is fascinating, not least because we don’t have any concrete evidence ANYONE EVER practiced it! The idea was that the poor who sold themselves into slavery should be freed. I want to be very clear : SLAVERY IS WRONG. Morally, it is repugnant, and praise God it is outlawed around the world and being fought against by many organizations. However, in the time of the Israelites, slavery was practiced, especially as a way to pay off massive debts owed for any and all reasons. While we should be rightfully repulsed, in Leviticus 25, God drags humanity forward in the midst of their issues by giving some fascinating commands : If your countryman becomes so poor and has to sell himself, treat him as a hired man. (25:39-40) And no matter what is sold or bought, it all goes back in the year of Jubilee, (25:13) so you may all be equal, and in that year the slave must be set free. (25:54)

 

God takes a terrible institution, and begins to create boundaries around it. Remember, if this law had not been given, ALL slavery would be morally justifiable and ALL treatment of slaves would be unimpeded. But starting in Leviticus, God begins to prune this terrible human sin, begins to eradicate it among his people. God is taking barbarous humanity and forcing it to be graceful and merciful, to a degree.
Add to that the law of ‘an eye for an eye’ and we begin to see where God directly challenges the law codes of other nations.
In Leviticus 24:19-20, we read, “If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted upon him.” Of course, Christ changes this law, but in the day it was given this was REVOLUTIONARY.
First, God is trying to stop something: exactly what happens in the life of Samson, specifically in chapter 15. Samson wants to go to his wife, but her father gave her to another man. Samson, in a rage, ties 300 foxes together in pairs, puts torches on their tails, and they burn the crops. Then the Philistines learn who Samson’s family is and burn his family. And then he slaughters the Philistines… OK, so God wasn’t trying to stop EXACTLY that scenario, but trying to stop the PRINCIPLE of that scenario. In our world, before the Law of God or without Law, violence is cyclical and escalating. Samson gets ticked off, so he burns crops, so the Philistines burn his wife, so he slaughters Philistines. It’s not pretty but it is the pattern of humanity. You attack my tribe and kill one person, we attack back and kill five people and you attack back… until we are all dead. Among the Israelites, God was saying, “when someone harms you, you only get to harm them back to a certain degree; namely, the way in which they harmed you.” This is a massive leap forward in our cultural and social interactions.
Of course, other national law codes were doing this at the time of the Jews, such as the ancient Babylonians (and possibly the Ancient Egyptians). But, while they may have grasped a portion of God’s truth, the Babylonians specifically missed a small but crucial detail. Leviticus 24:22 says, “there shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native.” In the Babylonian Law code, punishment was meted out based on the different classes of people involved. Men who owned land were above free men who were above slaves. If a man who owned land harmed a slave, financial compensation may have been owed, but if a slave harmed a landed man, then the slave could lose his hands or his life.
Not so with the people of God. Men were respected across socio-economic lines or boundaries. If a priest killed a peasant, the priest would die. In a law about punishment, God actually gives one of the strongest cases for the equality of all men (and women!) in Old Testament scripture. Whether or not the law was followed perfectly is quite beside the point; in principle, all people were equal.
This is why taking our time with the texts of Leviticus is so important. As you have seen this week, instead of getting stuck in “boring” and “confusing” laws, we are seeing God create a different people, a better people, a holy people. Praise God that we don’t have to follow all the Old Testament codes, but praise God even more that in these laws, he began to create a people who were BETTER, who were more CIVILIZED, more mature, more conscious of their place before each other and before God.
In Leviticus, God creates a people who are differentequal and free. As all people should be.
Jake Ballard
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+24-25&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be the final two chapters of the book of Leviticus as we progress through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Making A Different People: A Male Lamb, Without Defect

Leviticus 22-23

Leviticus 22 19 NIV
Today in our readings, we have many opportunities open to us to discuss. I would encourage you to go back and think through the significance of each of the festivals in Leviticus 23. Many we can see celebrated by Jesus in his life (Sukkot/Booths/Tabernacles in John 7) or were key to his death (Passover). It’s an interesting connection to see how the festivals of God played a role in the life of Christ.
But, I want to direct your attention to some words repeated again and again. The sacrifices that the Jews were to give were, from 22:17-25, a male without defect. This is interesting. Why specifically this requirement. There are a number of reasons.
First, this was a costly requirement. A sacrifice of a male without defect was costly because you wanted to keep those males. Strong male goats, sheep and cows produced good babies. If an animal doesn’t have a flaw but is a physically perfect specimen, you want to make sure those genes are passed along. You don’t have to know all about genetics to know this. In the ancient world, the better the bull, the better the calf. And God was demanding that these great bulls, billies and rams be given in sacrifice to show our allegiance to him, to prove that we are willing to both give our best and trust him to provide.
Second, the words in Hebrew are interesting. “Without defect” is from the Hebrew word “tamim” (tah-meem). The word for “defect” is from the Hebrew “mum” (moom). Both of these words are interesting because they DO mean, many times, physical perfection. The Law specifies no scabs, oozing sores, broken bones, engorged or crushed parts of the animal. Tamim notes completeness and wholeness of an animal in this way; mum denotes physical imperfection. HOWEVER, both of these words also were figuratively extended to speak about the way a person acted and lived. To live a tamim life was to live a life of integrity and innocence (in Psalm 18, the psalmist calls God’s ways blameless 5 times). However, when someone lives a mum life, they are not able to look to God for help because they are morally imperfect (Zophar believes Job has a MORAL defect in Job 11:15, NASB especially).
This leads to the third reason God would command male without defect : he was preparing the way for the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. God was preparing the world for the Messiah. God chose to give the world his Son, and to redeem us from our sins “with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”(1 Peter 1:19). When God sacrificed Jesus as the “male lamb without defect”, he was purchasing us with the most costly gift, spilling out his own blood, the blood of his one and only Son, as Paul says in Acts 20:28.
The perfect Messiah, blameless, sinless, complete, and whole, was sacrificed and died to pay for our redemption. Praise God that we stand in him redeemed.
Jake Ballard
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+22-23&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Leviticus 24-25 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Making A Different People : Repeated, Enhanced, and Focused

Leviticus 19-21

Leviticus 19 18 NIV
Today, let’s start with a quick rundown of the laws of each section and chapter, and then go back and focus on some important points.
Leviticus 19 has a lot of different laws covering many topics. You may notice some repetition between Leviticus and Exodus (and even other parts of Leviticus). Leviticus 19:3 is very similar in the command about honoring mothers and fathers in Exodus 20:12, for example. Moreover, certain laws are enhanced, like how the peace offering of Leviticus 3 is to be eaten. Leviticus 19 goes through topics like lying, going to psychics and mediums, and being honorable and above board in business.
Leviticus  20 contains laws that are about being faithful : being faithful to God over other Gods, being faithful to God over mediums, being faithful to your spouse over adultery, and being faithful to family over sexual gratification. God warns that being faithful is a prerequisite to possessing the promised land, and if the Jews act unfaithfully, the land will “spew you out!”
Leviticus 21 enhances all the laws so far and talks about how a priest must act and what priesthood requires. The life of a priest was a holy and blessed honor, but not everyone could be a priest, only a select group of people.
I know it’s a lot. But let’s break it down to three key elements:
Repeated : When God repeats something, he wants you to pay attention. For example, he gave us four gospels. Obviously, the story of Jesus was important enough to get four testimonies. So, when we see a law get repeated, we need to take inventory of that law. As noted above, some of the laws in this section are repeated from Exodus in the twelve commandments, some are repeated from Leviticus 18, and some will be repeated again in Deuteronomy. Look for repetition and see if you should follow that command in practice (how to be pure sexually) or if you should follow it in principle (how to sacrifice well).
Enhanced : Be careful that you are paying attention to commands and to whom they are addressed. When we look at the commands of Leviticus 21, we can see that there are additional regulations put on priests, not just any old Tom, Dick or Harry… or even Theophilus, Dan or Hananiah. Today, because of Christ, all believers comprise a royal priesthood.(1 Peter 2:9) But, even in that royal priesthood, those who are leaders, teachers, pastors, elders and deacons are held to stricter standards, and must be above reproach in their leadership. (For more on these requirements, see James 3:1(teacher); 1 Timothy 3(qualifications for overseer and deacon); Titus 1 (qualifications for elders) ; 1 Peter 5:1-4 (elder=pastor=overseer[all words refer to the same office]).)
Focused : Jesus gave many commands, but when asked what is the greatest commandment, he did something both completely expected and completely unexpected. First, he quotes the Shema, the ultimate Creed of Judaism : “Hear O Israel, YHWH is our God! YHWH Alone!” And he follows this quote up with the command that follows, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This comes out of Deuteronomy 6:4ff. BUT, then he does something completely not expected. He FOCUSES in on a second answer, a commandment that was so important to Jesus it was LIKE “Love God with everything you have.” That command is found in Leviticus 19:18b: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus took a small phrase in the middle of Leviticus and said “according to God, this is the second most important commandment in all scripture!” According to Jesus, “Love God, Love People” summarized the whole law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40), which is another way to say the entire Old Testament. Quite a lot of focus given to something in the middle of a bunch of laws, related to not bearing a grudge!
If you ever wonder WHY reading Leviticus is important, remember, Jesus used Leviticus 19:18b to give us the SECOND GREATEST COMMANDMENT. That’s pretty important.
Jake Ballard
Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+19-21&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s passage will be Leviticus 22-23 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Making A Different People : Atonement, Sacrifice, Sexual Relations

Leviticus 16-18

Leviticus 18 3 4 NIV
As we move through Leviticus, it’s important to remember two things.
— First, for the Israelites, God was and is creating a different kind of people; a people who stand out in the world. They were to look different than the nations around them. We will see this more clearly today.
— Second, for us, God is showing us what he likes and wants from his people in principle and practice. We need to see what God likes and wants, and what commands are required from the principles found in the text. Christ covers the commands, and yet reinstates certain patterns of holy behavior.
Having these ideas in mind with help make sense of Leviticus 16, 17 and 18.
Starting at the end, the laws of Leviticus 18 are all about sexual relations. In our Victorian and yet hyper-sexualized society, each of these commands are important. No one command had precedent in the ancient Jewish community. For example, Leviticus 18:22 was just as bad in the eyes of God as Leviticus 18:23. It wasn’t that 22 was LESS serious or MORE serious, all of these actions would bring defilement on those who practiced them.
But it’s neither of these passages that we are focusing on today. Read Leviticus 18:1-5, or go back and read it again. God, when giving these commands to Israel, is trying to make a people that are different than the Egyptians and the Canaanites. He want a people who will walk in his commands and his statutes. God has unending, infinite wisdom; therefore, God’s ways of living are better than mere human ways. Therefore, when he is saying “Live my way, not the Egyptian way or the Canaanite way”, he is saying “Live the best way possible.”
God doesn’t want you to settle for a second class life. All the sexual gratification in the world doesn’t hold a candle to the joy of living life in accord with God’s commands. All these ancient prohibitions for sex are teaching us that we need to be careful to not allow sex to control our lives. Our sexual orientation, our gender identity, our gender expression, are all to be in accord with God’s commands throughout scripture and must be submitted to God. God wants you to be righteous in your sexual life because it is better for you and everyone around you.
The way you can become holy has also changed from the time of Leviticus 16. God’s best life for us is no longer in animal sacrifices, but in allowing Christ to be our atonement. The blood of Christ cleanses us from sin. Christ brings us before the mercy seat in his sacrifice, and he also goes out from the community as the scapegoat, carrying our sin far away.
Today can become your day of atonement. If you trust in the sacrifice of Jesus and call him your savior and lord then you can read Leviticus 16:30 in a powerful new way : “for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord.” This day can be today, and Christ can make you clean from all your sins.
Jake Ballard
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+16-18&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Leviticus 19-21 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Making a Different People: Healing and Uncleanness

Leviticus 14-15

Leviticus 14 2 NIV
Leviticus 14 and 15 have many rules about how to stay ritually clean and become clean, even after something that would make a person ritually unclean, like leprosy or bodily discharges. While this is, again, good but weird, we get the REASON for all these rules in Leviticus 15:31.  “Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.”(NASB) Another paraphrase, the Easy-to-Read Version, puts it this way: “So you must warn the Israelites about being unclean. If you don’t warn the people, they might make my Holy Tent unclean. And then they would have to die!” God didn’t want disease, discharge, sickness, and other things that could be damaging to the community to come into the tabernacle or the temple, where everyone would gather. The community was being protected by God by keeping these rules. If someone ignored these rules and put the community in jeopardy, they would have to die.
But there was also MERCY in these rules. Though the leper may be called unclean, there was a process where they could be made clean again. Though these bodily discharges COULD be bad, there was a process for being made clean again. A person was not neglected by the community forever; there was always a way back in.
Today, that way back into the community of God, to become clean before him, is Jesus. And Jesus is better than the rules of the law. Here, the sickness had to end, the disease had to stop; only then could one be made clean and come before God in honor and with sacrifices. However, Jesus himself takes away the diseases, he makes us clean. This is why the story in Luke 8:42-48 is so powerful. A woman, who was ritually unclean because of her bleeding, believed Jesus could heal her. She risked everything to simply touch his coat. Every person in that crowd, and Jesus himself, became ritually unclean because of the law in this part of Leviticus. But Jesus was not concerned about his cleanness, but about the woman’s healing. Praise God that we have a healer, a priest, who can not only make us clean and allow us into the community, but can take away our diseases and give life to our bodies!
Jake Ballard
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+14-15&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Leviticus 16-18 as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Making A Different People: Food, Leprosy, And Caring for our Bodies

Leviticus 11-13

Leviticus 11 45 NIV

So far in the book of Leviticus, we have been reading laws that are about sacrifices and how to remove guilt, show thanksgiving, or just sacrifice to sacrifice. These laws and the story of forgiveness have been weird but good. (You were thinking the Bible was weird, I’m giving you permission to say it. Still, God’s word is good.)
In chapters 11-13, we move into different kinds of laws. As John said in his recent posts, Christ has covered these laws. We don’t have to think about sacrifices or food laws or laws of uncleanness. Why worry about them? I will always remember what Bob Jones shared with me at the Bible College: the Old Testament shows us what God likes. By giving these law, God was making a different people, a people who would do what he liked. We are not required to keep the laws, but something in them, in principle or practice, is a thing God wanted his people to know at the time. When we read these texts, the principles and practices we see should effect our own walk today. So let’s see if a principle can lead us to a practice today.
The Principle : Our bodies are important and we MUST CARE for them.
In Leviticus 11, we see what constitutes clean versus unclean food. There are many theories as to why God labelled some food clean or unclean. Many point to the potential serious food borne illnesses that could be found in uncooked pork, or how vultures and lobsters (both prohibited animals) are scavengers and may become infected through infected food they eat. But I think more importantly, God wanted to make a population of people who understood that their bodies were important and not everything should go in it. They don’t eat just any kind of food, they don’t drink just any kind of drink, they don’t allow just anything to enter their bodies. Connect this to the discussion to disease in Leviticus 13, and we begin to see the principle emerge: we are given one body, and it is serious enough that to protect the most bodies, some may have to be put outside the camp. Though we could talk about the heartbreaking situation it is to have a serious skin disease and to become unclean, it is also true that the bodies we are given are not replaceable. These bodies are IMPORTANT and we MUST care for them. We must make sure our diseases are treated. We must make sure what goes in them is thoughtfully considered. Anything less is missing the fact that we are only given one body.
The Practice : Take Care of yourself in food and health
Though today you can eat shrimp, crab, and lobster (and boy are they good), the question we must ask is, “Is this going into my body to help me?” We are allowed to eat shrimp scampi; is it wise to consume a diet rich in fatty foods? We are allowed to drink soda; is sugar water the best way to care for our own body? This is not a condemnation of any, and far be it from me to fat shame. In America, we are over-blessed, and that means we have TOO much food, TOO many good things. In our diets we need to ask, “Is this food caring for my body?” Beyond food, this is true of alcohol. Whether you believe any alcohol is acceptable or not (and there are good arguments for and against consumption), over consumption is always wrong. Illicit drugs are always detrimental to our health. Ignoring the signs of illness and avoiding the doctor based on some misplaced pride also avoids caring for the body in which you have been placed.
God was and is teaching his people that our bodies are important and we must care for them. In doing so, God was and is creating a different kind of people; a people who stand out in the world.
Jake Ballard
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+11-13&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Leviticus 14-15 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

The Blessing of Your Priesthood

Leviticus 8-10

Leviticus 8 23 NIV

The next couple chapters we see the ordination of Aaron and his sons. They are anointed to become the first priests of Israel. They are cleansed, had anointing oil placed on them and then also the blood of a ram sacrifice.

Once we get past how awkward this seems, I was interested in 8:23-24.

23 Moses slaughtered the ram and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. 24 Moses also brought Aaron’s sons forward and put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet.

He took some of the blood and placed it in 3 specific areas on both Aaron and his sons; the ear, thumb and big toe. Each seems to have a pretty obvious connection.

The ear: Listen – They needed to listen to God’s commands so that they would be careful not to disobey Him.

Thumb/hand – Actions – We use our hands to carry out most of our actions. I think God was telling Aaron and his sons that they were not merely to listen, but to act on God’s commands. (Kind of like James 1:22 – be doers of the word)

The Big toe/foot – Our walk and where we go – I have read that the big toe carries the most weight and gives the foot balance when walking. Without big toes we could not run or even walk straight.

Possibly God is reminding them to walk straight and stay committed to the path God has set before them.

1 Peter 2:5 – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

We are all called into a similar service.

So may your ears be blessed to hear the command of God for your life. Bless your hands to act upon that calling and command. Bless your feet so that wherever you are and wherever you may go you stay committed to the path the Lord has for you.

You are blessed so that you can be a blessing!

John Wincapaw

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+8-10&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Leviticus 11-13 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan