The year of Jubilee is described in this chapter. This was a big deal back in Italy when the Roman Catholic Church declared a year of jubilee for the year 2000. The door into St. Peter’s Basilica was opened and then closed again. Here is the door that I am talking about.
The year of Jubilee is not just a party. It is a time to set the slaves free, it is a time to forgive debt, it is a time to return home after you have been away. If you go through this chapter you see that there are very specific rules on what is to happen on the year of jubilee.
Now, we don’t follow the year of jubilee any longer, but what would happen if we forgave everyone’s debt on the year of jubilee. What if every 50 years lending institutions said: “Okay, this year, we are going to wipe the slate clean.” Yeah, I don’t see it happening either. But do you notice that in this chapter there was also a provision, or it was more of a commandment, that you are not to lend to a member of the tribe with interest. You are simply to help them out and not expect anything in return. Again, that would be something significant if we were able to enact that as well.
We find the law of Moses again being spelled out but this time in a particular example. We read that back then if someone took the Lord’s name in vain then they were to be stoned to death. It is interesting that Moses makes sure that the people knew that there is a same law for those who are part of the tribe of Israel and those who are outside of it and happen to be living within the Israelite community. So regardless of who you are, there is no one above the law and the law is applied equally.
We find in these verses, and elsewhere in the Old Testament, the saying an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The significance is that back then there was a state sponsored death penalty which would be enacted if someone murdered another. If someone maimed them, then they were to receive the same punishment and the same maiming by the authorities. I wonder how that would be carried out. But Jesus, when he comes upon the earth, institutes another law. He says: “You have heard it said…but I say to you.” That happens frequently when he is about to change something that the law had commanded all along, but now with Jesus and the covenant in place there is a new law.
For this law Jesus says turn the other cheek, offer another cloak, walk another mile. Capital punishment is no longer Scriptural, it is against the will of God. It also just makes so much more sense for the nature of God to be one that he is a God of grace and glory and forgiveness, and everlasting love, and … That is just who God is.
I’ll never forget in college where there was a week when students would go out on the grass and live in straw huts outside the dorms. I knew them and they were friends of mine and they stayed in the huts because they were practicing their Jewish faith. This chapter gives us a whole assortment of festivals, or holy days, that the people of Israel were to follow. The main emphasis is on the Sabbath and how we are to take the Sabbath as a time unique and different from every other time of the week. The emphasis seems to be that we are not to be involved in our occupations on that day.
If you look at vs.39 and following you see the festival of booths and it is the same one that Jesus and his disciples would have encountered when he rode into Jerusalem. The branches they would have taken from the huts and people would have been out in force because they were celebrating that festival. We find in vs.44 Moses telling the people of Israel that these were actually festivals, and so they were instituted.
This chapter moves from the previous purity of the priests to the purity of that which is offered to the Lord. Not only is what is offered to the Lord supposed to be pure, but those who eat of what is offered to the Lord has be of that class of people who are pure. So what is this all about? Interestingly enough this was in place in order to ensure that the priests were able to survive. They were not able to grow crops or do other tasks as occupations since their primary and singular task was that of priest of the Lord. A portion of the food that was donated to the Lord went to the priests, and as this chapter explains, to their families as well.
We find in the New Testament mixed examples of this. We see Peter who was a fisherman, but then we have to assume that he ceased this practice when he moved to Jerusalem to rule the church with the other apostles. We also see Paul who consistently throughout Scripture is described as a tentmaker and his ministry overlapped with his occupation. We find the same true today. There are some churches where the Peter model is followed, the pastor is full time and this is his/her occupation. There are other churches where the pastor is bi-vocational and is not paid as a full time pastor. We find those combinations even in our town of Strasburg. The model which Scripture gives allows for both. But it is encouraging to see how the Lord does provide for those who work for Him.
It seems like God only wants the perfect and the unblemished to serve him as priest according to this Scripture in Leviticus. I am perfectly comfortable in pastor’s being held to a higher standard. If we are going to be standing in front of people and giving them recommendations on how to live and if we are going to interpret Scripture and give what is our understanding of God’s word for that time and place, then we should be held to the standard, and probably even above that one, that we profess. I have no problem with that. I say this not because I am confident that I will live up to expectations, I know I will fall short, but simply because that is what leaders need to do. They need to be held to higher standards.
What we must be aware of is when you hold people to higher standards then the temptation is to think that this person is better, or for our case as Protestants, that this person has a closer walk with Jesus. That is not our understanding. In our thinking where we uplift the priesthood of all believers, we say with confidence that every single person is called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and no one calling is higher or more important than another. As a pastor I do not have a more important role to serve than the teacher in the public school. You can carry that out as far as you would like.
So this chapter deals with the physical requirements for a priest of the people of Israel and who he is allowed to marry or not marry. Boy, I’m glad to be a Presbyterian.
A few things of interest here. Look first at vs. 26 and you will see the purpose of these laws: “You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from the other people to be mine.” God has separated his people from those around to be a different type of people. He does not want his people to sacrifice animals to other gods. He does not want his people to worship other gods. He does not want his people to act like other people in the world, they are to be different, they are to be pure.
So in order to understand what that looked like, he gives the people of Israel a set of regulations so that: “You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I am driving out before you.” So these regulations and rules were adopted to serve as a foil for what was happening around them. Apparently for the Egyptians and the Canaanites incest was not that big of a deal, it was actually practiced pretty regularly. Well, not so much if you were an Israelite. This chapter underlines incestual relationships as being an abomination and one that ought to result in the death of the parties involved.
The next thing that I want you to look at is vs. 27 and see that it is from here that the Salem witch trials took their Scriptural backing. You can absolutely find anything in Scripture to support a twisted agenda. I thought you might like this clip since it deals with witches.
I am definitely playing catch up so I am not writing this on June 12, but rather on June 20. Today is recognized as world refugee day, ironically. I say ironically because I was wondering if you read vs.33 where it states that we are to love the alien as ourselves. That would actually be the Scripture to quote as opposed to Romans 13 which was quoted earlier in the week to justify the separation of babies from their parents once they cross the border. I’m not sure we would do that to our own family. And yet this verse tells us to love the alien as we would love ourselves.
Scripture is full of statements that raise the bar on hospitality to the stranger. In fact, the result of being inhospitable was to be stoning. This was fairly serious. It was also Jesus who told his disciples that if a town did not accept them and treat them hospitably then they were to shake off the dust from their sandals. He goes on to say that it would be better for Soddom and Gomorrah than it would be for that town because of their refusal to accept them as strangers.
I know this is only one of the many commandments found in this chapter, and there are many commandments in this chapter, but it seems to be one that is the most poignant for the times in which we live.
This is the chapter of the abominations, specifically the sexual abominations. Much of it is hard to stomach. I find it interesting that so much of what we define in our culture as love today is much more…, well,… undefined. Let me tell you a story. A friend of mine was in his office when an older man and a much younger woman walked in and asked if he would marry them. They asked in a way which implied something was wrong and something should prevent them from being married. He was about 50 and she was in her early 30s.
They spoke for a while and he said they would need to go through premarital counseling. Had they been married before? Yes, but both have been since divorced and so now are single. My friend said he didn’t see a problem in them getting married and he would be willing to do the ceremony if after the premarital counseling things worked out the way they should. As they were standing up to leave the man said, there is one more thing you should know. She is my daughter.
Culture would tell us that these prohibitions in chapter 18 are old fashioned and we really just need to follow our heart. Love can’t be wrong. If we love someone then that has to be okay. I’m not sure that is entirely accurate. I think we do need to have guidelines and I’m still very comfortable with the guidelines that Scripture gives us, at least where we consistently see those guidelines. Now, we have just read some chapters that are draconian, but this one makes sense in a lot of ways. It gives you a set a rules which protects at least the vast majority of family members from abuse from those who might have the power to do what they might want to do because of their position over the family.
When we served in Italy we had the opportunity to take part in the yearly slaughter of the pig which took place in the beginning of January, normally the 6th. Part of the process was to bleed the pig and to gather his blood and make it into blood pudding. I had an opportunity, without me knowing it, to take part in the eating of that blood pudding. It was not nearly as tasty as it may sound. It was pretty nasty.
But this chapter in Leviticus clearly commands the people of Israel to not eat any of the blood of any animal. I also like my meat medium rare, and there is naturally some blood in it when you eat it that way, although a good butcher will tell you that it actually isn’t the blood. I never did quite understand that. So why the commandment not to eat blood? We find a clue in vs.7 which talks about prostituting themselves to “goat-demons”. Wait, what? Well, it was a common practice to worship many gods back then, even if the Israelites were commanded against it. The worship and sacrifice of animals to other gods was the normal modus operandi for even some Israelites as they covertly tried to cover their bases by worshiping Yahweh as well as the gods of the area. As you can imagine, this infuriated God. Just look at the example of Aaron and the golden calf and you can see the repercussions of that act.
Many of the gods when they were worshiped demanded that blood be imbibed from the animals that were slaughtered. This is why animals for sacrifice could only be done so by the priest and at the tent of meeting. You were not allowed to go off and do it by yourself because the temptation would be to throw in some obeisance to that other god who didn’t demand much, just a little sacrifice. That was unacceptable. The prohibition against eating blood stopped this practice in its tracks, as did the prohibition to sacrifice any animal except those that were presented to the priests in the tent. I’ll still take my meat medium rare.
If you go back to Leviticus 10 you will see that it is here where we see the story of the death of the two sons of Aaron. This entire chapter is dedicated to the day of atonement which continues to be a central feature of the Jewish religion. It is from this act of atonement where one one goat is slaugthered and the other is set out into the wilderness with the sin of all the people, that we get the term scapegoat. It is the goat which “escapes” into the wilderness which is carrying the sins of all the people. On a yearly basis the priest had to slaughter one and the other he laid his hands upon it and by doing this he laid the sins of the people upon it. No, the goat did nothing wrong, but he still carried their sins.
Does that sound familiar? Who else do we know who had the sins of humanity laid upon him, even though he did nothing wrong? This is why Jesus is called the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This entire concept of atonement originates in these chapters and carries forward into our understanding of Jesus’ salvific work upon the cross. Praise be to God for what God has done for us through His son Jesus Christ.