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Leviticus 16-18

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Ah, I have learned not to wait until evening to write these things. Well, I’ve learned to start tomorrow not waiting until evening. I say, “Later I shall post my thoughts.” Then later has come and a project comes up, or I get a phone call, or something else happens. So, my reading hasn’t been accompanied by writing. Alas.

In Exodus 16-18 we get a bit of variety. Chapter 16 tells us of the day of atonement, that day in which the sins of the whole community are addressed and washed away, sent out into the wilderness, banished from camp. Such a wonderful ceremony really. Oh, I know, Christ has died for us, he is our sacrifice, so we don’t need such a thing anymore. But still, imagine how cleansing that was for the people. So palpable an action. They could smell the blood, and see the smoke rising, then watch the goat released into the wilderness.

Even though there were many sacrifices, and many rules, and many guidelines, there was this day in which all the mistakes and sins and errors were washed away. On this day, after the sacrifice, the people were really and truly wholly clean. How refreshing. How relaxing. It was the ultimate sabbath really.

I’ve heard it said there was another posted outside the camp who ended up killing the goat. This wasn’t an “official” act as much as symbolic.

Imagine if the goat had wandered back into camp. That’s a bad omen.

Chapter 17 is about eating blood. Or rather about not eating blood. What’s the big deal? What’s wrong with a little bloody rare steak? This is one of the few times God explains his rules. The life of a creature is in its blood. Blood is symbolic of life. Life is God’s alone. Blood can be offered as a sacrifice, offered back to God. But it can never be something a person takes, because they would be taking something that is God’s gift alone. Blood is the life of an animal, and it is the symbol of that life. So don’t eat what is God’s. That would be an abomination.

A couple of things come to mind. The first is a regular part of most of our experiences. “Drink. This is the blood shed for you.” We symbolically, or mystically at least, drink Christ’s blood, honoring the covenant his blood brought to us. We have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. The blood of all things are God’s alone. Christ gave us his blood, and gave us his life, for our lives.

The second thing that comes to mind is Acts 15. The leaders of the Church are meeting together to discuss Gentiles. Paul presents his case that Gentiles are now accepted within the People of God and without first needing to become Jews. Other Christians argue that Gentiles must first submit to the Law, because that is the symbol and reflection of God’s reality. Paul relied on his experiences. Those opposing him relied, no doubt, on the passages we’re reading. Scripture was on their side. There was a compromise.

Gentiles did not have to go through all of the rites and thus first be Jews. But, they did need to follow some rules. And they were given foundational ones. To be included Gentiles needed to avoid food sacrificed to idols. They couldn’t participate in idolatry or gain any kind of sustenance with anything connected to it.

God never, ever liked idolatry.

Then, Gentiles were to avoid sexual immorality. What qualifies as sexual immorality? Well, that’s addressed in Leviticus 18.

Finally, Gentiles were to avoid meat of strangled animals and from blood. That’s the rule the early church, as found in Acts 15 set up. This is found in our passage today, but it’s even older than that. It is one of the primal covenants. Not eating lifeblood was a rule given to Noah. Which is why the early church thought it important.

Thus, there’s a curious little connection in Leviticus 16-18. In 16 we read of the atonement, and celebrate the fact that Christ died for us, and took upon him all our sins, so that we no longer need this sacrifice. And yet, chapter 17 and 18 were still seen as binding for the earliest churches.



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Jays like peanuts. A lot. A lot a lot.

I had a bag of them. Peanuts that is. And sat outside. A jay came. Looked at me. Then another. And another. Soon, very soon, there were ten. A few even came and took a peanut off my knee.

I’ve sat outside handing out peanuts a few times this week. Now, when I go outside within seconds there are a few jays hopping on nearby branches, staring intently at me, asking me if I might just have a peanut. Just one more, they ask. Not in words, don’t be silly. But they’re asking.

Leviticus 1-10

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Leviticus 1-10

Ah Leviticus. Oh Leviticus. Things mentioned in passing throughout the whole Bible are given space here. Which sort of makes Leviticus the reference section of the Biblical library. We learn about the different sacrifices, when they are used and how they are done. This is important stuff for us still if God ever decides to change his mind about Holy Spirit thing.

I kept wondering throughout all of these chapters why God needs this. Of course there is the broader reason. God insists his chosen people reflect him. A nation of priests must walk the line in every single part of life. Nothing is left out. By mandating all these, God is shaping their thinking, putting their souls into a mold, so they become an entirely different kind of people. They are completely without form, and so God presses them with the Law, making them think about time and space in an enforced new way.

Like lifting weights, the goal really isn’t putting a heavy bar and plates above your head. That never really comes up too much in life. But, that weightlifting builds muscles for other activities, so that in the game the muscles are strong and trained and can endure.

God is shaping his people, giving them religious exercises so they become a whole people, a strong people, and able to fight when the time comes.

Yet, I think there’s something more too. I can’t help think God gives the people all these detailed forms of worship because people really want to have laws and rules and guidelines. People want a way to express their emotions to God, and when there’s no clear guidelines, they tend to make up their own rules. Take the Golden Calf for instance.

The people want to have a liturgy and so using the cultural expressions of the time God gives them a pattern of liturgy so they will have an all encompassing expression of response, no matter the circumstance. This not only adds to worship, it also undercuts power struggles. Who can argue with the Law given by God himself? A leader becomes defined by how he responds to this Law, not how he shapes it. It’s always above him. God is always the God of the people, and his representatives can never escape this written source. Even the lowliest servant can bring accusations against the highest leader, if there is a transgression against the Law.

Thinking of Church history I see this tendency all too much. When Jesus came he fulfilled the Law. Gentiles were told we didn’t have to become Jewish first. The so-called Judaizers who wanted to impose Jewish ritual upon the early church, and with strong claims for doing so, were rebuffed.

The Spirit was among the believers, and the Spirit gave access to God like never before, and people could respond in free worship, as they felt led, united in their common, and simple, confession of Christ crucified and resurrected.

But time passed, and that yearning for Law and ritual crept in. People want guidelines, because guidelines make a person feel secure. Only Jesus didn’t give any. There’s no systematic explanation of liturgy or any other form of worship in the New Testament. So eventually these were formed, and they were solidified. People in their freedom began to tell God how he was to be worshiped. Golden calf all over again.

Only Jesus did give us some guidelines. At the beginning of his ministry he read from the Isaiah scroll:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor . He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

When John the Baptist was thrown into prison he asked whether Jesus was the One. Jesus answered:
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

In Acts we see this is precisely the liturgy the early Church took upon itself as the way of worship. This is what they did. These are our sacrifices. This is our Levitical call, even as the Israelites had to butcher and burn animals.

In chapter ten of Leviticus we read of Aaron’s sons, who didn’t obey the right commands. They took shortcuts. They were killed by God. Aaron wasn’t even allowed to mourn, because Aaron was the representative priest in this nation of priests. He had to present the Law as it was given, and fight for its full expression.

We’re given the Spirit, not the Law. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to replace the Law with another, but to fulfill the Law so that we can see God and join in with his nation of priests, reflections of his love and light to this world. Do we risk the fate of Aaron’s sons? I think Matthew 25:32-46 might help with an answer.