Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 6. Leviticus (2)
Lev 18:1-5 The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.
As we said in the previous meditation this book does not show up as favourite for most Christians and you may be surprised that we do a second one from it and yet these verses above, which have echoes all over the later four books of the Pentateuch, are indeed verses I would put into the category of ‘highlight verses’.
They may appear obvious but let’s think about them. See how they start, God telling Moses to speak to Israel as His mouthpiece. OK, fine. But see what he says: “I am the LORD your God.” Two things there. When our Bibles show ‘LORD’ in capital letters, that is shorthand for Yahweh, or Jehovah, or “THE I AM”, the name given by God of Himself to Moses at the burning bush (see Ex 3:14,15). It is a bit of an overwhelming name meaning, ”I am and I always will be” or “I am the Eternal One,” but it was also a personal name that Moses and his people were to use of God.
But that was a name told to no other people on the planet and that makes their relationship with Him unique, hence the later part of that verse, “I am the LORD your God.” i.e. you are to be a people unique on this world because to you alone has been given this privilege of having such an intimate relationship with the Almighty.
Now this people who, at Mount Sinai have been constituted a nation in covenant relationship with the Lord God Almighty, have really only had experience so far of one nation and are about to experience another one, Egypt and Canaan respectively, and their temptation would be to be ‘like other people’ and so follow their ways. We all like to be liked by others and a way to stop that is by being different, so the temptation is always to conform to the people around us. But that would deny the very existence of Israel.
The whole point of Israel’s existence was to reveal to the rest of the world an alternative, an alternative that shows the possibility of a relationship with the living God, and thus reveal Him to the rest of the world. Now there are two things about that. First they cannot do that if they are just like every other pagan, idol-worshipping nation and, second, if they are like that they will not be showing the alternative possibility.
I am aware that I have used this example many times over the years but it is the best one in the Old Testament to show how this worked out at its best, and it is seen in the reign of King Solomon, while he is still in a good place with God and before he fell off the rails, so to speak. It is shown by the words of the Queen of Sheba who came to visit him: “When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions.” (1 Kings 10:1) Israel had done what they were intended to do – reveal God. Listen to her words after she has first acknowledged how good life in Israel was: “Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9) That was Israel at their peak, doing what they were called to do.
That’s why these verses above are so important. Note: “Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees.” (v.3,4) First a negative – don’t live like they do in Egypt or Canaan – and second a positive – live as I have shown you. When they did that then we get a ‘Solomon and Queen of Sheba’ effect but, tragically, so often Israel didn’t do that and my conclusion of their long-term recorded history is that ultimately, even with God with them, they simply revealed their sinful nature which showed a need for some other form of salvation; keeping the Law was inadequate – but it did show the world what we are all like and the need we all have.
Now Jesus has come he has made us into a new people comprising both Jew and Gentile, whoever will believe, described by the apostle Peter as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet 2:9,10) We are what we are today for two reasons. First because of the death of Jesus on the Cross to take our sins, our punishment and our guilt and shame and, second, because God’s Holy Spirit hunted us down, convicted us of sin so we came to a place of repentance and belief in Jesus, and then indwelt us to empower us. Across the world, we the believers in Jesus, are a people called to be light to the world, called to bring God’s love and goodness to the world so that others might see, turn and believe and be added to this amazing body.
But just like Israel, we are called to be different from the world around us and that for two reasons: first that we might demonstrate an alternative way to live and, second, so that God’s heart of love be satisfied as we reach out to more and more people around us with His love, and they respond to that. Where the church is diminishing, is it because we have not been this people as He has designed us to be ? Our calling is not to follow rules, but the person of Jesus who is reigning at his Father’s right hand in heaven and administering His kingdom through the power and provision of his own Holy Spirit within each one of us. Let’s learn to listen to him and do what his Spirit guides us to do – and then expect the blessing of God!