41. Misc. (2)

Meditations in the Law : No.41 : Miscellaneous Laws (2)

Lev 19:19,37 Keep my decrees….. Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD.

We continue to observe these various laws found in chapter 19 but note again, from the start, that they are God’s decrees, the things He has established, orders that He has put in place because they conform to how He has designed the human race, and therefore He speaks against those things that would harm this human race.  Bear in mind throughout, that God’s intention is the well-being of His people.

The first instructions, in the next verses we consider, confuse some people but, I suggest, simply say, “Respect God’s order and God’s design and recognise the distinctive nature of things that He has established. “Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” (v.19) These may or may not have scientific reasons behind them, or they may be simply what I’ve suggested already, a call to be distinctive  and by conforming to these rules will constantly act as a reminder that God is Creator and He has made things differently. Verses 20 to 22 are about sex with a slave girl and seek to provide for her protection while calling to account the man who took advantage of her. Verses 23 to 25 are simple laws of horticulture that say give a tree sufficient time to grow before you take its fruit and, when it matures in the fourth year, give its fruit to the Lord as a means of honouring the Creator and Provider of all good things. Then we come to a series of single specific decrees.

First, “Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.” (v.26a). For this see Meditation no.38. Then comes, “Do not practice divination or sorcery” (v.26b) which can be linked with, “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.” (v.31) In Deuteronomy Moses stated, “The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.” (Deut 18:14) Occult activity is about seeking out hidden powers, powers that can be controlled without God and as such are forbidden.

We then come to rules that will probably seem strange to us: “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” (v.27) and “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” (v.28) The reference to hair referred to the pagan practice of shaping the hair as part of mourning practices, and the disfiguring of the body and tattooing were similarly performed in such pagan rights. Anything that was associated with the pagan practices of the former inhabitants of the land were to be shunned.  It may well be that the following injunction was similarly linked to the practices of the land but generally it provides for the care and protection of girls: “Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness.” (v.29) Turning to prostitution suggests a failure in respect of God’s design for marriage and is therefore spoken against.

Verse 30 calls for reverence for the Lord: “Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the LORD,” (v.30) a reminder that constantly needs to be brought. In the midst of the laws, don’t lose sight of the fact that they are all to do with a special people, God’s people and His relationship with them is to be constantly remembered, for it is the foundation of all else. But then we come back to the way God has designed the world and how we should act accordingly: “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.” (v.32) Note yet again the use of the authority for this law: “I am the Lord” which emphasizes the importance of it. Honouring people is a key thing that comes up often in Scripture, recognizing their worth. If for nothing else, honour the aged for having gone before and survived. They should have wisdom and experience that outweighs that of a younger generation and, as such, should be honoured. Remember, God says it!

Not only should there be honour for the aged, there should be care for the foreigner now living in the land: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (v.33,34) This injunction is a call not to look down on aliens, for Israel had once been an alien people in Israel.

Finally there is a call for honesty in everyday dealings: “Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” (v.35,36) Again it is a call for honesty to be the currency of the community, together with a reminder that they are the Lord’s people and (implied) they should stand distinct from nations round about who were not honest. In the same way as some nations have a bad reputation for requiring bribes at every turn, Israel was to have a reputation for honesty in dealing.

Let’s remind ourselves just once more, the purpose of these laws was to help Israel be a distinctive nation, a nation that was to be looked up to for they could be trusted for the standards they held. These standards are to make them distinct from other nations by the way they cared for one another and created a secure community.

40. Misc. (1)

Meditations in the Law : No.40 : Miscellaneous Laws (1)

Lev 19:1,2 The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: `Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.

Chapter 19 takes us into a batch of miscellaneous laws, a number of which pick up on those found either in the Ten Commandments or in the covenant laws of Exodus 21 to 23.  The point that is made from the outset is that these are laws given by God to make Israel distinctive (holy) like He is distinctive. This distinctiveness is because God is pure and perfect and this people is thus to be the same. These laws will make Israel stand out in the world, as a people who live according to God’s design for humanity, and as such they are to be a light to the rest of the world.

Immediately after this introduction we have a double relationship reminder: Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God,” (v.3) echoes of the fifth and fourth commandments (Ex 20:8-12) Relationship is at the heart of community – of life with others. The family is the basic building block of society and a respect for God built into community life is the umbrella over it all. This is followed by a warning against idol worship: “Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.” (v.4)  which echoes the second commandment (Ex 20:4,5). Hold fast to the One True God!

Verses 5 to 8 basically say, if you want fellowship with the Lord then make sure that when you bring your fellowship offerings you do it in the prescribed way. Fellowship with God is not to be equated with casualness: “When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the LORD, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. Whoever eats it will be held responsible because he has desecrated what is holy to the LORD; that person must be cut off from his people.” (v.5-8). Thus, as with the Ten Commandments, the initial commands are about relationship with the Lord. If we get that right, then there is hope for everything else to follow and fall into place.

This is then followed by instructions that were meant to bless the poor: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (v.9,10) Thus the ‘leftovers’ of harvest are to be accessible and available to the poor, as an additional form of God’s provision for them. God’s concern for the poor and needy also comes a few verses later: “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD,” (v.14) as an obvious protection for the disabled.

The verses that follow are a mixture of laws about property and ownership, and truthfulness in life. First the property and ownership laws: “Do not steal” (v.11a) is a repeat of the eighth commandment (Ex 20:15), “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him,” (v.13a) is a general instruction to let there be right dealings in society, and “Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight,” (v.13b) takes the right dealing into the work place so that employers do not hold back what they owe employees.

The laws of truthfulness are, “Do not lie,” (v.11b) which is a simple and straight forward call for truthfulness to always be yours, followed by, “Do not deceive one another,” (v.11c) which takes truthfulness into behaviour as well as speech. Indeed part of that deception may include making false oaths, and so they are forbidden: “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” (v.12) i.e. don’t try to use God’s name to bolster up your wrong doings. He is holy and so if you invoke His name in such dealings you will be in serious trouble!  This takes us into the area of justice: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (v.15) Again, let honesty prevail in society. Again, more on truthfulness: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.” (v.16)

From there the Law becomes more general in concern for well-being in society: “Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD,” (v.16) but it is not only actions but attitudes: “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” (v.17a). It is not only negative or passive, it is also positive and active: “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” (v.17b) i.e. if you see your neighbour moving into wrong, do something about it, go to him and talk to him. Wow, that is community care!

Positive heart attitudes will have strong effects in society: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” (v.18). Again and again where we have that final reminder, “I am the Lord” we are being reminded that this is to be a holy people, a people who are distinguished from the self-centred, ungodly, sinful nations of the world – or at least, that is how it was supposed to be if Israel had heeded these laws. What a wonderful society it could have been but, tragically, so often it wasn’t as they ignored or forgot about these guidelines from the Designer on how to create a good, secure and caring society. The blueprints were there, but they just didn’t follow them – just like we don’t in modern Western societies today!

39. Sexual Relations

Meditations in the Law : No.39 : Sexual Relations

Lev 18:5,6 Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD. `No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.

The Law now moves on to regularise relationships. We may see the injunctions in the early part of this chapter as all about sex, but in the word of God sex and ongoing relationship are inextricably linked. Sex is about relationship, we find, in God’s word. We, in this modern world, have separated sex from relationship so that sex is purely a single physical act which may appear to have no other ongoing consequences (although it does!). The instructions here come with very strong preliminary authority.  In the first six verses, taking us into the laws about relationship – indeed linking strongly the preliminary warnings with the following laws – we find “I am the Lord” four times. It is the Lord imprinting His authority on these laws. He emphasises Himself because He declares, “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.” (v.3) The implication is that there is chaos in relationships in Egypt and in Canaan and the Lord is creating a people where there is order, honour and respect (as we’ll soon see).

Verse 6 above summarises all that follows in verses 7 to 16. We will not consider them separately but simply note that the word ‘dishonour’ appears five times in those verses. Honour is all about respecting and esteeming others, about recognising their role, status or position. For instance in God’s order of things a husband and wife have a unique relationship and they become one (Gen 2:24). For a person to have sex with his mother abuses the uniqueness of that relationship. In each case there is assumed a special relationship which is held in high esteem before the Lord and to step into that relationship sexually is to abuse it and to disregard God and His design for mankind.

In verse 17 the disregard for different and unique relationships is spoken of as ‘wickedness’. Verse 18 extends that in a way that suggests to us that all of these rules have the thought behind them of care and concern for various parties concerned. Where there is abuse of these unique (as they are supposed to be) relationships, people are going to be hurt and upset. Dishonouring means disrespecting and disrespecting means demeaning and demeaning means causing hurt. It is probably this thinking that is behind the exhortation not to have sex during a woman’s period (v.19). Most women are highly sensitive about their state and the demands for sex by an insensitive husband disregards her feelings. Verse 20 is a simple exhortation to avoid adultery and verse 21 a simple prohibition against child sacrifice. It is this law that reminds us again that these laws are legislating against the anarchistic practices of the pagan nations which involve fear and abuse in a large measure. Verse 22 is a straight prohibition of homosexual sex which God declares here is ‘detestable’. Likewise sex with animals (v.23) is straight forward perversion. Remember these descriptions in the light of modern trends.

Now godless, unrighteous, modern man may decry these rules and call for total freedom of sex, but in so doing such a person is putting themselves totally at odds with God. The warnings at the beginning of the chapter were serious; the ones at the end are even more serious! Listen to the strong language: Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.” (v.24) Defiled means made dirty, polluted, spoiled. He goes on: “Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” (v.25) That’s why He had the Canaanites put out of that land, because of their appalling behaviour.  So He continues, “But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things.” (v.26) That is the strength of the Lord’s feeling about those who live so contrary to the way He has designed them to live. So He concludes: “for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” (v.27,28). It is a clear warning: if you live like them you will end up in the same way. We seem to speak about free sex as if it is something that grown up and mature people accept, but in fact God indicates that it is exactly the opposite. Such people disdain relationships and go for cheap physical gratification but such will be the cause of the downfall of a nation.

The chapter concludes with a final warning and exhortation: “Everyone who does any of these detestable things–such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the LORD your God.” (v.29,30) If you had any casual thoughts about these things, think again. God is deeply serious about these things because they undermine the very fabric of society. These laws are not to ‘spoil people’s fun’ but are to protect individuals and hold society together. We ignore them at our peril.

38. Blood

Meditations in the Law : No.38 : Blood

Lev 17:8,9 Say to them: `Any Israelite or any alien living among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to sacrifice it to the LORD–that man must be cut off from his people.

Again and again in the laws of Leviticus, I suggest, we come across things which to us today seem most strange and yet, once you think about them, make a lot of sense. My underlying belief, having read God’s word for many years, is that the laws make sense! God gave them for a purpose and each one conveys some truth about life. These instructions that we find in chapter 17 convey strong messages about life, about death and about God.

Our starting place, in our verses above, is very simple: if you bring a sacrifice then you must bring it to the tabernacle. The tabernacle or Tent of Meeting was the place ordained by God where the Israelites would come to meet with God – the only place that He had ordained. Thus, to sacrifice anywhere else meant a) you were doing your own thing and disregarding God and b) it was likely you would start offering your sacrifice to some other imaginary god or idol. The truth, as the early Ten Commandments remind us, is that there is only one Supreme Being and so anything else is drifting into superstitious fantasy. These verses summarise what has already been said in verses 1 to 4 and they were given because already the Israelites were sacrificing out in the open (v.5) to goat idols (v.6), obviously from other nations.

Having dealt with this issue, the Law then moves on to a specific prohibition of eating (or drinking) blood: Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood–I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people.” (v.10). In case we might wonder why this should be so, the reason is then given: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (v.11) When a sacrifice was made of an animal, the person offering it could see the blood pouring out of the animal and it was very clear that this was the very life of the animal seeping away. Today we know that blood carries oxygen and without that the body dies. Mostly certainly “the life of a creature is in the blood.” In the previous meditation we said that Atonement refers to the act of a substitute dying to pay the price of sin for the Offeror to reconcile them to God and so if the creature’s life is contained in the blood, as the blood is taken it is the life being taken and hence the Law says, it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Thus the blood was seen as the very life being given up and so there had to be great respect for that life and so it went on, “Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood.” (v.12)

This respect for life continues on to include the act of hunting: “Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.” (v.13,14) Hence once you have killed an animal in hunting for food, to respect the life, pour the blood away and bury it – and then comes yet again a third injunction about not eating the blood (v.10,12,14).

Near the end of the Bible in chapter 19 of the book of Revelation we find an incredible picture of a coming conquering king who is Jesus and one of the descriptions states, “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.” (Rev 19:13) Even in this picture blood is emphasized and of course it is his own blood shed for us. It is his badge, if you like, what gives him authority for he has purchased men through his blood: “And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9) The writer to the Hebrews summed it up: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb 9:22)

Justice demands that wrong is punished. The enormity of the wrongs of every human being, a lifetime of wrongs, demands a life be taken. That is justice. The blood, representing a life being given under the old covenant of the Law, was simply a picture of the life that would be given by the eternal Son of God. He alone was great enough to pay for every single sin that has ever been and will be committed. We either receive his work on our behalf, or we pay the price ourselves in eternity. It is pure folly to opt for the second choice.

37. Atonement

Meditations in the Law : No.37 : Atonement

Lev 16:29-34 This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work–whether native-born or an alien living among you– because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

In Exodus we find, Once a year Aaron shall make atonement on its horns. This annual atonement must be made with the blood of the atoning sin offering for the generations to come. It is most holy to the LORD.” (Ex 30:10) In Exodus it was Aaron who was to do it but in Leviticus, as it looks to the future, it is simply the high priest. Atonement is a major issue that comes up in the Law. Already we have seen it a number of times as it is mentioned in respect of the offerings, e.g. “the burnt offering… will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.” (Lev 1:4). Thus even the most basic of the offerings, the burnt offering had an atoning element about it.

Atonement refers to the act of a substitute dying to pay the price of sin for the Offeror to reconcile them to God. It involves the recognition of sin which separates from God, the need for punishment of that sin so that justice is done, and a substitute that bears the sin, the guilt and the punishment so that the sin and its consequences is dealt with and there is nothing to keep God from the Offeror and the Offeror from God.

Thus in any approach to God by a sinful human being there must be a recognition of our sinful state which keeps us from the Holy God. Thus in the Sin Offering it features strongly (7 references in chapter 4 & 5) and also in the Guilt Offering (3 references in chapter 5 & 6). It does not apply in the freewill offerings of the Grain Offering and the Fellowship Offering.

Now in chapter 16 of Leviticus, we find the details of what was to be a once a year action by the high priest. At the beginning of the chapter we find this serious warning: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.” (Lev 16:2) Thus we see a prohibition of coming into the Most Holy Place (old versions – the Holy of Holies), the innermost part of the Tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant resided (a representation of the presence of God). In other words, the presence of the Lord was a place of danger for sinful human beings. The Holy Presence of God would burn up sin and the sinner along with it unless the sin was first dealt with. Thus on this one day a year, there was to be a ceremonial dealing with Sin.

Even Aaron’s approach was prescribed – with a sin offering (a bull) and burnt offering (a ram) (v.3), in special clothes (v.4). In addition he was to take two goats for a sin offering from the people and a ram for an additional burnt offering (v.5). He offers the bull as a sin offering for himself (v.6) and one goat as a sin offering for (implied) the people (v.7-9) and the other goat is sent into the desert (v.10). The details of these offerings follow – the bull (v.11-14) and the goat (v.15), sprinkling the blood of both on the ‘atonement cover’, the lid of the ark. This is a sign of life being given the sins of Israel (v.16). He then comes out and takes the blood of both and puts it on the horns of the altar (v.18,19), again to cleanse it and atone for the sins of Israel. The ‘scapegoat’, the second goat which is not killed is to have the sin of Israel confessed over it and it is then released in the desert (v.20-22).

Having done this, Aaron then changes out of the special clothes into the ones he usually uses in the Tabernacle, and makes a burnt offering for himself and for the people (v.23-25). The remains of the bull and the goat, used for atonement in the Most Holy Place, are to be taken outside the camp and completely burned up (v.27).

Observe by way of summary, there was a sin offering (bull) and burnt offering (ram) used to consecrate the Most Holy Place, a sin offering of a ram that was released into the desert, and then burnt offerings for himself and the people afterwards.

In the New Testament, in respect of Christ, we find: Christ … has appeared once for all …. to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.” (Heb 9:26-28) and God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” (Rom 3:25) and He (Jesus)  is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world, with the page note saying as an alternative He is the one who turns aside God’s wrath, taking away our sins, and not only ours but also….” (1 Jn 2:2)

Have we caught the thrust of the truth that comes through in all these verses? Our sin can only be dealt with by death – the punishment that indicates the severity or terribleness of sin that spoils and mars God’s wonderful world and keeps human beings from Him. Either we die, taking the punishment ourselves into eternity, or we let Jesus take it for us. The Day of Atonement reminded Israel that they all needed this. May this study remind us similarly.

36. Health & Infections

Meditations in the Law : No.36 : Health & Infections

Lev 13:1-3 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2″When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a bright spot on his skin that may become an infectious skin disease, he must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest. 3The priest is to examine the sore on his skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is an infectious skin disease. When the priest examines him, he shall pronounce him ceremonially unclean.

Now this is really going to separate out the adults from the children! If you turn away from this meditation, I understand! If rules about childbirth seemed a bit off track, ones about skin diseases seem even worse. But hold on, if, just for a moment we believe Paul’s declaration that All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,” (2 Tim 3:16) and just for a moment we assume that the Jewish scholars and elders got it right in including this in the canon of the Old Testament, then we ought to have a look at it. One of my own underlying feelings about the Law of Moses, and a reason for writing these particular meditations is that within them we see the wisdom and knowledge and care of God for His people as He gives them very practical laws for living. One of the main premises behind this writing is the certainty that there is nothing freaky or weird about these laws, and they reveal much to us about the life of Israel and the wisdom of God.

Chapter 13 is a massive chapter on health care. God’s rules for life were not (and are not) all spiritual; they are practical and they helped Israel live in this Fallen World and cope when things went wrong. The earlier laws that we considered restrained sin and then dealt with it when it happened. These laws are health laws that seek to restrain infections. We don’t need to go into every detail but it will be helpful to observe the overall principles that are laid out.

Interestingly this starts out, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron…” (v.1) as was the case with unclean animals (11:1). Some things He appeared to share just with Moses and others it appears He gave to them both together. Perhaps the latter are to be considered bigger issues that would affect all of Israel. The first instruction here is about a swelling or a rash or a bright spot on his skin that may become an infectious skin disease,” (v.2) i.e. when the first signs of something that may potentially become infectious are seen, then action needs to be taken. The action: “he must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest.” (v.2b) You will see a note in your Bible that ‘sons’ may also mean descendents, i.e. all subsequent priests. The priests were to learn to act as doctors.

What we then find is guidance for a clinical procedure. This wasn’t left to haphazard approaches; this was a process laid down. The priest was to examine it and assess its nature (v.3). If, by its nature, he determines that it is an infection the man is put in the ‘ceremonially unclean’ group which, as we’ve suggested before, is as likely to mean that he’s excused religious duties as much as it says anything about his spiritual state. It may be that the priest needs to carry on observing it and in that case (v.4) he puts the person in isolation for seven days to observe whether it is getting worse. On the seventh day he carries out a further inspection and makes a determination. If it is unclear then he stays in isolation for a further seven days (v.5). There is then a further inspection and makes a determination that either it is nothing to worry about or that it is infectious (v.6).

Now we have here a very simple and obvious process for checking health and preventing outbreaks of infection. These guidance rules then move on to when it is determined that it is a real infectious skin infection (v.9 on).  The crucial issue becomes whether there is ‘raw flesh’ or an open sore (v.10,14-16)).  This is the sign of something serious (v.11). If the skin infection just goes white that is a sign of it clearing up and he is all right (v.12,13,16,17).

The Law then continues on to cover boils (v.18-23), burns (v.23-28), sores, spots and rashes (v.29-44). When there is a clear, serious, infectious disease the person concerned is to live outside the camp in isolation (v.45,46). In such a way the disease will be limited. The remainder of the chapter covers mildew that may carry infections and how to assess it and deal with it (v.47-59). Chapter 14 goes on to describe the offerings to be brought after someone is healed of one of these diseases, rather in the same way and, I suggest, for the same reasons,  as the instructions for a woman after childbirth.

Of course what the Law doesn’t cover is the question of Healing. When the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt He declared, If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.” (Ex 15:26) i.e. obedience brings the blessing of health and healing from the Lord. At Mount Sinai He declared, “Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.” (Ex 23:25,26) i.e. again a promise of health with the relationship.

We see the Lord’s healing in operation in the Old Testament specifically in the case of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-). Similarly we see Hezekiah becoming ill, calling on the Lord and being healed (Isa 38). The Law, as we have said previously, covered situations where things went wrong, and this chapter, seen in the light of the verses about health and healing, becomes a chapter about grace – God’s provision of how to cope when they have not been in a good relationship with Him and sickness has invaded their lives. He was always there for them to call upon to bring healing, but healing requires faith!

35. Childbirth

Meditations in the Law : No.35 : Childbirth?

Lev 12:1-4 1The LORD said to Moses, 2″Say to the Israelites: `A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. 3On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. 4Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.

This is going to be a challenge!  If I was a betting man (which I’m not) I would place a mighty wager that this chapter probably rates as one of the least read passages of Scripture. The reasons are obvious: it needs thinking about to make sense, especially in the age in which we live. There are some obvious things that need to be dealt with before we move on to consider the detail.

The first is that this IS part of the Law that was given by God to Moses. It is not something that goes with the cultural mores of that day; it is specific instruction from the Lord and, as we’ve seen previously, God has practical reasons for everything He says. Second, we need to remind ourselves that specific Scripture is to be read in the light of overall Scripture. We may jump to the (wrong) conclusion, that when the word ‘unclean’ appears it means that there is something nasty about childbirth. No, definitely not. It was God who said, “Be fruitful and increase in numbers.” (Gen 1:28) and then, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Gen 2:24,25). Sex is God’s idea and so the sexual act and childbirth are God’s design and are not to be seen in a negative light. Similarly in the psalms we find, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.” (Psa 127:3). Having children is good! To make the point even further, the blessing on a godly man was, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house,” (Psa 128:3) which is a clear indication of divine approval to having a family. Childbirth was God’s idea, so what is this chapter about?

Well, let’s see the various things this chapter speaks about. First, “A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period.” (v.2) Please observe the word ‘ceremonially’. Ceremonially refers to everything that happened at the Tabernacle (and later on the Temple). The word ‘unclean’, I would suggest, refers less to any moral or sanitary state but simply means ‘not in a fit state’ to go through the various rites of the Tabernacle worship. We may live in a day when drugs help many women to cope with their menstrual period, but many would still acknowledge that this is an ongoing painful period in their monthly cycle that they would rather do without. In Old Testament times such helps were not available and a woman’s period would often be quite debilitating. Indeed Rachel, Jacob’s wife, used it as an excuse not to get up: “Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” (Gen 31:35). What we thus come to realise is that the Lord in fact excused the woman having her period, or recovering from childbirth, from having to attend the ceremonial rites. It was in fact, a relief for her.

The next item covered was that of circumcising the boy: “On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised.” (v.3) Modern science tells us that the eighth day is the very best time to carry out such an operation with as little pain or risk as is possible. We then find, “Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.” (v.4) Again ‘purification’ simply means ‘is completely finished with and her body is starting to return to normal’. The ‘not touch anything sacred’ simply is an embargo on her going anywhere near the Tabernacle and the required rites. She is excused all this while she gets over her childbirth. If we think negatively of her in all this, it is more an expression of our prejudices than of God’s feelings towards her. If anything these rules highlight the special feeling of the time of childbirth and say, “You don’t have to worry during this time about all the ceremonial things; you just concentrate on recovering.”

Now I am aware that there will be those who feel that this interpretation of these rules takes away from the awareness of God’s holiness which was emphasized in the Law by the requirements of cleanliness, but I when I look at all of these laws I see God’s concern for His people – all His people – and He is constantly making provision for their well-being. He is not putting down any particular group, especially when they are performing the most natural procedure than ensures the ongoing human race. No, it’s our own legalistic and ‘nasty’ prejudices (because we feel badly about sex or about bodily functions) that see these laws negatively.

But there is more to come: “If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding,” (v.5) i.e. the periods are doubled for a girl. Commentators go all over the place in trying to deal with this. I’d like to make a simple suggestion, which may or may not be true, and perhaps only science will verify this, that in fact, even as the apostle Peter spoke of the ‘weaker’ sex (1 Pet 3:7), it is may be possible that the Lord knows that female babies were weaker and more vulnerable than male babies and therefore He allows a longer time of recovery and caring. Someone suggested to me that perhaps baby girls need a longer period to bond properly to their mothers. I don’t know the answer because we aren’t told. Time, science and medicine might shed light on this. My certainty is that whatever it is, we see here rules that provide God’s care and concern for women.

The final verses of the chapter are about the woman then bringing a burnt offering and a sin offering (v.6) to make ‘atonement’ (v.7). Is this because she has been sinful? Of course not!   Even the Virgin Mary had to do this. It is simply a recognition that for the times prescribed she has been out of contact with the available access to God (the Tabernacle) and these offerings bring her back into complete communion with the Lord. The very act of going and making these offerings, brings her right back into the life of Israel with God. It is to reassure her and re-establish her in the covenant community so she can have no doubts. Every new mother did it so there was no stigma attached to it. It was just part of God’s process for making sure she would come to meet Him after having been through childbirth. Perhaps we cannot understand the reassurance that she would receive; a re-establishing of ordinary life after this most significant of events in her life! How wonderful!  ‘Atonement’? See it as being re-established. ‘Clean’? See it as being brought back into the covenant process and being able to stand before God with thankfulness. Remember, ultimately the function of all the offerings was to bring the people to God and deal with anything that might separate them from Him. Hallelujah!

34. Cleanliness

Meditations in the Law : No.34 : A Question of Cleanliness

Lev 11:1,2, 44-47 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2″Say to the Israelites: `Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat:….. I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. 45I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. 46″ `These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves in the water and every creature that moves about on the ground. 47You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.’

I am sure that sometimes when we look at various of these laws that God gave to Moses, we look at them and wonder whatever relevance they have and fail to put them in the context of the day in which they were given. One thing I have seen over the years is that God’s revelation of Himself to His people has been gradual and therefore what He says in the Law is strictly limited to what they could cope with in that day. There are no great explanations (which would have gone over their heads), just simple instructions. Sometimes those instructions find explanation later in the Bible; sometimes they don’t. The ones we are going to briefly look at now don’t and so we will be left, in a measure, to speculate on a number of issues.

We have in the previous meditation briefly considered the question of clean and unclean foods. (We only did a brief introduction to the Offerings.) Because the whole of chapter 11 of Leviticus is given over to this subject, we need to note it in outline at least for it was a very real and significant part of the Law. In fact it was clearly still being observed in Jesus’ day and Peter, even though being just a common fisherman in background, was very much aware of it: He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:11-15) In a very dramatic way the Lord was telling Peter that it was all right to cross boundaries into the Gentile world, but up until then, these laws of cleanliness were clearly being observed.

Now perhaps to start to understand this more clearly we need to go back to the beginning of the Sinai experience: And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” (Ex 19:10,11). In modern society today, those who might be invited to meet either the President of the United States in the White House, or perhaps the Queen at Buckingham Palace, are given strict rules of protocol, as to how they should dress and how they should act. These rules essentially say, respect this very senior person you are going to meet; recognise and honour the status of the role that is theirs. But the other side of that, is that you have just become a special person, one of the few granted an audience.

Now there is an element of this when Israel come to meet God. The instructions they receive tell them something of God and something about who they are becoming. He is the Holy One, the Lord of all things, and they are about to become His special people. Perhaps it is to help them constantly remember this that they are given various laws that separate them out from the rest of the world. That may be the first reason that they are given these rules about what food they may eat and what they may not eat. There will be constant reminders as to who they are – a people called by God into relationship with Him to be a light to the rest of the world. This covers animals on the land (11:1-8) sea creatures (11:9-12), birds of the air (11:13-19), insects (11:20-23), dead creatures (11:24-28) etc.

Now some commentators suggest that another reason for these distinctions is that some of these forbidden creatures were those used by pagan nations for worship, but that is not very clear. Perhaps the strongest reason, and a number have written on this, is to do with hygiene, as we noted in the previous meditation, that the forbidden creatures were the most likely to carry infection and this was one way that the Lord was protecting His people. I suspect that there is likely to be a combination of these reasons, but for the moment the Lord has not made it clear. We’ll have to wait until we get to heaven to find the answers.

Today our distinction, if we are Christians, lies mainly in the fact that we are now Spirit-indwelt and He is the One who now makes us distinct by His presence within us. No longer are these food-hygiene laws applicable for today we live in a very hygiene conscious age and anyone who has been on a hygiene course knows the rules and knows why the rules exist, which modern laws apply to protect us. We may not understand the detail when it comes to the laws in this chapter and so it is one of those parts of Scripture where we have to trust that the Lord knows better than we do.

In all the laws that we considered in Exodus, there were very clear, common sense reasons for every law. When we moved into the ceremonial, sacrificial laws of Leviticus, we moved into a completely new area of understanding about the sinfulness of mankind, and about the Lord’s understanding of us, and His provision for the people to be brought back into relationship with Him after a failure. Now in this area of the Law we must trust that, again, there are good reasons for each rule and they are designed to protect and bless God’s people. Let’s maintain a teachable spirit.

33. Guilt Offering

Meditations in the Law : No.33 : What is a Guilt Offering

Lev 5:14-19 The LORD said to Moses: “When a person commits a violation and sins unintentionally in regard to any of the LORD’s holy things, he is to bring to the LORD as a penalty a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value in silver, according to the sanctuary shekel. It is a guilt offering. He must make restitution for what he has failed to do in regard to the holy things, add a fifth of the value to that and give it all to the priest, who will make atonement for him with the ram as a guilt offering, and he will be forgiven. If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible. He is to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the wrong he has committed unintentionally, and he will be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; he has been guilty of wrongdoing against the LORD.”

We now come to a further offering which seems to be very similar to the Sin offering we have just considered, but which has some clear differences. Let’s note first of all when this offering is applicable: When a person commits a violation and sins unintentionally in regard to any of the LORD’s holy things.” (v.14) and “If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands, even though he does not know it” (v.17), so again it is when a person goes against the Lord in respect of the things (probably) of the Tabernacle (v.14) and then generally against any one of the decrees that the Lord had given Israel (v.17) and in both cases they did it without realising that it was wrong. The emphasis is that it is a “wrongdoing against the Lord.” (v.19)

One of the biggest differences appears to be in the language used with this offering. The focus is on the cost or value of the offering which is first being given as a ‘penalty’ (or fine) but then is to have to add something more to ‘make restitution’ and then the original ram offering is to be considered to be making ‘atonement’ for the offender. So, we thus have a fine to make the point that this is a wrong which is to be punished, second that there is to be restitution or making good, and finally there is cleansing or putting right the sin before the Lord (atonement is about changing the circumstances to bring reconciliation with the Lord, and ensuring justice is done.). The focus thus comes on the consequence of the misdemeanour, upon what should have happened but didn’t. It wasn’t just that you had sinned (that was the Sin Offering) but that what you had failed to do, or did do, was something tangible that had a cost attached to it.

Within all this there is a reminder to us that sins have consequences. The apostle Paul taught, A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” (Gal 6:7,8) We may face up to a sin and say sorry to God but forget that there are consequences that follow it. We need to ask for Jesus to also deal with the consequences when we have repented else we may find ongoing problems occurring. In the Isaiah 53 ‘Servant Song’ prophetically referring to Jesus we find, Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.” (Isa 53:10). Through the Cross God made Jesus a guilt offering with the result that not only sin but the effects of sin can be brought under his work and dealt with so that we can instead receive God’s blessing on our ongoing days.

Now although it is not very clear, most commentators link the first seven verses of Chapter 6 to the preceding ones because of the similarity of purpose: “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbour about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do– when he thus sins and becomes guilty.” (6:2-4) i.e. sins against people are seen as being unfaithful to the Lord. In these cases we find specific instructions for restitution: he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering.”(6:4,5) Not only must he make restitution but he must add a fifth to it as an act of goodwill (implied) and this restitution is separate and distinct and extra to the Guilt Offering that he brings. This restitution is to put the offended person in a similar place as if the thing had never happened. This is similar to English Law in respect of Damages.

However it is still a sin against God and that is acknowledged in what follows: “And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.” (6:6,7). i.e. there is a cost to be borne before the Lord in bringing the guilt offering which also acts to bring about atonement.

To conclude, when we sin against another person, we need to remind ourselves that we are first and foremost sinning against God. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus has the son thinking, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” (Lk 15:18) Note he had sinned against God as well as against his father by the way he had left home. Some people may be casual about sin but we must not. Our sins may be against people, but they are also always against God. Remember as 6:2 said, If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbour.” We are unfaithful to the Lord when we sin against others. We should not only say sorry to that person and sorry to God for sinning against that person, but also sorry to Him for being unfaithful to Him! May that clarify our understanding of things that mostly the Christian church is casual about!

32. Recognising Sin

Meditations in the Law : No.32 : Recognising Sin

Lev 5:1-4 If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible. 2″ `Or if a person touches anything ceremonially unclean–whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the ground–even though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty. 3″ `Or if he touches human uncleanness–anything that would make him unclean–even though he is unaware of it, when he learns of it he will be guilty. 4″ `Or if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil–in any matter one might carelessly swear about–even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty.

Very often in Christian circles there appears a confusion as to what is sin. Now this is somewhat understandable because even theologians have disagreed over what constitutes specific sins. Certainly the Bible speaks generally of lawlessness  (1 Jn 3:4) and wrong doing (1 Jn 5:17) as sin, and sometimes of specific sins, but often we are not given specific lists and those who have sought to produce such lists run into difficulties. However in chapter five we are given four instances of things that constitute sin, even though they were done unintentionally. This tells us that we can sin without realising it. Indeed for the Christian, we would hope that this is the only sort of sin that is ever committed, especially when the apostle John says, No one who is born of God will continue to sin.” (1 Jn 3:9) So let’s look at these identified sins.

What similarity is there between the first and fourth sins? They are sins to do with speech. The first one is a failure to speak up when you should (v.1) and the fourth is speaking carelessly (v.4). How are the second and third similar? They are both about touching something that is prohibited and which will make the person ‘unclean’.

Why do we think these particular sins are mentioned? Because the people of Israel were called to be a special people, a holy people and they were holy because of what they DID. We need to realise that holiness is not something abstract. It is a way of life, and that includes thinking, speaking and behaving. Justice was an important issue in maintaining the Law and therefore failure to take responsibility and speak up when you should (v.1), undermined justice. But truth was so important that sometimes an oath was required, and so responsibility over making an oath was high. Don’t carelessly make an oath said the Law (v.4).

But they were also holy because of what they ate and how they kept themselves clean, i.e. there were hygiene laws to promote good health and that, we suggest, is what was behind verses 2 and 3. For a people who, initially at least, were often on the move, and who lived in a hot climate, hygiene was particularly important. We may not understand God’s thinking in terms of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ animals but it is probable that their potential for carrying or conveying disease was a likely factor. “Human uncleanness” similarly refers to anything about our bodily functions which, in a hot climate, can cause or convey germs and bacteria. If we had greater understanding of these things we would almost certainly wonder at God’s wisdom in these things. For the time being we have to simply accept that He knows better than we do about such issues.

When a person became aware that they had failed in one of these ways, there were two things they needed to do. The first was with their lips – they needed to confess their failure. The second was bringing a sin offering. Words can be cheap but bringing an offering cost you, and that drove the point home! These were means of dealing with the very basics of being the holy people of God, and maintaining that holiness.

Now poverty is not to bar a sinner from coming to God using the sacrificial system and there are two options given. If the person doesn’t have a lamb to bring then they can bring two doves or two pigeons instead (v.7). If they can’t afford those then they can simply bring fine flour (v.11) as their offering – every family would have some of that and that was to be their offering.

If the offering was two pigeons or two doves, they would be used in different ways. The first was to be seen as a Sin Offering and was killed and some of its blood shed thus brings cleansing and forgiveness by the giving of a life. (Note: only the blood is used – the sign of a life being given). The second was a Burnt Offering (see 1:14-17) and it is burnt on the altar as an offering to please the Lord (see 1:17c) and acting in an atoning way (5:10) to restore fellowship with the Lord.

If the offering was flour, it is to be brought without any additives (v.11) and the priest took a handful of it and burnt it on top of the other offerings on the altar as the most simple of the sin offerings. The rest was to be for the priest, part of his support, if you like.

I wonder, as Christians, are we aware that we are a holy people and as such we have responsibilities that preclude certain behaviour. We may think it is all just a case of ‘believing in Jesus’ but it is also about being children of God – children of a holy God and we care called to be holy as He is holy (1 Pet 1:15,16)

As we have noted before, no one is excluded from God’s presence because of lack of possessions. The concern was to deal with the sin and to re-establish the relationship with the Lord. Today, because of Jesus, the way is always open. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” (1 Jn 1:9) and that is all because Jesus has been our sacrifice and we come to God on that basis, and no one is excluded!