Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Thoughts on Leviticus 18:22, Part 1: Leviticus, God’s love story. The Gospel in the Old Testament.

I am a huge proponent of always reading and understanding Scripture in context. Read each word in the context of the verse, read each verse in the context of the whole chapter, read the chapter in the context of the whole book and read each book in context of the entire Bible.  Failure to do so inevitably leads to a corrupt understanding of who God is, His love, His holiness, His Law and the life-lessons He wants us to learn and act upon, and our devotion towards Him.  Heeding my own advice I started my study at Leviticus 1:1 and found myself reading a love story.  The very same love story I had found in the gospels.
I am not a biblical scholar and have not attended a theological seminary - but I can read.  And with my tax-funded high school education I did learn a little comprehension.  Regrettably, some choose to dwell in blissful and/or wilful ignorance of what God is actually trying to teach them in the Scriptures.  Believe it or not, the Book of Leviticus is all about God drawing people back into a covenant relationship, a precursor to that which He would fulfill with His incarnation in Jesus Christ.
King David wrote in Psalm 1:1-3 “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.”
How often have you personally regarded the Book of Leviticus as a litany of ritual offerings and sacrifices? An endless inventory of do’s and don’ts?  Bloody and painful stonings or burnings for those who fail to follow God’s laws?  What do you mean, I can’t wear a denim shirt with leather elbow patches?
As I started reading, looking beyond the do’s and don’ts, I found phrases like, “…it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you”, “fellowship offering”, “he will be forgiven”, “they will be forgiven”, “the priest will make atonement for them for any of these sins they have committed, and they will be forgiven”, “an expression of thankfulness”, “freewill offering”, “Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings,” “They shouted for joy…” “Be assured that I will send my blessing for you…” And on and on it goes.
Throughout Leviticus, as in the Gospels and the rest of Scripture, God is calling His people back into a right relationship with Himself, calling them to be holy, reminding them that He is holy and their sin needs to be confessed and atoned for in order for an intimate relationship to be possible.  In His divine wisdom and perfect sense of justice, God established that a blood sacrifice was the only way for sin to be dealt with; ultimately shedding His own blood so that the sin of anyone, who acknowledges the lordship of Jesus Christ, may be forgiven. 
God is not petty.  He doesn’t make rules just to keep you in check, to ‘yank your chain’ whenever He feels you’ve strayed too far.  We must always remember God is love. This must be the foundation of our understanding of how we expect Him to act.  Equally imperative is the fact that God is perfectly holy and perfectly just.  We cannot isolate one aspect of who we understand God to be from any of the others, as soon as we do our understanding of what God is teaching us in Leviticus will fall apart.  We cannot isolate God’s love from His justice and holiness.
There are four realities that God would have us understand in interpreting and understanding His ‘lessons’ or statutes:
  1. God is love.  This means that His motivation in establishing ‘rules’ for us to live by is ultimately for our benefit and His subsequent joy.  As any loving parent will caution a child, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot.  If you do you’ll get burned.”  God’s love for us is the ultimate form and expression of love.  It is selfless love.
  2. God is Holy.  This means no sin can come into His presence.  Every sin must be atoned for (dealt with).
  3. God is just.  Every decision God makes is perfectly just - the punishment must fit the crime.  This can only be understood in the context of God’s absolute holiness.
  4. God, out of His grace, chose Abraham’s descendants, the Jewish people, to be set apart.  In this setting apart, this choseness, God wanted the Jewish peoples to be a living example to the rest of the world; being visibly distinct in living lives that reflected God’s covenant relationship with them, to keep themselves unpolluted by the world and free from sin.

Not a single one of these characteristics of God can be detached or isolated from the other.  God’s sense of justice is in no way diluted by His love and his love is not diluted by His justice.  Ultimately, justice for mankind’s sin has [had] to be meted out and it cost God the death of His Son.
As we read through Leviticus you will discover different kinds of statutes:
  1. Instructions for restoring our relationship with God; acknowledgement/confession of our sin to Him and offering a blood sacrifice (in Christ, God provided the ultimate blood sacrifice, negating the need for animal sacrifices).
  2. Instructions on how to bring gifts of thanksgiving to God for His love and benevolence.
  3. Instructions for those who were set apart to lead and teach His people (the Levites).
  4. Instructions for daily living (how to best take care of ourselves).
  5. Actions that are sinful, detestable or abominable to God.

[Wilful] ignorance of God’s Word is nothing new.  Jesus told the Pharisees You nullify the Word of God for the sake of your traditions [opinions and ideas]” Matthew 15:6.  In addressing a number of Sadducees (who were posing a hypothetical question) Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”  Matthew 22:29  How often do we put God in a box, assuming our reading of what God has said is in error (or that the text or translation is in error) because it does not match our paradigm, our preconceived notions or beliefs?  Heaven forbid! Who are we to instruct God on what is right or wrong?

© David Harrison 2015