Sunday, November 29, 2020

Numbers. Day 1, The Census, Part One

The book of Numbers deals with Israel's years in the desert. As we begin this book, the Israelites have been free from Egypt for just over a year, for the first verse tells us, "The Lord spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt." (Numbers 1:1) 

We find Moses communing with the Lord in the sanctuary as Numbers begins. I believe Moses spent a lot of time in prayer with the Lord. He had to in order to receive the Lord's guidance in leading the people. While Moses is engaged in prayer with the Lord, the Lord tells him to take a census of the people. "He said: 'Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men of Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army." (Numbers 1:2-3)

The main purpose of this census is to form an army, which they will need when taking over the promised land from the idolatrous tribes the Lord plans to uproot from Canaan. Although it's the Lord's will for the Israelites to occupy this territory, He isn't going to supernaturally remove the pagan people from the land so the people of Israel can move right in. This endeavor is going to involve the Lord and Israel fighting side by side.

There are times in our lives when the Lord clears up our unpleasant circumstances all on His own. Then there are other times when He calls upon us to get in the trenches with Him and fight the battle together. He chooses whichever method is best for our spiritual development. In the case of Israel taking over the promised land, it was better for the spiritual development of her citizens to fight alongside the Lord for the land that the Lord promised Abraham long ago. If the Lord had just supernaturally handed over the promised land to them, would the land have felt as much "theirs"? If they had to put no effort into taking this territory, would their hearts have been fixed on this land to defend and protect it at any cost for themselves and for the generations to come? When we put effort of our own toward a specific purpose, the achievement of that purpose means so much more to us. The victory is so much sweeter. And our relationship with the Lord grows because in the heat of battle we feel the awesome comfort of His presence beside us.

I'll provide an example of just a couple of situations in which the Lord fought the battle for me on His own. Twice so far in my life I've had unusual, mysterious, and very painful illnesses. The first time it happened I was 28; the second time I was 48. (It was not the same type of illness both times. They were completely different.) There was nothing I could do either time to make myself feel better. I saw lots of doctors and endured lots of tests. I fell into depression and had panic attacks wondering whether I'd ever be okay again and how I was going to manage to live with so much pain. In both these cases the Lord healed me. I can look back now and see some reasons why He let me go through what I went through, but in both these cases He fought the battle for me. I couldn't fix what was wrong with me. The doctors weren't sure what was wrong with me or how to fix it either. The Lord fought the battle alone and did what needed to be done to turn my circumstances around. I didn't have the physical strength or the scientific knowledge to help myself. I wasn't doing too well with my spiritual strength either because the pain had really gotten me down. The Lord did all the work for me. 

But there have been other circumstances in which the Lord expected the two of us to go out onto the battlefield together. This wasn't because He needed my help. The Lord can do everything that needs doing on His own; He never asks us to fight with Him because He can't win the battle by Himself. But He's asked me to fight alongside Him at times because I would benefit more spiritually by fighting side by side with Him. In these cases I needed to be heavily invested in the battle so I would be heavily invested in its outcome, the same way Israel had to be heavily invested in the battle for the promised land so she would be heavily invested in the outcome. Most of the time we don't grow very much spiritually when we aren't called upon to flex our spiritual muscles in the heat of battle. Just as we can't become physically fit without pushing ourselves to increase in strength and endurance, we can't grow spiritually if the living is always easy and we are never expected to participate in the things that lead to victory. 

I think another reason the Lord expects the Israelites to fight in the battles to take over the promised land is because they need to develop the physical strength to defend themselves against their enemies. If the Israelites hadn't fought for the promised land, they wouldn't have had the military might to hold on to the promised land. Once they occupy the land, they are going to have to be able to protect and defend it. The Lord wouldn't be doing them any favors if He did all the work for them. They are going to be forming a nation and a nation needs an army. The Lord has already provided the laws and commandments necessary for forming a society and a government. Now He's going to begin preparing them to form a powerful military. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Leviticus. Day 96, Redeeming What Is The Lord's, Part Three

Today we'll conclude Chapter 27 which has to do with dedicating oneself, another person, an animal, or property to the Lord. 

We learned yesterday that a person could dedicate an animal to the Lord (through sacrifice) or pledge an animal to the Lord and redeem it with money (pay the value of the animal plus another 1/5 of its value into the sanctuary treasury). A person could sacrifice a clean animal to the Lord or choose to redeem it instead. A person could not sacrifice an unclean animal to the Lord but he could still pledge the animal to Him and redeem it with money. As we begin our study today we'll look at a category of animal that could not be dedicated to the Lord.

"No one, however, may dedicate the firstborn of an animal, since the firstborn already belongs to the Lord; whether an ox or a sheep, it is the Lord's. If it is one of the unclean animals, it may be brought back at its set value, adding a fifth of the value to it. If it is not redeemed, it is to be sold at its set value." (Leviticus 27:26-27) The Lord gave the rule regarding the firstborn in Exodus 13:1-2, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Consecrate to Me every firstborn male. The offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to Me, whether human or animal.'" In Exodus 13:11-16, the Lord explains that every man's firstborn son is to be dedicated to Him. In Numbers 18:16 the Lord will tell the men of Israel that when their firstborn sons are born they are to take five shekels of silver to the priest to redeem their sons. Remember, when a person redeems something he retains it. The men are not giving their sons away or sacrificing their sons. They are paying a specified amount into the treasury and are keeping and raising their sons in the reverence of the Lord.

Firstborn animals already belonged to the Lord. Therefore the people could not use them as an extra dedication to the Lord because they were already His. If a person wanted to dedicate an animal to the Lord he would have to choose an animal from his flock that was not a firstborn male. He couldn't use the same animal for both purposes because that would be cheating the Lord. If a person wanted to dedicate an unclean animal to the Lord, he could do so but it could not be sacrificed to the Lord. The person could either redeem the animal and take it back home with him by paying its value plus an extra 1/5, or he could leave the animal with the priest and the animal could be sold for its value and the money put into the treasury.

This next passage, at least in the English translation, may seem a bit confusing at first because it almost appears as if it contradicts the previous material of Leviticus 27. But that has to do with the way the words "dedicate" and "devote" mean practically the same thing in English. But in the original language, the word translated as "dedicate" means to "consecrate or sanctify". The word translated as "devote" means to "doom or destroy". So we see there is a difference. If a person promised to dedicate something to the Lord, he was consecrating it to the Lord but it could be redeemed. He didn't have to irrevocably relinquish his rights to whatever he was dedicating to the Lord. But if a person devoted something to the Lord, he could not redeem it. He also could not change his mind and sell it, for it was no longer his. It belonged to the Lord irrevocably. Keeping this difference of word meanings in mind, we'll look at this next section: "But nothing a person owns and devotes to the Lord---whether a human being or animal or family land---may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the Lord." (Leviticus 27:28) 

If a man pledged a field to the Lord in a vow of devotion, he couldn't pay a redemption price for it and keep it. The same goes for if he devoted an animal or a house or any other property to the Lord. It appears as if a person could devote another person to the Lord, and I assume the person being devoted would have to be someone under the custody or ownership of another, such as a child or a slave. Once that person was devoted to the Lord, their life was to be spent in the service of the Lord. 

The case of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, looks like an example of a person devoting another person to the Lord. In 1 Samuel 1 we find her praying to the Lord to heal her of the infertility that has broken her heart. She has been married for a number of years but has been able to conceive no children. Her husband has another wife and has children by her and this is something that is a thorn in Hannah's side, especially since the other wife loves to rub it in that Hannah is barren. Hannah prays to the Lord and promises Him that if He will give her a son she will "give him to the Lord for all the days of his life". (1 Samuel 1:11) The Lord answers her prayer and gives her a son and she keeps her promise, after he has been weaned, to "take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always". (1 Samuel 1:22) Samuel remains with the priests and Hannah visits him every year, according to 1 Samuel 2:19, and the Lord blesses Hannah with three more sons and two daughters. 

Certain types of persons cannot be dedicated or devoted to the Lord, and these are persons upon whom a death sentence has been passed due to them having committed a capital crime. "No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; they are to be put to death." (Leviticus 27:29) Suppose a man's relative is in prison awaiting execution and the man wants to spare his condemned relative's life by devoting him person to the Lord for the rest of his life or by dedicating him to the Lord and paying a redemption price for him. This is not acceptable to the Lord. A person under sentence of death cannot be devoted or dedicated as someone "holy to the Lord". 

We're not going to get into a discussion about capital punishment here, but we'll just remind ourselves that the Lord said no one in Israel could be put to death unless his capital crime is witnessed by two or more persons. (Deuteronomy 17:6) This law was intended to prevent innocent persons from being put to death. I am certain under our own legal system that there have been times when innocent persons were put to death. They were convicted with enough evidence to make a jury feel they were guilty, but not necessarily because two or more persons witnessed their crime and could positively identify them as the perpetrator. We sometimes hear of cases where convictions are overturned when evidence is retested by modern science and the DNA evidence proves that someone other than the convicted person committed the crime. Considering this, we know that there have been people on death row who weren't guilty, but because they were convicted in an era before DNA evidence was available, they were executed. No one could test DNA in Old Testament times. People didn't even know DNA existed. The Lord wanted to prevent innocent persons from being executed and that's why death penalties could not be handed down unless two or more persons actually saw the accused person committing the crime. So when we look at verse 6 which regards persons under sentence of death, we can be reasonably certain that they actually committed the crime. The Lord will not accept the dedication or devotion of such persons to His service. Therefore no one can take them off death row and give them to the Lord as a means of saving their lives.

A tenth of everything the people grow belongs to the Lord. This is where we get the concept of giving to the Lord a "tithe" (a tenth) of our income. "A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it." (Leviticus 27:30-31) A person could give a tenth of his seeds to the Lord or he could pay the price of the seeds plus an additional 1/5 into the treasury. He would still be coming out ahead even if he pays the extra 1/5 because when he plants the seeds he will reap far more than that which he put into the ground. A tenth of the fruit belonged to the Lord but a man could redeem it by paying the price for it plus the extra 1/5. This would still leave the man in a profitable situation because let's say that instead of giving to the Lord a tenth of his grape crop, he pays the price of a tenth of his grape crop plus an extra 1/5. He still has the grapes with which he can make wine, which he would sell and still come out ahead. The Lord isn't asking anyone to put themselves in poverty. He's not taking food out of anyone's mouth. They will still have plenty of food on their tables and they will still have money in their pockets after giving the Lord the share that is His for providing them their crops in the first place. Not only does the Lord intend to provide for them abundantly, He promises to provide even more abundantly for anyone who has the faith to give Him their tithes: "'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.'" (Malachi 3:10) 

The food paid into the storehouse was to feed the priests and their families. The priests didn't raise crops or herds or flocks. Their job was to serve the Lord and minister to His people Israel. Their pay was these tithes. If the people didn't tithe, how were the priests and their wives and children to eat? A person could buy back their seed by paying for it plus an extra 1/5 of its value, and this would allow the priests to use the money to buy things like fruits and vegetables and grains. But we'll see in our next passage that animals aren't treated the same way as fruits and vegetables and grains. A tenth of all the animals must also be given, but they can't be redeemed by paying their value plus 1/5. A tenth of these animals automatically go into the possession of the priests. "Every tithe of the herd and flock---every tenth animal that passes underneath the shepherd's rod, will be holy to the Lord. No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed." (Leviticus 27:32-33) The people are forbidden to cheat by giving only the worst of their flocks and herds. They must walk through their flocks and herds and count out every tenth animal for the Lord. This ensures that there is a fair mix of animals given to the Lord and a fair mix of animals retained by their owners. If a person is caught substituting a good animal for a bad animal, he suffers the loss of both animals as his penalty for being dishonest.

The people are to obey these laws because they are holy laws given by a holy God. "These are the commands the Lord gave Moses at Mount Sinai for the Israelites." (Leviticus 27:34)

This concludes Chapter 27 and the book of Leviticus. Join us tomorrow as we begin the book of Numbers.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Leviticus. Day 95, Redeeming What Is The Lord's, Part Two

Chapter 27 deals with how vows are to be handled in which a person dedicates himself or another person or thing to the Lord. On Wednesday we learned that various sums of money were donated to the sanctuary based on the age and sex of a person being dedicated to the Lord, with exceptions made for those who are too poor to donate the prescribed amount. Today we'll look at how dedications of animals and property are handled.

"If what they vowed is an animal that is acceptable as an offering to the Lord, such an animal given to the Lord becomes holy. They must not exchange it or substitute a good one for a bad one, or a bad one for a good one; if they should substitute one animal for another, both it and the substitute become holy. If what they vowed is a ceremonially unclean animal---one that is not acceptable as an offering to the Lord---the animal must be presented to the priest, who will judge its quality good or bad. If the owner wishes to redeem the animal, a fifth must be added to its value." (Leviticus 27:9-13) I believe this passage regards sacrificial animals offered to the Lord. A person bringing an animal to the Lord had to bring the best. A person couldn't vow to offer the best male sheep of his flock, for example, and then substitute a less valuable sheep when the time came. A ceremonially unclean animal couldn't be offered to the Lord in sacrifice but a monetary amount could be donated in the animal's place. We'll use the donkey as an example of this type of vow. A donkey was an unclean animal that could not be sacrificed to the Lord but donkeys had value in an agricultural society because they performed work. A person who wanted to dedicate a donkey to the Lord would bring it to the priest and the priest would assess a monetary value to the donkey. Then 1/5 of that value would be added to the total and that's the amount the person would give to the sanctuary. The person then took his donkey back home and kept it.

"If anyone dedicates their house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will just its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain. If the one who dedicates their house wishes to redeem it, they must add a fifth to its value, and the house will again become theirs." (Leviticus 27:14-15) A person could sign the deed to his house over to the Lord in the same way we might, in modern times, give a house to our church or leave a house to our church in our wills. The church can then sell the house and put that money in the treasury for use in the Lord's work. Here in Leviticus, if a person vowing to give a house to the Lord wanted to keep his house, the priest would make an appraisal of the house and then the person would pay into the sanctuary treasury an additional 1/5 of the value of the house. He would keep his house and the money would go to the Lord's work.

"If anyone dedicates to the Lord part of their family land, its value is to be set according to the amount of seed required for it---fifty shekels of silver to a homer of barley seed." (Leviticus 27:16) A homer is believed to have been about 300 pounds. For every 300 pounds of seed that it would take to sow the land, fifty shekels of silver are assessed. "If they dedicate a field during the Year of Jubilee, the value that has been set remains. But if they dedicate a field after the Jubilee, the priest will determine the value according to the number of years that remain until the next Year of Jubilee, and its set value will be reduced. If the one who dedicates the field wishes to redeem it, they must add a fifth to its value, and the field will again become theirs. If, however, they do not redeem the field, or if they have sold it to someone else, it can never be redeemed. When the field is released in the Jubilee, it will become holy, like a field devoted to the Lord; it will become priestly property." (Leviticus 27:17-21) 

Earlier in Leviticus we studied the Year of Jubilee and learned that land reverts back to its original owner, or his heirs, in the Year of Jubilee. The Lord is going to mark out sections of the promised land to give to each tribe, with the exception of the priestly tribe because they will receive towns, and each section of the promised land is to remain the possession of the tribe to which the Lord bequeathed it. If a person dedicates land to the Lord, that land belongs to the Lord until the next Jubilee. The land can be leased during the years between now and the Jubilee and the money for the lease will go into the treasury. A person can redeem the land (pay a price into the treasury and retain the use of the land for himself) by having the value assessed until the next Jubilee and adding 1/5 of that price to the total. If the person fails to pay the price for redemption, or if he has actually already sold the land to someone else and cannot legally dedicate the land to the Lord, the piece of land cannot ever belong to him again because he has attempted to defraud the Lord. If he retains the use of the land and never pays the money he has vowed to pay, or if he makes a show of dedicating land to the Lord that is not rightfully his to dedicate, he is being dishonest and the penalty is that he loses his right to the piece of land forever. 

A person could dedicate a field that is not part of his family's land but is a field that he bought from some other individual. "If anyone dedicates to the Lord a field they have bought, which is not part of their family land, the priest will determine its value up to the Year of Jubilee, and the owner must pay its value on that day as something holy to the Lord. In the Year of Jubilee the field will revert to the person from whose it was bought, the one whose land it was. Every value is to be set according to the sanctuary shekel, twenty gerahs to the shekel." (Leviticus 27:22-25) Let's say a man from the tribe of Judah buys a field from a man from the tribe of Reuben. If he wants to dedicate that field to the Lord, he has the right to do so up until the next Jubilee. The priest will assess the value of the land up til the year of the next Jubilee and the person dedicating the land will pay that price into the treasury. In the Year of Jubilee the land will no longer be in the possession of the man from the tribe of Judah but will revert back to the possession of the man from the tribe of Reuben. 

The money paid into the treasury is always the same: the standard weight of the sanctuary shekel. This silver shekel was to weigh 11.5 grams. Having a standard weight helped to prevent dishonesty. Shekels being paid into the treasury had to be weighed when presented to the priest and each shekel had to weigh in at 11.5 grams. If a precise weight had not been set, some citizens could have made a vow to the Lord but could have presented a bag of shekels to the priest that looked to be right size and shape but that weren't the right amount of silver. A person could have presented counterfeit shekels if he wanted to silverplate some other type of coin to make it look like a solid silver coin. Honesty is important to the Lord and honesty should be important to us. We shouldn't be dishonest in our dealings with Him or with our fellow man. Money gained by dishonest means will never profit us in the long run and we should be content with what the Lord has given us and with what He has enabled us to earn by honest means. "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Leviticus. Day 94, Redeeming What Is The Lord's, Part One

Chapter 27 has to do with dedicating oneself to the Lord or dedicating a person or animal or some type of possession to the Lord. This dedication doesn't involve the death or destruction of whoever or whatever is dedicated to the Lord, but it involves the "redeeming" of the person or animal or thing by paying a price to the Lord that is based on a set value of whoever or whatever is being dedicated.

I'll use the following modern example of dedicating a person to the Lord. In my church we don't perform infant baptisms but we do hold services known as "baby dedications". In these services the parents bring the infant to the front of the sanctuary and the pastor anoints the baby's forehead with oil in the shape of the cross. The parents acknowledge before the Lord that the child is His, for He is the Creator of everyone and everything. The parents vow before the Lord and the congregation to bring up the child in the faith. Then the pastor and the parents and the congregation pray together. A similar thing is happening in the verses of Leviticus 27 we'll be studying today. A person is being dedicated to the Lord. The person may be making a vow on their own behalf to dedicate their life to the Lord or they may be making the vow on behalf of another person. The person being dedicated is not sacrificed to the Lord, of course. A specific amount of money is paid into the treasury of the Lord's house as part of the ritual of dedication. This symbolizes the seriousness of their vow. 

If living for the Lord doesn't cost a person anything, is he actually living for the Lord at all? Living for the Lord usually means swimming against the stream and going against the unbelieving culture around us. It means saying no to things that are ungodly, and this can sometimes be difficult. We have to fight against our carnal natures when we say no to ungodly things. Following the Lord may mean not being as popular as we'd like or being ridiculed for standing firm in our faith or being passed over for certain opportunities because we don't join in with the sinful pursuits of our co-workers and superiors who are unbelievers. Living for the Lord will cost us something, so money is paid for the dedications made in Leviticus 27 because the Lord doesn't want anyone making empty promises to follow Him. He wants them to think about what they're getting into before they get into it. The Lord Jesus counseled anyone interested in following Him to count the cost before vowing to commit their hearts and lives to Him. He said following Him had to mean more to them than anything else, or else they were not true disciples. (Luke 14:25-35) 

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If anyone makes a special vow to dedicate a person to the Lord by giving the equivalent value, set the value of a male between the ages of twenty and sixty at fifty shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel; for a female, set her value at thirty shekels; for a person between the ages of five and twenty, set the value of a male at twenty shekels and of a female at ten shekels; for a person between one month and five years, set the value of a male at five shekels of silver and that of a female at three shekels of silver; for a person sixty years old or more, set the value of a male at fifteen shekels and of a female at ten shekels. If anyone making the vow is too poor to pay the specified amount, the person being dedicated is to be presented to the priest, who will set the value according to what the one making the vow can afford." (Leviticus 27:1-8) 

I was concerned about why females were valued less than males when it came to the price paid at the sanctuary. I was also concerned about why the price for an older adult was smaller than that for a younger adult. I don't believe the Lord participates in discrimination or that He values one life above another life or one soul above another soul. From the research I did, it appears that the most common opinion among Bible scholars is that the people being dedicated are having a monetary value assigned to them according to the work they are able to perform in the agricultural society in which they live. Generally speaking, a male has more physical strength than a female due to his larger build. Men in an ancient agricultural society would be expected to perform more physical labor outside the home than the females, since married females of childbearing age were often pregnant (there were little to no methods of birth control available) and would also be occupied with the tending of small children and the running of the household. The price paid to the sanctuary for a younger person is greater than that paid for an older person because, generally speaking, a younger person has more strength and endurance than an older person. A young man of twenty-five would be expected to be able to harvest more crops in a day than a man of seventy-five. If the amount of money paid at the sanctuary is intended to reflect the amount of work each person is potentially capable of doing, the difference in amounts makes sense. We see, though, that even infants being dedicated must have a price paid to the sanctuary when their parents vow to bring them up in the reverence of the Lord. An infant can perform no work, but a value must still be paid into the treasury at their dedication, so a very small amount is assessed to symbolize the hoped-for contributions they will make to their society.

The Lord doesn't discriminate against anyone for their sex or their age. He also doesn't discriminate against anyone for their poverty. We see in verse 8 that the poor are not prevented from making vows of dedication if they can't pay the specified amounts. A person who loves the Lord and wants to make a vow of dedication to Him for themselves or for a member of their household can still go talk to the priest at the sanctuary and have a value assessed according to their ability to pay. The Lord accepts what is in the person's heart even though very little is in the person's wallet. As the Apostle Paul pointed out in 2 Corinthians 8:12, "For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have."

Some people are able to give very large amounts to the church. Some people are able to give very little. The Lord doesn't pour out more grace on the wealthy (who gives more) than He pours out on the poor (who gives little). The Lord pours out grace according to the condition of the person's heart. If a person gives a huge amount to the church but has little love in his heart for the Lord, his gift may be a big help to the church but it doesn't "buy" the favor of the Lord. Likewise, a person may love the Lord with all his heart, and he may have a very strong desire to give huge amounts to the church so the church can minister to the community, but this person may only be able to put a small amount into the offering. The Lord doesn't treat this person's small offering with scorn; the Lord accepts this offering in the spirit in which it was given. In Luke's gospel account we find Jesus commending the very small amount a poor widow dropped into the offering plate. He said she had given more than all the wealthy people who had dropped their offerings in because it really cost her something to part with the money. (Luke 21:1-4) 

The Lord knows our hearts. He knows whether what we bring to Him is brought with a sincere heart or whether it's brought out of a sense of obligation or to be seen by others. He blesses accordingly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Leviticus. Day 93, Discipline For Disobedience, Part Three

Today we'll be concluding the remainder of Leviticus 26. The Lord has been warning the Israelites of the discipline they will face if they turn away from Him in the promised land. So far He has outlined the steps He will have to take if they become rebellious and if they continue to grow in their rebellion. We noted that the penalties for rebellion would grow in response to the severity of the rebellion. Now we pick up with verse 30 and we can tell from the Lord's words that He's speaking here of the rebellion of idolatry.

"I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you." (Leviticus 26:30) The high places and incense altars mentioned here are pagan places of worship. Idolatry is an abhorrent sin. The Lord who loves Israel has called her His own, has rescued her from slavery, has provided for her in the wilderness, and intends to take her to a bountiful land where He will continue to provide for her abundantly. If she turns her back on a God like that in favor of useless, nonexistent deities, the Lord considers this to be especially detestable behavior. And Israel will do it---at least some of her citizens will. But we certainly can't point a finger at her because we have all put God on the back burner any time we have chosen our own ways over God's ways. We've committed idolatry whenever we've put ourselves ahead of God and whenever we've put anyone else or anything else ahead of God. The Lord is telling the Israelites that He will see to it that the detestable altars they raise up will be torn down, even if it means the idolaters lose their lives. It would be better for the nation as a whole for idolaters to perish than for the idolaters to lure all the citizens into false worship, for then the entire nation would perish.

If a large portion of the people fall into idolatry and do not repent, the Lord will allow the nation to fall into the hands of the enemy. "I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings." (Levitics 26:31) Later in the Old Testament we'll find the people trying to have their cake and eat it too; they'll be practicing idol worship while going through the motions of worshiping the Lord at the same time. He will be so repulsed by this that He will beg the people to stop bringing meaningless offerings to His house. (See Isaiah 1 for the full discourse.) 

During the reign of King Solomon's son, Rehoboam, the nation of Israel will split in two. The ten northern tribes will retain the name "Israel" and will move their capital to a city called Samaria. The two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, will become known only as "Judah" and this kingdom will still have its capital at Jerusalem where Solomon's temple was built. The northern kingdom will fall into idolatry far more quickly than the southern kingdom, perhaps because they do not have the temple in their midst. As discipline for their idolatry, and for their repeated refusal to turn away from it, the Lord will allow the northern kingdom to fall to the Assyrian army. Those who are not killed in battle are carried away captive by the Assyrians. It will take the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah quite a bit longer to fall to the same level of dissoluteness as the northern kingdom, and during that century the Lord will send Judah prophet after prophet to beg the citizens to repent. When they do not, the Lord will allow the southern kingdom to fall to the Babylonian army. 

The majority of the citizens of Judah will be taken captive to Babylon for seventy or so years, during which time the land of Judah will lie fallow, and this the type of situation the Lord is talking about when He says the following: "I myself will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out My sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it." (Leviticus 26:32-35) Why did the land not rest while it was occupied? Because evidently they failed to observe the sabbath years that the Lord commanded them. We have already seen in Leviticus that the land is to be allowed to rest every seventh year and also every fiftieth year---the Year of Jubilee. The people apparently do not obey the Lord's command and therefore the land will at last have its rest while they are absent from it in the foreign land of their enemy.

Some of the people will perish by the sword when they are conquered. On the one hand this may seem like the worst fate, but life will be no picnic for those who survive. "As for those of you who are left, I will make their hearts so fearful in the lands of their enemies that the sound of a windblown leaf will put them to flight. They will run as though fleeing from the sword, and they will fall, even though no one is pursuing them. They will stumble over one another as though fleeing from the sword, even though no one is pursuing them. So you will not be able to stand before your enemies. You will perish among the nations; the land of your enemies will devour you. Those of you who are left will waste away in the land of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their ancestors' sins they will waste away." (Leviticus 26:36-39) 

The lives of those captured by the enemy will be fraught with anxiety. The least little thing will throw them into a panic and they will take off running even though no one is after them. We find the author of Proverbs saying something similar to what the Lord is saying in verses 36-39: "The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." (Proverbs 28:1) The person who knows he is in the wrong must always deal with the stress of keeping his wrong ways hidden. He must always deal with the fear of judgment. But the person whose heart is right with God need not fear the judgment of God and this gives him the bold courage of knowing his God is with him. And if God is with him, what else does he need? "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

All is not lost, however, if the tribes of Israel fall away from God and fall into sin. Their fall is not irrevocable. They have not been abandoned by their God. If they will turn back to Him, He will turn back to them. "But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors---their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward Me, which made Me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies---then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember My covenant with Jacob and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected My laws and abhorred My decrees. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking My covenant with them. I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 26:4-45) 

Even if the people fall into idolatry to the point of being defeated and captured, the Lord will still hear them if they repent and turn back to Him. But here in Leviticus 26 He warns them not to let things ever go that far. It's so much better to do what's right in the first place than to face the chastisement of a righteous God. "These are the decrees, the laws and regulations that the Lord established at Mount Sinai between Himself and the Israelites through Moses." (Leviticus 26:46) 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Leviticus. Day 92, Discipline For Disobedience, Part Two

In Leviticus 26 the Lord spends twice as long talking about discipline as He does about blessing. In the first portion of the chapter He made some beautiful promises regarding the immense blessings He wants to pour out on Israel in the promised land if she will be faithful to Him. But human nature being what it is, we have a tendency to be satisfied with mediocre living. Perhaps the people would have been content with lukewarm worship and average blessings. The Lord wants them to understand that lukewarm worship won't cut it in this fallen world filled with temptations and trials. Lukewarm worship won't make them who they were created to be: victorious, joy-filled, Spirit-filled children of God. Lukewarm worship won't bring into their lives such abundant blessings that their cups run over continually, and God wants people's blessings to run over so those blessings can overflow onto others and help bring them into the family of God. The Lord has to spend twice as long speaking about discipline as He did about blessings because, unfortunately, human beings are often more motivated into right living by a reverence for discipline than by a reverence for God from whose hands all blessings flow.

The Lord has already mentioned several levels of correction that the people will have to pass through if they become unfaithful to Him and continue being unfaithful in spite of the corrective steps He takes. If they continue to resist repenting and turning back to Him, He says: "If in spite of these things you do not accept My correction but continue to be hostile toward Me, I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over. And I will bring the sword on you to avenge the breaking of the covenant. When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands. When I cut off your supply of bread, ten women will be able to bake your bread in the oven, and they will dole out the bread by weight. You will eat, but you will not be satisfied." (Leviticus 26:23-26) 

The Lord already promised to provide the people with more than they need and to grant them good health and many children and to give them peace from their enemies---if they remain faithful to Him. If they do not remain faithful to Him, He will not abandon Israel but He will discipline her harshly with war, illness, and famine. Though she may break her covenant with Him, the Lord will never break His covenant with her. The discipline itself is a form of faithfulness on His part because its purpose is to turn her back to Him, not to destroy her.

In yesterday's passage the Lord said that if He must send famine they will have to fear the wild animals, for in times of drought even the wild animal kingdom is affected, and in their hunger the wild animals will lose their fear of man in order to fill their bellies and the bellies of their young. If a famine is severe enough, some people will be able to ignore their qualms about eating human flesh. There have been many accounts throughout history of humans resorting to eating their dead when a famine is so severe that nothing can be found to eat. If Israel forsakes the Lord so utterly that He must bring a famine of this magnitude upon her to get her to repent, her citizens will end up doing things they could never have imagined themselves doing. "If in spite of this you still do not listen to Me but continue to be hostile toward Me, then in My anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters." (Leviticus 26:27-29) 

We find this very thing happening in 2 Kings 6 when the king of Haram lays siege to Samaria, the capital city of the ten northern tribes of Israel. Due to the siege no food supplies can be brought into the city, plus there is a drought on so that nothing is growing inside the city walls, and the citizens are suffering from starvation. A woman brings a legal case to the king of Israel and appeals to him to rule in her favor. To his horror, the case goes like this: the woman and her neighbor agreed yesterday to cook and eat this woman's son and that today they would cook and eat the neighbor's son, but the neighbor has hidden her son. The woman appealing to the king wants him to force her neighbor to produce her son for consumption. Scholars are divided in their opinion as to whether these women's sons had already perished from starvation before they decided to eat them or whether the deal was that they would kill their sons and then eat them. The son who is said to be "hidden" may have already been dead from lack of food and his mother may have buried him in a secret location to prevent his remains from being desecrated. The text is not clear and we do not know whether these sons (likely infants or small children) had already perished or if the women's deal was that they would kill their children. 

Another time in the nation's history when some of the citizens eat their dead is when Jerusalem is under siege by Rome in 70AD after the Jewish uprising in which the Jews attempted to free themselves from Roman rule and occupation. During the siege the famine was so great that the historian Josephus states the people were driven to eating their dead. 

There are other times and other places when this type of cannibalism has occurred in the world. If you want to google a list of these cases you will find a list far longer than you might expect. One well known American example of this type of cannibalism involves the group known as the Donner Party. The Donner Party was a group of American pioneers traveling to California who became trapped by heavy snows in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the winter of 1846-1847. Members of the group of eighty-seven persons began dying off and the survivors resorted to eating first their animals and then later to eating the dead in order to keep from dying themselves. Only about half of them survived the harsh conditions of that winter. Many of them refused to discuss the cannibalism that took place because it is human nature to shrink back from even the thought of such a thing, much less the actual practice of such a thing.

I had intended to conclude our study of Leviticus 26 today but we needed to spend some time discussing verses 27-29 and the fulfillment of those verses which occurred later in Israel's history. We needed to see why the famine that results from disobedience could lead to cannibalism. We also need to think about the fact that the depraved actions of man don't start out as unspeakable acts that suddenly occur out of nowhere but that they begin with small acts of disobedience. 

The Lord began Chapter 26 with a reminder to the people that He is the Lord---the only God---and that He alone is to be worshiped. He reminded them that He---and no other God---rescued them from slavery and mistreatment in Egypt by mighty wonders performed by His own hand. If the people start to feel less respect and love for the One who rescued and loves them, they will begin committing acts of disobedience. These acts will start out small but will grow in magnitude as time goes on and as their hearts grow harder toward the Lord. What we are seeing in Chapter 26 is a progression in the severity of sin and a corresponding progression in the severity of discipline. The Lord doesn't discipline minor infractions with war or famine. He disciplines minor infractions with appropriate measures, usually by first appealing to the person's conscience with an intense feeling of guilt which is one of the ways the Holy Spirit ministers to us. But if our resistance to repentance grows, the hardness of our hearts grows, and we can fall into deeper and deeper sin. The deeper the sin, the harsher the consequences. This is why we find the Lord saying in this chapter, each time man reaches a further step down in his sin and depravity, "if you still do not listen to Me". 

The Lord doesn't want to bring discipline on any person or on any nation. He wants us to repent as soon as the Holy Spirit shows us we've gotten off track. If we immediately listen to the Holy Spirit and are sorry for our sin and confess it to God and repent of it, we can often escape God's discipline altogether for the wrong thing we did, although there may be some natural consequences of this world that we'll have to face for our mistake. But if we keep ignoring the Holy Spirit, and if we keep hardening our hearts against the guilt we feel, we'll fall further and further from our relationship with God and we'll fall into deeper and deeper levels of sin. This means the discipline we'll eventually face will be far worse than that which we'd have had to face if we'd repented at some earlier level of disobedience. The Lord, like any good father, wants to reward obedience. He doesn't want to have to administer discipline. But He wouldn't be a good father if He didn't correct us when we go off course. He'd far rather us have to endure unpleasant circumstances than to have us become complete reprobates and ruin our lives and perhaps even ruin the lives of those around us through our actions. God would not be a good father if He didn't discipline His children. He also wouldn't be holy and righteous if He didn't judge the sins of those who are not His children---the unbelievers of this world who have rejected Him and who continue to reject Him. A God who won't stand by His laws and enforce His laws is not a God to be worshiped. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Leviticus. Day 91, Discipline For Disobedience, Part One

In Saturday's study we looked at all the wonderful things the Lord vows to do for Israel in the promised land if the people will obey His laws and commandments. He intends to reward them for faithfulness. But, as we'll see today and tomorrow, He intends to discipline them if they are unfaithful. If they refuse to adhere to what He has said is right and good, misfortunes will come into their lives.

All the things He promised them in yesterday's passage sounded so good that it might be difficult for us to imagine why they would not want to be careful to obey Him so they can receive these huge blessings. I got to thinking about this and realized that there is a tendency for humans to be satisfied with what is mediocre. Perhaps if the Lord had not provided the portion of Scripture we'll be studying today and tomorrow, the people could have said to themselves, "Okay, so if we mess up on some of the stuff in the first half of Leviticus 26, we'll miss out on the really huge blessings, but we'll still have all we need in this good land and we'll still enjoy our freedom from slavery Egypt and we'll still be a sovereign nation that rules itself." But God is going to explain that things won't be okay if they aren't obedient. They might have been satisfied with mediocre faith and with the ordinary blessings of everyday life, but God doesn't think that's good enough for His children. Instead of mediocre faith, He wants them to have exceptional faith. Instead of ordinary blessings, He wants them to have extraordinary blessings. God wants more for mankind than mankind wants for himself, and that's why He has to remind us that we can't just go our own way and wallow in sin and expect Him to bless our disobedience. If He blessed our disobedience we'd never step up our game spiritually and be all we were created to be.

"But if you will not listen to Me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject My decrees and abhor My laws and fail to carry out all My commands and so violate My covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set My face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those that hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you." (Leviticus 26:14-17) He says, "If you reject Me and My commands, I will allow plague to come into your population. I will allow you to be defeated in battle. Your enemies will eat what you have planted. You will not enjoy good health or the fruit of the land or peace from your enemies if you break faith with Me."

If the Lord has to send these bad things into the nation to correct sinful behavior, and if the people don't take His discipline to heart and change their ways, He will have to resort to even harsher measures to turn them around. "If after all this you will not listen to Me, I will punish you for your sin seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of your land yield their fruit." (Leviticus 26:18-20) Famine will result if the people continue to resist turning back to the Lord. The sky will be like iron; no rain will come through. The ground will be like bronze, so hard and dry that to try and cultivate it will be futile. The trees will be stricken with blight and will bear no fruit. If the loss of close fellowship with God was not enough to change their hearts, and if the loss of peace and safety wasn't enough to change their hearts, and if the emergence of plague into the land wasn't enough to change their hearts, perhaps growling bellies will compel them to turn back to God for mercy.

If hunger isn't enough to change their minds, the Lord will turn the wild animal kingdom against them. "If you remain hostile toward Me and refuse to listen to Me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted." (Leviticus 26:21-22) I believe what the Lord means is that if He he has to send famine upon the people, the famine would eventually affect the wild animals too. In Genesis 9:2 the Lord put a "fear and dread" of humans into the minds of animals so they would not be prone to attacking and killing humans. The reason we sometimes hear news stories about a person being attacked and killed by a bear or mountain lion is because it's not an everyday happening. Most wild animals obey their God-given instinct to hide or flee when humans appear. But when the wild animals' food sources become scarce they grow bold enough to come close to human habitations to forage for scraps or to attack and eat domestic animals. Hungry wild animals will sometimes dare to kill a human for food, especially someone of small stature like a child. If famine comes and wild animals begin to roam the inhabited areas of the land, it won't be safe for people's children to play outside or perform any outdoor chores. It won't even be safe for humans to travel the roadways unless they travel in groups.

Join us tomorrow as we take a look at the second half of the passage regarding disciplinary actions the Lord will be compelled to take if the things outlined in today's passage aren't enough to change the people's hearts. Until tomorrow let's think about the troubles in our own nation and whether or not at least some of our misfortunes might be the result of us not being faithful to our God. Let's search our hearts and repent of anything the Holy Spirit brings to mind. Let's confess our own sins and the sins of our nation as a whole and ask God to forgive us and heal us. I believe it's clear from our passage today, and from a passage I'm going to close with, that misfortune is often the result of going astray---and not because the world in general has gone astray, but because God's people have gone astray. God doesn't expect those who don't belong to Him to do what's right; He knows they won't. But He expects His own children to do what's right. The health and prosperity of a nation is only as strong and vibrant as the faith and obedience of God's people, so in the verse with which we will close, we find God calling upon His own to repent and pray. If those who belong to Him will do this, He issues a comforting promise: "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)