Sunday, September 20, 2020

Leviticus. Day 31, Clean And Unclean Foods, Part Two

In Saturday's study we looked at some domesticated farm animals that are and are not to be eaten by the Israelites. The animal must have a divided hoof and chew cud to be considered clean for consumption. We talked about how the cow, the sheep, and the goat could be eaten but not the horse. Wild animals like deer and antelope and gazelles were edible. Many more animals meet the criteria to be clean and if you'd like you may want to Google a list to see them for yourselves. The list is a bit lengthy and some of the animals are a bit obscure to anyone living in our part of the world so I'm not including a comprehensive list here. 

Next we find out which water creatures can and cannot be eaten. "Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales." (Leviticus 11:9) Most fish are kosher. An exception would be the catfish because it lacks scales.

"But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales---whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water---you are to regard as unclean." (Leviticus 11:10) This verse renders shellfish unclean. The Israelites were not to eat things like oysters, clams, shrimp, lobsters, crabs, and things of that nature. These are non-kosher foods and those of us who are Gentiles would probably do well to exclude these items from our diets because shellfish are "filter feeders", scavengers that feed off of waste products in the water. You can catch several types of foodborne illnesses from undercooked shellfish and you can also contract a strain of hepatitis from shellfish (from raw oysters in particular). In addition, if a person is going to be allergic to any type of food from the rivers or the oceans, it's most likely going to be shellfish. The Lord is trying to prevent the people from contracting food poisoning and diseases. He's also helping them to avoid allergic reactions when He tells them to refrain from eating shellfish. 

"And since you are to regard them as unclean, you must not eat their meat; you must regard their carcasses as unclean. Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you." (Leviticus 11:11-12) In yesterday's study we found the Lord prohibiting the people even to touch the carcass of an unclean animal if it's at all possible to avoid touching it. We learned earlier in Leviticus that if a person came in contact with an unclean animal he must bathe and wash his clothes and remain ceremonially unclean until evening. He could not go up to the tabernacle and could not attend any type of religious feast until his time of uncleanness was up. I don't believe he could attend a meal at anyone else's home either, for later in the Bible we'll find King Saul musing that perhaps the reason David doesn't show up for dinner at his house is because he somehow became ceremonially unclean that day. (On the contrary, David didn't show up because he knew Saul was plotting to take his life.) 

But we see that occasions might come up when a person would have to remove an unclean carcass from the roadway or from his property and in that case there was a procedure he could follow to be clean again. A fisherman might come in contact with unclean water creatures if some of them got caught in his net along with the clean creatures. He would have to discard them by throwing them back into the water or rinsing them out of his nets. I assume he'd try not to make physical contact with them while doing so but there must have been times when this was unavoidable. In that case he had a procedure to follow to be ceremonially clean again by evening. The bathing and the washing of clothes and the self-isolating for several hours helped to protect the community from communicable illnesses that are carried by unclean animals. In a time long before antibiotics were invented, it was of the utmost importance to be as sanitary as possible with food, for if a person became violently ill from an unclean food there was little that could be done for him. His body would either fight off the illness or it wouldn't. 

Now we move on into the subject of which types of fowl are considered unclean. "These are the birds you are to regard as unclean and not to eat because they are unclean: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat." (Leviticus 11:13-19) The Lord only provides a list of unclean birds and it is generally accepted that if a bird is not on this list then it is alright to eat. We'll note that the birds that are prohibited are scavenger types. We find bats on this list even though they are not of the bird family, but people in ancient times believed they were birds without feathers. They thought anything that was warm-blooded and had wings and could fly was a bird, so we find the Lord grouping bats in with birds here. Bats can be carriers of a number of serious and even deadly diseases. We're most familiar with rabies, of course, but they can also transmit Ebola and SARS. In verses 13 through 19 we find the Lord prohibiting the consumption of scavenger birds (birds who feed off of carcasses or other types of waste) and the consumption of bats because they always have been and still are some of the most prevalent carriers of many serious and even fatal zoonotic diseases (diseases that spread from animals to people). 

We are living in a time when a plague that is believed to be zoonotic in nature has broken out among the world's population. If Covid-19 did indeed originate from people consuming animals that would definitely be on the Lord's "unclean" list, then we can certainly see why the Lord felt it so important to include lists of clean and unclean foods in the Holy Bible. He put these lists here for our protection. The Lord doesn't want plagues to break out. He wants us to observe sanitary food practices and to eat foods that provide the things our bodies need so we can be healthy and strong. If you're my age or older then you'll remember a phrase that was popular when computer use was beginning to become common: "Garbage In, Garbage Out." This meant if the programming was bad, the computer couldn't perform the work the program was designed to produce. In Leviticus 11 the Lord issues the same warning about what we put in our bodies: "Garbage In, Garbage Out." Our bodies are designed to run their best on certain types of fuel. Putting the wrong fuel into our bodies causes health issues like clogged arteries and high blood pressure and obesity. Putting the wrong fuel into our bodies can give us food poisoning or an allergic reaction. And putting the wrong fuel into our bodies can transmit to us a serious or even fatal disease. The Lord wants the best for us and His best includes treating our bodies like the temples they are and bringing into these temples only what He has said is good.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Leviticus. Day 30, Clean And Unclean Foods, Part Ome

We move on into Chapter 11 today and begin our study of the food regulations the Lord provided for the Israelites. This is not the first time the Lord has given instructions regarding which animals can and cannot be eaten, for when Noah built the ark the Lord told him, "Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one kind of every pair of unclean animal, a male and its mate." (Genesis 7:2) 

Noah apparently knew the difference between what the Lord considered "clean" and "unclean". But perhaps somewhere along the way the people forgot or began to disregard these dietary rules. I wouldn't be surprised if living in Egypt for several centuries caused them to relax their standards in this matter. As they observed the Egyptians eating anything and everything, they may have come to consider all food the same and, on top of that, I think it's possible that the daily rations supplied to them by the Egyptian slavemasters contained all sorts of ingredients that the Lord would consider "unclean".

The Israelites will soon move into and begin taking over the promised land from the idolatrous tribes currently living in that region. These tribes eat all sorts of filth and engage in all sorts of rituals with organ meats and fat and blood. The Lord doesn't want the Israelites to pick up any of these bad habits and right now is a good time to give them a refresher course on what He considers fit to eat and what He considers unhealthy to eat.

"The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'Say to the Israelites: 'Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat. You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and chews the cud.'" (Leviticus 11:1-3) Among common animals this would include things like cows, goats, and sheep. It would not include horses. Among wild game this list would include things like deer and antelopes and gazelles. 

The Lord provides several examples to make His point. "There are some that chew only the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. The hyrax, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you." (Leviticus 11:4-8)

Most of us reading this study of Leviticus together are probably Gentiles but most Gentiles are aware that observant Jews do not eat pork. We are probably less familiar with the other dietary regulations, but among the forbidden animals mentioned in verses 4 through 8 it's probably the pig that presents the most danger to the eater. Pork meat harbors bacterias such as enterocolitica, salmonella, enterococcus, listeria, staph, and trichonosis. If not thoroughly cooked, a person could become quite ill or even die from consuming pork. They could also become quite ill or even die from not being able to refrigerate pork that had already been cooked, for the bacteria in pork tends to multiply very swiftly if it's not handled properly and kept at the proper temperatures. 

Tapeworms were prevalent in pigs back in the days before antiparasitic drugs were invented for use in domestic animals. A person eating pork, especially if they ate organ meats such as the stomach and intestines, risked contracting a severe case of tapeworms. Worms contracted from eating pork is considered a potential cause of death for Herod Agrippa I in the book of Acts. The Bible tells us he was "eaten by worms and died". The ancient historian Josephus tells us that Herod was struck with severe pains in his belly and lay in intense agony for five days before he perished. Both Josephus and the Bible indicate that his affliction was a judgment of God for his many blasphemous ways of living. Herod wasn't struck down for his dietary indiscretions alone, but they certainly played a part in his early demise. 

In our study today we find the Lord not only forbidding the eating of certain mammals but also forbidding the people to touch the carcasses. I think this prohibition serves two purposes. First, an animal that is unclean for food due to the bacteria and parasites it harbors may become even more dangerous after its death when it is decaying and when the bacteria is multiplying rapidly. Cross contamination could occur if a person moves the carcass of an unclean animal and then doesn't have access to soap and water immediately afterward. He might end up touching his face or his food and transferring the bacteria into his mouth. Second, human beings experience a heightened sense of temptation when they touch the object of their desire, whether that object is a person they have lustful thoughts about, or whether it's an object they want to purchase but shouldn't, or whether it's food that isn't good for them. 

Some years back I read about a scientific experiment that had been conducted which indicated that people who touch merchandise in a store are more likely to purchase the merchandise. Touching brings us one step closer to giving in to temptation, so the Lord cautions the people not to even touch the carcass of an unclean animal. A person might come across an unclean animal that was just killed by a predator. Most predators will flee when they see a human being approaching and in that case the meat would be very fresh when the person happens upon it. The person might feel tempted to take home this meal that just conveniently ended up in his path, but as long as he doesn't actually touch the animal he's going to have a better chance of resisting the temptation. 

Join us tomorrow as we study which types of seafood and which types of fowl are allowed and not allowed. In the meantime I think we should keep in mind that the Lord prohibits things for our good. If the Lord tells us something is to be strictly avoided, it's because He only wants the best for us. He knows having that thing will do us some sort of harm, either immediately or in the long run. We all face temptations in life and the Lord knows we will be in a better position to say "no" to these temptations if we have His laws written in our hearts before we find ourselves faced with temptation. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Leviticus. Day 29, Aaron Too Grief-Stricken To Eat/A Theory About The Sin Of His Sons

This week we've been studying the sin of two of Aaron's sons who offered incense to the Lord in a manner that was wrong. Their actions were so disrespectful to the Lord that they died. Aaron and his other two sons were forbidden to carry out the typical public days of mourning for the two dead men but today we learn that Aaron is so burdened with grief that he cannot eat the priest's portion of the sin offering presented at the tabernacle. We also take a look at what some scholars think led Nadab and Abihu to improperly offer incense to the Lord.

Right in the middle of Chapter 10 the Lord issues a warning to Aaron and his two remaining sons never to come to the tabernacle while under the influence of alcohol. "Then the Lord said to Aaron, 'You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean; and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.'" (Leviticus 10:8-11) In Leviticus and Exodus when the Lord was giving instructions for how to carry out religious services in the tabernacle, He made no mention of the need for the priests to refrain from imbibing alcohol before performing their duties. Such a prohibition should have gone without saying; anyone with any respect for the Lord would know better than to show up intoxicated at His house. But suddenly, in the middle of the passage regarding the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, we find this very serious warning and this has led a number of scholars to believe that Nadab and Abihu were intoxicated when they lit the incense in their censors with fire from the wrong source. 

If this is the case, then their drunkenness is what made them incapable of distinguishing "between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean". These two men set a bad example not only for their fellow priests but also for the entire congregation of Israel. If they didn't respect the Lord enough to soberly and reverently serve Him in His house,  how could they possibly "teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them"? A person has to have a good understanding of the Lord's laws, and must respect and follow the Lord's laws, in order to effectively teach His laws to others in a manner that encourages them to honor and obey the Lord. 

Next our passage discusses the priests' portion of the offerings that were brought to the tabernacle and we learn that certain portions were only shared by the male members of the priests' families while other portions were shared by their whole families. "Moses said to Aaron and his remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, 'Take the grain offering left over from the food offerings prepared without yeast and presented to the Lord and eat it beside the altar, for it is most holy. Eat it in the sanctuary area, because it is your share and your son's share of the food offerings presented to the Lord; for so I have commanded. But you and your sons and your daughters may eat the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. Eat them in a ceremonially clean place; they have been given to you and your children as your share of the Israelites' fellowship offerings. The thigh that was presented and the breast that was waved must be brought with the fat portions of the food offerings, to be waved before the Lord as a wave offering. This will be the perpetual share for you and your children, as the Lord commanded.'" (Leviticus 10:12-15)

Moses notices that the priests' portion of the sin offering has not been eaten. "When Moses inquired about the goat of the sin offering and found that it had been burned up, he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's remaining sons, and asked, 'Why didn't you eat the sin offering in the sanctuary area? It is most holy; it was given to you to take away the guilt of the community by making atonement for them before the Lord. Since its blood was not taken into the Holy Place, you should have eaten the goat in the sanctuary area, as I commanded.'" (Leviticus 10:16-18) 

This is the goat that was offered for the sins of all the Israelites. Because it is not the annual Day of Atonement, and because its blood was not taken behind the veil and sprinkled onto the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, a portion of it belonged to the priests. But instead Moses realizes that instead of retaining the portions that aren't offered to the Lord, they burned everything up that wasn't offered to the Lord. He is angry because these men haven't eaten these portions together and, in a symbolic way, haven't "eaten the sins" of the people. They haven't identified themselves with the people by partaking in the share of the sin offering that was theirs. The portion given to the Lord was, in a symbolic way, eaten by Him. The priests were to eat the portions that were theirs. In this way everyone (the priests, the community, and the Lord) communed with each other in the acknowledgment that the humans involved in this transaction were all sinners but that the Lord was willing to forgive their sins and have fellowship with them. So naturally Moses is upset that Aaron's two sons have failed to carry out this important part of their service at the tabernacle. But it appears they were commiserating with their father in his grief, for as we close today we learn that Aaron was not able to eat due to the terrible things that have happened on this day.

"Aaron replied to Moses, 'Today they sacrificed their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, but such things as this have happened to me. Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?' When Moses heard this, he was satisfied.'" (Leviticus 10:19-20) I think Aaron is saying something like this, "My sons are not refusing to identify themselves as sinners or to identify themselves with the people, who are also sinners. They brought the required offerings today to signify their need for forgiveness from their own sins and to symbolize their desire to submit themselves to the Lord. But because of the things that happened today, I couldn't partake in the meal. It would be unseemly to feast in an attitude of joy and thankfulness while two of my sons lie dead. It would not have honored the Lord if I behaved as if nothing has happened and as if my heart is not broken over my sons' sins and subsequent death. I am their father and I feel some responsibility over their wrongdoing even though they were grown men capable of making their own choices. Because of my sorrow I was unable to eat and my two remaining sons showed me their support and sympathy by not eating their portion of the sin offering either." Aaron's explanation makes practical sense to Moses and he is satisfied with his brother's words. The Lord is also satisfied; we know this because He imposes no penalty upon Aaron or Eleazar or Ithamar for failing to partake in their portion of the offering.

If any of you has ever lost a child or if you know anyone who has lost a child, you can understand a father not being able to eat on the day he loses two of his sons. The Lord can sympathize with Aaron's grief, for He is a father too and He knows that a day is coming in which He will witness the death of His own Son who will die not for sins of His own but for the sins of the world. God the Father doesn't have to eat food in order to survive as human beings do, but if He did He would not be able to swallow even one bite on the day His precious Son gives His life on the cross. With this in mind, the Lord has no words of chastisement for Aaron. I think the Lord's heart goes out to Aaron just as His heart goes out to anyone who mourns, for the Bible tells us in Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted."  

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Leviticus. Day 28, Aaron And His Two Remaining Sons Forbidden To Publicly Mourn The Death Of Nadab And Abihu

In Wednesday's study we learned that two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, offered incense to the Lord at the tabernacle in a sinful manner. They were immediately struck by fire and they perished. This is where we pick up in Chapter 10 today.

The bodies of Nadab and Abihu are still at the tabernacle and this situation has to be dealt with at once. "Moses summoned Michael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron's uncle Uzziel, and said to them, 'Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.' So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered." (Leviticus 10:4-5) 

Normally the closest family members of the deceased would be the ones to deal with the bodies after death. But Nadab's and Abihu's closest relatives are Aaron and his other two sons who are all priests. If they handle dead bodies they will be ceremonially unclean for the rest of the day and won't be able to carry out their duties at the tabernacle. This is why Moses calls for cousins to come and remove the bodies from the tabernacle. The bodies are removed still dressed in their priestly robes. Any priests who replace these two will, presumably, have new robes made for them. Though these garments have only been worn for a short time, they won't be used again, either because they've been rendered ceremonially unclean by encasing dead bodies or because the fire that killed the two men damaged their tunics.

Moses forbids Aaron and his two remaining sons to carry out any mourning rituals for the two dead men. "Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, 'Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the Lord has destroyed by fire. Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the Lord's anointing oil is on you.' So they did as Moses said." (Leviticus 10:6-7)

A person in mourning would tear the sleeves of their robes and observe days of weeping and fasting, days in which they didn't change their clothes or comb their hair or anoint their heads or faces or bodies with things like grooming products or perfumes. I am sure Aaron and Eleazar and Ithamar mourn the dead in their hearts but they aren't allowed to put on any public displays of mourning under these special circumstances in which they find themselves. Some scholars think that to do so would be to give the impression to the people that they didn't feel God was right to strike Nadab and Abihu dead. On top of that it would be unseemly for the priests to tear the beautiful robes they were just given in their ordination ceremony in Chapter 9. Other scholars think that observing the typical mourning period would have prevented the remaining priests from serving at the tabernacle and ministering to the people for a period of time. I think it could be a combination of all these factors. 

The priesthood has just been established and the priests were just ordained in our previous chapter and the tabernacle has just now been opened for use. Religious life would come to a standstill if Aaron and his other two sons went into mourning and I believe that's the worst thing that could happen to the congregation of Israel right now. Aaron and his sons must continue to honor the Lord and lift up His name and serve Him in the sight of the people. The people must continue to have access to the fresh new tabernacle they've just been blessed with. In view of the tragedy that just occurred, the people need to gather together in worship where they'll find comfort in the encouragement of one another and where they'll find comfort in the presence of the Lord.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Leviticus. Day 27, The Sin And Death Of Two Of Aaron's Sons

When we closed our study yesterday we found God lighting the fire on the altar and consuming everything on it. No fire other than that kindled by God is ever allowed to be offered before the Lord in the tabernacle---not the fire on the altars and not the fire in the incense censors. While we've been studying the details about the tabernacle and its furnishings we've been told exactly how offerings of incense, grain, and animal sacrifices were to be conducted. Aaron's sons, as priests and as the children of the high priest of Israel, knew better than anyone else in the entire congregation of Israel (with the exceptions of Aaron and Moses) how the services in the tabernacle were to be conducted. But today we find two of Aaron's sons deliberately going against the Lord's instructions and paying the ultimate price for their sin.

"Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censors, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to His command." (Leviticus 10:1) The golden censors were to be filled with ashes and fire from the altar---with the fire the Lord had kindled---and with the special incense that was only to be used at the tabernacle. The incense was to be burned while the people gathered together in prayer, so by this we know the congregation was aware the men took the fire from somewhere other than the source God provided. Scholars suggest they used fire that burned under the cooking pots for the portions of sacrifices the priests were allowed to keep and eat. Whatever its source, the NIV calls it "unauthorized fire" while other versions of the Bible refer to it as "strange fire". All we can say for certain is that these men, knowing the commandments of the Lord regarding the precise order of everything that was to be done in the tabernacle, chose to burn the incense in the wrong way. They didn't do this by mistake or because they were unaware of what the Lord had said. 

The Bible doesn't provide us with their motive for doing this. Perhaps they were lazy and disrespectful and didn't think it mattered much whether they obeyed the Lord's rules for His house. Perhaps they were lifted up in pride after their ordination ceremony and believed they were a law unto themselves and could do whatever they pleased without consequence. Or perhaps they sought a relationship with the Lord on their own terms, through works instead of faith, and tried to approach Him by other means that that which He had clearly laid out for them. 

We can learn a lot from the mistake Nadab and Abihu made. It does matter whether or not we follow the Lord's instructions fully. Partial obedience is disobedience. These men went to the tabernacle to offer the smoke of the incense as part of their prescribed duties but they failed to offer the incense in the manner God directed. They only partially obeyed Him. 

Was their sin due to pride? If so, there's a reason why the Bible tells us pride leads to a fall, (Proverbs 16:18) for when we're lifted up in pride with our noses in the air we aren't looking where we're going. When we don't look where we're going we're bound to stumble and fall. These men may have pridefully believed their positions in Israel were so highly exalted that they could make decisions on their own without consulting the Lord and without thinking about the laws and commandments He had already clearly given them. When we start thinking we're a law unto ourselves we are headed straight into sin. 

And, thirdly, if these men were attempting to approach the Lord on their own terms, they were highly mistaken to believe they could come into His presence in this manner. We can never have a relationship with the Lord on our own terms; we come to Him only on His terms. He is the Lawgiver and it is His laws we have broken and it is His terms we must accept and abide by in order to have forgiveness and fellowship with Him. He has provided the means of access to Him and we cannot come up with any other avenue that is acceptable in His sight. This is why the Lord Jesus Christ said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6) We can't get to the Father without going through the Son who gave Himself for us, just as in Old Testament times no one could get to the Father without going through the sacrificial system that pointed toward the perfect and eternal sacrifice Christ would someday make on behalf of mankind.

What happens when these men insult the grace of God and presumptuously behave in a manner forbidden in His house and attempt to gain access to Him by the works of their own hands? "So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord." (Leviticus 10:2) Their trespass against the Lord was so great that it was considered a capital crime by God. He could not allow these two men to continue officiating as priests in the sight of the people or else the people would be tempted to show the same irreverence for the Lord. 

We have to stop and think about how quickly Nadab and Abihu went astray. They just finished their weeklong ordination process yesterday! They just began their duties in the tabernacle. And they immediately sinned against the Lord in the carrying out of their duties. Something was desperately wrong in their hearts and desperately wrong with their relationship with the Lord if they could treat their awesome responsibilities so casually. The Lord had to nip this terrible situation in the bud and He did it openly as an example to all that His holiness is not a thing to be treated casually. Man's relationship with God is not a thing to be treated casually. These priests are way too visible to the people and have way too much influence over them for the Lord not to judge them for their blatant disregard for His rules.

Aaron, no doubt, is shocked and grieved. But Moses his brother points out that Nadab and Abihu are merely reaping what they have sown. "Moses then said to Aaron, 'This is what the Lord spoke of when He said: 'Among those who approach Me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.'" (Leviticus 10:3a) I don't think Moses is being callous or unsympathetic about his brother's loss. After all, these men were Moses' nephews and I am sure he loved them and felt his own grief when they perished. But Moses is simply pointing out that these men are reaping the consequences of mocking the Lord's words, as the Apostle Paul pointed out in the New Testament, saying, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7)

Nadab and Abihu weren't right with the Lord and they publicly refused to regard the Lord as holy. They refused to honor Him in the sight of the people because they didn't honor Him in their own hearts. The Lord was forced to vindicate His holiness by judging these men's sin swiftly and harshly. He judged them publicly because their sin was public. He carried out their execution in such a way that no one could try to claim their deaths were a result of natural consequences and not a result of their great sin.

Aaron recognizes the truth of Moses' words. In his heart he acknowledges his sons' sin and acknowledges the Lord's right to handle the matter in the way He did. We know these are the thoughts in Aaron's mind because the Bible tells us, "Aaron remained silent." (Leviticus 10:3b) Aaron didn't protest. Aaron didn't blame the Lord. Aaron didn't scream and curse and stomp his feet. He quietly accepted what had happened because he knew his sons had violated the commandments of God and he knew their sin was so public and so great that God had no choice but to take them out of the congregation of Israel.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Leviticus. Day 26, The Priests Begin Their Work At The Tabernacle, Part Two

In Monday's study we learned that the priests had to make sacrifices for themselves before they could make sacrifices for the people. Today Aaron makes the offering for the congregation as a whole and the Lord shows up at the tabernacle in a big way.

"Aaron brought the offering that was for the people. He took the goat for the people's sin offering and slaughtered it and offered it for a sin offering as he did with the first one. He brought the burnt offering and offered it in the prescribed way. He also brought the grain offering, took a handful of it and burned it on the altar in addition to the morning's burnt offering. He slaughtered the ox and the ram as the fellowship offering for the people. His sons handed him the blood, and he splashed it against the sides of the altar. But the fat portion of the ox and the ram---the fat tail, the layer of fat, the kidneys and the long lobe of the liver---these they laid on the breasts, and then Aaron burned the fat on the altar. Aaron waved the breasts and the right thigh before the Lord as a wave offering, as Moses commanded." (Leviticus 9:15-21) These offerings are handled in the same manner as the offerings Aaron made for himself and his sons.

"Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them." (Leviticus 9:22a) In the book of Numbers we are told how a priestly blessing of the people should be spoken and many scholars presume this is the same blessing Aaron uses in our passage today. Numbers 6:22-27 tells us, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace." So they will put My name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.'" 

"And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down." (Leviticus 9:22b) Aaron concludes this portion of the ceremony and steps back from addressing the people.

"Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting." (Leviticus 9:23a) The Bible doesn't tell us what these men do inside the tabernacle but it is generally believed that Moses explains to Aaron how his duties inside the tent are to be performed. Inside the tent are the altar of incense and the table of showbread and the lamps that must be kept burning at all times. Also inside the tent, in a separate compartment behind a curtain, is the Ark of the Covenant which Aaron will approach only one day a year. Since Moses has just concluded explaining and demonstrating how the priestly duties in the courtyard are to be performed, it's logical to assume that he's explaining and demonstrating how the priestly duties inside the tent are to be performed.

The men emerge and bless the people once again and then the Lord Himself blesses the entire assembly. "When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown." (Leviticus 9:23b-24) We don't know what form "the glory of the Lord" took but previously in the Old Testament He appeared to them in the form of a dense, smoky cloud. He makes other appearances in this manner in the Bible, so I think it's likely this is what the people see. Then suddenly fire, like a flash of lightning, comes forth and strikes the offerings on the altar and thoroughly consumes the sacrifices. By this the people know that their sacrifices are accepted by God and by extension that they themselves are accepted by God. This knowledge fills them with such overwhelming joy that as one body they all sink to their knees with their faces to the ground before the Lord.

There is nothing that should move us more than knowing we have been found acceptable in the eyes of a holy God. And how is this great thing accomplished? Through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who made the ultimate sacrifice for us. In the days of Moses the people had to bring the same sacrifices over and over and over again because the sacrificial blood of animals was not able to eternally cleanse their souls from sin. (Hebrews 10:1-4) A day was coming in which a sacrifice would be offered that was capable of cleansing people forever of sin and of making them eternally acceptable in the eyes of God. A day was coming in which the perfect Lamb of God would lay down His life for us, a day when He would say, "Here I am---it is written about Me in the scroll---I have come to do Your will, My God." (Psalm 4:6-8, Hebrews 10:7) We who place our faith in Christ are "made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Hebrews 10:10) And now that we have been made holy through His sacrifice, God the Father says of us, "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." (Hebrews 10:17)

Hallelujah! We are sinners who have violated the laws of God and yet He will remember our transgressions no more for the sake of His Son and because we have placed our faith in Christ. Such knowledge ought to send us to our knees before God in the same attitude of thankfulness as we see in the Israelites in our passage today. Except we have more to be thankful for than they did, for we're living in a day when we no longer have to bring the same sacrifices over and over and over again to be made acceptable in the eyes of our God. We have only to look to Christ and to His sacrifice in order to obtain salvation and favor with God. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Leviticus. Day 25, The Priests Begin Their Work At The Tabernacle, Part One

Now that the priests have been ordained and consecrated they are ready to begin their work at the house of the Lord.

You'll recall these men had to remain at the entrance to the tabernacle for seven days after their ordination ceremony. The seven days are now completed and we pick up with the eighth day as we begin Chapter Nine. "On the eighth day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. He said to Aaron, 'Take a bull calf for your sin offering and a ram for your burnt offering, both without defect, and present them before the Lord. Then say to the Israelites: 'Take a male goat for a sin offering, a calf and a lamb---both a year old and without defect---for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for a fellowship offering to sacrifice before the Lord, together with a grain offering mixed with olive oil. For today the Lord will appear to you.'" (Leviticus 9:1-4) We know that offerings were just made for Aaron and his sons when they were ordained, but like you and I these men sinned every day. They've sinned during the seven days since their ceremony. Before they could present offerings to atone for the people's sins they had to present offerings to atone for their own sins. The offerings made on the day they were ordained didn't consecrate them and make them perfect forever.

The sacrificial system was a bloody business. It was a sad business. It was an ugly business. And as we discussed earlier in our study of the Old Testament, this is probably because sin itself is bloody and sad and ugly. In our animal-loving culture we find the subject of animal sacrifice difficult to think about but we must keep in mind that the people were not allowed to cause distress and pain to these animals. They were raising these animals mainly for consumption in the first place, but whether the animals were slaughtered for food or for sacrifice it had to be done swiftly and humanely with a specially designed knife that caused instant death when swept across the jugular vein. As we go through the Old Testament we are going to see many many sacrifices made, and if nothing else it ought to make us thankful that we no longer have to depend on the blood of bulls and goats and lambs to temporarily consecrate us in the sight of God. We have a sacrifice---the Lamb of God---who consecrates forever those who place their faith in Him!

"They took the things Moses commanded to the front of the tent of meeting, and the entire assembly came near and stood before the Lord. Then Moses said, 'This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.'" (Leviticus 9:5-6) We can't experience the presence of the Lord in the way He wants us to experience it and in the way we were designed to experience it unless we make our hearts right with Him first and unless we remain in daily fellowship with Him. The priests and the people are to consecrate themselves when they first begin using the tabernacle but they must also bring their offerings over and over and over again, each time they realize they've drifted from the Lord and made mistakes. You and I need to examine our hearts on a regular basis too. We need to draw near to the Lord daily in prayer and in the study of His word so that anything that needs to be corrected can be revealed to us. In our day we don't have to bring a sacrifice to a tabernacle when we realized we've sinned. What we bring to the Lord is our sorrow for our sin and our request for repentance, as King David did when he said, "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart You, God, will not despise." (Psalm 51:17) David lived under the Old Testament law and under the sacrificial system but he knew that sacrifice begins in the heart. If he didn't repent in his heart, nothing he brought to the Lord would suffice to atone for his sin. But now that we are living under grace and not under the law, the Lord Jesus Christ has made the only sacrifice we need for our sins. All we need to bring to Him is repentance of the heart.

"So Aaron came to the altar and slaughtered the calf as a sin offering for himself. His sons brought the blood to him, and he dipped his finger into the blood and put it on the horns of the altar; the rest of the blood he poured out at the base of the altar. On the altar he burned the fat, the kidneys and the long lobe of the liver from the sin offering, as the Lord commanded Moses; the flesh and the hide he burned up outside the camp." (Leviticus 9:8-11) The horns of the altar symbolize mercy. In those days a person accused of a capital crime could flee to an altar and grab the horns and obtain temporary asylum from his accusers until his case could be heard and judged. This was an ancient custom of many cultures, and though the altars of ancient cultures were pagan (with the exception of the altar of Israel) grabbing onto the horns of an altar was seen as a plea for mercy. When Aaron wipes blood on each of the horns of the altar he is acknowledging his need for mercy, asking for mercy, and asking it of the One who is willing and able to offer mercy.

"Then he slaughtered the burnt offering. His sons handed him the blood, and he splashed it against the sides of the altar. They handed him the burnt offering piece by piece, including the head, and he burned them on the altar. He washed the internal organs and the legs and burned them on top of the burnt offering on the altar." (Leviticus 9:12-14) The Bible doesn't explain to us why this washing of these particular parts was necessary but I suspect it was because the internal organs (excluding the kidneys and liver and the fat inside the abdomen) contained waste products. The stomach and intestines had to be washed out before being offered to the Lord. I think the legs had to be washed because they were covered in barnyard waste. I grew up in rural Southwest Virginia surrounded by farms and there's currently a small farm across from my house in Northeast Tennessee. I've seen the material that gets on the legs of farm animals. So organs such as the stomach and intestines had to be washed before being offered on the altar and the feet and legs had to be washed before being offered on the altar. It would not have been respectful to offer to the Lord any parts with waste products in them or on them.

Now that Aaron has made an offering for his own sins and a burnt offering that signifies his submission to the Lord, he is ready to make offerings on behalf of the people. He had to deal with his own issues first because a person who is not right with the Lord is not able to effectively minister to others. For example, think of the instructions we're given after we board a plane. We're told that in the case of an emergency we must put on our own oxygen mask before helping someone else to put on their oxygen mask. We're no use to anybody if we pass out from lack of oxygen. In this same way, we're unable to spiritually assist others if we're about to faint from a lack of connection to the Lord who is our source of spiritual oxygen, so to speak. The Apostle Paul warned the church members of Colossae to be careful not to be caught up in false religious practices or non-Christian beliefs because at that point they will have "lost connection with the head" (Christ) and will become unproductive members of the Christian church. (Colossians 2:19) They must have their own close, personal connection with the Lord before they can lead anyone else to Him. They must be connected to their source of spiritual oxygen before they can encourage someone else who is about to faint in the faith.