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Feb 3 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 2, 2020


The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.
“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.'”
Leviticus 1:1-4

Intro: For some time I’ve wanted to walk us through the Book of Hebrews

When we come to it, you will discover why it is so extraordinary
– but the same reasons that make it extraordinary,
• also make it difficult to comprehend
• it’s content, style and logic are sometimes difficult for us to follow
– Hebrews is built on stories and symbols from the Hebrew Scriptures
• we need to be familiar with that background to grasp its message
• so we are going to spend the next three weeks in Leviticus
◦ if we were in junior high school, I’d hear a lot of groans right now
◦ but we’re adults – so we’re silently planning to be somewhere else
for the next three weeks

I confess that, for me, Leviticus is dry, tedious and boring

There are several reasons for this
– first, it lacks the stories that make the books around it entertaining
– second, it reads like a legal document
• Leviticus was written primarily for Israel’s priests
• it is filled with regulations, procedures, crimes and punishments
– third, it belongs to an ancient culture, long gone and far away
• finding its relevance for today is a huge chore

But we’re going to do this – and eventually you’ll be glad we did
– it will be like learning the alphabet to be able to read and write

Leviticus begins in the “tent of meeting” (God’s “dwelling place”)

This is where the Book of Exodus left off (Ex. 40:1-2, 34-38)
– God gave Moses the plans, and Israel put it together
• the architecture is easy to imagine, it is all rectangles and squares
◦ including the furnishings, except for the basin and lamp stand
• the sanctuary was divided into two sections:
◦ the holy place, and at one end of it a cube–the holiest place
◦ outside, in the courtyard, was the altar for sacrifice and a basin where the priest would was their hands and feet before entering the sanctuary
– the purpose of this structure was to assure them that God was nearby
And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst (Ex. 25:8)
For what great nation is there that has a god so near to I as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? (De. 4:7)
• because it was God’s residence, it was holy
◦ this is a major theme in Leviticus – several times we’re reminded
You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy (e.g., Le. 11:45)
• Leviticus addresses two powerful forces operating in their world
holiness and pollution – a positive and negative energy
◦ both can be lethal and therefore demand respect
Mary Douglas noted that the idea of holiness is not sentimental, “but more like Exodus’ terrifying concept of unbearable beauty and power, God known in the thunderstorm on Mount Sinai, God who warns Aaron not to come into the holy of holies improperly dressed lest he die.”

God’s first words from the sanctuary are instructions about sacrifice

“Speak to the people of Israel”
– the most frequent opening line used in Leviticus when God speaks
• less frequent, “Speak to Aaron and his sons” or “to the priests”
– but the whole book was primarily for the priests
• it was their job to perform the rituals
◦ needed to know how it was done
◦ what to do with the various parts and the blood
• it was also their job to inform, instruct, and guide the people
◦ the priests were Israel’s worship leaders

An important qualification regarding Israel’s priests
– you know there were twelve tribes of Israel
• each of them were named for their ancestors
◦ twelve brothers, the sons of Jacob
• one of the tribes was named for Levi (Gen. 29:31-35)
– a prophet could be called from any tribe
• the kings of Judah belonged to tribe of Judah
• all of Israel’s priest had to belong to the tribe of Levi
◦ that poses a problem that Book of Hebrews will solve

The first seven chapters describe Israel’s ritual sacrifices

Mary Douglas, “. . . the first chapters of Leviticus are largely about how to make a sacrifice, how to select the right animal victim, how to cut it, what to do with the blood, how to lay out the sections on the altar.”
– whenever I read these chapters,
• it feels like I’m in a slaughter house or a butcher shop
• I think it is difficult for us to connect with this gruesome practice
◦ even though sacrifice was a common practice in every culture,
◦ it is far from where we live today
– it’s important for us to remind ourselves that back then,
• people didn’t run to grocery store for ground beef neatly wrapped
◦ they owned the animals that were sacrificed
• the life of each bull or sheep was valuable to them
◦ economically, but also as a sacred, because a living thing

A variety of sacrifices are described here

At the end of chapter 7, there’s a summary of previous chapters
– we find the different purposes that sacrifice could serve
This is the law of the burnt offering, of the grain offering, of the sin offering, of the guilt offering, of the ordination offering, and of the peace offering, which the LORD commanded Moses on Mount Sinai, on the day that he commanded the people of Israel to bring their offerings to the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai (Lev. 7:37-38)
– Everette Fox asks whether the purpose of Israel’s sacrifice was:
◦ a gift of value – meant to win God’s favor
◦ communion – a shared meal (forming a relational bond)
◦ or atonement – cover sin and remove guilt
Everett Fox, “Actually, at various times one can find all of them—the texts present a variety of motives and occasions for sacrifice in biblical Israel, from thanksgiving to purification and reparation. But in generally one may say of Israelite sacrifice, as one may say of much of the ritual in Leviticus, that it is designed primarily to maintain or repair the relationship between God and Israel. . . . sacrifice was a crucial element in keeping the covenant, and hence God’s beneficent presence among the Iraelites, intact.”

The sacrifice we read about in the first chapter is a Burnt Offering
– this was the basic offering that “functions essentially to bring human beings to the attention of God and to win his acceptance.” (E. Fox)
• the unique feature of Burnt Offering,
◦ everything was placed on the altar – all of it was burned
◦ “turned into smoke”
• it is described three times in this chapter
◦ first, when the offering was a bull
◦ second, when it was a goat or sheep
◦ third, when it was turtle doves or pigeons
– all the sacrifices that follow are variations of this one
• in distinguishing them, what matters is not what they share in common, but how they differ
• what parts are eaten and by whom, what is burned, and what is added

– chapter 2,the Grain Offering
– chapter 3, the Peace Offering–or “Fellowship offering,”
• the sacrificial meal was shared with God, the priest, and the person or persons who brought the offering
– chapter 4, the Sin Offering – its purpose was to cancel sin
– chapter 5-6:7, the Guilt Offering
• examples of types of sin that required this offering are given
– chapter 6 the Ordination Offering
• for the priests, before they could begin their service
– ch. 7, how priests were to handle what was placed on the altar
• before and after
• the “wave” offering is also mentioned here
◦ the priest or worshiper would raise the sacrifice up toward heaven before placing it on the altar

There are several things we need to understand:
– first, this sacrificial system of worship worked
• it was effective in what God mean for it to do
◦ atone means “cover”
◦ as if God were saying, “You’re alright now; I’ve got you covered”
• through sacrifice, their sin was atoned and they were forgiven
And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven (Le. 4:2)
– second, the goal of worship is to find acceptance–for the offering and the worshiper
• from the very first instance of worship in scripture: Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:1-7)
• and throughout the Scriptures
present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Ro. 12:1)
– third, to keep their covenant relationship with God solid
• and to repair it after a rupture
• they would work out their relationship with God at the altar

Conclusion: Sometimes it’s hard for me to comprehend or realize this truth,

But God travels with us, on our spiritual journey through life
– he is always here with us
Living with him nearby creates special conditions
– and we do not always live up to our part
Ruptures occur in our relationship with God
– but he has made provision to repair those ruptures
Perhaps we can find in Israel’s sacrifice
– the appropriate response in times of worship
• Confession
• Prayers for personal needs
• Prayers for others
• Thanksgiving
• Praise
• and times of intimate expressions of love

God’s door is always open,
because through Jesus Christ he gives us
an infinite supply of mercy and grace

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