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Mar 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 1, 2020

The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD and died, and the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the hard for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.” Leviticus 16:1-3

Intro: For the last month I’ve been your tour guide through Leviticus

Today we will finish our tour with a quick trip to the end of the book
– since we’ll be moving fast, we won’t have time to spend on many details
• if this were a careful study, you would have lots of questions
◦ some of today’s most controversial issues rise from these chapters
• but we haven’t ventured into Leviticus to resolve controversies
– what we will be looking at this morning is:
• how all aspects of Israel’s life were oriented to God
◦ God’s house, God’s people, God’s priests, God’s appointments, and God’s exclusivity

These final chapters are arranged in a simple pattern:
– two – three – two – three – two
• two chapters are connected by a similar theme
• then three chapters, in which the outside two are connected by a theme, and so on

In chapters 16-17, the theme is “covering”

Mary Douglas reminds us of what we have learned to this point, “The chapters about physical impurity of humans who had to be cleansed by atonement were arranged to present the body in a series of covers, the covering of the skin, the garment covering the skin, the house covering both.”
– God’s sacred tent was also a covering
• and the place where covering was provided for his people
◦ the Hebrew root for “atonement” is cover – to remove from sight
◦ essentially, impurities that were covered no longer existed
• everything in the sacred tent had to be atoned
◦ they also had to be covered literally
◦ otherwise, they could not be transported by the Levites (Nu. 4:5-15)
– chapter 16 begins with Aaron entering the most holy place
• the lid on the ark of the covenant is referred to as the “mercy seat”
◦ but that is not at all what the Hebrew word means
◦ it has been translated more literally as the “atonement cover”
• the entire sacred tent and everything in it had to be atoned
Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. (Lev. 16:16)
He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly (Lev. 16:33)

This was done on one day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement
– it was a laborious, elaborate and detailed ritual
– there are two interesting features of the ritual:
• first, Aaron had to obscure his vision in the holiest place
And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die (Lev. 16:12-13)
• second, two goats were selected to make atonement
◦ one was killed as a sin offering
◦ the other, a “scapegoat,” was spared
And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness (Lev. 16:21-22)

Chapter 17 moves from the holiest place to the entrance of God’s tent
– every animal slaughtered for food was considered an offering to God
• it had to be brought to the entrance of the temple
◦ dedicating an animal to God was similar to giving thanks over a meal
◦ the person failed to do this was stained with “bloodguilt”
• this rule changed what they had been doing
So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore (Lev. 17:7)
– they knew life was sacred, so they made taking an animal’s life an offering (to pacify any spirits that could be lurking about)
• the Old Testament is almost blatant in its suppression of references to demons (unlike the New Testament, where exorcisms are not uncommon)
◦ God intended to fill Israel’s world with himself
◦ Israel was not to fear any other supernatural powers
• it is significant that God refers to their practice with the word whore
◦ it is not only wrong, but an act of unfaithfulness
◦ Yahweh was their only divine husband and lover

Another indication of the sacredness of life – not to eat blood
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (Lev. 17:11)
– I think this is an important verse
• it is not biology – it is something else
nephesh (soul) occurs three times: translated life, souls, and again life
◦ in the body, blood is its life (nephesh)
◦ on the altar, blood atones for the soul (nephesh)

In chapters 18-20, the theme is “un-covering”

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD (Lev. 18:1-5)

God separated Israel from what was behind them and before them
– both in geographical space and in time
• they had their own identity as God’s people
• they were not to be defined by the cultures and practices of other nations
None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD (Lev. 18:6)
– this chapter addresses sexual deviation
(chapter 20 addresses the consequences of such deviation)
• it assumes the audience is heterosexual
• therefore, the sexual acts it describes are either:
◦ for the gratification and pleasure derived from it,
◦ participation in a cult–for example, in fertility rites
◦ or with some other intent–for instance, to degrade an enemy
(the Bible does not address homosexual orientation, but sexual practices in which heterosexuals who engage in same sex acts face the same punishment as adulterers)
– an interesting facet of these prohibitions:
• we’ve already seen biblical characters engage in these acts
◦ Ham – saw the nakedness of his father (who was uncovered)
◦ Reuben – slept with his father’s concubine
◦ Judah – slept with his daughter-in-law
◦ Jacob – slept with his wife’s sister
• God warned them that human sin pollutes the environment
◦ eventually the damaged land ejects its human inhabitants (Lev. 18:24-30 & 20:22-25)

Mary Douglas traces Leviticus back to Adam and Eve
– Adam and Eve, before eating the forbidden fruit were naked and unashamed, but afterward they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Gen. 2:28 & 3:1-7)
• they tried to hide from God, but could not avoid the confrontation
• the disobedience of the man and woman resulted in curses
◦ but that is not the end of the episode
And the LORD God made for Adam and his wife garments of skins and clothed them (Gen. 3:24)
Douglas asks, “And why did the story end with God making garments of skins for them to wear?”
Her answer, “Realizing that Adam and Eve, naked outside the garden, would be vulnerable, God replaced their fig-leaf covering with more serviceable garments. . . . He clothed them to protect them from the thorns and thistles.”
– from the beginning, God had his people covered
• and it has always been for their purity and protection
• this is the message we hear in the Gospels and in Paul’s letters
◦ when faced with our imperfections,
◦ Jesus tells us, “I’ve got you covered”

Between the two chapters of un-covering, chapter 19 begins,
You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy (v. 1)
– God shares his unique nature with his people
• living in God places them in a unique category also
◦ the purity code has to do with distinct categories of things
◦ those categories were not to be confused or mixed
You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material (Lev. 19:19)
• Israel belonged to their God and to no one else
– coupled with holiness, there is also an emphasis on love in chapter 19
• kindness for the poor and sojourner
◦ v. 18, love your neighbor as yourself
◦ v. 34, love [the stranger] as yourself

In chapters 21-22, the theme is “consecration” (of the priests)
The emphasis on their holiness is more intense

In chapters 23-25, the theme is the “calendar”

Time can be structured to reinforce, renew, re-energize a relationship with God
– yesterday was that rare 29th day in February – leap year
• a small adjustment in our calendar,
◦ but necessary to make the numbers fit with the seasons
◦ it’s about keeping everything in its place
• sanctifying time (God made Sabbath holy)
– some of the feasts were solemn, others were celebrated with rejoicing

In chapters 26-27, the theme is “covenant”

“Covenant” occurs once in chapter 2 and chapter 24
– but covenant occurs six times in chapter 26
• a covenant could be like a contract or a peace treaty between nations
◦ but God’s covenant with Israel was more like a marriage
◦ it is held together by love and devotion, not law or fear
– the heart of the covenant is the relation established between God and his people
• the following formula is found throughout the Old Testament:
And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people (Lev. 16:12)
• in chapter 25:1, 26:46, and 27:34, we read:
The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai
◦ previously God spoke to him from the tent of meeting (Lev. 1:1)
◦ Mount Sinai was the altar where God and Israel made their covenant vows (Deut. 4:9-14, 22)
– appropriately, Leviticus closes with instructions regarding vows and the importance of keeping them

Conclusion: So we come to my last question regarding Leviticus

What is different if we read Leviticus as:
– a moral and ethical code?
• it is possible that it would cause us to be self-righteous
– a legal document?
• perhaps we would just do the bare minimum
• at the same time, it could cause us to become judgmental
– a clinical guide?
• what comes to mind is that it would produce a community of germaphobes
– a relational revelation?
• I think that then we would see how Jesus fulfills the law (Mt. 5:17)
• it is in the life of Jesus that we discover
God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16)

It will be the further revelations
of this marvelous person
that will to hold us spell-bound
as we make our way through the book of Hebrews
I think we will find it to affect us
much the way Darcey Steinke
describes John’s story of Jesus
in her introduction to The Gospel According to John
(published by Grove Press)

There she writes, “Mystery in John is evoked on two levels: the fact that Jesus may actually be a messenger sent by the creator and, more mundanely but no less fascinating, the mysteries intrinsic in the intricacies of Jesus’ own character. The evocation of the latter is the real strength of John. John’s voice is intimate and urgent. He tells us the story of his crazy fanatical friend, but . . . unlike any of the sacred human narratives that relay details of pain, death, and violence, John’s story claims to contain particles of divinity. That’s the message which vaults his account over all other biographies; Jesus was a fenestral opening, a direct communique’ from God. John’s narrative affects us viscerally because Jesus’ effect on him was so devastating and sublime that all these centuries later, through his unshored and hyperbolic prose, we can still get a contact high.”

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