Monday, February 26, 2007

The Sabbath

I was about to start blogging Leviticus 23, and I started writing about the Sabbath. And then it quickly became apparent that it was going to turn into a post on its own, so I made it into one. (Which you are reading right now.) The question I’m investigating here is: Does the Sabbath apply to the Christian? If so, is it different than how the Sabbath applied to the Old Testament Israelite?

Most, if not all, of the rules and regulations about worship of the LORD, in the Old Testament, no longer apply to the Christian. Christ’s sacrifice paid our debt once and for all, and bought our way not just into heaven, but into a relationship with God that the Old Testament Israelites probably would have been surprised at.

Many of the other laws of the Old Testament Israelite nation don’t apply either—at least, not in the same way. New Testament Christians trust in Christ’s salvation, rather than in obedience to the law. But that being said, it is still true that we should not murder, or steal, or lie, because we are trying to be like God, and God does not do these things. It’s not in His character to do these things.

But what about the Sabbath? Should the Christian still avoid work on the seventh day of the week? After all, Paul chastised the Galatians for observing “special days and months and seasons and years” in Galatians:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

….

Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

(Galatians 4:8–20)


Paul doesn’t want the Galatians to have a “false zealousness,” if I may coin that term. But Paul sees their observance of “special days and months and seasons and years” as just that—they’re being zealous, but for the wrong things. But is the Sabbath included in that?

Jesus mentions that he is the “Lord of the Sabbath” in Matthew 12:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

(Matthew 12:1–14)


The point of this portion of the Scriptures isn’t about the Sabbath, per se, so much as it’s about how the Jews in Jesus’ day defined “work.” They put healing under the “work” category, which is why they got angry with Jesus for healing the crippled man. However, Jesus is also making the point that he was the Lord of the Sabbath; that the rules about the Sabbath were changing, because of him.

But when he is talking about the “end of the age,” a few chapters later, and mentioning that Judeans will be fleeing to the mountains, he tells them to pray that this won’t happen in winter or on the Sabbath, which indicates that people would still be observing the Sabbath:

So when you see standing in the holy place “the abomination that causes desolation,” spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or, “There he is!” do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. (Matthew 24:15–25)

Also, the same “Lord of the Sabbath” incident is reported in Mark 2, with an extra sentence not in the Matthew account:

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

(Mark 2:23–28, emphasis added)


Another point to add to the confusion is that the rules concerning the Sabbath aren’t just in the book of Leviticus, or in sections of the Bible outlining rules for Old Testament priests—it’s also mentioned in the Ten Commandments.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8–11)

Many Christians, if asked what rules the Christian should follow, would probably immediately turn to the Ten Commandments—especially in this day and age, when many (if not most) Western Christians don’t spend that much time actually reading or studying their Bibles, and wouldn’t know where else to turn.

So which is it? Is a Christian to observe the Sabbath, or not? A quick Google search for “Christian Sabbath” turned up a few opinion pieces, and, although I didn’t read many, the few I dipped into all indicated that yes, Christians should be observing the Sabbath. (Rather vehemently, I might add.) Which makes me hesitant to give any opinion, however, since this is a blog, and bloggers do nothing but give opinions, I will anyway.

I don’t think the Sabbath applies to the Christian. Wait! Hear me out! Don’t just close your browser in disgust, or start firing up your email client, to send nasty missives in my direction!

Like so much of the Old Testament, our views of the Sabbath should change, with the coming of Christ. When God commanded the Sabbath in the Exodus passage above, He called it a “Sabbath to the LORD”—not just a day of rest, but a day set aside for the LORD. Why did God talk about the Creation in His commandment about the Sabbath? Because He was reminding the Israelites that He created the universe—the Sabbath was a day set aside to worship the only one worth worshipping.

But when Christ came, he took a religion that was very personal—the Israelites were to try to be like God—and made it even more so, by pointing out that it isn’t just our actions that make us sinful, it’s our thoughts and desires, too. I think the same applies to the Sabbath; it’s not just one day a week, that we are to set aside for worshipping God, but we should always be in a state of worship.

The most common verse that might occur to the Christian, when I say that, is “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God;” that’s a bit out of context, when you just take the verse by itself, however, I think the overall passage is applicable:

“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake—the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

(1 Corinthians 10:23–33)


What is Paul talking about here? He’s talking about taking the freedom we have in Christ—freedom from the rules and regulations of the Old Testament system—and using it appropriately. Sure, I’m allowed to eat any kind of meat that I want, but if by doing so I’ll cause someone else to stumble, then I should avoid it.

Does that also apply to “freedom from the Sabbath?” If I am, indeed, free from the Sabbath, how should I use that freedom?

Let me take that question in a different direction: If I’m created for the purpose of worshipping God, if I’m supposed to be in a constant state of worship, then wouldn’t I want a day to set aside for that purpose? Not just a day to go to church—although, in this day and age, that’s a big part of it—but a day set aside for Him?

Like any of the other Old Testament laws or regulations, I don’t think the Sabbath applies to the Christian. I don’t believe we’re commanded to set aside the seventh day of the week, every week, and forbidden from doing work on that day. However, what does that mean, practically, for the Christian?

Here are some thoughts:
  • It means that people who have jobs that sometimes require them to work on Sundays don’t have to worry about this, in terms of sin.
  • It means that any discussions/disagreements/arguments about what day of the week the Sabbath should fall on—Saturday, Sunday, Monday, or some other day—are irrelevant to the Christian.
  • In light of the 1 Corinthians passage above, when Paul is talking about not using our freedom to cause others to stumble, it means that we should be careful to keep that in mind in regards to the Sabbath, too. Picture the following conversation:

    Christian: Are you allowed to do that today? It’s Sunday, after all.
    serna: Sunday? Pfft! Sundays don’t matter!

    What is this person going to think, after this conversation? That the Sabbath is an Old Testament construct, and not applicable in the same way to the modern-day Christian? Or that one can take God lightly, and disregard His commands at will?
  • Since my life is to be one of worship, it means that Sunday is a unique opportunity to get together with fellow Christians, members of the Church, and worship God “corporately.” (That means a bunch of individuals coming together as a whole—one “body,” if you will.) Most commentaries on the Sabbath in this day and age will probably get around to the fact that simply going to church on Sunday morning is not what the Sabbath is all about; and yet, at the same time, it can’t be denied that going to church is probably the most important thing most Christians do on Sunday. (For most of us, it would probably be considered the best part of the day.) As much worshipping as I may do during the rest of the week, Sunday provides a unique opportunity to do it with other Christians.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Leviticus 22

Leviticus 22: More rules for priestly holiness, and sacrifices

Synopsis

The first 14 verses of this chapter concern priestly holiness. They probably should have been included with the last post, for Leviticus 21, but I didn’t think to look ahead to this chapter, to see if it belonged. Oh well.

  • The priests were to treat sacred offerings to the LORD with respect, so as not to profane His holy name.
  • If any priest came near the offerings while he was ceremonially unclean, he was to be cut off from the LORD’s presence.
I wasn’t sure if I would bother including that first “rule.” It’s more of a general thing, than a specific law. But I decided to include it anyway.

The second one is interesting, because it talks about the priest being cut off from “the LORD’s presence.” Previously, we’ve seen numerous punishments mentioned where someone was to be cut off from “his people,” and a punishment where someone was to be cut off “before the eyes of his people,” but now we have a priest being cut off from “the LORD’s presence.” I’m finding it more and more interesting that people are being punished by being “cut off” from things. So for this specific rule, to my mind, being cut off from the LORD’s presence might mean: that the person can’t serve as priest anymore; that the person is to be exiled; that the person is to be executed; something else.

  • Priests with infectious skin diseases or bodily discharges were not to eat the sacred food—the priests’ share of offerings—until they were cleansed.
  • The same rule would apply if the priest became unclean by:
    • Touching something defiled by a corpse
    • Touching something made unclean by an unclean person, who was unclean because of an emission of semen
    • Touching an unclean “crawling thing” (verse 5)
    • Being made unclean by any other unclean person, where the person’s uncleanness is spreadable.
  • Such an unclean priest would remain unclean until evening, and not be allowed to eat the sacred food until he had bathed with water. Actually, verses 6 and 7 are a little bit confusing:

    The one who touches any such thing will be unclean till evening. He must not eat any of the sacred offerings unless he has bathed himself with water. When the sun goes down, he will be clean, and after that he may eat the sacred offerings, for they are his food.

    I’m not sure if this means that the person had to bathe and wait until sundown, or if he had to either wait for sundown or bathe, before he could eat the food.
  • Priests weren’t allowed to eat anything found dead, or torn by wild animals.
I think these rules are pretty straightforward; they’re just stating that the priests were to avoid uncleanness. There is a subtle difference, though, between the rules for uncleanness for priests and for the rest of the Israelites: For the rest of the Israelites, the rules are “here are the things that can make you unclean, and how to ‘clean’ yourself.” For the priests, though, the rules are “here are the types of uncleanness you are to avoid.” The priests are held to a higher account. In fact, as verse 9 says:

The priests are to keep my requirements so that they do not become guilty and die for treating them with contempt. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.

  • Nobody outside of a priest’s family was allowed to eat the sacred food.
    • This includes guests and hired workers—they were not to eat of the food either.
    • Slaves, however, were allowed to eat of the food—whether the were bought with money or born in the priest’s household, they were allowed to eat the food.
    • If a priest’s daughter got married, she was no longer allowed to eat the food. (Of course, if she married another priest, she would be allowed to eat the food with him, as his wife.)
      • If this happened, but then the daughter’s husband died, leaving her a childless widow, she was allowed to come back to the priest as his daughter, and eat the food again.
  • If anyone who wasn’t authorized to eat the sacred food accidentally had some, he was to make restitution to the priest, and add a fifth of the value to it.
    • There is, however, a specific warning against priests tricking people into eating the food, forcing them to pay it back with an extra fifth of the amount on top.
My one question about these rules has to do with a priest’s daughter, who married, and was then widowed. It says that in this case, if she was childless, she could come back and eat her father’s portion of the sacred food; this is because there was nobody else to take care of her. (It probably doesn’t need to be said, but remember that women were more defenseless in that society than they are in 21st Century North America; if a woman was widowed, she couldn’t just go out and get a job, to support herself.) If she had children, the children could take care of her. But I’m wondering about the case where she had children, when she was widowed, but they were too young to take care of her; would an exception be made in that case, and would the family be allowed to join back with the priest?

The rest of the chapter is devoted to rules about sacrifices.

  • When anyone presented an offering to the LORD—to fulfill a vow, or as a freewill offering—the animal was to be male, and without defect.
  • Specific examples of defects are given; any animals that were blind, injured or maimed, had warts, or festering or running sores, or had injured testicles.
  • If an Israelite was offering a “freewill offering,” he could offer an ox or sheep that was stunted or deformed—he just couldn’t offer those animals for the fulfillment of vows.
These rules are just clarifying a central point: You offer to the LORD only the best. You don’t offer the LORD second best, and keep the best for yourself.

  • When a calf, lamb, or goat was born, it was always to remain with its mother for at least seven days. It wouldn’t be acceptable as an offering until the eighth day.
  • A cow or sheep was not to be offered on the same day as its own young.
These rules, to my mind, are just emphasizing to the Israelites that they’re not to be cruel—after all, the LORD isn’t cruel!

Again, this chapter ends with a summary verse:

Keep my commands and follow them. I am the LORD. Do not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the LORD, who makes you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD. (verses 31–33)

Thoughts

Regarding the last two rules given, about animals: We’ve seen this type of thing in previous chapters, but I like that God thinks not just about His people, but about His other creatures, too, when giving the rules. Don’t get me wrong, I know that animals are less important than people—some people don’t believe that, anymore—but it doesn’t mean that we can just treat animals any way we want. If we are to be like God, then we are to be loving, even to creatures that are lesser than us.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Leviticus 21

Leviticus 21: Holiness for the Priests

Synopsis

This chapter outlines some rules for the priests, that they were to follow to remain holy. As it says in verse 6:

They must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Because they present the offerings made to the LORD by fire, the food of their God, they are to be holy.

I grouped some of the rules together, instead of presenting them in the same order as in the chapter.

  • A priest was not to make himself ceremonially unclean when one of his relatives died. (That is, he was to be very careful about avoiding the body, which would make him unclean.)
  • The priest was allowed to make exceptions, however, for close relatives:
    • his mother or father
    • his son or daughter
    • his brother
    • his sister, if she was unmarried, and dependent on him
  • The priest was not allowed to make exceptions for people he was only related to by marriage. If he did, he would be “defiling” himself (verse 4).
  • The High Priest—“the one among his brothers who has had the anointing oil poured on his head and who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments” (verse 10)—was not allowed to make any exceptions, even for close relatives like his mother or father. He was not to let his hair become “unkempt” (verse 10; the footnote says that this may also mean he was not allowed to “uncover his head”), or tear his clothes.
Keep in mind that being “holy” is different from being “sinless.” Being sinless is the foundation for being holy, but, for the priests, being holy meant other rules, in addition to rules about sin. They had to be sinless, and they had to do other things, as well, to set themselves apart for God. (For more on this see the Thoughts section, below.) So I see these rules as being some of the “extra” things priests had to do, to be holy.

  • Priests were not to shave their heads or the edges of their beards, and they were not to cut their bodies.
Part of the reason for this rule, I think is simply to set the priests apart from the other Israelites; they would look different from other men. I also wonder if there are other reasons, however; I notice that it talks about cutting their bodies; People sometimes cut their bodies as part of the worship of other gods. (See, for example, 1 Kings 18:16–46.)

  • Priests were not allowed to marry women who had been prostitutes, or who had been divorced.
  • The High Priest, in addition to this, was also not allowed to marry a widow. He had to marry a virgin.
I think these rules are given because of the way that marriage—and sexual relations—tie two people together, and make them one. Since the priests were to be set apart for God, even their marriage had to be set apart; it couldn’t be considered “set apart” if the wife was still “joined together” with another man, such as the case for a divorced woman, or if she had been improperly “joined” to many other men, as would be the case with a prostitute. Again, I don’t see this rule so much about sin, as about being set apart.

  • If a priest’s daughter “defiled herself” (verse 9) by becoming a prostitute, she was to be executed by burning.
I don’t remember, from previous chapters, what the normal punishment was—if any—for prostitutes. I think that this punishment is more harsh, but am not sure.

  • No Levite who had a “defect” was allowed to offer sacrifices for the LORD. He was not to approach the curtain, or the altar.
  • The following would qualify as a defect:
    • blindness
    • lameness
    • disfigurement or deformity
    • crippled feet or hands
    • hunchbacks or dwarves
    • eye defects
    • festering or running sores
    • damaged testicles
  • Such a person was allowed to eat the food, which was allotted to the priests and their families. He just wasn’t allowed to offer the sacrifices.
This is probably the best example of rules about being “set apart,” vs. rules about being “sinless.” Someone born blind isn’t sinful; he’s just blind. This rule demonstrates that priests weren’t just to avoid sin, they were also to be different.

Thoughts

Remember that the term “holy” really means “set apart.” The rules that the priests followed, from this chapter, were to set them apart, for service to God. This is important because that’s the intent of the rules in this chapter; it’s not so much about sin, as it is about the priests being different from the rest of the Israelites, because they’re “set apart.”

For example, the rules above say that a priest was only allowed to be made ceremonially unclean for a very close relative; the High Priest wasn’t allowed to be made ceremonially unclean for anyone who died. These rules are more stringent than the rules for the rest of the Israelites, because the priests were to be different from the rest of the people. Was it sinful for an Israelite to be made ceremonially unclean, because his sister died, and he had to be near the body? No—it was a fact of life. But the priests had to be sinless and set apart for God. It’s two separate things they had to do.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bible Commentary Wiki?

Anyone who follows my main blog will know that I’m somewhat fascinated with wikis. If you’re not familiar with the term “wiki,” here’s a brief definition:

A wiki is a website that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change available content, typically without the need for registration. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for mass collaborative authoring.

That definition, appropriately enough, came from Wikipedia, which is an online, collaborative encyclopedia. Wikipedia is the most well-known example of a wiki; if you happen to know something about butterflies, and go on over to the Wikipedia entry on butterflies, you can share your knowledge with others. Or perhaps help correct or clarify a point that the article is already making.

I myself have also started a wiki, about the Ubuntu operating system, which is aimed at helping new Ubuntu users—especially users who “grew up” with Windows—get used to a new way of working. This isn’t a normal wiki, in the sense that it’s not open for public editing—I want to maintain control, at least for the present, to make sure that it’s newbie-friendly—but the downside to that is that it’s still a very bare-bones wiki, because I’m not editing it 24/7.

In brief:
  • The upside to a publicly editable wiki is that you can use collaboration to get a wealth of in-depth information available, much quicker than you could if you were to try and do it on your own. (According to the main page for Wikipedia, since the site’s launch in 2001, there have been over 1,635,000 articles on the English version; there’s no way they would have accumulated that many articles if Wikipedia was maintained by a core set of people.)
  • The downside is that you have to give up a fair amount of control over the content of the site. You have to have a certain amount of faith that the people writing these articles know what they’re talking about—and that the articles are worth having in the first place. (How many of those 1.6 million+ articles are written about some guy’s dog?)
If you didn’t click the link earlier, but are interested in the topic, see the “Wikis” post on my main blog, for a more in-depth discussion of this topic.

The reason this comes up is that I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a Bible Commentary wiki. There are a number of good Bible commentaries out there—and probably a larger number of crappy ones—but it would be nice if a definitive, online commentary could be created. As it grew, with time, it would become an invaluable resource for future Christians. (Not sure if the “Tent of Meeting” refers to the inner structure of the Tabernacle, or the whole thing? Well, head on over to the Bible Commentary wiki, and see what they say about it…)

Just as with any other wiki, there would be pluses and minuses:
  • With enough contributors, the site could potentially accumulate a lot of in-depth knowledge.
    • Similarly, if there are contentious topics, you could get all of the different viewpoints in one wiki article, rather than having to read numerous commentaries, for all of their points of view. Pastors always have a million Bible commentaries lying around in their offices; if a pastor were editing the wiki on a particular topic, he could include the wisdom from various commentaries in the wiki article.
  • On the other hand, just as with any other wiki, the more contributors there would be, the more potential for articles being written which wouldn’t be accurate. Or which would not hold to the Gospel, or which would deny the Trinity, or contain heresy, or… well, think of the million things that Christians disagree about, and you’ll get the idea. A Christian Bible wiki would be concerned with more than just “accuracy;” it would also be concerned with Truth. You think some of the topics on Wikipedia are contentious? Whoo boy, if there were a Bible Commentary wiki, every article would become contentious!
So, I’m still thinking about it, and not sure where the thinking will take me. Maybe I’ll start one, and maybe I’ll think better of it. If I do start one, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t make it a fully public wiki; maybe just have a core set of contributors, who have proven themselves to know the Scriptures, who can be trusted to give good analysis of what they’re reading.

My feeling is that if you are going to start a wiki, you shouldn’t aim for a lot of content in a short amount of time. Instead, you should concentrate on quality content, and let the site build gradually. For this particular case, if the Lord comes back tomorrow, then it doesn’t matter anyway, but if he tarries for another thousand years, then you’ve got a thousand years to write content that will help others to grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Leviticus 20

Leviticus 20: Various Punishments

Synopsis

In the last chapter, we were given a grab-bag of miscellaneous laws, but many of the laws didn’t have punishments listed. In this chapter, some of those punishments are given. The two chapters are not related to each other point-by-point—you won’t find a match for each law in the previous chapter listed as a punishment in this chapter. However, you will recognize many of these punishments as resulting from laws given in the last chapter.

For this chapter, no preamble is given. God simply starts listing out punishments. (Remember, of course, that the Bible was not written with chapters and verses. So, really, this is just a continuation on from what was written in the last “chapter.”)

The laws listed here aren’t all in order that they’re listed in the chapter.

  • Anyone—Israelite or alien—who gave (or sacrificed) their children to Molech was to be put to death, by stoning.
    • If the people turned a blind eye to the sin, God promised that He would set His face against the man and his family, and cut him and anyone who followed him off from the people.
  • If anyone turned to a medium or spiritist, God would set His face against that person.
    • An actual medium or spiritist, however, was to be put to death, by stoning.
I see God telling the Israelites that He would “set His face against them” on a regular basis in the Old Testament. Although it’s a nice, poetic turn of phrase, I don’t know what it literally means. If someone turned to a spiritist, and God set His face against that person, would the person die? Would the person simply stop being prosperous? I’m not sure what would happen.

  • If anyone cursed his father or mother, he was to be put to death.
I’m not sure if this could have been grouped with the laws above; God often includes respect for one’s parents within rules about worshipping Him.

  • For various sexual sins, when a man had sex with someone he wasn’t supposed to have sex with, both the man and the woman were to be put to death. This applied if a man slept with:
    • another man’s wife
    • his father’s wife
    • his daughter-in-law
  • Similarly, if two men had sex, they were both to be put to death
  • If a man married both a woman and her daughter, all three were to be put to death.
    • In this case, a specific type of death was prescribed: burning in a fire
  • If anyone had sex with an animal, they were to be put to death, and so was the animal
  • If a man married his sister—including a half-sister—they were to be “cut off before the eyes of their people” (verse 17).
  • If a man had sex with a woman during her period, they were to be cut off from their people. A reason is given in verse 18: “…he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it.”
  • If a man had sex with a sister—or half-sister—outside of marriage, they would still be “held responsible” (verse 19), but no specific punishment is listed.
  • If a man slept with his uncle’s wife, there is no punishment listed, but there is a consequence listed, as to what would happen to them: they would die childless.
  • Similarly, if a man married with his brother’s wife, they also would be childless.
When a man married his sister, or half-sister, they were to be “cut off before the eyes of their people.” I’m not sure if this is the same as being “cut off from their people,” as is the case when a man had sex with a woman during her period. It’s worded differently, but I’m not sure what the difference is between the two.

For the consequences where God said that people would be childless, the implication is that He would punish them, instead of having a punishment outlined in the law, for the people to carry out.

There is another summing up verse near the end of this chapter:

Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations.

You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those which I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

(verses 22–26)


And then, for some reason, there is one more punishment squeezed in at the end of the chapter. (It’s the one mentioning that mediums and spiritists were to be put to death, which I listed earlier.)

Thoughts

I didn’t mention it every time, but some of the punishments listed in this chapter have something said along the lines of “the person broke the rule, and is deserving of the punishment.” e.g.

If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head. (verse 9, emphasis added)

I wonder if God put those qualifiers in there for our benefit, lest we forget that sin deserves punishment.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Leviticus 19

Leviticus 19: Various Laws

Synopsis

This chapter is a grab-bag of laws that the Israelites were to obey. As with the previous chapter, it opens with a summary:

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’” (verses 1–2)

There doesn’t seem to be a general theme to the laws given in this chapter. It’s just a big pile of rules, many of which are repeated, from earlier chapters.

  • They were to respect their mothers and fathers.
  • They were to observe the Sabbaths.
These two commands are combined together in the same sentence: “Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths” (verse 3). I find it interesting that God combines these two rules together.

  • They were not to “turn to” nor make idols (verse 4)
  • Fellowship offerings were to be sacrificed in such a way that they would be accepted by the LORD:
    • They were to be eaten the day they were sacrificed, or the next day. Anything left over after that was to be burned up.
    • Anything eaten after that would be “impure,” and would not be accepted (verse 7). If someone ate part of the offering after the second day, that person was to be cut off from the Israelites.
I think this is simply a rehash of rules that have already been given.

  • When harvesting their crops, the Israelites were not to reap right to the very edges of the field—nor “gather the gleanings” (verse 9), although I don’t know what that means—and once they had reaped their harvest, they were not to go back over a second time, to get what they had missed. Anything left over was to be for the poor and the alien.
First off, I find it amazing that this rule was handed down. I don’t know my ancient history, but it’s possible that this was the first form of social assistance program ever created. (I always find it ironic that the political conservatives—who usually claim to be very religious—are so against any form of social assistance.) I also find it interesting that the rule specifically mentions the alien; it’s not just the poor Israelites who would benefit from this, but even passing foreigners.

  • They were not to steal
  • They were not to lie or deceive one another
  • They were not to swear falsely by God’s name.
  • They were not to defraud or rob anyone
  • They were not to hold back the wages of a hired man overnight
Most of these are probably self-explanatory. I like the level of detail, though, that the law actually specifies that a hired person’s wages were not to be held overnight; the person would probably need the money for food right away.

  • They were not to “curse the deaf” or “put a stumbling block in front of the blind” (verse 14).
I have to wonder, when I read this rule, whether God was speaking literally, or metaphorically, when He handed down these rules. (Or both.) There is definitely a concept, in the New Testament, of people who don’t know the Truth being considered metaphorically “blind,” so that may be what’s being discussed here, as well.

For example, suppose a priest tells a woman that if she sleeps with him, it will make her holy. Since the priest knows the law, and the woman doesn’t, would that be considered “putting a stumbling block in front of the blind?” Or, perhaps, these rules are just literal; if you know a blind person, don’t throw something in front of him, when he’s walking, to make him fall down! The subtext, from looking at the verse, is that you shouldn’t mistreat someone just because they’re blind—whether literally or metaphorically—because God is watching:

Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD. (verse 14)

If you “fear God,” you won’t take advantage of the deaf or blind.

  • They were not to “pervert justice” (verse 15).
    • It is explicitly mentioned that they were not to “show partiality to the poor,” nor “favouritism to the great.”
  • They were not to spread slander.
I think these laws were covered in earlier chapters. I don’t know if the word “slander” is being used in a legal sense, or if it covers normal gossip.

  • The Israelites were not to do anything that would endanger someone else’s life.
I’ve probably said similar things for other rules/commandments, but I love the simplicity of this rule. Don’t do something that would put someone else in danger.

  • The Israelites were not to keep angry feelings to themselves, and when someone needed “rebuking,” they were to do it face to face. (“Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” (verse 17))
  • The Israelites were not to seek revenge, or bear grudges.
    • This rule includes the famous phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 18), which Christians know so well from the New Testament. (In Matthew 22:34–40, Jesus quoted this as being the second most important commandment in the Old Testament. The most important was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”)
God was to be the Lord of every aspect of the Israelites’ lives—even down to how they felt about each other. See the Thoughts section, below, for additional thoughts on this.

  • The Israelites were not to mate different kinds of animals, plant different types of seed in the same field, or wear clothing woven from two different kinds of material.
I can honestly say I don’t understand this one. It obviously had a meaning—especially when you see that the verse starts out with the phrase “Keep my decrees:”

Keep my decrees.
Do not mate different kinds of animals.
Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

(verse 19)


This had some kind of meaning for the Israelites, I just don’t know what it was.

  • If a man slept with a slave girl, and that slave girl was “promised to” (verse 20) another man, but the slave girl had not yet been ransomed or given her freedom, the man who slept with her was to be punished.
    • However, because the girl was still a slave, and had not been freed, they were not to be put to death.
    • The man who slept with her was to bring a ram to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting as a guilt offering.
Any time the laws start talking about slaves, I feel that I’m not properly understanding what’s going on. If the girl in question had not been a slave, but had been “promised to” another man, this situation would have been considered adultery, both her and the man who slept with her would have been put to death. But since she was a slave, she was simply considered property.

But I think the thinking behind this law—and I fully realize that it’s always dangerous to try and put yourself in the LORD’s place, as if you know what He was thinking—might have been something like this: If the man to whom the girl was promised really loved her, he would have freed her. The fact that he didn’t means that he was still considering her to be his property, instead of giving her the full rights of a wife. (And, in this light, I’m glad that the girl wouldn’t have to be put to death for this!) In this sense, the man who slept with her wasn’t so much committing adultery with her, as he was “stealing” another man’s “property.” As much as I don’t like thinking in those terms, in society in which the Israelites lived, where slaves were a more accepted part of the culture, the laws had to take that into account. “You don’t want to give the girl who’s promised to you her freedom? Fine, then if she sleeps with someone else, it won’t be considered adultery.”

  • When the Israelites reached the land which had been promised to them, if they planted a fruit tree, they were not to eat its fruit immediately.
    • For the first three years, after the tree was planted, they were to consider its fruit “forbidden” (verse 23). The footnote indicates that the Hebrew word translated “forbidden” is actually, literally, “uncircumcised.”
    • In the fourth year, the fruit from the tree was to be considered holy—an offering of praise to the LORD.
    • Starting in the fifth year, they were allowed to eat the fruit from the tree.
Although I don’t fully understand this rule, either, there is a reason given: “In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the LORD your God.” (verse 25b)

  • They were not to eat meat with blood still in it.
  • They were not to practice “divination” or “sorcery” (verse 26b).
  • They were not to cut the hair at the sides of their head, or clip the edges of their beard.
  • They were not to cut their bodies for the dead, or put tattoo marks on themselves.
I’m assuming that the last one referred to specific practices performed by the cultures around them.

  • They were not to make their daughters into prostitutes.
A reason is given for this one, too: “…or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness” (verse 29). I don’t know if it’s significant, since all of the laws are written in a male-centric way, but notice that the onus is on the fathers not to turn their daughters into prostitutes, not on the daughters to refrain from becoming prostitutes.

  • They were to observe the LORD’s Sabbaths, and have reverence for His sanctuary.
  • They were not to turn to mediums or spiritists.
This rule about Sabbaths is a repeat even within the same chapter—it was mentioned above. I was surprised, when first reading through the Old Testament, at how often the Israelites were chastised for not obeying the Sabbaths; it seems like such a minor thing, to us, but it obviously wasn’t to God.

  • They were to rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for their elders, and revere the LORD.
I found it pleasantly surprising, the first time I read this, that respect for elders was codified right into the Israelites’ law.

  • They were not to mistreat aliens living among them; aliens were to be treated the same as a native-born Israelite.
When handing down this rule, God reminds the Israelites that they were once aliens, when they lived in Egypt. This would have been very personal to the Israelites who came out of Egypt, but I wonder if future generations started to forget this little fact?

  • They were not to use dishonest weights and measures.
It was common practice in the day and age—and perhaps still is, in some parts of the world—for people to keep two sets of weights: one set to be used when selling something, and one set to be used when buying something. For example, if you were buying a kilogram of grain, you might use a weight that weighed more than a kilogram, and end up with more grain than you’d paid for. Similarly, when selling a kilogram of grain, you might use a weight that weighed less than a kilogram, and thus give away less grain than you were being paid for.

The chapter ends with another summary:

Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD. (verse 37)

Thoughts

I often think of the New Testament “way of living” to be harder than the Old Testament way of living, in a sense, because when Jesus told people how to live, they had to not only act good, but be good. For example, in Matthew 5:27–28 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’” The Israelites already knew that they weren’t allowed to commit adultery, but Jesus pointed out to them that, even if they weren’t guilty of the act, they could still be guilty of the sin. (In fact, reading the New Testament, we realize that it’s impossible to live a life that would be pleasing to God, which is why Jesus’ sacrifice was required, on our behalf.)

But when I read rules like the ones in this chapter, where the Israelites were not to seek revenge or even bear grudges, and that they were not to hate one another, it reminds me that Jesus wasn’t changing the laws, in his sermon on the mount. He was simply reminding them what the laws had meant all along: The Israelites were to be Holy, as God is Holy. If they were able to keep that up, it would have meant that every aspect of their lives would have to be monitored, and sin erased.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Leviticus 18

Leviticus 18: Unlawful Sexual Relations

Synopsis

In this chapter numerous laws are passed down about types of sexual relations the Israelites were to avoid. The chapter starts out with an overall reason, as to why God is handing down these regulations:

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.’” (verses 1–5)

Before we even get into the rules, notice the reason that God is handing down these commandments: because He is the LORD. Three times in this passage, God says so. (See the Thoughts section, below.)

The rules given here seem to be directly aimed at men; feel free to speculate on why that might be. (I’m just kidding on that; all of the rules in the Old Testament seem to be directed at the males, I’m assuming because the men were supposed to be the heads of their households.) So, with that in mind, an Israelite was forbidden from having sex with any of the following people:

  • Any close relative
    • Again, God says why: “No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD (verse 6, emphasis added).
  • His mother
  • His father’s wife (meaning his step-mother, since his birth-mother was already forbidden above)
  • His sister, or his half sister
  • His grandchild
  • His step-sister
  • An aunt—a sister of either his father or mother
  • An uncle’s wife—she is still considered an aunt
  • His daughter-in-law
  • His brother’s wife
  • Both a woman and her daughter, or a woman and her granddaughter
    • Verse 17 says that doing so would be “wickedness.”
  • Both a woman and her sister.
    • This one is actually concerning marriage; a man was not to take his wife’s sister as a “rival wife,” and have sexual relations with her, while his wife was still living. (verse 18)
  • Any woman during her period
  • His neighbour’s wife—this means any woman married to another man, not just the woman living next door.
  • Another man (homosexual sex)
    • Verse 22 says that this would be “detestable.”
  • An animal
    • Verse 23 says that this would be a “perversion.”
And then, near the end of these rules, is one that doesn’t really seem to fit:

  • The Israelites were not to sacrifice their children (or “pass their children through the fire,” which, some commentators state, may not be talking about child sacrifice, but some type of dedication ceremony instead) to the god Molech, for this would profane God’s name
Why is there a rule concerning child sacrifice in the middle of a set of rules about sex? One thought is that the original Hebrew might be better translated “seed” than “children;” in other words, the verse might be talking about semen, rather than offspring, which would make it a sexual act. Other commentators have speculated that the rule does fit in, since the worship of other gods, in that day and age, so often involved sexual acts. (e.g. worshipping a fertility god may have required sex with a temple prostitute.)

The passage is summed up again, at the end:

Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the LORD your God.

(verses 24–30)

Thoughts

Some of the laws in this chapter may seem like common sense, while others might seem strange. It may seem very intrusive that God is handing down laws about who the Israelites were allowed to have sex with—especially to North Americans, who are used to people telling them that they can have sex with whomever they wish, whenever they wish, however they wish. But the Israelites were to follow these rules, partially to differentiate themselves from the Egyptians and Canaanites, but mostly because God commanded it, and He is the LORD. He was to be in charge of every aspect of their lives, from the “big” stuff to the “small” stuff.