One of the most repeated statements in the book of Leviticus is when God says this:
“I am the Lord your God.” God wants a relationship with His people. God wants His people to know and follow His rules. Saving faith involves relationships and rules for righteousness.
Love God and love others: the two greatest relationships, the two greatest rules!
In your readings this week we were in the book of Leviticus all… week… long. Rules, rules, rules, right? Does this week’s reading seem a bit dry to you? Kind of like the desert? That’s where Israel was during the time these instructions of Leviticus were given by God. God laid down the law, the rules of the relationship between Him and His people, Israel. Some of what we read seems so disconnected with our lives, it’s like listening to a very long sermon in another language you can’t understand. But here and there are a few narrative sections to break it up.
There are a few highlights in Leviticus that catch many reader’s attention with interest. There’s the end of chapter 9 with the blessings of Aaron and then Moses and Aaron together just before the fire of the Lord comes and consumes the burnt offering on the alter. Moses has received and passed on God’s instructions about offerings, priestly worship duties, etc. He has ordained Aaron and his sons, dressed them in their priestly uniforms, anointed them with holy oil and blood, and performed the first official worship service. Then at the end of chapter 9 it happens. God appears and fire comes from His presence and consumes the sacrifice, signifying His acceptance of their offering. When the people see God accepting their offerings by sending out fire from His presence upon the alter, they shout for joy and fall down in worship.
Then comes chapter 10. Immediately after this celebration of obedience to God’s rules, we see what happens when they are broken. Leviticus 10:1-3 tells us of Nadab and Abihu offering strange (or unauthorized) fire before the Lord (breaking the rules, disturbing the relationship, acting unrighteously) and fire came out again from the presence of the Lord and this time it killed these two sons of Aaron. They were executed for their presumptive sin.
That gets a lot of attention. We can see how serious this matter of relationships and rules are in scripture.
What follows is more legal instruction (more rules) in chapters 11-17. These are the various rules about midew, skin sores and sickness, which tells us that the priests wore many hats. They were building inspectors, medical advisors, as well as legal instructors, judges and spiritual leaders. In these rules God is establishing what is clean and unclean and how to treat each.
The next highlight is chapter 18 with its list of sexual sins. God created sex. He knows the rules for it and He is not shy about telling them to us. (PG13 rules). Someone has asked why this is in there, and the answer is in verse 3. It’s because this is how people actually acted in Egypt and Canaan. They made up their own rules, like we do today, and God had to instruct His people, Israel, not to act like that, because God’s standard is right and His rules are designed to make relationships work in right and righteous ways. You can’t make up your own rules and get the same results. But human pride and sinful fleshly desires make us think we can. How serious is this? It’s a matter of life and death, a matter of having a relationship with God and one another that works, or not.
Leviticus takes us there next. From here we find that the death sentence is given for many infractions of the rules, concluding in chapter 24 with an example. There was a fight involving a son whose father was Egyptian and whose mother was Israelite, this son blasphemes the name of God with a curse. He’s taken before Moses who goes before the Lord. God instructs them to stone to him to death for this sin. Wow! Death for just some bad talk? No. Death for breaking the highest relationship there is. Death for a violent heart toward God. Death for the threat of spreading a breakdown of the entire purpose of God in bringing Israel out of Egypt in the first place. If an American citizen shares top secret information about our defense system with an enemy nation who can take this information and destroy us, we call it treason and it can be punishable by death. Is that too serious? Here in Leviticus God knows what deserves death and what doesn’t. The question in this case seems to be, is an alien exempt from the third commandment. God says that there will be one law for both the alien and the Israelite. Leviticus 24:22. Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death.
We hear these laws and read about these death sentences and cringe with difficulty understanding how this can be. Some of you, I’m sure, hear God’s name used disrespectfully on a regular basis. (We are not living in a nation that respects God’s rules, and therefore do not seek a relationship with Him). Just because something is normal, does not make it less a crime. Just because things are acceptable to us do not make them acceptable to God. One thing a death sentence does is get our attention. Paul wrote in Romans 11:22 Behold the kindness and severity of the Lord… And in 2 Cor. 5:10-11 we read, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive what is due for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. Since we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.”
The truth is, God calls His people to be holy and follow higher rules than the world around us. The death sentence seems way too harsh to our sensibilities. Some say the God of the Old Testament is much too severe. How shall we understand this? Perhaps we should consider the ultimate consequences for sin. Is not condemnation to hell worse than stoning? Jesus said, “Do not fear those who can kill your body but can do nothing to your soul, rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Some say that Jesus was different, He was more loving and merciful than God in the Old Testament. What they mean is that Jesus was lenient with the rules. With Jesus, you can have the relationship and not bother so much with any rules. Is that true? Is the Christian faith a relationship with God that has no rules? What did Jesus say? Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord! Did we not prophecy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many mighty works? Then I will tell the plainly, “I never knew you, depart from me you workers of lawlessness.” Consider that last word. It means: “You rule breakers.”
I heard about a man who took about two hours and just read all the words in red in his New Testament. Just the words of Jesus. His conclusion was that Jesus spoke with power and authority and often with amazing severity. God hasn’t changed a bit. Jesus is exactly like his Father, only much more accessible to us since He took on human flesh. We should not think we and have a relationship with God without seeking to follow His rules. Won’t work, never has, never will.
God’s holiness is at the very heart of the message of Leviticus. He IS a loving God. But He is also the Ruler of the universe, how much more the planet earth, how much more one little nation of Israel, how much more each individual. God created and God sets the laws in place that govern everything. God gives life and God can take it away. As Job said upon hearing of the loss of all his wealth and even the deaths of his 10 children: “Blessed be the name of the Lord our God.”
So, what’s the take home for today’s lesson? What can we learn and use to help us in our saving mission?
I was just notified about a parenting book entitled, “Dedicated.” You can download the first two chapters free. I did and read them. They mention three ways of parenting:
Rules – Relationships = Rebellion
Relationships – Rules = Recklessness
Relationships + Rules = Righteousness
As I considered this, I thought of God and Israel as Father and children. It’s almost like God adopts Israel as He delivers the children of Israel from Egypt and takes them to Himself and in order to dwell with them in close relationship He gives them the rules, but they haven’t established a relationship with God as their God yet, so when God gives them the rules, they don’t do it, they Rebel against Him. The next generation of Israelites spend 40 years with God in the desert building a relationship with His rules and they become the faithful generation. Saddly, when they move into Canaan, a couple of generations later, they don’t have the relationship with God and they throw off the rules thus incurring God’s wrath and discipline.
Parents: we have a duty and responsibility to bring up our children to have both a relationship with God and follow His rules in their lives. This is the saving path of life. In order to do this, we must not only follow Christ ourselves, but we must share this and impress this into the hearts and lives of our kids.
George Barna’s 2003 research demonstrated that “in a typical week, fewer than 10 percent of parents who regularly attend church with their kids read the Bible together, pray together (other than at meal times), or participate in an act of service as a family unit.”
What we are doing here reading through the Bible together over and over is the very best way to carry out this saving mission in our own homes. If we do it there, we can do it with others too. Are you reading and sharing the word at home? How else will we help our children have a relationship with God? There are no better tools for this than the very book God gave us. If you are doing it, keep up the good work, there is a reward for your efforts that is out of this world. If you are not, ask yourself, “What is more important?” Ask God to give you discipline and will to do it.