Archive for March, 2012

Resting at the River’s Edge provides an opportunity to participate in reading through the Bible in a systematic way. Here’s more details about the plan and our schedules.

Join the conversation as we read together each month. E-mail me, leave a message on the Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog. Let’s share the treasures God drops in our spirits as we read!

Also, NEW in 2012 are our RARE bookmarks. Click on the link below to download them.

Use the tracking method that works best for you – the schedule provided in this blog, the downloadable half-page PDF or bookmark. All provide the same schedule.

Above all, enjoy God as you read! Let Him speak to you!
Sandy

Download All 2012 Bookmarks Here

Download only the March/April 2012 Bookmark Here

Download a Half-Page PDF of the April Reading Plan Here

Here’s April’s reading plan:

April 2012 Resting at the River's Edge Reading Schedule JPG

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More than a Fish Story Book CoverJust Released: More than a Fish Story, God Moving on Behalf of a City and a Man – Lessons in Obedience, Faith and Compassion from the Book of Jonah

I’m excited to announce the release of my Bible study on the book of Jonah. More than a Fish Story: God Moving on Behalf of a City and a Man, is being released as a PDF ebook and we’re making it available for free exclusively at ApprehendingGrace.com for a limited time. You can download the PDF here.

In about a month, the PDF will be offered at its regular sale price of $4.99. In today’s marketplace it would more typically sell for $8.99 or more, but I am strongly committed to offering Bible study materials at prices that are accessible to everyone.

Don’t wait for the regular price to kick in – download your copy today by clicking here, entering your email address, and then downloading the file.

Today’s additional reading in the Resting at the River’s Edge schedule is the book of Jonah. If you read it, you’ve already completed the first assignment in the book. The book provides six lessons in obedience, faith and compassion from the book of Jonah. The lessons are great for individual or group study.

Out of respect for the copyright and hard work that went into creating this Bible study, please encourage your friends who are interested in the book to come to this website to download the book for themselves. (It is a violation of the copyright to simply email your copy of the book to them.)

An email address is required to download the book, but we promise that your email address will not be sold or given to any other organization.

I am confident that you will be challenged and blessed by the Bible study and look forward to hearing your comments about it. Feel free to comment below or on my Facebook page.

Download More than a Fish Story Here

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“If you keep my laws and are careful to obey my commands…
Leviticus 26:3 (NLT)

Blessings Follow Those Who Obey God
Leviticus 26 is all about the consequences that the Israelites would experience if they kept their covenant with God. Let’s briefly look at what He promises to those who kept His laws and obeyed His commands

I will send the seasonal rains. The land will then yield its crops, and the trees will produce their fruit….
Leviticus 26:4 (NLT)

The Lord promises provision – abundant provision.

6“I will give you peace in the land, and you will be able to sleep without fear. I will remove the wild animals from your land and protect you from your enemies…
Leviticus 26:6 (NLT)

The Lord promises protection – from those who might do harm, whether man or animal.

“I will look favorably upon you and multiply your people and fulfill my covenant with you. 
Leviticus 26:9 (NLT)

The Lord promises enrichment of your family and the fulfillment of all His promises.

11I will live among you, and I will not despise you. 12I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. 
Leviticus 26:11-12 (NLT)

The Lord promises His presence living among His people. This is an awesome promise to those who keep their covenant with God. It is a promise that continues to this day. The Apostle Paul repeated this passage in 2 Corinthians. In encouraging the Corinthians to separate themselves from unrighteous people and things, he said this:

And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
2 Corinthians 6:16

God’s presence follows those who live the way He instructs them to live.

Curses Follow Those Who Turn From God’s Ways
Leviticus continues:

“However, if you do not listen to me or obey my commands, 15and if you break my covenant by rejecting my laws and treating my regulations with contempt, 16I will punish you.
Leviticus 26:14

Just as there are blessings for obedience, there are punishments for disobediences. I’m not going to spell out the punishments – you can read them for yourselves. They’re not pretty.

When faced with such clear delineation of the consequences of our actions, you would think we would never choose anything but blessing. But the Israelites did and so do we. But God loves us so much, that He gives us still another chance:

44“But despite all this, I will not utterly reject or despise them while they are in exile in the land of their enemies. I will not cancel my covenant with them by wiping them out. I, the LORD, am their God. 45I will remember my ancient covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of Egypt while all the nations watched. I, the LORD, am their God.”
Leviticus 26:44-45

God will remember His covenant and He will continue to be their God. He will continue to be our God. If you have turned your back on Him, He still waits for you to return. Waits with open arms. Waits with forgiveness. Waits to pour out the blessings of Leviticus 26:4-13.

A generation later, Joshua challenged the Israelites saying “choose today whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15) We each face that decision daily. I’m siding with Joshua who said “as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15) I’m siding with the Lord.

Is the Book of Leviticus Relevant Today?
I hope this series of blogs on the book of Leviticus has helped you to answer that question affirmatively – yes, the book of Leviticus is relevant for us today. Perhaps not in the same way that some other books are, but relevant none the less. It is a book that encourages us to be holy, as God is holy. It is a book that shows us God’s heart to bless us. It is a book that shows us how to worship in a greater way. I need those lessons.

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1The LORD said to Moses, 2“Give the Israelites instructions regarding the LORD’S appointed festivals, the days when all of you will be summoned to worship me.
Leviticus 23:1-2 (NLT)

Imagine! The Israelites worshipped God not only on Sunday, but there were festivals throughout the year – “appointed festivals” – when they set apart time to worship God. I want to live in that society! Sure, we worship God every day…but how many days a year do we set aside to focus solely on Him?

You may work for six days each week, but on the seventh day all work must come to a complete stop. It is the LORD’S Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day to assemble for worship. It must be observed wherever you live. 
Leviticus 23:3 (NLT)

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I am a big fan of practicing a Sabbath. I’m a fan…but I don’t do it as well as I’d like. Now before you voice the objection, let me clearly state that I am also not that Sabbath be Saturday, as it is in Judaism. I prefer to call it a Day of Rest (DOR at our house), and in the Christian culture that’s often Sunday. You may call it the Lord’s Day. Call it what you want, and make it whatever day you want, just do it! Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater because we’re no longer under the Law. Scripture is full of injunctions about keeping the Sabbath – and I’m convinced it’s a principle God instituted that remains in effect.

Back to Leviticus 23:3. Words that strike me in this verse…“complete rest,” “worship” and “wherever you live.”

In Exodus 34:1 God instructs the Israelites to observe the Sabbath “even during the plowing season and harvest.”

No matter where you live,

No matter how busy you are…

Complete rest.

Lord, help me. Complete rest. Once a week. Even when my schedule is over-the-top. Help me get better at it, Lord.

I do pretty well with the “worship” part. I sometimes struggle to define “rest”. The word used there generally relates to occupational work and “creation” type work. Remember, the Lord practiced a Sabbath Himself – after creating the world we live in, He rested on the seventh day.

What Counts as “Rest”?
So, what kinds of activities can I be involved in that honor God? I am firmly convinced that visiting family falls within the boundaries of activities that would honor God on the Sabbath…but do they still honor God if they leave me drained? Somehow I don’t think so. So what needs to change – my perspective (so that I’m not so drained by visiting) or my activity (not visiting family on my day of rest)? I’m working on that one. (I mean no disrespect to family with this example – I have to travel an hour or more to visit family and doing so after church just makes for a long day that often tires me out.)

Is writing a blog a violation of the Sabbath? I am both energized and drained by writing blogs – I love hearing from God, but the act of getting the thoughts on paper is hard work. If I can write the blog, can I post it? While writing a blog is often enjoyable, posting it is drudgery.

Is mowing the lawn a violation of the Sabbath? Does it matter whether or not I enjoy mowing the lawn? Is taking a walk in the woods an acceptable activity? Is exercising? Is organizing a room if it gives me a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction?

I am not becoming legalistic about this…I understand the principle of staying God-focused and providing rest. I also understand the value of the Sabbath being a full day, not just the hours we spend in church or the day and an afternoon. Whether or not we like to admit it, our bodies were created to need down town. Our brains also work better when rested – and I don’t mean when we get the sleep we need. Our brains work better when they are given a break from thinking about the issues associated with our work, regardless of what that work is. I recognize that everyone’s work is different, so defining what constitutes not working will differ from person to person.

It’s important to recognize, though, that most of us are so un-Sabbath oriented, that our tendency is to violate the concept. I try to combat that by being very conscious of what I’m doing (and not doing) on my Sabbath.

Not only are we un-Sabbath oriented, we are as a culture to me-oriented. For example, a few paragraphs ago, I asked if I could organize a room on the Sabbath “if it gives me a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.” Do you hear how me-focused that is? The Sabbath is supposed to be God-focused. It’s not about my accomplishments – actually, it’s supposed to be an anti-accomplishment day! (I’m thinking organizing the room violates the whole Sabbath principle.) God commanded the Sabbath as a blessing for us – a time toget away from our world and enter into His. What a great God He is!

Festivals! More Occasions to Worship God
In addition to the Sabbath, God identified annual festivals:

  • Passover
  • The Festival of Firstfruits
  • The Festival of Harvest
  • The Festival of Trumpets
  • The Day of Atonement
  • The Festival of Shelters (or Booths)

Each of the festivals focused on a different element of God’s goodness. Each involved worshipping God, although in different ways.

What impressed me most about the establishment of the holy days is that they developed a culture of worshipping God in special ways throughout the year. They took the people away from their daily lives to focus on the God who delivered them, who provides for them, the God who forgives them. These festivals were in addition to the practice of the weekly Sabbath.

We have lost that culture. We rush through church to be off doing our own thing. We take vacations (designed to help us “vacate”) instead of setting aside days and weeks throughout the year in which we worship God. I know few people who set aside a day or more during their vacation to celebrate, worship and honor God.

God is most honored by His people honoring Him. In America, I’m afraid we honor our time more – insisting that it be OUR time that we schedule Him into.

I don’t have answers in this blog – just questions about how we ought to live in a way that honors God. We’re not required to keep the festivals God instituted in Leviticus. But I think they reflect an approach to living that keeps God at the forefront of our life, and that requirement remains for all Christians. Lord, challenge us to return to You.

Your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts on my ramblings here. Comment below or on Facebook.

In the meantime…enjoy God!

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Set Apart for Holiness

7So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I, the LORD, am your God. 8Keep all my laws and obey them, for I am the LORD, who makes you holy….

23Do not live by the customs of the people whom I will expel before you. It is because they do these terrible things that I detest them so much. 24But I have promised that you will inherit their land, a land flowing with milk and honey. I, the LORD, am your God, who has set you apart from all other people.
Leviticus 20:7-8, 23-24 (NLT)

While these chapters may seem tedious, there are several things that I really like about them:

  • These chapters are all about God teaching the Israelites how to live a life worthy of being God’s chosen people. The repeated theme is “Be holy.” I love that God teaches us what we need to know. We aren’t expected to always know what is right and what is wrong. When we don’t know, we simply go to God who gives wisdom generously.
  • God tells the Israelites, and us by extension, to “set yourselves apart to be holy.” We are to live differently. We are to be proactive about it – we’re not to go with the flow, join the crowd or do our own thing. We’re to follow God’s approach to living. Sure, many of the verses in these chapters don’t apply to us today…but their underlying principles do. We’re to live more circumspectly, always aware that our God lives among us and He is a holy God.
  • Not only are we to set ourselves apart, God also makes it clear that He has set us apart. God is always the one who moves toward us first. He sent His Son so that we might have life…long before we were ever thinking of turning to Him. He set us apart to be His very own people…so we’re to set ourselves apart.

God is so good! He didn’t have to set us apart – He didn’t have to choose us. He doesn’t have to help me to become holy, but He does.

Loving Your Neighbor
These are the major principles of the chapters that I like, but there are also some individual verses that jump out at me. Did these verses wake you up as you read them?

“Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
Leviticus 19:18 (NLT)

A few words catch my attention…Neverbear a grudgeagainst anyone…OK, Lord. You’ll have to help me with that sometimes. I’ll agree with you, but…please help!

Notice the second half of this verse – This verse didn’t originate with Jesus in the Gospels. He is quoting this verse. You won’t find the phrase “love your neighbor” anywhere else in the Old Testament. Pretty cool, huh? That buried in the midst of all these laws in Leviticus is the law Jesus said was the second most important one (Mark 12:31).

It’s a Life-Giving Law

If you obey my laws and regulations, you will find life through them. I am the LORD.
Leviticus 18:5 (NLT)

Obeying God’s laws brings life. The stereotype, of course, is that God’s laws are restrictive and lead to a life that lacks joy. Not so. They bring life – LIFE! I’m reminded of this verse in the book of James:

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
James 1:25 (NIV)

When are we going to get it through our heads (and hearts and wills) that making God-choices leads to blessing? I want the blessing. Lord, help me to make Your choices. Today we studied the book of 1 John with a group of friends. One of the promises this book carries is that if we pray anything according to God’s will, we can have confidence that He hears us and answers the prayer. (1 John 5:14-15) Asking God to help me make His choices is undoubtedly a prayer that is within His will. Praise God! I can have confidence that He is answering that prayer!

Living a set-apart life, pursuing holiness and seeking to make God-choices – three different ways of saying the same thing, actually – requires diligence and reliance on the Holy Spirit who is alive in us. He will teach us and enable us to live such a life. I want LIFE – how about you?

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Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, is the holiest, most reverent day of the year for Jews. Leviticus 16 records God’s institution of this holy day. It is the only day of the year in which the High Priest went past the veil inside the Tabernacle (and later the temple) and entered into the Holy of Holies – the place where the presence of God dwelt. It was this veil that was torn in two from top to bottom when Jesus breathed His last breath on the cross (Luke 23:45). In the Old Testament, only the High Priest was permitted to enter the presence of God. Under the New Covenant, we are all welcomed to come boldly to God’s throne of grace. (Hebrews 4:16) Hallelujah! Only God could tear the heavy veil from top to bottom. Only God could remove the separation of His presence from His people.

On the Day of Atonement the priests wore only simple linen clothing instead of the more decorative, richly embroidered tunic and sashes and gold medallion (or plate) they typically wore. One writer interpreted this as a picture of Christ who laid aside His glory to be born as a child who would one day be crucified for our sins (Philippians 2:7).

The Day of Atonement also introduces the scape goat. Two goats are presented to the Lord. One is slaughtered as a sin offering for the people of Israel. The other is presented to the Lord alive.

20“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
Leviticus 16:20-22

The High Priest lays both hands on the goat representing that he is placing the fullness of their sins on the goat. The following passage is a prophecy about Jesus:

5    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
      he was crushed for our iniquities;
      the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
      and by his wounds we are healed.

6    We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
      each of us has turned to his own way;
      and the LORD has laid on him
      the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 55:5-6

Just as the sin of Israel was laid on the scape goat, our sin, in its totality, was laid on Jesus. He has carried our sin away from us just as the scape goat carried the sins of the Jews away from their camp.

The symbolism and imagery in the Day of Atonement ceremony clearly point to Christ. The book of Hebrews was written to Jews who knew and followed the Law. Read this passage in light of Leviticus 16 and what we’ve learned about the Day of Atonement:

19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Hebrews 9:19-28

The copies of the heavenly things are the manmade tabernacle and everything used in it. They were required to be purified with the earthly sacrifices. The heavenly things required better sacrifices – the sacrifice of Christ, who died for our sins and appears before God on our behalf. The High Priests had to offer sacrifices on the Day of Atonement every year, but Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to take away the sins once for all. Hallelujah! Do you see the cohesiveness of the whole Bible? The New Testament becomes so much richer when we understand more of its background. That background isn’t necessary for us to understand that Christ died for our sins, but it helps us understand the awesomeness of God as He unveils the mystery of His plan from beginning to end. The rituals of the Day of Atonement were repeated year after year – for over a thousand years. Then Christ came to earth and the ritual was fulfilled and a New Covenant was introduced. Again…Hallelujah!

Speaking of awesomeness – here’s a cool fact I learned. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known as the High Holy Days or Yammim Nora’im. Yammim Nora’im means “Days of Awe.” God reveals to us some of the mysteries of His presence and we are awed. Awed.

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The laws given in these chapters are quite some laws! It is probably my least favorite portion of the Bible. I typically eat breakfast while reading my Bible in the morning…except when I hit these chapters. I move to the New Testament reading, perhaps even reading a bit ahead…until I find an evening to read through this material. I appreciate that God is giving the Israelites laws for cleanliness, some I believe for healthy living and some to identify the Israelites as set apart from the nations around them.

Those who serve the God of the Israelites are to live differently – we are to live differently. Sometimes that means abstaining from certain foods or drinks, sometimes it means abstaining from certain activities. Always it means being more loving toward one another than those who don’ know our God.

I’m studying the book of 1 John with the folks at a local nursing home. This week we were in chapter 4.

“Beloved, let us love one another.” 1 John 4:7a

F.F. Bruce wrote the following about this verse in his commentary The Epistles of John:

“The love which the New Testament enjoins involves a consuming passion for the well-being of others.”

“A consuming passion for the well-being of others.”  That’s a radical way to live! It’s a biblical way to live!

As you can see, sometimes God uses Scripture to teach me, encourage me, convict me, or inspire me using the direct meaning of the text. Sometimes, as in the case of these chapters, He uses it circumspectly – to teach a tangential or underlying point – reminding me of another teaching that He wants to reinforce. All Scripture is profitable…

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In Chapters 8 through 10, we see the priests – Aaron and his sons – separated unto God. They were anointed and set apart from the people. They made sacrifices in the temple for the first time and the Glory of the Lord went out and burned the offering on the altar. What an awesome show of acceptance by God. Scripture describes the scene:

the glorious presence of the LORD appeared to the whole community. 24Fire blazed forth from the LORD’S presence and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When the people saw all this, they shouted with joy and fell face down on the ground.
Leviticus 9:23b-24

Wow! Joy and humility characterized the people’s response. How will you respond when you experience the Lord’s presence in such a manifest way? How do you respond when you experience Him? I’ve not experienced the literal fire of the Lord, but I’ve experienced times when the presence of the Lord was so strong I felt like I would literally touch Him if I reached out my hand. True awe best expresses my reaction.

Waiting
Before the Lord’s presence awed the Israelites, there was a time of anointing, preparation and sacrifice as Aaron and his sons were appointed as priests.

Remembering that we are part of the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), I found the process for ordaining Aaron and his sons into the priesthood interesting. There were two things that particularly spoke to me:

  • Their anointing accomplished two things – it made them holy and acceptable in God’s eyes, and it empowered them to bless God’s people. Any blessing God gives to us He wants us to pass on.
  • The process set them apart for God’s use – both in their eyes and in the eyes of the Israelites. This was particularly evident in the requirement for Aaron and his sons to stay at the entrance of the tabernacle for eight days. During that time, as the Israelites went about their daily life they would have seen Aaron and his sons and recognized that these men were called by God to represent them before God. Likewise, the weight of their responsibility would have settled on Aaron and his sons as they watched the people living their lives.

Eight Days…and Three Suggestions
This eight days at the entrance of the tabernacle also speaks to me of waiting upon the Lord. The tabernacle was where the presence of the Lord dwelt. Aaron and his sons waited…and waited…and waited…in the glow of the presence of the Lord. Can you imagine it? Knowing that the presence of the Lord was just feet, perhaps inches, away but not being able to enter. I can imagine that it built up a hunger for God, an expectation of experiencing His presence, and an anticipation for serving Him. I imagine it also created some frustration and thus taught patience and obedience. We also need to set ourselves apart for God’s use. Here are three ideas about how to do that:

  • Observe a Sabbath or Lord’s Day each week. You’ll find a series of three blogs I wrote about keeping the Sabbath identified here.
  • Schedule times away with God. I had a friend who worked for a large church. Everyone on staff was given four paid hours each month during which they could participate in any activity that would draw them nearer to God. What a great idea! Now you may not have anyone paying you to seek the Lord, but make time for it anyway.
  • Observe holidays as holy-days. The Old Testament is full of festivals that were observed by the Israelites. Make changes to how you anticipate and celebrate Easter and Christmas so that they truly are holy-days, reminding you and your family that you are a people set apart for God’s use.

Knowing that we have been set apart for good works, for worship and for fellowship with God can radically change our outlook and our behavior. Learn to anticipate Him by building times of being in His presence into your life.

Don’t Mourn
There’s one incident in these three chapters that has always bothered me. Two of Aaron’s sons are killed by the fire of the Lord when they offer a sacrifice inappropriately. Moses tells Aaron and his two remaining sons “not to mourn by letting your hair hang loose or by tearing your clothes…” That always seemed so callous to me and totally impractical. How could a man not mourn the death of his sons or his brothers? I never understood until this reading that Moses isn’t telling them not to mourn – not to experience the emotion of grieving. He’s telling them not to go through the actions that were normal in their culture to indicate that you were in mourning. They might not be the actions we would take today – letting our hair hang loose or tearing our clothes – but it was the normal actions in their culture. Such recognition of your grief is a way of honoring the life of the one who has died. To honor the life of one whom God has just most severely punished was inappropriate for the newly installed priests. It would have been as if they were saying that God was wrong to punish them. Aaron and his living sons would have been honoring the men (who dishonored God) above God.

Serving God is Serious Business
Aaron and his sons didn’t just walk into the temple one day and begin serving God. Similarly, we ought to prepare ourselves every day to serve God, and we would do well to take special times throughout the year to remind ourselves (and allow God to remind us) that we have been set apart to serve Him.

And the wonderful, very cool thing is that such times are so refreshing and enjoyable…even when they involve waiting. When are you going to fit your next time with God into your calendar?

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Is the Book of Leviticus Relevant Today?

After reading the excitement of the books of Genesis and Exodus, we come to a book of regulations and instructions – the change in drama is significant. Leviticus seems boring compared to the two books that precede it. It is, however, part of a natural progression of the same story.

  • In Exodus we read about how God had chosen the Israelites as His “treasured possession” and a “nation of priests” (Exodus 19:5-6). The book of Leviticus establishes regulations for the priesthood. .
  • In Exodus, the design for the tabernacle was given, it was built and the Lord’s glory filled it. In Leviticus God teaches the Israelites how to minister in the tabernacle.
  • In the final chapter of Exodus, the glory of the Lord – His very presence – filled the temple. The book of Leviticus begins with God calling out to Moses from the tabernacle. What follows are instructions to the Israelites about how to live a holy life in and with the presence of God.

Do the instructions, regulations and lessons of Leviticus have relevance for us today? Yes. As I wrote in my previous blog, even when we can’t find or see the relevance of a passage, we believe that it is profitable for study because Scripture says it is. Beyond that, however, looking at the three bulleted points above, a New Testament Scripture comes to mind:

5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… 9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:5,9 (NIV)

Believers today are a part of the “treasured possession” and “nation of priests” that God called out in Exodus. We gain a much deeper and richer understanding of that role and its responsibilities by understanding its history.

Finally, in response to the question “Is the book of Leviticus relevant for believers today?” let me say that I was surprised to learn that it is quoted at least forty times by New Testament writers! That alone makes me think there’s more to this book than I was getting as I began reading it this week. And there is! Let’s take a deep breath and dive into the first seven chapters.

Leviticus 1-7: It’s All About the Sacrifices

Chapters one through seven are all about sacrifices (but then you knew that if you’ve been following along with our Resting at the River’s Edge readings). It’s easy to get lost in the details of the five different types of offerings identified in these chapters, so we’re going to take them one at a time and look at what they teach us that is relevant to us today.

Burnt Offering: The word used to describe the burnt offering is olah. It comes from a root verb (alah) that means “to ascend.” The burnt offering ascends to God, going before the priests as a way of purifying the path so to speak.

He [the priest] is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
Leviticus 1:4 (NIV)

Laying his hand on the head of the animal to be sacrificed shows his identification with the animal. The action reminds the priest that it is for his sins that the animal is being slaughtered and the burnt offering goes before him making him acceptable in God’s sight. It also a “complete” offering – the entire offering is burned, which reminds us that we are to surrender not just a portion but all we are and have to the Lord.

Grain Offering: This offering was made of flour, oil and incense. A portion of it is burned before the Lord and the remainder given to the priests for food. The burned portion and the burnt animal offering seem to me to be a complete “plant and animal” offering – a picture that God is redeeming to Himself all that He has made. The portion of the grain offering that is given to the priests for food foreshadows the One who would become the “Bread of Life” and who would give eternal life to those who trust in Him. Interestingly, honey is forbidden to be used in the preparation of this sacrifice. No reason is given, but one writer made note that honey “does not smell very nice but frankincense [the incense that was commonly used] receives its highest degree of fragrance after it had been burned.” (http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/levitic.html)

Peace Offering: Unlike the burnt and grain offerings, everyone shares in the peace offering – the one giving the offering, the Lord and the priests and their families. It is truly an offering of reconciliation – between the one making the offering and the Lord, and all those involved.

Christ has given us – delegated to us – this ministry of reconciliation:

17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NIV)

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us” We are that peace offering. A portion is to be burned to rise to the Lord atoning for our sins and the sins of those we represent, and the rest is to be shared with others. Wow!

Sin Offering: The first three offerings were made as burnt offerings on the altar in the Tabernacle. The sin offering, on the other hand, was burnt on the bare earth outside the camp. The writer of the book of Hebrews references the sin offering and tells us that Jesus’ death outside of Jerusalem is an atonement for our sins:

11The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
Hebrews 13:11-12 (NIV)

Guilt Offering: The sin offering and guilt offering are very similar. It is also burned outside the camp. Christ’s crucifixion outside Jerusalem takes away not only our sin, but also our guilt. He sets us free, indeed! The guilt offering includes financial compensation to parties who have been wronged, introducing the principle of restitution. Christ frees us from our sin and guilt before God, but we have a responsibility to be reconciled with others and that often requires restitution.

Interestingly, this offering is the only one which is not described as a soothing aroma. Perhaps I am stretching an analogy too thin, but I can’t help but remember that guilt is never pleasing to God. He brings condemnation and desires/requires repentance. But ongoing guilt is simply a malodorous burden from the enemy.

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
Romans 8:1-3 (NIV)

We were guilty, but Christ’s offering removed that guilt from us. Hallelujah!

Final Thoughts about Offerings

The word for “offering” in Hebrew is corban. It comes from a root word meaning “to bring near.” The offerings described in Leviticus brought the Israelites nearer to the Lord and to the holiness that the Lord required. The offering itself brought them near to God – it went before them to make them acceptable to Him. The act of bringing the offering demonstrated their obedience and that obedience was a precursor to holiness. The offerings we bring today do the same – they bring us near to God and develop an obedience in us that moves us closer to the holy standard God requires. I am not, of course, saying that we become God or we earn a righteousness by our actions. We are righteous only when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice as the atonement for our sins – when we believe that He paid the price we owe and we live our life according to His plans and purposes.

Is the Book of Leviticus Relevant for Today?

You bet it is! When Jesus represented Himself to be baptized, John the Baptist proclaimed:

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 1:29b (NKJV)

John the Baptist recognized that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system – that Jesus’ death met all the requirements and did so forever. Hallelujah!

Many thanks to the following blogs for their help in writing this blog:
http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/levitic.html

http://bible.org/seriespage/learning-love-leviticus#P89_4464

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If you’re reading along with us using the Resting at the River’s Edge reading guides, you started the book of Leviticus this week. I’ll be honest with you – as I read about the various offerings this week, I was a little less than excited about what I was reading. I know there’s more to the book and I knew I was missing it. So I began to do a little research, and of course, that research becomes a blog…but not for today. As I started to write the first blog on Leviticus, I found that my “premise for writing” encompassed a full blog on its own, so I’m going to run with it. I’ll share what I’ve learned about the book of Leviticus in upcoming blogs. In the meantime…on to the premise.

I knew I was missing something as I was reading Leviticus because I start from the conviction of 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV)

I love the phrases used in this translation – “God-breathed”, “useful for…” and “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” All Scripture is all those things. How can I discount major portions of Scripture when it is all God-breathed? How can I not honor it when its purpose is to equip me – thoroughly equip me – for every good work. As I wrote in my last blog, God has ordained works for each of us. Scripture prepares us for that work. Whew! Or perhaps more appropriately – “Hallelujah!”

This year I’m reading through the Bible using the New Living Translation. While it is not as accurate as some other translations, it offers a more every-day language experience while reading. The NLT translates the passage this way:

16All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do. (NLT)

We have some of the same words, yet some words and phrases that are expressed differently. I like the phrase “make us realize what is wrong in our lives.” Yep, I need that sometimes. OK, all the time. I also like the phrase “It is God’s way of preparing us in every way.” Yes the meaning is the same (of course) as the NIV translation, but it reminds me that God is preparing me – in every way – for the work He has for me.

Dwight Moody put it this way in his book The Pleasure and Profit in Bible Study (copyright 1895 by Fleming H. Revell Co.):

“I never saw a fruit-bearing Christian who was not a student of the Bible. If a man neglects his Bible, he may pray and ask God to use him in His work; but God cannot make use of him, for there is not much for the Holy Ghost to work upon.”

It is Scripture that teaches us God’s way of thinking, God’s way of living, and God’s way of loving. Learning those things makes us usable in the Kingdom – to accomplish the purposes God has prepared for us.

Two words that these translations have in common that apply to our upcoming look into the book of Leviticus are those two words at the beginning of verse 16: “All Scripture”. It doesn’t say that some Scripture is useful, it says that all Scripture is useful. Which takes me back to reading Leviticus. It is a book of codes and regulations. Is there application for me today? According to 2 Timothy there is. Join us as we explore the book in the coming weeks.

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