Day 50 (Feb. 19): Priests start work, Aaron’s sons sin, priestly conduct explained, ceremonially clean and unclean animals

Woohoo!  Day 50, can you believe it? We are nearly 1/14th through the Bible and have learned so much.  To me, it really is going fast.  I just can’t believe that there are so many more stories to go and more lessons … and understandings to learn!

Leviticus 9-11

Questions & Observations

Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily reading.  Read on, some answers may surprise you.  Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us.  Let us know if you have any comments to add.

Q. (Leviticus 9:23, 24): Looks like the sacrifices offer another benefit: God coming down to show His glory and power.  The fire of God would also be like a victory appearance for the Israelites: seeing that God is powerful, listening, watching … in control.  The words “gratification” and “reassurance” also come to mind.  Did I read this correctly?

A. Yes, that’s the idea.  God is reminding the people of His power, and it won’t be the last time He uses fire to consume an offering.

Q. (10:1-3): I guess this is a way of saying “pay attention.”  We have to give God the benefit of the doubt that they were not taking God seriously and didn’t just make an honest mistake?  I noticed Aaron was silent.  This must have been very hard for him!  Just a comment in 10:6, I can’t imagine being told not to mourn the death of two children!

A. As far as I can tell, it goes a bit further than “pay attention”: Aaron’s sons were careless with the incense of God, and were struck dead for their carelessness.  It is an important thought for us to remember as well: though we are in good relationship with God through the work of Christ, we should be very careful about trivializing the things of God.

Q. (10:19): So Aaron’s apology to Moses served as repentance, which spared the lives of Aaron’s remaining two sons and possibly Aaron himself?

A. I don’t think Aaron is apologizing for his actions: he says specifically in this verse that he is mourning his son’s deaths by fasting, which is why he didn’t eat the meat.  He is explaining to Moses why he did not fulfill his duties, especially since Moses is right: they cannot leave the Tabernacle until their work is done.  I think God was clear on Aaron’s reasons, which is why it appears that Aaron wasn’t in danger, but this verse is about explaining Aaron’s actions to Moses and the audience.

Q. (11:1-44): Can you tell us why all of these rules about what they can and can’t eat?  Why are split hooves and chewing the cud important?  God says many of these animals that he says are ceremonially unclean are detestable, but he created them.  Can you explain that?

A. There is not a lot of rhyme or reason to the list.  There are some people who think that some animals were on the “unclean” list for health reasons (cows, which are permitted, are generally cleaner animals than pigs, for example) but this is difficult to substantiate or find any consistent logic in.  Basically, what we should take away from the list is that this particular list should be seen as separating the people from all of the other nations around them, which very likely didn’t have any dietary restrictions or perhaps had different ones.  The guidelines allowed the people to be set apart for the work of God, so don’t get to worried about the particular habits — chewing the cud — or animal types — birds — that were permissible to eat.

Q. Can you tell us something about why the Jewish community still follows these laws?  And Christians don’t because we are under a new law.  But, like other things in the OT, many laws are covered by the New Covenant and thus are still practiced.  So, would God be more pleased with us if we would follow these consumption laws or do we just trust God that Jesus sacrifice made these “ceremonially clean” laws null and void?

A. As we’ve discussed, the line between the Old (Jewish) and New (Christian) Covenants is one of legalism (old) verses freedom (new).  Under the New Covenant, we are not required to keep the Law for the purposes of salvation.  The Old covenant is the epitome of legalism: Jews must rely on their own actions — and the actions of the priests — in order to assure their good standing with God (though Judaism has its faith elements as well).  But with Christianity, we have moved beyond the old system into the new, which says that we are free to keep the rules of the OT where they benefit us, but we do not HAVE to.  Since we are not under that system, no amount of keeping the kosher laws or other restrictions makes us “better” or “loved more” in God’s sight: we are loved outside of our actions, and saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) alone.  So if we as a community see value in keeping some of the rules — say the 10 Commandments— we can follow them, but we are not obligated to.

One of the things Jesus talked about in His earthly ministry is that to sum up the Law, you should love God, and love your neighbor (Luke 10:26-28).  So that should be the lens with which we approach the Law as Christians: does following a command to not eat pork adversely affect my walk with God?  (And for some people, the answer is probably “yes”)  If so, then I should not do it.  If not, then it is probably okay, but we should still seek the Spirit’s guidance in “gray areas”.  How about loving neighbor?  Does committing adultery destroy not just my marriage, but likely other families as well?  If the answer is yes, then again, I should not do it, out of love for my neighbor, not to mention my spouse.  While we know that certain things are clearly off limits — murder, lying, etc. — the new way does have the drawback of giving us a lot more “gray” than black and white, so to speak.  So in the New Covenant, we have the freedom to do as we please, with the understanding that we must be discerning — which frankly can be harder than simply having rules — in what actions we take and how they will be seen by others (see 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 for Paul’s discussion of Christian freedom and discerning choices).

(From Leigh An: Wanting a little more background to this last passage that Rob mentioned, I read all of 1 Corinthians 10 and enjoyed the whole message.  I can’t wait for the NT!)

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