Day 53 (Feb. 22): The blood is the life necessary for purification, sexual conduct rules, decrees for treatment of others, and more of God’s decrees

Welcome to BibleBum where we are reading the New Living Translation Bible in a year, chronologically.  At the end of each day’s reading, 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.

Leviticus 17-19

Questions & Observations

O. (Leviticus 17:10-14): Rob addressed the forbidden blood issue in the first answer to Day 49 (Feb. 18).  Check it out.  Like God said, you must sacrifice in His presence.  If not, the blood (the life) was taken out of His vicinity and the attempted atonement for a sin would not be accepted.  As Leviticus says, “I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you.”

Q. (18:1-30): These laws obviously keep the peace and sanity.  Many are accepted today as taboo and thus no need to bring them up.  However, homosexuality is on the rise.  Does the NT back up the OT on this issue or is homosexuality OK under the new covenant?

A. The laws are set up to create a (fairly) clear ethic of sexual relationships: only between men and women who were married to each other.  Then you add a few other perimeters: not having sex with close relatives was a clear way to respect families and to protect women in particular, since they could be more easily taken advantage of in this system – we will see more rules like these.

The question of homosexuality is a thorny one, and one that I fear is badly overemphasized in the church today.  It does not come up very much — around 10 times in the entire Bible — but where it does, the NT and the Old are clear that it is a sinful action (Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9).  Please note what it does not say: that being attracted to people of the same sex is forbidden, but only acting on that attraction.

There are some (generally among the more liberal Protestant denominations) that consider homosexuality to be acceptable under the new covenant, specifically because Jesus does not speak against it in His earthly ministry.  I don’t agree with the way they tend to reach this position (basically using Jesus as an argument from silence, and then minimizing other verses in both the OT and NT in order to “say” that the Bible doesn’t forbid homosexuality – this is the important part — as it is practiced today.  So there’s a few different positions out there that various groups consider to be the “right” one.

As a more conservative Bible scholar, I don’t like the way the above conclusion about the acceptability of homosexuality is reached, but it is important to understand that this is a real issue that many people struggle with, even many who do not desire to.  We must be sure that we maintain an ethic of loving the sinner, even as we rightly set the Biblical standard for sexuality.  As I said, homosexuality gets a lot of press, but there are much more pressing issues related to marriage and sex that are much more rarely challenged.  The Biblical prohibition of divorce — except in cases of abandonment or infidelity — is clearly not spoken of enough, especially in a culture where there is divorce on demand.  And in the bigger picture on sexuality, the Bible prohibits ANY sexual conduct outside of a man and woman who are married!  And we have many more heterosexual couples that are wrapped up on sexual sin than we ever will gay couples.  To me that says we too often as churches lack the willpower to proclaim this clear truth.  We certainly do not proclaim this standard in our churches very well either.  So while the perception of homosexuality being on the rise gets a lot of the press, there is a total sexual ethic that the Bible paints in this passage and other places that is too often truncated or ignored completely.

Q. (19:1-4): What should I glean from the repetition of “I am the Lord your God.”

A. The reminder that these are God’s standards for the Israelite conduct, not human ones.

O. (19:9-10): I love this small passage.  It shows so much compassion!

Q. (19:17): I don’t understand what is meant by “confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.”

A. This verse appears to be warning against holding a grudge, and carrying around malicious thoughts about a brother or sister in the community.  If a person has sinned against you, this verse teaches us, you become guilty as well if you hate them for it — i.e. you share in the sin.  This verse should be clearly read with the intent that is culminating in the next verse: don’t seek revenge, but love your neighbor as yourself — something Jesus repeats as one of the greatest commandments.  Love for neighbor covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

Q. (19:19): Several of these are violated today. I saw a zorse (half zebra, half horse), there are mules, of course. (Nice poetry, eh?)  Many clothes are made with different kinds of material or thread.  Would you say these are OK under the NT?

A. I think we are ok here.

Q. All of these decrees seem so random, jumping from one subject to another.  I just wonder that if they had a different flow in the language they were written.

A. That might help some, but I think this is very likely an edited volume, where various parts of the Law were brought together into one volume, and so from the outside it might appear to be done in a hodgepodge manner.  There is a lot of scholarly debate about the role of editing in the Old and New Testaments, but I have no problem with the idea that various sections of manuscript were brought together, since it would appear that this was generally done with great reverence and care.

Day 51 (Feb. 20): Purifying after childbirth, skin disease decrees, suspicious spots (mildew, leprosy, etc.)

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Leviticus 12

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 12:1-8): Lots of questions here.  What does it mean to be unclean?  Why are women unclean after childbirth, something that I would think be a blessing!  Maybe it has something to do with the blood, as we discussed before?  Why the difference in wait time between having a boy and having a girl before a mother can be ceremonially clean?

A. Remember that the sacrifice system only allowed for two options: you were either ceremonially clean or unclean.  If you were unclean, you could not fully participate in the religious life of the community — you couldn’t enter the courtyard of the Tabernacle, for example — and you would have been forced to live outside the safety of the community, as this text alludes to.  It was a powerful incentive for families to maintain clean dwellings and bodies.

While the kosher section is a bit tougher to pin down the “reason” for some animals and not others, the reasoning here is pretty simple: this is basically a system of public health.  Blood, mold, open wounds, and other such things could spread disease, which could spread disease among the whole camp (keep in mind that there is no basic sanitation at this point).  So for the childbirth, it is indeed the bleeding, not the birth itself, that caused the uncleanliness.  The menstrual blood from either monthly cycles or the after effects of giving birth was a great hazard for disease.  The reason for a shorter “quarantine” for baby boys than girls has been lost to history.

(From Leigh An: I found some interesting answers to the last sentence at http://www.stilltruth.com/blog/tcblack/leviticus-125-why-are-girls-different-boys.  They sound logical, but I don’t know what Rob would say to them.)

Q. (13:1-46): Rob, can you tell us the significance here?  In the NT, Jesus heals so many people.  Here, anyone with an affliction, must be examined to see if they are pass all of these tests to see if they are worthy of what?  What does it mean to be ceremonially unclean?  They can’t worship God?  In 12:44, those with serious skin diseases must live outside camp and holler “unclean, unclean” to passers-by.  Where is God’s love here?  Or, am I likely missing a big point?

A. I confess that this passage is difficult to understand, but we have to understand that it is God setting these rules, and we can trust that He had good reason to do so.  This is a legal system God is building here: it will have its imperfections — when in comes to individuals verses the group safety — and things that look unfair to us from a distance.   While there was a process involved, it is important, I think, to note that there were very few conditions — save leprosy — that would have made people PERMANENTLY separated from the tribe.  Most people with skin disorders or similar problems (we will see more of this coming, so hang in there!) would get over them eventually, and could regain full status in the tribe.

The big idea here is that since the presence of God is set in the camp, the camp itself must be a place of ceremonial cleanliness: this is ultimately why all of the restrictions, rules, and procedures that sound harsh and ridiculous to us were put into place.  The presence of God will not stand the presence of things that are unclean (including people) in the midst of Himself, which is central to our understanding of how God relates to sin (which of course makes us ritually unclean).  One other note: many of these rules will be shifted a bit when the camp moves into the Promised Land and the Temple specifically, so there is something to monitor.

Perhaps something else to think about is that by the power of God through Jesus Christ, no one ever has to be unclean again — that certainly puts a different spin on His healing of lepers, doesn’t it?

(From Leigh An: I would think that the sanitation aspect would have something to do with this also as Rob said in the previous answer.  Another thought:  This must be the source for the saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”  Funny that I have had a strong Spring Cleaning bug lately.  All our stuff takes up so much time.  But, I know I will feel better when it is cleaned, organized and hopefully a lot of gone!

Q. That brings me to another question.  Only the priests and Levites were allowed inside the Tabernacle, right?  Where were the Israelites — non-priests and non-Levites — supposed to worship?

A. The Tabernacle was not a place of worship for the general population, and it wasn’t really a place of worship for the Levites either: it was the meeting place with God where the Law was upheld and sin atoned for.  As to where the people did worship, I honestly don’t have a good answer to that.  It does not appear that there were other locations for worship, so my assumption would be that the people would worship near the Tabernacle — which was at the center of camp remember — but I see no reason that the people could not worship from their own tent homes.

Q. (13:47): My footnotes say that “mildew” actually means “leprosy.”  Why would the NLT version change it to mildew?

A. OK, this is a tricky answer.  So let’s try to thread the needle.  Basically, the Hebrew word used in these passages, sara’at, is a word with a much broader definition than either mildew or leprosy alone.  The word refers to various skin diseases of which leprosy is only one (we actually run into this same problem in the Greek of the NT), but the word ALSO is used to refer to spots on clothing, what we would call mildew or fungal growth. The mold/mildew/fungal growth that takes place in a house — think of dirty bath tub mildew/mold — or other dwelling, which comes up in our next section.  So basically, I disagree with the footnotes assessment that the word used “means” leprosy.  It is actually a broad word with many different definitions, some of which we probably do not even know, and the NLT translators — it’s the same with NIV — have done their best to use the context clues to give our “best guess” as to what the rules have in mind in each instance.

O. (14:14): The blood on the right ear lobe, the right thumb and the right big toe is explained in Day 41 (Feb. 10) questions.  You can find it by clicking on the index tab.

Q. (14:1-7): Why the two birds, cedar stick, scarlet yarn and hyssop branch?  Why was one bird released?

A. Certain rituals — including the Day of Atonement from chapter 16 — involved two animals: one was killed, symbolizing the penalty for the sin, and one was released, symbolizing the removal of the sin/purification of the person or people in question.  All three of the other items were used in cleansing and washing rituals, so that the entire procedure involved both sacrifice and cleansing elements.

Q. (Leviticus 14:1-32): In this law, why would someone with a cured skin disease have to make a sin sacrifice?

A. There is probably a mentality that those who have caught a skin disease were being punished for their sin (Job anyone?), and therefore they needed to make a sacrifice for their presumed sin.  When it came to being ritually pure and getting your life back, better safe than sorry!

Q. How did the priests keep all of these rules straight?  There are so many.  Maybe, because of the culture of the times then, they were able to make more sense of all the steps to make offerings and be pure?

A. I don’t have an exact answer for you here, but I’ve read about the process of becoming a priest in Jesus’ day (NT), and these men began learning about the Law almost from birth, so that by the time a person was actually a “career” worker for God, he would have known the Law inside and out.  It was their very life!  We tend to see this as “so many commands,” how could they remember it all.  But most of us know someone who can tell you entire lines from movies, or practically entire chapters from their favorite books.  It is remarkable what the human brain can fully remember when we are driven to learn or remember something because it has such an impact on us.

Quite frankly, we don’t know nearly as much about the Bible (any part really) as the first Christians because there was LITERALLY nothing more important to them to knowing God’s word.  We choose not to spend vast amounts of time learning the scriptures, so perhaps we — and I include myself here — should be very careful about judging the memories or intent of a people who were so literally close to God.

Q. (14:21-32): This doesn’t really sound like a cheaper offering to me?

A. It’s less if you double check and do the math.

Day 42 (Feb. 11): The Golden Calf, Moses pleas for Israel, Lord’s glory shines on Moses, Covenantx2

Exodus 32-34

Questions & Observations

Q. (Exodus 32:1): The Israelites seem to be so impatient.  But, 40 days does seem like an eternity.  I guess with that many people, the unrest would spread rampantly.  But, I am surprised that Aaron caved so quickly.

A. Yea, this isn’t Aaron’s best moment.  He caves to the pressure quickly — some extra-biblical traditions say his friend was murdered or his family was held hostage, etc. — but there is no excuse for his sin.  Worse yet, he lies to Moses about it when Moses comes down: really, the calf formed itself.  Sure it did…

Q. (32:9-14): It seems like I always here that our Lord is exact, true and unwavering.  But we have seen several times where His chosen have pleaded with him to spare His people.  The conversation sounds like two old friends who confide in one another.  I always thought of God’s directions as final, “It’s my way or the highway.”  But, God makes exceptions.  Last Sunday, our minister talked about giving God some of your time — not just making a date for 15 minutes, saying “Hi, how are you?, the kids OK, and here’s my list of requests, gotta go, amen.”  He said to give him an hour, a half day, even a whole day and just walk with Him.  In these passages, Moses spend days with Him.  Our lives don’t really make room for such a long visit, but we should give him the time.  He is here to help us, counsel, listen and just talk to.  When we spend more time with something meaningless as TV than God, that has to hurt His feelings.  Rob, can you comment on God changing His mind and on how he has, to me, almost human emotions?

A. There is, as one might expect, a lot of discussion about whether God really changed His mind in the sense we are familiar with, but there are important things we can derive from this passage.  To me, God appears to test Moses as He tested Abraham, except this time, there was a whole nation in the balance.  God tells Moses, “go away so I can get angry and kill them,” but Moses is quick to speak up for his people.  They screwed up, Moses says, but its not in your character to wipe them out, you don’t really mean what you’re saying, right God?  It appears Moses was willing to be bold even to God in fighting for his people.  No wonder the writer proclaims Moses and God talked as friends!

Q. (Exodus 32:27-28): Moses just told God to spare the Israelites.  Then, he goes down from the mountain and commands the Levites to kill everyone.  They only killed 3,000.  Can you explain these two conflicting statements — the sparing and not killing everyone?

A. It appears that Moses and the Levites killed in order to re-establish order among the ranks and stop the madness.  That had to be done, or there would be no chance of making amends with God.  What God was suggesting was the wipe out the ENTIRE nation and start again with Moses.  So while Moses’ actions seems violent, it certainly was more desirable then losing the whole nation.

Q. (32:34): What is the Lord referring to when he says, “when I come to call the people to account, I will certainly hold them responsible for their sins.”

A. It appears to be directly tied to the plague that strikes the people in the next verse.

Q. (32:3): From earlier Exodus reading, it sounded like God wanted to reside among the Israelites when he was giving the particulars of the Ark and Tabernacle construction.  Now, he has changed his mind because of the Israelites actions?

A. Like the decision to destroy the nation, God will heed Moses’ pleading to not abandon His people and will travel with them.  Hang on for the end of the story: it’s really cool.

O. (33:16): LOVE THIS VERSE: Moses says, “For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

Q. (33:21-23): We have talked about this before, but can you remind us of the differences between God talking to Abraham and to Moses.  God appeared as a traveling man to Abraham, but here God says he is too glorious to be seen.

A. Moses is asking for the full deal: he wants to see the full extent of who God is.  And God tells him, you’re asking too much for any person.  God chooses to reveal himself in different ways to different people — I’m thinking of Isaiah, Joel, and Ezekiel, among others — throughout His story, so it is clear that people do, in some form, see the Lord, but they do not see the full weight of who God is.  That is the implication to me about what would be “too much” for poor Moses to handle.  Still, Moses appears to be able to handle a lot of seeing most of God truly is — as close as any person ever has according to the text.  This is a big part of the reason that he is such a revered figure in Judaism, even bigger than Abraham.

Q. (34:7): I don’t understand “I forgive iniquity, rebellion and sin.  But I don’t not excuse the guilty.”

A. Actually, I think that this is a profound statement of God’s mercy and grace (what He desired to share with Moses about His nature).  I like the way that NIV renders it: “forgiving…rebellion and sin.  Yet, He does not leave the guilty unpunished.”  I think they “yet,” rather than the “but” of NLT, makes the message more clear: God is willing to forgive our sins, but the sins themselves often come with natural punishment that God does not prevent us from suffering.  As we talked about some days ago, it is often children who suffer the worst consequences for the sins of their parents, which is what the end of the verse talks about.  So in this profound statement, God is basically saying, “you and I can be reconciled” by Me forgiving you, but you must still deal with the consequences of your actions.  To me, this points to the reality of God’s grace, but also that God does not wink at sin and say, “oh well, boys will be boys” or whatever.  God takes our sins very seriously — mostly because of their deadly effect on us — even when He grants us forgiveness.