Day 55 (Feb. 24): Annual festivals: Passover and Unleavened Bread, First Harvest, Harvest, Trumpets, Atonement, Shelters; light for the Lord, eye for an eye, Sabbath Year, Year of Jubilee

Need some direction in your life?  Join 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.  Read on, some answers may surprise you.  Many will explain things in the Bible you may have been confused about.  Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us.  Take the challenge.  You won’t regret it.  Let us know if you have any comments to share.

Leviticus 23-25:23

Questions & Observations

Q. (Leviticus 23:3): I have never heard of the term “holy assembly?”  Is it a church service of some sort?

A. While it is the first time that term has been used, I think, the concept is well established.  The Sabbath is a time for gathering with the community for the purpose of worshipping God.  The people would have gathered at the Tabernacle, and then later the Temple.  As the Jews became spread out among the various nations over the centuries, called the Diaspora, and it became harder to worship directly at the temple, worship sites called synagogues arose in the various cities.  These synagogues will play a major role in the NT story of Christ and the first Christians.  There are numerous references to Jesus observing Sabbath in a synagogue (Mark 3:1 among many), and Paul sought converts in the various cities that he visited on his first missionary journey in Acts (9:20).

Q. In all of these sacrifices, God is so specific.  With Abraham and Jacob, they would occasionally stop and honor God with a sacrifice, but I don’t recall that God told them what to sacrifice.  I wonder if people ever gave their best as an offering, but with no instructions from God.  Why couldn’t the people come up with their own sacrifices/offerings?

A. That’s a good question, and I guess I don’t have a great answer.  My guess would be that the Law was designed to tell the people what was expected of them, as a way to standardize the sacrifices.  The sacrifices were part of the Law that is being established here, so part of the reason we don’t see Abraham and Jacob doing things in that way is because they were not under that system.  We are basically laying the ground rules for a relationship with God that has lasted more than 3500 years.

Q. (23:21): This verse caught my eye.  God said to not do “ordinary” work on the Sabbath.  What does that mean?

A. I would take it at face value: stop the routine work that you are doing to keep these various holidays.  Even if the exact phrase hasn’t been used before, I would take the meaning to be the same.

Q. (23:27): On the Day of Atonement, the people were supposed to “deny themselves” or fast.  Growing up, I don’t remember our church talking about fasting.  Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to that part.  I know some congregations of believers will fast for a certain thing they are praying for.  Why is fasting a way of worshipping?  When I think about fasting, I think STARVING.  If I am hungry, I can’t think straight.  How can I worship and concentrate on God when I can’t concentrate?  The NT promotes fasting too, right?

A. Fasting is a method of self-denial for the purpose of growing closer to God.  We intentionally deny ourselves food in order to focus on God.  As Jesus tells us, and Satan, in Matthew 4: there is more to life than food, and sometimes it takes us giving up our nearly constant routine of eating to bring our attention to this fact.  Part of the reason it can be so hard to fast the first time is simply because our body isn’t used to it.  Fasting is a discipline, one that both Jews and Christians alike have prescribed as a way to grow closer to God for millennia.

(Quick aside: the notion of giving up something for Lent [our current Church season] has become fashionable in many churches, but on some level I feel our self-denial misses the point.  While there is value, say health-wise, in giving up chocolate or soda for a season, that is not the original intent of a Lenten fast.  The idea is that we set something we enjoy aside for a time, in order to spend the allotted time WITH GOD.  So having no Coke for 40 days may help your waistline, but unless you are spending your soda break time reading scripture or in prayer, you’re not really “filling” the time in the way that Lenten fasts were originally designed to.)

If you want an excellent guide to fasting and prayer, as well as the other classical Church disciplines, I recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  It is a modern classic (written in 1978), an incredible guide to the spiritual life of a Christian, and frankly, a book that people will likely be talking about and reading 100 years from now.

O.  (23:9-44): This is just a bulleted form of the festivals:

Firstfruits: First cuttings of harvest.

Harvest (Pentecost): Fifty days after Firstfruits, a second offering from the first of their crops.

Trumpets: A complete day of rest in the fall.

Atonement: Day of purification through fasting, nine days after the Festival of Trumpets.

Shelters: Five days after Day of Atonement to remind future generations of Israelites that God made their ancestors live in shelters when He rescued them from Egypt.

Q. (Leviticus 24:21): I guess this backs up the “Thou shalt not murder” commandment by saying, hey, if you do, you die too!

A. That would be the proper application of an eye for an eye in this case.  Sadly, some states and nations just haven’t managed to make it any further than that.

O. (25:1-7): I grew up on a Kansas farm.  I remember my father letting our land lie fallow to restore it’s nutrients.  I think it’s amazing how the Bible covers all the little things that may seem trivial, but very important to livelihood.

Q. (25:8-13): Do Jews still recognize the Year of Jubilee?

A. That’s a tricky question.  Most of the information I read indicated that most rabbis feel that the rule of Jubilee only applies within the Promised Land in a kingdom established by God.  Therefore, the answer most commonly given is that most Jews, even Torah observant Jews, do not mark Jubilee: it only applied to a particular era of their history when it was needed.

On the other hand, there is the concept of tracing the years through the ages, which you could argue is “recognition”.  I couldn’t find a definitive source about the attempts to keep track of Jubilee: some scholars have attempted to recreate a list of the years that should have been Jubilee, and also, some rabbis feel that there should have been one 50 years after the modern state of Israel was established, but most did not.  There have been various attempts by Jewish scholars to track, and therefore project, when the next Jubilee is, but this is mostly scholarly speculation that has little bearing on the life of Jews today.

O. (25:14-17): Sounds like Real Estate 101 to me, or a fair real estate transaction!

Day 54 (Feb. 23): Punishments, priests and marriage, worthy offerings

Need some direction in your life?  Join 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.  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.  Take the challenge.  You won’t regret it.  Let us know if you have any comments to share.

Leviticus 20-22

Questions & Observations

Q. (Leviticus 20:2-5): Molech was a popular idol back then?

A. Molech was the god of the Ammonites, one of Lot’s children from Genesis 19 if you recall who was also worshipped by the Canaanites in the Promised Land.  Child sacrifice was central to Molech worship (we will see one of the corrupt kings of a future era do this!), which was particularly detestable to God, who considered children to be a provision from Him, not something to be offered up as a sacrifice to the gods in order to gain power

Q. (Leviticus 20:6-21): We have heard all of these laws before, recently.  Why the repetition?  Is it for emphasis, as we have seen in other stories?  Two other questions come to mind.  In earlier stories like with Abraham and his immediate descendants, they actively sought marriage of kin.  But here, God is saying it’s bad.  Any idea why he didn’t give these decrees hundreds of years earlier?  The other question is, do we inherently know that having sexual relations with relatives is bad or is it learned?  We know it’s not proper because bad traits/genes from the same family make offspring doubly likely to carry those genes and it just makes for very weird family vibes.  But to other nations, if they were never told it wasn’t proper to marry or have sexual relations with relatives, then are they disobeying?  The way I understand the Bible thus far is that some nations did not have knowledge of the Bible.  Or, is being repulsed by having sexual relations with your kin instinctive?

A. It appears that the reason for the repetition in this case was to provide guidance to the appropriate punishments for the violations of the Law.  Please note that in many circumstances the Law is prohibiting sex, especially rape of the close relatives rather than concerns about marriage- so we need to understand that up front.  Regarding the earlier generation seeking close family to marry: oftentimes this was done rather than marrying with other tribes that God did not approve of, but I suspect part of the reason it is forbidden now is that the tribes have gotten much larger.  One other thing to note is that while they did seek close relatives to marry, none of the marriages that actually occurred in the earlier stories (to my knowledge anyway) were in the category of forbidden marriages described here.  In some cases, in fact- I’m thinking of Reuben getting in trouble for having sex with one of (his father) Jacob’s wives- we see prohibition taking place before the Law is even revealed.

Regarding whether we actively seek out relationships with close family: I think that it is our nature to covet what we see around us.  If all you ever see is (let’s say) attractive close relatives, before too long, you probably will desire one of them, and you would therefore have to decide if you wanted to act on it or not.  This is what these rules are really about: setting up a standard so that the people know which relationships are forbidden, and which are permitted.  This is one more way that the people of Israel were set apart from their neighboring tribes: by having an ethic that was designed to prevent incest.

Q. (20:26): This is the verse Rob has been talking about. “You must be holy, because I, the Lord, am holy.  I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.”  Is this the first time we have seen it?  Or did I miss it?  It explains a lot.

A. I think so.

Q. (21:7): God gives some rules to priests about marrying, but he does not say that they must NOT marry.  So why do Catholics believe that their leaders should be single?

A. Its not so much the married status as the vow of celibacy that makes that a bit complicated.  J  So if you mean why do Roman Catholic priests take the vow of celibacy, then our answer comes from 1 Corinthians 7, in which Paul talks about marriage.  The whole chapter is a good examination of the subject of marriage from the perspective of ministry, but the central point is introduced in verse 32: a man who is married cannot simply focus in on his ministry to God, but must focus a good portion of his time on his wife (rightly so, Paul says; Paul is not looking down on marriage, just stating the facts).  So Paul says that if you want to focus all your energy on the ministry of God, then you can’t get married.  You have to make that a priority in order to be a priest: that’s the way the R/C Church assures their own clergy are solely focused on God (though of course that has its downsides as well).

The other motivator for the vow is also the priest’s imitation of Jesus Himself, who, no matter what Dan Brown or silly modern “discoveries” about Jesus and his “wife” claim, was NEVER married.

Q. (21:12): Over and over again, God has told us that touching the dead makes a person, back then, ceremonially unclean.  Why?

A. While I’m sure there is a spiritual component, ultimately I think it’s a sanitation thing, related to our previously stated discussions about public health.  Keep in mind that bodies were a frequent source of disease and (of course) the horrid smell of decay.  There were no undertaking procedures to process a body and make it presentable and smell nice: they got bodies into the ground or tombs ASAP in order to try and prevent the spread of disease.

Q. (21:13): By clan, God means one of the tribes?  So, a priest may marry one that he is related to, just very distant?  How would he dishonor descendants by not marrying someone from his own clan?  Maybe his loyalty would be split?

A. Just as the Israelites were to be a people set apart, the Levites as a subset of the Israelites were called to be a tribe set apart for their special work of God.  God wanted them to remain a people set apart for His work.

Q. (21:16): Rob, here we are again.  I know you saw this question coming!  I am reading this verse and thinking that God is being unfair by not letting those with impairments may not offer food to God. (I heard an argument lately that, life isn’t fair because I’m a sinner and God still loves me.  How is that fair?  That was from my hubby.)  But, I would think God would be fair in this regard.

A. I’m not going to try and defend how unfair this appears on its face.  I’m only going to point out that under this system (which is not the system Christians are under today remember!), the priests (like the sacrifices brought to them) had to represent the best of who the Israelites were: they were to be perfect examples for the people in their leadership.

Q. (22:18): We have seen “foreigners living among you.”  The Israelites are God’s chosen, so why would he not say something about others joining them?  And, why would they want to, traveling in the desert for years on end?  Does it have anything to do with the word out about God being with him in all of his enormity

A. I think this verse has more to do with the move into the Promised Land, in which Israel is settled as the leading tribes, but others still live in the area.  Those who did not belong to the tribes had to be treated respectfully, but they still had to follow the rules if they wanted to worship the God of Israel.

Q. (22:33): The way this reads is that God is holding his rescuing the Israelites over their head, like saying “you owe me.”  But, I am learning that you have to always read through the perceived tone.  I have to read it, understand the actions, but then go further and look at everything involved in the story and there I find God’s reason.  To me, He is saying this as a reminder to obey.  God is there to protect them, so listen to Him and you’ll be OK.  Stray from Him and you will see trouble.  Yet, I know the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years on their journey to Canaan.  They continually go away from God and then return to Him when things get worse.  So, here He is saying: Listen so I don’t have to say, “I told you so.”  Also, I notice that this translation says “that I might be your God,” like saying I did this so I would be worthy of being Your God.  Like he is serving the Israelites.  Am I reading too much into this?

A. Remember that this is basically an extended version of a covenant between God and the people.  The very first thing God says in establishing the covenant with the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20 is for the people to remember what He has done (v. 1-2): they would still be slaves in Egypt if not for His intervention.  So the call to remembrance in these verses (it will come up again!) is not about God bragging or saying, “you owe me”, but rather, “this is what you agreed to.  It must be my way, or you will not survive.”  We will see Israel struggle with this way, and frequently turn away from God, so perhaps we should consider the reminder as a word of wisdom, because the people will frequently NOT remember what God has done for them.

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 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!)

Day 48 (Feb. 17): Sin offering procedures, sins that require an offering, guilt offering procedures, sins that require a guilt offering, more burnt offering instructions, more grain offering instructions, procedures for ordination offering

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 4-6

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. Do the OT priests have any duties like the duties of the priests today?  All we know that they do is prepare and offer sacrifices.

A. As you can see from the shear number of instructions, the role of priest was a full time job for Aaron’s family.  They had an incredibly important job: to keep the people in good standing with God through the use of sacrifices.

The priesthood here is focused on a very different task from “our” priesthood (the Christian office of priest/pastor), and we will see other duties mentioned: Leviticus notes that it is the priest’s responsibly to declare people unclean so that they could seek purification, and to deliver the blessing of the priest, which comes from Numbers 6.  So while Christian priests do give blessings, I think that’s pretty much the end of the similiarity.

Q. (Leviticus 4:3-12) Here it says the High Priest prepares the young bull.  We can assume he has some help from the other priests or the Levites?  He couldn’t possibly handle one bull by himself.  These preparations sound arduous

A. I think we can assume he has help, but I would take the instruction to mean that the High Priest was in charge of the effort, and could not delegate it, since it was his sin involved.

Q. It’s interesting how all of these sin sacrifices say that if you don’t know you have sinned, you are still guilty.  When whomever sins becomes aware of it, they must make an offering.  It sounds like a lot of their sinning refers to touching things that are ceremonially unclean or others mentioned in Leviticus 5:1-4, so can we can apply this rule to today?  I know there are a lot of times when I don’t realize I have sinned until I have one of those quiet moments without little noisemakers around, that I realize I have done wrong.

A. There’s a principle of our modern law that is at work here: what is in Latin called Ignorantia juris non excusat (Ignorance of the law is no excuse).

I think that this reading points to a huge flaw in the system of the Law for these people.  The “solution” of the sacrificial system is that it is very legalistic: you have to be sure you are dotting every “I” and crossing every “t”, or the system doesn’t work, and your guilt and sin can affect the entire community – we will see instances of this at work in later books such as Joshua.  As Christians, we have moved beyond the elaborate demands of the Law into a better system of being declared right with God through our faith in Christ.  So even if we are not aware of our sins, we can still be “covered.”

One of the things that the NT describes as a crucial role of the Holy Spirit is to convict the believer of sin that they may not be aware of.  This is not so that our place in heaven can be assured (we’re not under that system), but rather so that we can remove the cancer of sin from our lives.  Sin, even unintentional sin, always has consequences, so it is in our interest in our walk with God if we seek His guidance about any sin that we might be missing or conveniently ignoring!  I knew a minister in my seminary who had a daily habit of praying Psalm 139:23-24, which asks God to search our heart in order to lead us in the right path.  I would say it’s a very good habit.

Q. (5:17) I notice that God differentiates violating one of God’s commands from other sins.  Are sins all equal or are some worse than others?

A. Actually, it appears to me that all of the sins and categories described in today’s reading had one thing in common: unintentional action.  The intentional violations of God’s Law — we will see some — had the same effect on the person: they were guilty of sin whether big or small, but in terms of “worse” consequences, there were some.  Intentional offenses carried the death penalty in some cases — though we don’t have much record of this actually being carried out — so I will leave it up to you to determine if that is “worse”.  In the grand scheme of things as it relates to God, it does not matter if we sin little — like gossip or lying — or big —murder or adultery.  The only two categories in the eyes of God are sinner or non-sinner.  This doesn’t mean that bigger sins don’t have larger consequences in the current life, but we should be aware that the “little” sins we have a habit of doing can be just as deadly to our soul if we don’t have faith in Christ.