Lecture 7: Law and the Sacrificial System
Course: Old Testament Theology
Lecture: Law and the Sacrificial System
We saw that the law, among other things, is based on a prior relationship. According to Exodus Chapter 20, we know that it intended to create a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. According to Exodus 19:5 and 6 and according to First Peter 2, 5, and 9, we understand that from our reading today and the book of Leviticus, if you didn’t get anything else out of our reading of Leviticus, surely we would have seen that this law is offered, revealed by a Holy God. The theme of Leviticus is Holiness, its centerpiece verse is, “Be Holy for I am Holy.” Leviticus 11:44 and elsewhere. So we have a Holy God giving law to help create a Holy people who will be a kingdom of priests for the whole earth. This law is made by the personal God, based on relationship that he has with Israel. Certainly in the time of Exodus, but going even farther back. In Exodus 20, when we come to the 10 Commandments, it’s pretty clear that God’s law, at the very outset, intends to do two very basic things. And this is certainly not new to you, you know that the 10 Commandments, the first 4 or so stress our relationship with God. And the others emphasize relationship with other people. So, the theologians and others talk a lot about God’s word being both vertical, between us and God, and horizontal, between us and other people.
So, this attitude will keep us focused in the right direction. First on God, and then on other people in the midst of considering these things for ourselves. In Exodus 20 to 24, again among other things that we can certainly discuss, the law intends to create a just and fair community. So it does deal with individuals, but it deals with individuals in a way that helps them create a Holy community. It is not a solely individualistic law, nor is it only communitarian without any regard for the individual. So that, for instance, there is such a thing as property-rights. You can certainly have your own property, but there’s also a sense across the board that your property is to be used not only for your own use and for your family’s use though it is that, but also to benefit the community. For instance, for the laws that come up particularly in the book of numbers and most are reflected- most readily reflected in the book of Ruth, if you own a field and there are the poor to be considered, you will not glean clear to the edge of your field but you will leave some for the poor to glean and to be able therefore to meet their own needs and to meet it with dignity and industry.
So, there are personal rights and family rights, but there are also the sense that these personal rights are flowing from the person to the whole. And in Exodus 20 to 24, Where as I say I’m just ki- I’m just kind of walking through section by section and making some basic points about the law. How you treat others is fleshed out, so that the Commands such as, “You shall not steal,” and, “Commit murder,” and, “Commit adultery,” and that sort of thing. It becomes spelled out through case-studies, through case-laws. What amounts to stealing, well we have case-laws. These, I don’t think, can possibly be exhaustive. I’m not sure, this is the difficulty with any law- right, with any case-law system or president-based law. It would be impossible ahead of time to write down every conceivable situation. So that if there is a seminary class with 12 students and a professor, and thus and so happens. No case-law means there must be enough basic ones for us to see and to act upon that would give principles- yield principles for further action. This becomes perhaps on the one end, the most fun part of scripture and of law, which is to try to build principles from existing statements that will service in good-stead now. But it is also one of the most maddening and easily abused.
So as the bible goes on, we’re going to find out we need revelation certainly and God provides it. We also need wisdom, God provides that too but it’s going to take both. God does not reveal to us every conceivable situation. But he reveals principles and standards and promises to give wisdom and leadership structures whereby leadership principles can be applied. But, for instance how they can be misapplied, in this section of scripture, the bible talks about servants. And often times, it’s- the text is translated, “slaves.” So of course, in many societies including the United States of America, appeals to, “Well you know, the bible says it’s alright to have slaves, we have slaves and we will stay on the scripture.” Now of course, we didn’t take the next step which is in this text, which s- basically says there is no sense in which a human being is property. And that they have to agree to the situation, and that it can only last 6 years. You see, so whether or not that’s part of the law that you want to apply or not, and also they look to the new testament and it’s very interesting you’re very – I mean, I know that Bruce Winter’s not technically on file but he comes here a lot, talks about Sanford a lot, is imminently grateful for the medical care the city provides accounting he had a heart problem and something else when he was here teaching and as some of you know. And he was very grateful he was not back home in the medical system he was used to. He said at a certain point they seem to think it’s time for you to die. Anyway --
Bruce is a friend of mine. You know, he’s done a lot of study in ancient, first century backgrounds. As he said, the slaves in the New Testament again are people who by large are indentured, who are always encouraged by the apostle Paul to seek their freedom, and not simply to remain in a situation where they don’t have to take responsibility for their own lives. Since it’s a choice, choose freedom, choose – but, you say what about all the, you know, “masters,” you know, “serve your masters,” you know, all that? Well, in a situation where you agreed to the situation, you have a responsibility to live up agree to a situation not to work hard?” Well, I’ve heard that that’s true. So on the one hand, people say, well I’ve often heard in a variety of, “Well, you think thus and so is true, but you know the bible also believes in slavery.” See any more I don’t let that one go. I say, “Well let’s have a discussion on that, what do you know about what the bible does or doesn’t do?” But simply because you find the word in English, does not mean the word there and the context there means the same thing that people most familiar with American History think it means. So, even in a situation in which someone has agreed to be someone else’s servant for a period of time, this individual has rights so that if they’re abused physically they may go free. That’s the bit about if you knock the eye out off you do – if you abuse them physically. So, the sense of the matter is that individuals are to be protected and be cared for. And if you say, “Well, ok. Why would it have that system at all?” I suppose the same reason that they would have it in society which is – there are times and circumstances in which people don’t have better options. As some of you might, might have relatives like this or whatever, when I was growing up and would talk to some of the people who went through the American Depression, I met men who said, “Yes, I was willing to work for somebody for no more than a place to sleep and meals. No payment, nothing, but I would sign up with a farmer for nothing more than a place to sleep and meals.”
Well this was not his first option, it’s not his favorite option, it was his only option, is what he was telling me. Things can be that way. Same as, you would hope that no one would be reduced to gleaning around the edge of you of your field, this would not be their first option. But since these things do occur, the society is to provide structures. Again, to- to give kindness to the poor but it’s almost always with industry and dignity. And I don’t know that the two always go together, and I’m not trying to make any big point on it I’m just saying. And there are also offerings taken up, as you read Deuteronomy particularly, there are offerings taken up for, for instance every third year, to be given to the poor, to the widow, and to the orphan. So there is that sense, and as it is setup, those who have are not to abuse those who come to them for help. Have you yet read what the interest on loans is to your brother? It’s nothing, it’s not even “0.9 financing.”
It’s like the furniture people, “Heck, we’re going to give you this stuff.” I mean, that’s the way it sounds. “No payments until you’re 95.” No interest, and clear on down to, you read about the years of Jubilee in Leviticus. What happens when a society is built on a Sabbath principle? One thing that would have to happen is, people would have rest, the land would have rest, remember that? They’re supposed to – I mean, that- that’s pretty good farming. The land lies fallow a certain amount of time. But they also note the economy has rest. Debts are cancelled every, what is it, 50? It’s like every 2 generations, every 2 and a half generations. No it’s not every 3 years, not every 4 years. There’s responsibility built into this, but that there would be a relief from debt and a starting over. And it’s interesting, those who have land are told not to fail to give a loan just because the years coming up. You say, “Well, you know, if I give this loan it’s not coming back. It’s – next year and it’s gone.” But it’s also true that those who put themselves into a situation where they ask the help of someone, they do not abuse that relationship either. And say, “Well heck, you’re poor. You can do whatever you want to.” There are those who feel like if they’re underpaid then they’re justified in stealing from the employer. You know the old joke, don’t you, about the guy who- every day he’d leave work with a wheelbarrow and a- and a tarp over it and finally when he retired his friends said, “I just want to know what you were taking out of there every day at work.” He said, “Wheelbarrows and tarps.” You know, he’s just stealing every day. I think that the law is protective of both the poor and those who have the wherewithal. They- they may be rich or not, but the wherewithal to help someone else.
So, it is – in- in Exodus 20:24, we can see the principles of protecting the individual, building the community. So we have to derive some of the principles there and work with what we have. Then in Exodus 25 to 31, you have a God who intends to be present among the people, right in the very heart of them. It’s not thrilling to me to read about the Tabernacle. Chapters 25, 27, here’s what you put into it. Chapters 35 to 40, here’s how they built it. What is the intent of the Tabernacle? It was a portable sanctuary that was to be placed at the center of their camp to represent the notion that God is at the heart of the people, he is in their midst, he is with them. He goes out with them, he camps with them. They’re not saying that God’s in that box, that’s the only place he can be, they know that he’s the creator of the heavens and the earth, but he is willing to place his presence there to dwell with them. So when you rednecks dis – after the golden calf incident in which God’s saying, “Well, you know, I’m- I’m not going to dwell in the midst of you then.” And Moses intercedes, and that sort of thing. You see, if God is not with them, they’re a hopeless people. So the Tabernacle is to represent God at the center, God at the heart of life. It’s the same principle you get in Europe in centuries gone by that you would have a Cathedral town in which the Cathedral was the most prominent building, everything being built around it. Sometimes you still see that in small towns, and even in major cities. You know, if you go to the heart of it there’s often a church. And it’s no longer the tallest building, but it is at the heart. Some college in seminary camp says, “You know [inaudible].” But you know the place of worship would be at the heart of it.
So God is present, according to this law. And in Exodus 32 to 34, God is willing to forgive even the most basic, heinous sin, and what is the most basic, heinous sin? Worshipping another God, breaking either the 1st or the 2nd Commandment or both. So that Moses being gone too long, as you know the story, they make an image and say, “That is the God who brought them out of Egypt.” They bowed down to worship, and they rise up to revel. To place, to party. Through the intersession of Moses, and through the grace of God, he forgives them even this. And they have to redo the covenant though, don’t they? This covenant has been sealed by Moses having covenant tablets with the basic commands on it. This is the way they made covenants in the ancient world. So that whether it’s between nations or particularly between nations, they would put the basics of the covenant either on a scroll, on a roll, or on tablets and place them in the sanctuary of the relevant nations. Here comes Moses with the agreement, and I used to think he just tossed those tablets down because he was really angry, and while that may have a part of it, what he has done is to symbolize what is true. There is no covenant if this is what they’re going to do, and so he breaks them. He doesn’t lay them aside and see what happens, there is no covenant. And so when God and Israel renew their Covenant with Moses the mediator, there are new covenant stones written but God is willing to forgive. Now this starts- this willingness to forgive st- started even earlier than in Exodus. Murmurings, complaints, grumblings, and God was willing to forgive. And this starts a centuries-long pattern, doesn’t it?
So that we start hearing, depending on which date you take for the Exodus, whether it’s, you know, the late 15 century B.C. or the early- early 30th century B.C., pick either one of those, and realize that God’s patience is such that Israel is not truly judged in exile until 722 B.C. for the north and 587 B.C. for the south. So every now and then we think, “Boy, God is- he kind of lacks patience in the old testaments. He’s got a short fuse, you know he- he gets ticked off.” Centuries and even, there are a lot of us who have a short memory for this or that or the other. And one of the saddest things that can happen to a human being is to lose their short term memory. Had an aunt like that, she could not remember that you had been there. She could live in the present, and she could live in a good bit of the past, but she had no idea what happened 5 minutes ago. That’s a problem if you put something on the stove and you forget that you’re supposed to turn if off if it boils over. There’s certain things that we need to know short-term. So loss of short-term memory is pretty bad, well how bad was their short term memory? Miracle after miracle, deliverance and yet, they could forget. As can we, but God was willing to forgive. In Exodus 32 to 34, and when you come to the end of Exodus, it’s a pretty glorious moment because in the – they’re worshipping the Tabernacle right? And the glory of God has come, God is dwelling right there with them. You have an obedient people, you have a priesthood selected, you have a Tabernacle made by people filled with the spirit of God to have the wisdom to make it. Remember Bezalel and Oholiab, God dwells with them. He’s creating this community, he’s creating a kingdom of priests, a Holy nation. Looks pretty good so far.
Leviticus God is the law and God is Holy. Leviticus is a misunderstood book for a lot of reasons, but again basically I- sometimes I think things are simpler than we often- than they often first appear to me. First barrier and Leviticus, as we read the sacrificial regulations in the first 7 chapters or so. And it seems really complicated to us, but it’s actually one of the simplest systems in the ancient near east. You have 5 or 6 basic sacrifices, for the 5 or 6 basic types of sin. General sin, sin that incurs guilt, sin that incurs guilt and requires restitution, and by incurs guilt I mean deserves punish—some sort of legislation against what you might do. And then all-encompassing sin. Community sin, so for the bird offering it’s kind of general sin. Like we pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. That’s not very specific about what we’ve done. A sin offering is that which is a deliberate sin that either incurs guilt, in other words we would need to make restitution to somebody or we would need to have some sort of punishment laid upon us. And as you noted, corporal punishment is an acceptable form of punishment, not only in several countries of the world today but in this text. So, at that point, the Day of Atonement sacrifice indicates that the whole community – that sin is so evasive that even under the best of conditions, sin is so evasive that it has to be atoned for once for all once a year. So, we have this system, and what do the sacrifices tell us? It tells us that the law understands that sin will occur. That sinless perfection is not required to be a covenant keeper. That Leviticus is part of the covenant, but to be a covenant keeper you must seek forgiveness in God’s way. You must seek forgiveness in the way that God chooses. And so, again the individuals kept in mind, if you cannot afford a certain type of sacrifice, there is a replacement that means the same thing that is less expensive. Grain can be offered, a bird could be offered as opposed to these- the more expensive sacrifices of animals.
I believe these sacrifices were seasonal, not necessarily daily for individuals. I think sometimes we get in our mind a line, we got a terrible backup at the altar, we’ve got people lined up clear to [inaudible] with cattle fainting in the heat. I believe it’s seasonal, probably the times of the festivals that are set forth. Maybe more often as an individual’s conscience dictated. But never forget, particularly the psalms indicate to us they could always pray to God. One of the mistake and notions that people have is that people could not approach God except through a priest. They had to offer a sacrifice to the priest, more on that in a moment, but they could always talk to God. Bible’s filled with prayers. Now, they’re just a few basics, they’re to be offered in faith, isn’t that sheer external— no- I mean no because God says, “If you will do this, I will forgive you.” And I don’t know how many of you have ever kept animals really. I used to th- when I first started reading about the sacrificial system or thinking about it, I thought about the cattle we used to raise, calves and stuff, you know. And I liked raising calves, they had more personality than a whole lot of house-pets I’ve seen. But if you stare deep into their eyes, you’ll see there’s nobody home. There’s no moral merit in a bull or a goat, particularly not a goat. And if you see that, “Ok, I don’t have any merit or I wouldn’t need to bring this animal.” The animal has no moral merit, on what basis would I know that I was forgiven? Solely because God told me so. And the text says in Leviticus over and over again, “And they will be forgiven.” Why, because they are in faith bringing what God has asked.
Yeah I don’t think sacrifices are any longer necessary, but the point being, I think we often think that what they did was a sheer ritual. And that that was acceptable, but if we want to read whether or not it was acceptable to God in those conditions or whether faith was required. Go read the first chapter of Isiah and what it says about how they were bringing all the sacrifices and God said, and in Malachi and in Jeremiah 7 and 26 and the other places, they call it trampling of the courts. Why? Because their hearts weren’t right with God. So an offering that’s not brought in faith, it is not brought out of the right motive, is unacceptable to God. Now if that’s not spelled out clearly enough for us, in Leviticus 1 to 7 you might argue it’s not because it’s talking about how to do it more than it is why you do it. It’s certainly spelled out in the rest of scripture, and it’d be very interesting to do a paper sometime on anti-legalism text in the Old Testament. It’s saying these sacrifices are unacceptable brought by a heart that is not sorry nor contrite. Yes sir? You raised a finger?
No either you did, or you didn’t but go ahead.
Well two things about Job that relate this, we’re at a certain point in time and prior to giving law, which is- most people think Job would be in that setting, you know Abraham made sacrifices that seemed- the head of the family seemed to be the one making the sacrifices. It’s also interesting about Job is, most people who think that he’s not an Israelite. So what you have is someone like Melchizedek, someone like Abimelech in Genesis, people who knew God and new the same God that Abraham knew, but who were also in the same situation as Abraham, offering sacrifice. But I think the question about a priest is an important one, it actually falls on next in Leviticus 8 to 10, and it’d already been introduces in Exodus 29, what is the role of a priest? Now, I’d often heard that they were the inner Sesser and that you couldn’t get forgiveness unless you went through a priest, and therefore one of the freedoms of the New Testament was that we had Christ. Although if you read Hebrew’s long enough, you’d say that’s the same thing. We’re going through a priest. He’s the priest, but anyway. Now, what do the priests actually do? Some of you who, well either read Leviticus or you have read Leviticus, what’s a priest doing during those chapters, during the first 7, let’s start there. Is he? I don’t think so, no. I’ll tell you what I thi- I mean, but he’s standing there with the people right? He’s an instructor more than he is anything else. He’s- because the- they bring it – it sounds like he’s, to me, he’s showing them how to do it themselves, making sure they don’t sin against God’s ways. And it’s the worshiper who lays the hand on the head, isn’t it? These are my sins, I- I confess it. And there are parts that only the priest does yes, but he’s helping the people do what’s right. They don’t bring the animal and say,“We’ll see you.” He helps them participate in it.
In the clean and unclean passages, what’s the priest do? Get all the priest roles down here. Who is it who decides whether a house is clean or unclean? That’s a priest, isn’t it? These people operate – they- th- you’re going to see at several roles. Ok, they’re helping people offer sacrifices so they can be right with God. They’re also health inspectors. Probably because they’re the only tribe that’s set apart for this purpose and would have the leisure to do it, but they’re- also they’re supposed to learn about these things. As the Old Testament progresses, the priests are criticized, in Malachi for instance, for offering- for accepting an offering, injured sacrifices. Instead of bringing in your best cattle, you bring in one with a broken leg or [32:30] the smallest or the weakest, or you know, something you think’s about to die anyway. We’ll bring that to God, and of course Malachi says, “Well would your Governor accept that, and how would that go with your taxes?” But the other thing they’re criticized for, and this is one we often forget, the priests were supposed to instruct the people in the word of God. When the priests are criticized by the prophets, it is almost uniformly stated that they did not instruct the people properly. And, in a positive statement, I always forget this text from chronicles, but one of the days, I think it was Joe Ashes day when they had a revival of religion, when there was renewal and reform, there was a group of priests sent out to teach the word of God to the people.
They were to be the people who would explain God’s standards, help them sacrifice, make sure the community was safe. That’s what I mean by health inspector. So they were community servants, teachers of the world of God, helpers in liturgy, and on the day of atonement, the High Priest would go into, as you know, the Holy of Holies Leviticus 16, and offer sacrifices for his own sins and those of his family. Then this is always interesting, for the altar itself because of the pollution of sin in it, and for the sins of all the people. It’s been very interesting through the years, it’s always interesting if you’re a teacher to ask preliminary questions to find out what people think, or you could also just give quizzes and if they have it read they’ll fall back on what they always thought. The first time I taught New Testament survey, gave a quiz to the students that included ask, “What was the role of the first deacons?” You know, we’d read axe. Those who had not read the lesson fell back on what went on in their local churches and this was fascinating. Answer, “The Deacons are supposed to keep the pastor from going off the rails and ruining the church.” “The Deacons are supposed to run the church,” very interesting. What they thought the Deacons were supposed to do, if they hadn’t read the lesson. It’s also been very interesting to ask, “What did priests do in the Old Testament?” The average answer, though not always, the average answer was Baptists predominantly, Baptists students was they would basically describe what happens in Leviticus 16. You know, the High Priest would go into the Holy of Holies, that part they remembered. But that’s the High Priest, once a year, what did these people do otherwise? Well some of the things we talked about.
When I ask American Episcopalian students, they would almost always say, “This individual planned and ran the liturgy.” So it’s whatever model they thought they’d seen. But never forget, the priest, among all other duties, is to be the one who cares for and teaches the word of God, in this case law. Again, go through- just get a concord, just get the word priest, and go through the Old Testament. See why the priests are criticized, and virtually every time they’re criticized, I mean there’s [inaudible] criticizing us all. But almost always, there’s a criticism of not teaching the Torah accurately and effectively. And you know, when the prophets are criticized, they’re often criticized for prophesying their own visions and prophesying for money and these sorts of things. But the priests are criticized for something else. But the priests indicate that in the law, God sets apart a group of people to help the nation be a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. That the priests have the awesome responsibility and the wonderful privilege of being the point persons for creating a holy community, a safe community. Thus they had tremendous responsibility and they had the privilege of gaining their sustenance from the sacrifices and the offerings of the people. Now as you can already see, we have potential danger. What if the people aren’t faithful to bring their sacrifices, what happens to the priest? They can fall on hard times right? And what if the priest starts abusing his own people for his own interest. You remember, was it Eli’s sons. Man they were changing law as it went. No, no, no, no, we want that fat portion. Well it’s not time to worship I’d say, we’ll take it by force if need be.
I mean, it is possible for people to abuse priests and priests to abuse the people, this we have seen. But the law included a group of people who had helped the people learn the law, understand the law, live by the law, and was supposed to help the people become what they were called to be. They were to be ministers, helpers in the strongest use of the word. And I find it interesting that it is not a one-for-one correspondence, but if you will go through the standards for priests, what they were supposed to do, the kind of character they’re supposed to have, and compare it to many of the standards in the pastoral epistles as- for what a minster of one sort or the other ought to be. You will find many, many correspondences. Particularly this teaching function. There was so much else that a priest had to do that it could have been easy to neglect the word of God, right? The average priest day, oh you know from 8:30 to 9 I’ve got to go check out three guys for potential leprosy. Got to check a house to make sure the contagion hadn’t broken out in it. From 9 to 9:30 I have to see 4 people for sacrifice. I have- There’s nothing new under the sun, it would be easy to not do the one thing that would keep continuity in the covenant keeping community. That would be to actually teach them to the people. Having said that, the priests in the law were a benefit. What are these laws of clean and unclean? In the law, say Leviticus 11:15, It’s an unfortunate problem with English language to say these laws are about clean and unclean. Because probably the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear unclean, is dirty. And something that needs to be cleaned up- something you want to stay away from. Something that’s, blah.
Or you’re thinking of lepers, because if you’ve heard some sermons a leper’s walking around unclean, unclean, you think something contagious or fowl. Pardon?
Oh yeah, yeah. Dangerous, warning. Now, the problem is that isn’t what it means here. Clean and unclean basically mean something like the fall, and this is why I can’t do this in translation. There’s- you. You can’t do everything in a translation. But it basically means appropriate and advisable for that person to be in community. It’s not advisable for a leper to be in community the- and always continue to debate what kind of disease that was. But it was a communicable skin-disease obviously. And since it would have been difficult for Moses to say, “You know, if this breaks out, take an antibiotic.” They didn’t have that sort of medicine at their disposable of course, so really quarantine was their best option for keeping the community safe. Now on the one hand, it does show the one reason that Jesus’s love for lepers and other people’s kindness too and this sort of thing, is extraordinary because it put them at risk of the illness that would cause them to be unsafe for the community. So one they hated lepers, or they were- I mean, you know, there- there are specific laws against mistreating a handicap persons. At the law, did you read those? You don’t put a stumbling block before the blind person, put something down there they can fall over. You don’t do this or any—there’s standards against people’s incapacities being used against them. But, quarantine was our best bet, so God’s trying to create a safe community. And then [inaudible] I’ve always thought one of the most misunderstood was of course, when a woman has a- a baby, she’s beyond clean for certain point per- ah, I see, you know, they thought, they though babies run clean, having them was unclean and dirty and unhealthy or contagious, and little girls were doubly dirty. Because what is it for a boy baby, is it 6 weeks I think? Like 40 days that the woman doesn’t go into the communities where I’m talking about, she remains unclean for X amount of days, well now – and then twice as much for a little girl, and you say, “Why?” Because while they do tend to outlive boys no matter what, they- they are smaller and the- and the conception is. So here’s a law, the mother and the child do not have to go back into regular life and work for either 6 weeks or 3 months.
[inaudible audience member]
And 66 for a girl? Yeah, there you go. You get a month or two months, something like that.
[inaudible audience member]
Absolutely, that’s called family leave. It’s called maternity leave. Again, on the one hand you say – there are all the- the, see with any kind of family leave act, there will always be those who say, “You mean to tell me I can’t come back to work for X amount of time?” And then there’s others who say, “Ah, you mean to tell me that I have two months leave?” It will all depend on the person, but let’s remember this, unclean doesn’t mean the little girl is twice as dirty as the little boy. The mother has twice as long to nourish the child and to, as we say, “bond with it.” Understand that this is a benefit. Same people think with, if I can be so indelicate, with a sexual act. Runs, cleans, leave and they’re not to go out until morning. Well last I heard some people complain that there’s not enough intimacy after sexual act. They’re at least supposed to be together then until the next day. See it just depends on your attitude toward us. If you’re coming at it saying, “I know the law is restrictive and mean and hard-hearted.” So I know what this is doing, or you could say, “You know, so far in the bible, we’ve seen a God who’s been willing to forgive some pretty heinous stuff.” And is trying to put a law together that would create a Holy community that would be protected of that holy community, and we might start by asking, “Well is there some benefit to this we might appreciate?”
And I’m saying, in a society in which it’s often said women weren’t treated very well, I- I want to start with leave. And when you get to chapter 18 and the other texts about sexual sins. On the one hand, you can call these laws against incest. There’s another word for laws against incest- another phrase, it’s called “laws against sexual abuse.” You have one law after another against sexual abuse here, whether it’s rape or incest or whatever it is. Yes there are laws about homosexuality, they get a lot of airplay today amongst Christians. Yes there are laws against bestiality here, that usually gets a high yuck-factor with folks. But there are laws against rape, there are also laws against sexual abuse. This is one of the places where you’re going to say, “If God is going to create a protective community, you’re going to protect women and children from unwanted and harmful sexual activity.” As terrible as all the sins are, I’m not minimizing the terrible rate of any of these sexual sins, but currently of- the- the statistics that are given aren’t even anywhere near accurate. The sexual abuse side is the most serious of all the problems. Again, without minimizing rape or bestiality or homosexuality. But I was pretty convinced that the numbers of homosexuals in the society were lower than the folks who thought when certain politicians stop listening to that lobby much. I begin to suspect the numbers were lower than we’d first been led to believe. And regardless of that, if indeed the numbers are anywhere near accurate, what are they now like something like 33 and they’re bouncing anywhere between 25 and 30 percent for girls and 15 to 25 percent for boys. I mean the numbers are extraordinary. If that’s true, then one might want to see that in the law, people are supposed to be protected from such things. Now I’ll also add, I don’t know anywhere else in the bible that this is covered. So, I think if you ask the apostle Paul, “Why don’t you have any anti-pedophilia laws?” He’d say, “Well I thought we already had them.” Protect the community, protect the individual, protect the community, and of course say, “Well I- haven’t you been talking really about protecting the family too?” Sure. You’re protecting the husband/wife sexual relationship there. But of course, once you been into chapter 70 and 26, you are talking about Holiness, you’re not longer talking so much about uncleanness. That which makes it unadvisable or advisable for you to be in a community. But the law is bringing up the higher standard of moving toward Godliness. And God would protect the community. Whether it’s sexually, financially, or otherwise.
And at the end of Leviticus, in chapter 26, God offers blessings for adherence. By now you’d say, “Well we could make a list of blessings.” What if you actually acted this way? What if you actually confessed your sins, and yeah sure once a year you st- you have to have the Day of Atonement, but we’re forgiven. The biggest with the Day of Atonement is you have to do it every year. It’s annual. But you know, we should be able to do that. Most of us manage to take a Monday holiday off when we it comes around. We could remember the importance of the Day of Atonement, we could do that. And in this community, we would have a group of committed priests helping us worship God. In this community, we’d be safe from sexual predators. In this community, we would guard against debt for one another. We would treat the poor with equity. The poor would not be abusive of the rich. There’s some mutual respect there. We can see several blessings to that kind of community I thi- and Leviticus 26 says, “God will bless you in the field,” and all these other places there’s going to be great blessing. But, if you do not obey the law, there will be great consequences. I don’t like the word curse, it conjures up – a curse is not something that just hangs over you and, “oh, there’s a curse in this room.” It’s a consequence of your action, that’s what it really is. By consequence, God then will punish. His purpose in punishing is always redemptive, always to the point. We talked briefly about Amos ye- yesterday where it says, you know, “I gave you famine, I gave you defeat, I- always, but you did not return to me.” The purpose is to get you to return. Hebrews talks about this, that you know that God’s intent in chastising is to bring you back to Himself. But, eventually if this is unheeded, God in Leviticus 26 and then again in a very detailed way in Deuteronomy 27 and 28, where the blessings and consequences are offered again, he says, “I will drive you from the land, you’ll lose everything. If you will not listen, then you will be defeated and exiled.” And right at this very point, if we hadn’t already learned it from the Joseph story, you’re going to say, “Wait a minute, it couldn’t have all been bad could it- it couldn’t, it wouldn’t have all.”
No there’s always a righteous remnant. But do you notice that they suffer with the sinners? What does that mean, unjust suffering exists world. And it’s one of the blessings of leadership that you could be, or even of being a faithful member of the church, you can suffer for the mistakes of others. It’s also a blessing of being in a family, or a seminary, or this class. You can suffer for the sins of others, just like you can benefit from others. So God is honest with them in this law, a couple of other things about the law and then a break. All along, something left unsaid, just as a blatant principle, the law defines sin. It helps us know what it is that’s against a holy God’s standard. In this way, for those who love the Lord and follows him, it inhibits sin, right? “Oh that’s not right, God doesn’t approve of that. I won’t do it.” But then also because God is a God who assesses and judges, the law through its punishments inhibits sin in two ways. One if you don’t love the Lord enough to not want to sin against his grace, there is some motivation in fearing the punishment. We have to admit this. I’ve heard people say, “Why don’t you do such and such?” And they would say, “Oh because I didn’t want to do that to those I love.” And then someone else would say, “I’m scared of getting caught.”
Then, it is also true that punishment has the potential to inhibit sin. We can learn from punishment. Or s- I’m not making a pro or anti capital punishment statement, but one thing capital punishment would ensure if the person was guilty, that there would not be a repeat offense. Now you say, “That- that’s kind of a low standard.” I didn’t say it was a high standard, I’m just saying it would do that. So there is a sense of which the punishments or the law are to inhibit sin and correct behavior in those who have faith and want to walk with God and to have a punitive effect of bringing a person to justice who doesn’t care. But again, protecting the community is the issue. It is very interesting that the crimes and the sins that attack the community base are taken with the utmost seriousness. It’s not defaulting on loans and that sort of thing, or sinning against a leader that is most serious as is true in most other near Eastern codes. But it’s sins that will attack the fabric of the community that are taken seriously. And the sins that are taken most seriously are those that are against God and lead towards Ideology. Israel has no future without God, therefore anything that undermines seriously the worship of God is the most devastating thing that can happen. That is hard for us to accept.
So you go through Leviticus and you have a law that Exodus 19 and 20 and- ha- has told us about that it’s based on a prior relationship. It’s a covenant made with a holy God. Intends to help us understand how to treat God and others, protects individuals but develops a community in Exodus 20 and 24. Exodus 25 and following, it’s a law that would include God dwelling in the midst of the people. It’s a law that has a group of priests that would help that be maintained. It’s a law that has forgiveness built into it because of the sacrifices. It’s a law that protects the community through the unclean but also protects the person who has had a baby or who’s had a- an illness or has had something as well through the laws of clean and unclean. In the holiness code, the law tries to protect the community from everything from sexual predators to financial predators and a lot of things in between. It’s a law that offers blessings, and threatens consequences. It’s an honest law, and really, when these things are understood, it makes more sense to me why someone like the apostle Paul can say, “So is the law sin? Oh no, the law is good.” Romans 7, “oh the law is good. Problem’s not with the law.” Where you get to Jeremiah 31, I’m going to make a new covenant with the people of Israel. Not like the old covenant, and if some preaching I heard were true, the next line would be, “Because after all, the law was hard, it was nasty, tough to keep.” Really pretty legalistic when you get right down to it. No, the next phrase in Jeremiah is, “Which the broke.” The problem with this covenant is not with God or with the basic fairness of the law or the basic intents of the law, we’re right back down to what human sin does. And because of God’s grace and because of human sin, God will in salvation history continue to work with human beings.
And we’ll do even more. So that as another New Testament pastor says, “So that at Judgement, every mouth will be stopped.” So that- in another text, “So that you’re without excuse.” So we say look, so law was rejected. This covenant was rejected. God made a new covenant. This covenant too is also rejected. But we’re going to see what precedes both in today and also from when we deal with the [inaudible] and salvation passages. But see, when we get right down to it, we still would have many questions about the intent of a lot of these laws and the attitude behind a lot of these laws and that sort of thing. But surely we can see that the law is given by a good God, would create a good community that would indeed be – let’s say Israel has always operated like this. What sort of witness would that have been to the world around them? “Why aren’t you working today?” “Well, you know, we rest. Materialism doesn’t run us and we worship our God today.” “Oh that’s interesting, why is it you set that servant free after 6 years?” “Well that was our agreement.” Well slaves have no rights.” “Sure they do, in our law they do. You can’t mistreat them, you have to keep your commitment to them and they go free.” “Oh, that’s odd. What’s this bit about Jubilee?” Now what was the problem with the law? They never did it. If you say- I mean, as a whole, say, “Well, how did the Jubilee work out?” There’s no evidence they ever did it. How did letting the land lie fallow work out? There’s no evidence they did it, so that Jeremiah says that, “One of the reasons the exile has to happen for 7 years, is to give the land its Sabbath that it never got.” Here is a gracious and kind covenant that basically went untried. At the best, may of the aspects of it occurred but often basically this went untried.
So, I’ve often had students say, they fall in the old trap [inaudible] so good, “Why’d there have to be a new covenant, which they broke?” Which they broke. Now the other part we need to remember is if we read Hebrews 11, “By faith a whole lot of people loved the lord, walked with him, kept his standards, but it was the faith that lead to the works, not the opposite.” That’s clear throughout the scripture. So that the works didn’t save them in any way. It’s never been true that’d be the case, but works would always be the evidence that we are a holy community trying to witness to the world and minister to one another. That’s what it was for. So some of them got it, some of them figured it out, some of them walked with God, some of them were faithful. And so, but as time goes on for a disobedient people, what the law does is point out their sin, inhibit their sin, punish their sin. And if that’s the only use you’ll make of the law, that’s what you’re going to get. It points out your sin, tries to inhibit your sin, punishes your sin. To any outside of Christ, that’s all the law can do for them. Can drive them to their need for Christ, but it has very little other specific personal benefit for them. Because like every other aspect of truth in the scripture, it must be received, appropriated, and lived out by faith. Otherwise, you won’t do it.