Deuteronomy 10

The God of second chances.

Moses recounts how God made a second set of tablets for the ten commandments, after the first were smashed by him.

Gia forgiveness and sticking to his promise for Moses an overwhelming insight into God’s goodness.  He Marvel’s at God’s love for the weak, as they were a band of 70 who went to Egypt, and now as promised, as numerous as the stars. 

In response, he tells his listeners to circumcise their hearts. For Moses is not a cultural religion, it’s not about the ritual, it’s about heartfelt gratitude for God’s goodness.

Numbers 34

This is the business end of numbers where God tells Moses what will be the borders of the promised land, and tribal representatives are appointed to go with Joshua, Moses’ replacement as leader, and the high priest to claim it and set the tribal boundaries.

Its sort of pragmatic and sort of weird.  Moses converses with God.  We’d possibly call him crazy today.  They got to be a nation that didn’t have land – a slave nation within Egypt.   Directed by God, they’ve arrived at this occupied, relatively random land, which they are to claim by driving out or killing everyone living there… complete annihilation of the existing culture and existence. I feel disloyal to God saying that, or should I say untrusting of his justice.

Its a formative moment in history – no land, no nation, no nation no messiah, no messiah no christianity.  Love it or hate it, Christianity is the biggest religion, a third of the planet. Judasim not far behind. Its a big deal moment.

Speak to me, father.

Numbers 32

The land they have just conquered is great for livestock… Reuben and Gad are vast herdsmen tribes and they want it, not to go into the promised land over the jordan.

Moses does a deal where they can have it if they join the fight for Canaan, but if not they will be given land within Canaan.  Either way, their lot is with the Israelites, fighting for Canaan.

He compared it to the weakness of the generation who lost their will to go to the promised land after the spies report.  Its easy to see a lesson about settling for instant gratification and not pursuing God’s plan.

As you will see from my reading of Joshua, the promised land project for me, and for many I’m sure, keeps being tainted with sentiment for the occupants of the land… its not empty. So I have a mixed reaction to the chapter.

But certainly you have this sense that God’s people are bound up with each other, the mission of one group is the mission of all, and they must not be distracted by the dazzling opportunities along the way to obeying God’s will.

Leviticus overview: impossible rules

 

I started with one anti-Leviticus bias and ended with another. When I was younger I found it the most boring book of the bible.  But this time I was confronted and disturbed by the things offensive to my 20th century sensibilities, and the overall impossibility of the Israelite religious and cultural system. I got quite despairing and questioning of God reading it.

Its God’s rule book for the Israelite religion and society.  When Moses got the 10 commandments, this was the other stuff, the fine print.

Jesus called it “the law”, the thing he came to fulfil and replace. It was the old wineskin which would be burst if his new wine, his message, was poured into it. We’re free from it. You gotta almost pity god’s “chosen” people, given this impossible system to fail against.

That said, there is much beauty in these rules, themes of grace and compassion, justice and fairness run deep and strong. It created social conditions that were far more progressive and fair than the surrounding countries.  Commentators said that Israel became a magnet for immigration among the oppressed, marginalised and poor – which is the background of the story of Ruth, part of the line of David and Jesus.

I took from it that sin matters.  God is very very holy. These impossible rules for a perfect life, adapted to that specific ancient time and place, still show us how impossible we look from God’s perspective: stained, dirty, ruined, failed and dead from the moment we are born.  It is indeed profoundly shocking.

Read Leviticus, if you can stand it, to treasure grace.  Your desperate need, its harsh cost.

Section 1: Types of sacrificial offerings

1 Low expectations: anticipating the bible’s most boring book.
2 Grain offerings. No particular comment
3 Meat offerings. Less nice than grain
4 the value of thinking of sins as bad things we do… means we consider the practical consequences of our actions
5 Sin requires death
6 In which I forgive God for Leviticus
7 Summary of six offering types: burnt, grain, sin, guilt, fellowship, and ordination. Clean is a strong metaphor for holy.

Section 2: Highs and lows – the sacrificial system put into action

8 Something happens: Aaron is made priest (profound forgiveness there)
9 It all comes together: first sacrifice with priest and tabernacle, joy!
10 It goes horribly wrong.  The harsh consequence of God’s holiness helps us understand the size of his love

Section 3: Rules for clean/holy living.  And rules. And rules

11 Dietary rules. Literally serving suggestion only, feel free to ignore.
12 Things that make you unclean = normal life. I fail to understand.
13 Practical rules about infectious skin diseases. Meh.
14 My theory that “unclean” is a metaphor for needing grace
15 Genital emissions, diseased and normal …well at least we’ve moved on from infectious skin diseases. More about grace.

Section 4: Rules for Israelite society – some for now, some forever

16 The scapegoat festival. So much about grace in a book of rules!
17 Kosher meat. I get that the whole system is actually about respecting the meat they are eating. Sacrificial system is not gruesome, its mindful. 
18 Distinctive sexual morality, in which I write and write in circles and give the last word to a transexual woman
19 In love with Leviticus, treatment of the poor and immigrants a picture of practical love that makes our society look primitive
20 Hate Leviticus – treatment of sinners, aka, everyone, brutal and cruel. Aaargh! Leviticus!

Section 5 Rules for priests

21 Rules for priests. This system is designed to fail. By this point, I’m losing it.
22 Contemplating that the levitical system is a form of heaven/garden of eden on earth, perfectionism. My birthday. Ask God to understand. 

Section 6 Festivals, the future, failure and forgiveness

23 Special days like sabbath, and festivals.  We’ve been created to love these!
24 The lamp of God’s presence and stoning blasphemers
25 Jubilee year and fallow fields… progressive approach to property
26 Long term consequences of obeying vs disobeying these rules
27 Redeeming vows… forgiveness and paying the price of failure other ways

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leviticus 25

The concept of leaving fields fallow one year in 7. Plus the concept of a jubilee year one year in 50.

These are both systems for breaking down the sense of entitlement that wealth brings over time.

The Lord promises extra harvest in year 6 to cover no harvest in year 7.  Its described as a sabbath for the land. It lends spiritual significance to good agricultural practice.

This is a trust thing and an anti greed thing.  Its acknowledging that it is the Lord who provides wealth, and trusting him to provide because of our obedience, not our efforts. A modern company would have the instinct to treat the extra yield in year 6 as a windfall, and year 7 as an opportunity for growth, but this philosophy is one of sufficiency and sharing, not exploitation of advantages to get ahead.

The Jubilee year has a detailed system that allows a reset of wealth and inequality.  Wealth breeds a sense of entitlement over time, but God’s people are to understand that it comes from God.  This rule breaks the tendency of inequality to increase and become entrenched over time.

I liked the reference by the Lord back to the slavery of Egypt. He’s not going to deliver them from slavery to slavery.  Ingrained social inequality is a modern slavery.

Many rules in Leviticus seem primitive or harsh from the modern perspective. This flips that, we have no modern equivalent of the jubilee year to redistribute property every 50 years.  Property belongs to God. Tell the landed gentry, the real estate investors that.

 

Leviticus 22

Lots more rules about super holiness for priests.  There is an interesting blend of pragmatism and perfectionism.  The ideal is re-creation of eden, no blemishes, no contamination with things deemed unworthy.

If a priest’s daughter marries a non priest for example, she can’t come home for dinner any more because their food is offertory food, she’ll defile it. Perfectionism.

But if she is widowed or alone again, she can move back in. She’s got to eat. These little practicalities, merciful details run through it.

Apparently it was a very popular religion in the ancient world. Judaism grew and was attractive to the poor, outcasts and women – despite its sexist appearance from our perspective, it was a relatively good deal. The moral code was appealing. Its one of the reasons the romans finally destroyed the temple, it was seen as a threat to the empire.

I’m in a bit of a depressed, or at least transitional, state. Birthday. 55, Feeling like I’m facing the latter part of my life.

Father I do accept your law is good. Its hard work picking though these ancient, culturally strange texts. But you are good, I know that.

 

Leviticus 20

Aaargh, Leviticus, you are driving me crazy!  This was not put together by anyone with a sense of narrative.  It may have been put together by a rollercoaster designer. This is a really horrible chapter.

Its is full of many many capital offences.  Basically, you breath, you die. We’ve gone from sketching out an anachronistically enlightened society in ch19 to sounding like living under worse than sharia law in ch20.

The first is for giving children to Molech… infanticide and denying God. Sort of OK. Then other occult practises. Sadly as obvious as it sounds, worship of Molech continued. Solomon built a temple to it, and some of the kings gave children to Molech.

Then it goes through all the sexual prohibitions from ch18. And adds a few of the 10 commandments: cursing your mother and father, adultery (all parties executed), incest, homosexuality, bestiality, marrying aunts or uncles, sleeping with your wife while she is menstruating, marrying your brother’s wife (while the brother is alive, presumably? Because marrying a brothers widow was like a welfare obligation, key plot point in Ruth).  And so on.

There are different levels of punishment: sometimes executed, sometimes “cut off from the people” sometimes dying childless.

There is disagreement about what “cut off…” is.The sense of the original is a branch being cut off from a tree. May have meant stoning, may have meant excommunication or could refer to dying young without offspring (which happened to Jesus).  In practice it settled down to being shunned for a while until purification or atonement was done.

There is a vagueness between punishment by God and by people.  Dying childless, god’s doing, execution, done by human hands, cut off from the people, maybe either?

In a sense its saying that it makes no difference. Being god’s people was like being saved. Death at human hands and death by “natural” causes, the curse is death itself.

They are travelling to the promised land, which is already occupied.  Jericho and all that. There will be a lot of death. They won’t be up to the amount of killing required, they mix with the locals and that is their downfall. This is saying that differentiating themselves from the people they left in egypt and the people they will encounter in canaan is incredibly important.

Jews never literally implemented these rules. In practise execution was very rare.

Jesus of course encountered a woman being stoned for adultery, presumably under this law, and said “whoever is guiltless can throw the first stone”, then pronounced forgiveness for her sins.

The message is that we are dead in sin.  The detail is horrible, the theme is horrible. But everyone will face their death.  God is life. Reconciliation is our only chance.