Leviticus 27

Redeeming vows.  This whole chapter deals with vows made to God.

So if I got cancer and prayed to God “heal me, and I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to serving you”, and then I was healed, but I didn’t want to actually quit my job and go into full time christian ministry, I could make a prescribed payment to the temple for the value of my life and the vow would be regarded as kept in God’s eyes.

The value calculation is functionally discriminatory, though its pragmatically reflecting a societal fact: the elderly and women have lower economic value to an agrarian society than a fit young male, so are worth less. There is also the gracious provision for financial hardship that runs through all of Leviticus.

This was pretty useful because in ancient Israel, the priesthood was not open to anyone not in the Levite tribe, and people often made vows.

Ditto if you ended up needing an animal that was dedicated to sacrifice, you paid the value of it plus 20% to the temple, and you kept the animal but were right with God.

Ditto promises of land, houses, etc.

They make it quite clear you can’t redeem what is God’s anyway: he owns the harvest tithes and the firstborn livestock. This is totally about voluntary additional tithes

These vows were very common in their culture – we are far more circumspect in my culture, though the passion and emotion these vows demonstrate in their relationship with God is confronting to my own relative coolness. And, we do often do we hear “over my dead body”! and similar things.  I don’t know how many hats I am now due to eat.  Its so accepted that our vows are meaningless they have just become just colourful figures of speech.

Its using economic sanctions to teach the people to be careful with their speech. Don’t promise bigger than you can deliver. Words matter.

Its also a nice element of practical non-perfectionism to end the book on.  Its been all about God’s absolute inflexible standards.  Here, there is a recognition of the ups and downs of passion and regret that humans experience.  The old testament even often talks about God’s vows this way, like people can have him reconsider after he has burned with anger. Noah and Jonah bargain with God over his vows.  Prayer is like this.

Its setting the stage for the big redemption of course. There is a way out.  A debt owed to God can’t just be forgotten, but it can be paid for by another.

Leviticus 26

This chapter talks about the consequences of the Israelites’ behaviour.  The blessings that will come if they are obedient, and the progressively worse disasters that will befall them if they are not. Its pretty much the story of the next 10 or so books of the bible.

I like that the blessings are instant, and repentance is always within reach, but the curses come as a series of ever more serious consequences… slow to anger and quick to bless.

I still practically subscribe to this punishment and reward model in quite a literal way.  Its probably superstitious, theological balderdash.

If I feel guilty about something I have done and have a setback, I think its God punishing me.  I don’t think so much good things are a reward though.  I get that more the other way around: I try do the right thing because I have been blessed. And when they happen unfairly, I say “why god why”.  So every outcome is covered by my spiritualising.  Is such a simple cause and effect real?  Is god real?  If the second question’s answer is “yes”, why not the first, eh?

Anyway from this prediction the sadness and glory of the Old Testament flows.  They will have high highs of gods revelation and blessing, and low lows of his suffering for their ignorance of him.

They will take the promised land, make it great, watch it get corrupted, be thrown out of it and return. They are the chosen race – chosen to exemplify god’s character, and to provide the ancestry for god in human form.  As an earthly imprint of the heavenly pattern they were always an imperfect copy, but the messiah did come through the line.

 

Leviticus 15

At the end of ch14 it said that it was the end of rules about infectious skin diseases, and I thought “well that’s a relief”.  So to genital emissions, male and female, normal and abnormal. Sigh.

There is a public health element blended with spiritual metaphors.  So we have periods of quarantine and cleaning where there are diseased emissions.  But we also have shorter and more minor times of uncleanliness for normal reproductive emissions, semen and menstruation.

I’ve been contemplating the element of equal opportunity here.  Both men and women are made unclean for God by reproductive emissions, but women are unclean longer. The rest of the day for men (and women if they get the semen on them) and 5 days for women (and men if they get the blood on them).

Thing is, men have emissions more often, multiple times a week.  So perhaps as a percentage of time being spent unclean, from a practical point of view, its about equal.

Some have argued the menstruation rule is an early recognition of women’s period pain and quite progressive in full social context… I don’t know about that.

On balance, it does blunt the misogyny accusation somewhat, particularly the parallel structure of the chapter, male and female rules alongside each other, its quite striking.

It also clear that none of it is individually blameworthy, Jesus said we are born into sin.  To me this is a recognition of that, by saying that human reproduction is not the way of producing rightness with god, only gods cleansing intervention can do that.

Rather than pointing fingers at groups: at foreigners, criminals, men, women, sick, well etc. its actually saying actually dramatically and emphatically of course you need God’s cleansing grace, all of you. None is right before God.   

 

 

 

 

Leviticus 10

Two of Aaron’s sons improvise their own sacrifice.  They take incense in their own burner into the holy of holies, and are there struck dead.

Its harsh, but their plan involved the profoundest of sins, rebellion against god, placing their own judgement higher than him. The mystery is not that they were killed, the mystery is that any of us are alive.  Death is the consequence of rejecting the author of life, of saying “I’ll author my own life thanks”.

Well it doesn’t work that way.  We can’t, and every fibre of our being hates that we can’t. Humans hate the fact that we are created (though we love babies).  We live rebelling against it, acting like masters of our own destiny. And we all die, sooner or later. And how we hate that too.

In the leviticus narrative the aftermath is horrible too. Aaron and his remaining sons have to continue through the rituals, not stop and mourn their brothers/ sons.   Should have freeze framed at the last chapter, its suddenly all an emotionally gruelling obedience that they are called to, not a joyous one.

There is a glimmer of mercy at the end, they simply can’t feast on all the food as they are supposed to, Aaron has no stomach for it, and Moses accepts that they can not.

Plus of course, God is a god of love.  I guess that he did love Aaron’s son’s despite their pride on perhaps the one day people fully understood God’s holiness. God is the god of second chances. Paul would write “Death has been swallowed up in victory: ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law”.

We can’t understand love without understanding god’s holiness by virtue of being our creator.

 

Leviticus 5

This is the Law right here. The one Jesus said brings death. 

You hear something unfair and don’t speak out, death. Blood must be shed. You come to realise you accidentally touched the wrong thing, death. Etc etc. Death death and death.
God has provided elaborate rituals, understanding the way we comprehend religion. He’s given them something that contemporary nations would recognise as religion, but morphed into teaching about the nature of God. 

So what is he saying?

It’s not a sin to be poor, for one thing. If all you can afford is a dove or even just a cup of flour, rather than a perfect male ram or whatever, its power to absolve sin is just as great. Modern Christianity forgets that one often still. It’s so profoundly sad watching church leaders faun on the rich and successful.

Also, God is not a man-made object. Aslan is not a tame lion.  The tent doesn’t have an object that is god at its core, it has his words. It’s where they meet God, he comes to it as a cloud from wherever he is. He can’t be looked at. We still fall victim to molding God of our own concept of what God should be like

And he is very holy. That implies him creating in us the capacity to be unholy. Still a hard concept. Our rebellion requires pain, it cuts us off from him, demands death.

God laid out these messages in simple concrete terms the people could not fail to understand.  Or could they? 

Still haven’t. Still haven’t!

Exodus 31

So here are the people who will actually make all this stuff. It’s a celebration of artisanship, the spirit of God is on them. Their ability is god given. 

Then the Sabbath, the seventh day of rest that still defines our week. The seven day week appears to have been simultaneously adopted by Jews Babylonians and Greeks, and spread very early to Asia. It is a promise, a sign, of god’s attachment to the people, but harsh too… Pain of death if you don’t rest.  Jesus said the law brings death. 

Then the tablets of stone written by god’s finger. There is something about the theatrical smallness of that, from the creator of the world, I find extraordinary. I shouldn’t be surprised of course, he made butterflies as well as volcanos and planets. 

And he invented tickling. He’s the master of context. He made our sense of delight and awe. He could have turned us into robot slaves, or destroyed us of course. He went with props. 

He gave the law written in stone to show us it was important. Like giving children ice-cream with a cherry on top.

Exodus 7

Moses does his trick turning his staff to a snake for pharaoh. His magicians copy it.

Aaron brings about plague number 1, water of the bike turned to blood. Undrinkable. The magicians can also produce red water.

It’s so personally about Pharaoh. His heart. God says it will be hard and it is. If you’ve ever wondered whether God couldn’t just force people to believe, remember this. The world’s most reluctant convert.

Exodus 6

Everyone is doubting God, but God tells Moses he is revealing more to him than the great patriarchs, Abraham, Jacob and all. They had the promise, the covenant. Moses will see the promise fulfilled by this great saving act, and know more of the law of God. 

The people remain negative. They have adopted the local gods and their life has only got worse for Moses’ meddling. Moses remains deeply unsure.

They run though his genealogy. Their Israelite pedigree. They are god’s Pele the right ones for the job.

This chapter is about god’s plans and power being bigger than all out weakness. 

It’s plague time!

Genesis 31

Often the dodgy behaviour of well known biblical figures is not accompanied by words or signs by God, and it’s fair enough to say it is not a model for our behaviour. 

Today Jacob is being quite sharp and harsh and it is with clear approval by God. 

He notices that his success as a cousin has prompted jealousy from the sons of his father-in-law Laban for whom he has worked over 14 years. God tells him is time to leave, and that he will be with him. But Jacob anticipates Laban won’t want his daughters, grandchildren and flocks gone. So he sneaks away.

Such a pattern with Jacob: promised blessing, he goes about getting it in a sneaky and faithless way.

To be fair on Jacob, Laban has gone cold to him and treated him more and more like an enemy. But to be fair on Laban, Jacob has implemented the rules on which parts of the flock he can keep to blatantly favour himself. Something he ascribes to god’s providence in this chapter.

Laban hears of Jacob’s departure and goes to confront him. He has a dream from God not to harm or do good to Jacob. He has to let him go.

In the end everyone behaves in a nuanced way. The wives have mixed emotions. Laban gets the chance to say a proper goodbye to his kin, and Jacob gets to get on with his life.

Everyone is flawed, but a peaceable arrangement is arrived at. 

The loose end is Rachel, who stole the family God’s and lied about having her period to hide it.

But with that clear exception, you can see God’s intervention here bringing a result of peace and grace. Jacob should have trusted, but who am I to talk, so should I. The goal of achieving god’s ends does not justify the means is they are sneaky and sharp. God promises to be the ends and the means.

Genesis 29

We’re getting the founding of Israel. Jacob’s children have the names of the 12 tribes. But still the story is marred in pettiness.

He travels… I think to avoid being killed by essau… to his cousins, and falls for his cousin Rachel. He works 7 years for his uncle laban. It’s agreed that the wages for 7 years work is to be marrying Rachel. But laban substitutes her less pretty older sister Leah in the wedding night (must have been some party).

A week later he’s allow to also may Rachel and then works another 7 years. Everyone seems quite calm about this arrangement, except Leah who didn’t like not being favourite (but presumably played asking with the wedding night trick).

From this very dodgy union the first 3 tribe founders are born. 

The only reference to God in it all is Leah’s thanks to him for giving her children as compensation for not being loved.