Deuteronomy 13

Woah, more extreme rules… I’m having Leviticus flashbacks. Any worship of other Gods in Canaan is to be punished by stoning, burning, complete erasure from existence. 

We find it extreme today, they found it extreme then. Israel did worship other Gods, they never did love the lord with all their heart.  They never stoned people for it as far as I know, or at least they very often didn’t.

Jesus our it this way: the wages of sin is death.

So after the shock of the violence, there is also the sadness that of course it didn’t work, it exists to show us it didn’t work, it still doesn’t. We fail and fail to love our creator.

Deuteronomy 9

It’s hard to find a theme here. It’s the gospel according to Moses, and he does bring a perspective of the mind of God to his recap of the events of his life. 

The theme might be what the events of the exodus have shown us about God and how that will be useful in the promised land.

Moses describes a purposeful God who will carry out his plans despite us. 

The Israelites let God down irredeemably in the desert when they made the golden calf to worship, and they should gave been destroyed there. They have no greater claim to the land though their worth than the people already there. 

Those people have earned their destruction by their wickedness in their own right, is nothing to do with the holiness of the Israelites. The Israelites get their inheritance because God keeps his promises, not because they have earned it.

So don’t fear Muslims or atheists. Also don’t fear or expect that much more of Christians, who today as ever seem to do as much or more to undermine God’s kingdom. 

As Bob Dylan once sang about God, he has plans of his own to set up his throne.

Deuteronomy 7

My God can be terrifying God from the perspective of being one of his people. 

Here Moses describes how will root out the stronger people in the land and put in the weaker Israelites, making them strong. But if they don’t obey him, the same fate awaits them.

God is a gardener. We don’t hesitate to pull out annuals that have done flowering. Some plants we feed, others we prune, some we remove. The gardener knows that is best for the garden. The gardener’s plans are for the garden to thrive and survive and for it to be something the current garden can’t imagine being. 

We didn’t actually make the plants in our garden, or the dirt or the sun or the water. Yet we are the masters of its fate. But God made us and our world. 

Contemplating the idea that you are a creation is a shocking idea if you are used to the idea that you are god of yourself. But God has completly the right to act that way.

The process of taking the holy land is often understandably disparaged as racial cleansing. But God makes it clear here that it is not because of racial superiority that he chose the Israelites. It’s because of his plans, not their worth. 

I’m not a Jew, but I believe Jesus, who was, was also God and died for me. This is part of the story of God’s love for all mankind. It’s not racial.

He knew the number of hairs on the head of every one of the “ites” who were already in Canaan. He formed them, knew them and loved them in the womb.  Like plants in a garden, they will all eventually die, but that does not mean they are not known and loved. We love and enjoy our plants, but we didn’t make them. How much more would we if we had.

The people he desired to make way for the Israelites are in his hands. The God I see here, the one I was inspired by the last chapter to love with all my heart, is an all mighty, all powerful God of love and kindness.

Deuteronomy 6

Moses gives and elaborates on the commandment that Jesus would say is the greatest and contains all the law, love the lord your God with all your heart. 

He elaborates on it in a way that does not read like a sermon, but rather a heartfelt plea. His fear is the same as previous chapters, that they will forget because they will be so prosperous and comfortable. 

The irony that God’s grace and provision will be the cause of them forgetting is not lost on him, as they occupy large flourishing cities they did not build.

He pleads with them to remember the slavery that God rescued them from, and going forward to only love that God. 

Picking though all the rules, some of which are ridiculously culturally specific, this one has a giant arrow pointing to a huge red flag as a keeper.

Daily, please father let my heart overflow with love for you, remember your goodness, from every cup of coffee to every sunset and keep you as the only lord of my life.

Deuteronomy 4

Spoiler alert for the rest of the Old testament.

Moses continues his final words before they all go to the promised land without him.

He focuses on the ban against idols. He wants them not to forget about it after a few generations or they will be overrun and exiled. He says that even if that happens God’s mercy will mean they are eventually returned.  As I said, spoiler alert.

The overall message is that there is one true God who deserves obedience. It serves as an introduction to a dissertation of the law.

One true God. If he is forgotten and other gods take over, it is a disaster, but his abiding character is mercy, and he will bring us back.

Praise him!

Leviticus 21

I have advice for young christians.  Don’t ever read Leviticus.  Just don’t bother.

Its not that I don’t get it on some level, this chapter is about priests super duper perfection rules.  Its an attempt to create eden, the pre-fall world, in the fallen world.

So it reads like outrageous discrimination against disabilities, no imperfections in priests – it literally is against short people.

So it reads callous: they are to not show mourning or have anything to do with the dead (some exceptions for family).

But it’s meaning the priests to be like adam, not knowing death, not knowing the curse of creation broken.

Its impossible. Why bother? is the question clamouring at me.  OK, its teaching us that we are fallen, that god is holy.  But why a system designed to fail?

The old testament is profoundly depressing.  It is impossible to read it and not conclude you are less holy than god, indeed you are not holy at all.  The story of it is told repeatedly in excruciating detail.

Humanity is corrupt.  We fail corporately, born into sin, its really not our fault, we don’t stand a chance.

Also, each individual is damned without grace. We personally fall short of God’s plan for us and deserve his wrath.  Sinners, all, through and through, every which way.

 

Leviticus 17

This chapter explains a lot, its a bit of a key to the whole book.

First sacrifices were happening anyway. People were sacrificing or dedicating the animals they killed to eat off in the fields and in their far flung homes to goat demons etc.  The superstitions were there.  We saw how easily they fell into worshipping the bull they made. So the temple system viewed in that context centralises and focuses existing practices on the true god, who is present at that location. How often does God revealed 2.0 upgrade the existing spirituality of people?  Christians could learn from this… meet them where they are, channel the shared instincts towards the spiritual.

Second, respect for blood.  Its a form of respecting God’s creation of life. Last chapter I called sacrifice pagan like and ghastly.  But I eat meat, animals die for my plate, and these people faced the reality of killing the animals for their plate in a way I am shielded from.

By respecting the blood, and giving it to God, they are respecting that it is a life a god created life they are taking for their dinner.  Vegetarians can argue whether god intended us to be carnivores, but he did at least make some animals need to eat others.  Its the way of some things.  But within that, there is still a respect for life.  To eat an animal that is not drained of its blood is called bloodshed… it is true killing of the beast.  God wants the blood returned to him, either at the altar or into the dirt.  Modern buzzword would call this mindful meat eating.

Again, it is an upgrade of existing practises, our creator meeting people where they are guiding a people in how to acknowledge him and what is important to him.

I really like the no barriers way of looking at spirituality – christianity is the true path, but God acknowledges the urges in all spirituality.

 

Leviticus 7

I think we may have reached the end of the offerings. I started to think I was going batty, because it seemed to be saying the same thing over and over, but it’s actually outlined six different offerings: burnt, grain, sin, guilt, fellowship, and ordination. 

Burnt is where the whole thing is burned up, nothing left to eat. Chillingly it is the origin of the word “holocaust”. 

Sin is for Israel’s corporate sin, 

guilt for specific individual crimes, 

grain is non meat, and was a gift, a freewill offering to God (if you were well off… It was also an option for other purposes of you were poor) 

fellowship is for celebrating good things that happen, to acknowledge that God provides, 

ordination is dedication of new priests.

All have different rules about the animal, the nature of the royal etc. 

I was struck by the metaphor of cleaning. There is a lot of ritual cleansing and rules about unclean things contaminating the clean. It actually has a reasondable amount of practical science behind it, but it is a powerful metaphor for god’s holiness, one that is hard to reconcile with how loved and close to God Christians are promised to be.

Strange that the no blood thing carries on as kosher rules for Jewish people, though the sacrificial system has passed on. 

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 38

The sacrificial altar and paraphenalia, of bronze, where animals will die as offering to acknowledge that all things come from God, and to take away sin.

The curtains that define the courtyard, where the people will come. Sure there is a holy of holies, a layer within the layers, where almost no one can go. But it’s still a bit mind blowing that the people can get as close to God as they do. 

They’ve wandered a long way from home on a second hand experience of god’s presence (well they do have the magical food, and the cloud/fire guidance system.

Even more mind blowing is the Christian evolution of this theology, that our body is a temple where God dwells.

Moses has them record all the materials from which the work was done. The logistics of their situation are daunting, almost impossible to imagine. 

600000 people. And while they had become slaves, in Egypt they didn’t do that bad. They have a prodigious amount of gold, bronze, cloth, wood etc they have bought with them. And herds of animals. And they’ve made this very big fancy tent the will now continue to drag through the desert for decades. 

It must have been a crazy hard life. It went on for 40 years, none of the generation who left Egypt would see the promised land, only their kids I think. 

Mind you, modern scholarship has found almost no corroborative evidence for any of exodus. The most compelling history is the book itself which was written much later from a bunch of sources, that presumably came from somewhere. Historians’ explanations of how and why the story came to be are about as threadbare as the evidence of any of it happening. 

Personally I don’t care much about that sort of thing. Once you’ve bought that a creator God made everything, why not? And for me the alternative, no God, no meaning, has never seemed remotely plausible. 

And I’m with the overwhelming flow of humanity there. I don’t see atheism as the natural state of any people.  They tend towards the theory, the experience, of a God.

There is the atheism of youth, a sort of indifference to God because just being alive and discovering the joys of the physical world is so compelling and seemingly consequence free. The sort of atheism that evaporates in a hospital room, or just with the passing of years as mortality becomes more evident in your body. 

I think this attitude also exists among believers too. 20 year olds basically feel immortal and invincible. They are the doers of most of the great things of humanity, and a fair share of its worst.

Then there is the bitter, hurt atheism, which I see as an acting out of rebellion against God. That has mostly been fringe in human culture.  

As for other religions, they are a matter for God I think. This one has always rung very true to me, and I am grateful for it.

Praise God!