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Benefits of Leviticus

I am about to end a 7 week study of the first 7 chapters of the Old Testament book Leviticus. This section of the book deals with the sacrificial system of worship used in Israel from 1446BC when they left Egypt up to about AD70 when the last temple was destroyed.

This book has been ridiculed and attacked because of the strong indictments it makes against purification and ceremonial behaviours that Israel was to abstain from. These seem too harsh for the post modern sensitive eclectic spiritualists and anti-theists. Many Christians have shied away from the book instead of engaging it head on to deal with the counter cultural precepts it has.

My 7 week study didn’t get to the controversial personal purity laws – that comes later on, maybe next year ;) Instead, I focused on the ritual sacrifice ceremonies introduced at the beginning and sought to understand how these fit into the overall story of the Bible and, what, if any, instruction or relevance they have for anyone today.

Why not teach something easier or a little more directly applicable to a modern hearer? Why not emphasise Bible stories or passages that have universal appeal on matters of peace, harmony and personal fulfilment? To answer that, a few months ago, before starting the series, I jotted down a few of the benefits of studying Leviticus. Some of these apply to any book of the Bible and some are specific to Leviticus.

1. All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable. Full stop. Period. c.f. 2 Timothy 3:16-17. If the reliability and authority of the Bible is impugned by Leviticus than the rest of it is worth kindling. So, it is a worthwhile exercise to wrestle with this book, in an honest way, to understand it through historical and grammatical interpretation to find the original authorial intent and the original audience expectation (as much as may be possible with available internal and external evidentiary sources, references and support).

2. Psalm 119:130The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” i.e. through the reading and study of one part of the Bible we will improve and increase our understanding of other parts of the Bible. Instead of quoting one or two selective verses from the book of Leviticus and making a biased criticism about how it is out of date, irrelevant, oppressive, sexist, discriminatory and contradictory, why not read all of it and see how it integrates with the rest of the Bible and perhaps resolves some of those concerns about the way some controversial topics are handled.

3. Leviticus provides an example of liturgy and right worship (by ‘right’, I mean both worshipping rightly and worshipping the right object). Leviticus shows that worship includes fear, confession of sin, death of a substitute in the place of the sinner, rescue and redemption of the sinner, praise and thanksgiving.

4. Leviticus reinforces the covenantal patterns of how God relates to his creation. In the process of creation, destruction and recreation we have vivid instruction that leads to a fuller understanding of life, death, resurrection and glorification.

5. Leviticus fills out our understanding of many of the theological terms used in the New Testament. e.g. sacrifice, atonement, forgiveness, sin, guilt, offering, peace, priest, purification, holy, unholy etc.

6. In contrast to Israel who approached their worship with trepidation, we enter God’s presence boldly through Jesus who has perfectly completed all the types, symbols and ceremonies of the Law. He is our righteousness, peace, sanctification, sacrifice, atonement, heavenly bread, high priest, scapegoat and retribution for our sin.

7. Leviticus points us to Jesus as the ceremonies and rituals anticipate one who is greater that will forever satisfy the justice and share the mercy of God.

What other benefits have you enjoyed from studying the book of Leviticus?

 
 

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The light was on, but…

The account of a blind man being healed in John’s gospel seems to be a chiasm.

A chiasm is a mirrored literary structure where the use of words or images compliment or contrast each other in a definite sequence. It typically follows an ABCBA type pattern. Which places a climax point in the middle as well as at the end. Back when scrolls were in popular use the pivot point of the story was in the centre of the scroll as it opened.

In the case of John chapter 9. The words and images are all connected to sight and light and contrasted with darkness and blindness.

In this case the chiastic outline I’ve used has 7 steps.

1. The power of the (spoken) creative Word of God

vv.1-7 (characters: Jesus, disciples, blind man)
c.f. v.5 – “I am the light of the world” with Gen 1:3-5let there be light” & Psalm 119:130, “your words give light
The man blind from birth is “sent” home seeing

2. A division occurs between those who “see” and those who don’t

vv.8-12 (characters: Neighbours/Jews, blind man)
Where is this man?” They can’t “see” him and they refuse to “see” the wonder of the miracle that a blind man has been healed. Their eyes are behind a veil as it were, preventing them from seeing. c.f. 2 Corinthians 3:13-18

3. Debate about the purpose of the sabbath

In the law (Ex20:8-11, Deut 5:12-15) the sabbath was an occasion for resting from work for the purpose of drawing near to God in public worship. A blind man would have been ceremonially unclean and excluded from most of the festivals and sacrifices that made up Israel’s worship. Being healed meant, he could rejoin and fully participate in the community.
vv.13-17 (characters: Jews, Pharisees, blind man)
This man is not from God…” or “… he is a “prophet” Which is it? He can’t be both.

4. The test – will the testify accurately about his experience with Jesus?

vv.18-23 (characters: Jews, parents)
He is our son… he will speak for himself” – The parents trying to avoid persecution provide an opportunity for the formerly blind man to speak on behalf of Jesus. This is a climax point. Will he ratify his account and invite ridicule, mockery and social exclusion or will he remain silent in order to not to offend the religious zealots?

5. Those who “get it” are truly mature because they ‘do his will’

vv.24-34 (characters: Jews, blind man)
The debate intensifies about what it means to understand and apply God’s word. The Jews make an appeal to Moses (v.28), but they still can’t see the wonder of what has taken place. They start by saying, “give the glory to God“, but when the man does (v.33) they are offended at the prospect that God would act in this way.

6. The one who believes, conquers and is co-judge

vv.35-39 (characters: Jesus, blind man)
When the healing first occurred the Jews asked, “Where is the man“, but they aren’t prepared for the answer. Now Jesus returns to the conversation by addressing the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He is “the man” in more ways than one. Because the healed man places his trust in Jesus and worships him he enjoys the victory of true sight (v.39). As a result the healed man is now, by his testimony of faith, a co-judge against those that refuse to see and worship Jesus as the fulfilment of the Messianic promises.
c.f. Isaiah 35:4-5, Isaiah 42:6-7

7. The one who disbelieves is not glorified (does not receive God’s rest) but remains in guilt

vv.40-41 (characters: Pharisees, Jesus)
Are we blind too?”
The Pharisees are claiming to “see” without the aid of the “light of the world“. Their insistence is going to exclude them from sharing in the forgiveness, healing and life that God brings with his light. Compared to the healed man who was “sent” home freed from his blindness, the Pharisees “remain” in their guilt – i.e. they are culpable before God for what they claim to understand from Moses and the law.

Other articles related to Chiasm’s:

Jim Hamilton’s ‘Chiasm’s on the brain
Mike Bull, Bible Matrix

Mike’s book explains the significance behind the recurring 7-fold pattern I’ve used above to outline John 9. It starts in the 7-day creation story, continues with the 7 festivals of Israel and the 7 key elements of the tabernacle.

A. Creation

B. Division

C. Ascension

D. Testing

C. Maturity

B. Conquest

A. Glorification

 

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Heaven on Earth?

An idea often found in Christian devotionals is to equate the entry heaven with occupation of Canaan by Israel under Joshua. This creates a very confusing image of heaven. Surely heaven is not a place of conflict but a rest from all conflicts? This type of interpretation misses the point and purpose of the book of Joshua.

Drawing from my notes taken during my Bible College Old Testament History class way back last century I offer the following thoughts about the significance of the story of Joshua.

The occupation of Canaan is not representative of the believer entering Heaven. Canaan is inherited through testing that results in maturity and conquest leading to rest. Canaan is the picture of the believer’s present position and possession in Christ (Heb 3:1 – 4:16).

A Christian is not given a ticket that allows them to escape the singe of hell before they enjoy a free ride to heaven. Those who enter into covenant with God have received the Word of God, are called to obey it, or be rejected by it. The life of persevering faith will involve an active, intentional fight against sin as you strive towards holiness to appropriate what God offers you in Christ (1 Cor 10:1-14, Heb 12:14-17, 2 Pet 1:5-9, Phil 2:12-13, 1 Thes 5:24).

What should the Christian take away from the book of Joshua? We live and work from a position of victory, but we must not surrender to apathy and presumption (Rom 6:1-23).

 
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Posted by on 10/05/2012 in General

 

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Welcome to the feast

The greatest story ever told has a scope and complexity in its narrative and characters that exceeds all known literature. To some, it is a mysterious volume of allegorical myths. To others, it is a mass of contradictions. It is the story of God and his creation, involvement with and salvation of man. It gets messy, because people are messy, but God’s purpose is not thwarted. The greatest story ever told is not great because man figured out how to salvage himself. It is great because God, driven by love, has, through patience and mercy saved men.

Welcome to the Feast

In the Bible, we are guests at God’s banquet. A modern reader struggles to make sense of this story written so differently to our modern texts and popular novels. The structure of the Bible story is based upon Israel’s festival calendar (detailed in Leviticus 23). Consider the pattern or process you might follow when hosting a dinner party. Our to-do list is arranged to illustrate its parallel structure:

A. You send your invitations

B. You cover the table with a cloth

C. You lay out place settings & cutlery

D. The guests are seated

C1. The food and wine is served

B1. The feast is consumed

A1. You recline, full & satisfied with an digestif

The invitation (A) anticipates the satisfied diners at the end of the party (A1).
The table cloth (B) dedicates the table for the dinner (B1).
The placement of the cutlery (C) is matched with it’s use to eat the food (C1).
At the center of this event, the guests (D) are seated. Will they partake of the meal? Will they enjoy the party? It’s a simplistic example, but hopefully you see a parallel cycle of forward movement.

The Bible story is similar. God has given us an invitation, he has prepared life for us, he has called us to himself, he has given us his Word. Will we receive it? Will we make it a part of ourselves? When we do, we have “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (c.f. 2 Peter 1:11).

From the beginning of the Bible God has purposely laid the table for us so that we can read, follow the pattern and enjoy feasting on his Word.

The pattern starts in Genesis 1, continues through the Old Testament, and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The exact details of the pattern will vary using different motifs, allusions and imagery, but the goal of the process is the same.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. … And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. ~ 1 John 5:13, 20

 
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Posted by on 06/04/2012 in Bible

 

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Tripped up in the journey to holiness

The period covered by the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy is a time when God separates Israel from the world, to himself. He makes them a holy people.

What does it mean to be a holy people?
To have a higher view of God than I do of myself and to live in obedience to the good news of God’s Word in such a way that God’s purity & purpose is seen by others to be higher and bigger than me.

This separation or distinction (holiness) is marked several ways:

Passover
On Day 2 of the creation week, the division of sea and sky created an atmospheric cover for the earth (Gen 1:6-8). The waters (clouds) cover the earth and protect it. During the 1st passover Israel was protected from death under a covering of blood as God passed over the land of Egypt (Ex 12:13, 23).

When Israel prepared for the first night of passover, a veil of blood was painted over their door (Ex 12:7, 22). This veil served to divide Israel from Egypt (Ex 12:13, 23, 27, 42, 51). The veil also features in the tabernacle to separate the most holy place (Ex 26:31-35). That veil is decorated with angels who guard the entry to God’s dwelling place just as an angel guarded the door to Eden.

Ten Commandments
The terms of God’s covenant are summarised in the ten commandments. (Ex 20:1-21, Deut 5:1-22). To breach the ethics of the covenant makes you liable to the sanctions of the covenant. In this way, the law reveals the righteousness of God and it also reveals our unrighteousness. It is our schoolmaster, teaching us what sin is.

The Tabernacle
When the Lord makes a new Covenant in the Bible, it is spoken of as a New Creation. The instructions for the Tabernacle (Ex 25-31) are seven speeches which follow the pattern of the Creation Week. The Tabernacle was a miniature “clean” world, a micro-cosmos. It was the DNA for a new Creation.1

Sacrifices
Leviticus presents many pictures of Christ and His work of redemption on the cross. Hebrews 10:1–14 makes it clear that in Christ we have the complete fulfillment of each of the OT sacrifices. In return we can still offer sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving and devotion to Jesus and the gospel.

Festivals
The festivals involved eating and drinking. We are reminded that the Son of Man came eating and drinking (Matt 11:18-19, Luke 7:33-35) and each of these not only point us to Jesus, but call us to celebrate God’s work of redemption. When we observe communion today, with bread and wine (eating and drinking!) we are celebrating Christ and anticipating the full and final feast at the end of history (1 Cor 5:6-8, 11:23-26, Rev 19:9).

All of these gifts are meant to provide Israel with vivid, tangible demonstrations of the greatness and glory of God.

The four books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy cover a period of 120 years.

When Moses is 40, he is set apart as a Judge and Deliver. He is rejected by the people and they are condemned to another 40 years of slavery while Moses goes into the wilderness to receive God’s Word. A new (2nd) generation will inherit God’s promise of deliverance.

After that time, Moses returns, God judges Pharaoh and Egypt and following the first Passover, God delivers his people as he promised.

They are a holy priesthood divided from the world by the water of the Red Sea and will be tested and refined (threshed) so that they can inherit the land given to Abraham.

In the first passover, their faith is tested at the Red Sea, their commitment is tested and during their travel in the Wilderness, their obedience is tested.

When presented with the opportunity to enter and occupy their inheritance from Abraham, the 2nd Generation also fails to trust the judgement and deliverance of God. As a result they are condemned to another 40 years of wandering in the wilderness so that the next (3rd!) generation will receive and benefit from the promises.

How did that happen?
Compare the people’s behaviour in Exodus 15:13-18 with their attitude in Numbers 14.
In Exodus 15, they are focused on what God had done and would continue to do.
In Numbers 14, they focused on what they could not do and looked away from God and to themselves.

They allowed unbelief to cloud their vision of God and the purpose he had called them to.

Biblical faith abides in  (lives, rests, tenaciously clings to) the promises of the Word of God and yields an faithful and fruitful life.

Holiness and obedience is based in the Word of God. When we act independently of scripture we do not enter, we do not overcome and we do not occupy the place God calls his people to be. So often, Christians trip up in their pursuit of holiness because they seek something outside of scripture. Whether it be an experience, feeling, or some other “sign”, it moves our focus away from God to ourselves. We are not the centre of the universe.

 
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Posted by on 28/03/2012 in General

 

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A Covenant Prayer

God is active in creating, moving and growing things. He expresses this to us in history by making covenants. His covenants aren’t static contracts. They absorb and succeed each other as they increasingly transform our world towards it’s final glorification.

John Frame, James Jordan and others have observed the five fold structure of biblical covenants. Mike Bull’s recent work on The Covenant Key also unpacks these five stages. When you start to see how pervasive the covenant structure is in scripture it really does give you new eyes.

Mike notes the stages as (with my simplified explanations):

Transcendence: God gives his name as he initiates the covenant, identifying who is in charge
. . . . . Hierarchy: God identifies his representatives, means of provision or mediation
. . . . . . . . . . Ethics: God provides his stipulations (how the relationship will work)
. . . . . Sanctions: God advises the consequences (blessings & curses) that accompany fidelity or failure
Succession: God points to a future inheritance (or disinheritance) as the future is prepared

Whilst doing a study on the five sacrifices given to Israel in Leviticus, I was reading Jordan’s monograph and enjoyed the parallels he noted between the sacrifices and covenant structure. My study took me a little further and I noticed something in the pattern that seemed familiar. When I was thinking about the relevance or application, if any, of the sacrifices to modern worship I came to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV):

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Christ’s instruction to pray appears to be in the form of a covenant pattern.

1. We recognise God’s transcendence, holiness and distinction (just as Israel did in the ascension/burnt offering) - Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

2. We trust God, as demonstrated in our tributes and tithes, to meet our daily needs (Israel did so in the tribute/grain offering) - Give us this day our daily bread.

3. God reconciles us to himself and to each other so that we are not only forgiven but able to forgive (Israel enjoyed the peace/fellowship offering which celebrated the same) - And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

4. God, through Christ, has expiated our sin so that we can draw near to him (Israel acknowledged their need for sin to be ‘taken away’ through the purification/sin offering) - And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

5. Because our true and ultimate inheritance is a city not made with hands, we readily acknowledge God’s ownership and entitlement to everything (Israel’s guilt offering provided retributions for perjury and theft) - For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

So the covenant really is a key to understanding how we will enter our future rest.

 
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Posted by on 09/01/2012 in Bible, Prayer

 

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