In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Leviticus is named “And He Called,” which is the opening line of the book in Hebrew. God called all Israel to be a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6), but the people were not sufficiently spiritually mature to function in that capacity. God therefore selected a group of Israelites, the tribe of Levi, to show the people what it meant to be priests for God. The regulations in Leviticus point to a priestly way of living that all Israel was expected to learn and respect.
A key term in Leviticus is the word “holy” – used more in Leviticus than any other book of the Bible. Generally meaning “separate,” it is used specifically in the Bible to describe God. He is God, and there is no other god, and none like Him. When God called Israel to be holy, he called them to be unlike any other people, separate and distinct upon the earth. The book of Leviticus helped Israel to see what that meant. The book may be divided into three sections:
I) Holy Things – Chapters 1-7 in which a system of sacrifice is detailed.
II) Holy People – Chapters 8-10 in which Aaron and his sons are consecrated as Priests.
III) Holy Living – Chapters 11-27 in which lifestyle requirements are spelled out for God’s holy people.
New Testament writers use the language of Leviticus to refer to Jesus. He is our “sin offering” and “peace offering” and “High Priest.” Israel’s spiritual immaturity kept her from approaching God directly, forcing her to seek mediation with God through the priests. But in Christianity, the sacrifice of Jesus has made us all priests (1 Peter 2:5) and we all have bold access to God’s throne of grace through Christ (Hebrews 4:16). Our lives must, through holy living, demonstrate our awareness of this great privilege we have.
Whenever you have a spare hour, and a computer, line up, side by side, Exodus 25 through 30 and 35 through 40. The amazing thing – though almost mind numbing – is the great similarity between these chapters. Note just the lampstand for example:
God said: “Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be one with it” (27:31). Then, in 37:17, “They made the lampstand of pure gold and hammered it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms were of one piece with it”
In fact, in the last two chapters of Exodus, Moses notes not less than fourteen times that Israel built the tabernacle, and everything in it, just “as God commanded them.” It was then that God took up His dwelling among them, and remained a visible presence among them “in the sight of all the house of Israel” wherever they went.
Our obedience is not how we coerce blessings from God. As God’s children, he longs to bless us. In fact, the blessings are already ours. But the presence of the Lord among us, and his blessings, do not come and are not seen among the disobedient. Only the obedient are blessed. It was true in ancient Israel. It’s still true today.
What strikes me as I begin this section of Exodus is the repeated emphasis on “willingness.” It’s true God commanded Israel bring offerings for the building of the tabernacle, but the offerings recognized by Moses are “freewill” offerings brought by the “willing,” those whose hearts were moved to give to God.
The second thing that strikes me is what was brought: Gold, silver, bronze, brooches, earrings, rings) expensive yarn and linen, red rams’ skins, hides of sea cows, olive oil and onyx stones. Where’d they get all this stuff? They had been slaves in Egypt. They left at a moment’s notice. How did they acquire all this? Moses has told us. When Israel left Egypt, they asked their Egyptian masters for expensive presents, and so, Moses wrote, “they plundered the Egyptians.”
When God’s people trust Him and obey Him, he blesses them beyond all reason. When His blessed people realize all that God is doing and has done for them, they respond out of willing hearts. For some, bringing the raw materials wasn’t enough. They spun the yarn and linen and goat hair. Others brought raw materials AND did the work. After all, they were making a house for the Lord, their provider and deliverer.
May we always be aware of the great grace shown us in the blessings of God, and may we be seen to be thankful people who willingly bring the Lord raw materials, time and talent, that His house, the Church, might be a glorious home, the envy of the world.
When I read the story of the golden calf, I’m always reminded of Isaiah 40:30-31 in the old King James Bible: “they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” It’s the word “wait” that catches my attention. In our time, to “wait” means to delay action until something expected happens. In the King James Bible, “wait” meant to “trust,” and that’s what Israel isn’t doing in Exodus 32. They couldn’t “wait” for Moses to return because they didn’t “trust” the Lord. Impatience with God comes from a lack of faith: a lack of confidence that He knows what He is doing; a lack of confidence that He has a plan.
Chapter 32 is filled with stupidity.
Israel loses faith in the Lord who has delivered them, so they transfer their allegiance to an idol that looks like a young cow that can be fashioned by a man using a tool – a small, mute and impotent god to be sure – one they could control, but who could not rescue.
Aaron stupidly explains his actions: “they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” Did he really expect Moses to buy that?
But the story is also filled with grace. Moses undertook to reason with God, hoping to temper the Lord’s anger. He reminded Him of God’s reputation in the pagan world. He reminded God of His promises to Abraham and Isaac. But in the end, Moses offered his own soul for that of his people, and God relented. In your daily prayers, remember especially those who have lost faith and turned from God. Your intercession may be just what they need to be saved.
Priced a good bull lately?
I thought about that as I read the ordination ceremony of Aaron and his sons.
Aaron, aided by his boys, was to be the spiritual liaison between God and God’s people. But even he didn’t take that job himself. He was appointed by God, and not without some pomp and circumstance. To be admitted to those positions required a cleansing from sin, and that cost the lives of a bull and two rams. But it wasn’t just their sacrifice. Moses had to be meticulous in how he sacrificed those animals. The end result was a priesthood, a human link between God and man. Those priests were special – unlike anyone else. They had access to food no one else was able to eat. Their support came directly from God, paid for by the people they served who made offerings to the Lord.
Four lessons come to mind. First, serving God is not a matter of human choice. Serving the Lord comes by His invitation and even qualifying for the post must be done according to His terms. One doesn’t just “accept the Lord Jesus Christ” and be “in.” Second, to be able to serve the Lord requires a cleansing sacrifice, an “atonement.” Ultimately, for us today, Jesus is the sacrifice that has made this cleansing possible. Third, living in service to God sets us apart from the rest of the world – a holiness that must be seen in the way we live our lives, down even to the way we dress.
Finally, this service is costly. Today, a bull can go for anywhere between $1500 and $2500. A ram for $100 – $200. A bull and two rams were used in the ceremony. But it didn’t end there. Israel had to sacrifice a bull and two rams every day from that point onward. It wasn’t like the animals were slaughtered and given to the poor. They were just killed and burned. When you consider how many cattle were killed every year in just this way, being the people of God becomes a serious and pricey proposition. Animals had to be raised. Animals had to be bought.
Today, Christians serve as priests. Our service is at God’s election, and must be in His way. And we can be sure that it will be costly. Ours is no cheap God.
Picky, picky, picky.
It is the way God seems in the chapters dealing with the tabernacle and its furnishings. From the measurements of the curtains to the number of loops on each end to tie them to the wall supports. From the choice of fabric to the choice of color. Nothing was left to the imagination of man. In fact, everything was to be made “according to the plan” God showed Moses in the mountain. “Exactly” according to the plan, the text says (25:9). This becomes a theme beginning in this part of the book, for the command to follow instructions occurs repeatedly (25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8) and in a variety of forms.
But it’s not just about following instructions.
This building is to be something grand. The materials they are to use are not ordinary. To a very practical mind, one might wonder why the curtains had to be of “finely” twisted linen, why the clasps to hold curtains together had to be of gold, why acacia wood had to be used, why the bases for the tent poles had to be set in bronze bases, why the oil for the lamps had to be “clear” and from “olives.” These were a nomadic people and a tabernacle like this would undoubtedly stand out – like building a stone mansion in a trailer park.
But that was the point. Israel’s God was not a man – nor like a man. Their God was uncommon among the gods of the people surrounding them. The place of His dwelling had to be special.
In every thing we do for God, it should be the very best possible. And since God now has made his home within us, His Church, everything about us should radiate that we are different in a way that will bring honor and glory to the Lord.
If you haven’t gotten the message by now in Exodus, let me make it plain. Being God’s people is serious business. The ten commandments summarized the obligations of the relationship succinctly, but they are further elaborated as the Pentateuch unfolds — as if to emphasize their importance.
God’s people cannot live as they please. Truth is an important part of our ethic and it doesn’t change whether one is rich or poor. We are to be concerned about others – even our enemies – and that involves looking out for their best interests. The “Sabbath Laws” were written for two reasons: First, to legislate trust in God. If you cannot work, you will have no choice but to depend on God. For Israel, it was to be a part of their constitution. It defined them. But second, the Sabbath laws provide rest for yourself and others – animals, servants – particularly those who were likely to be oppressed as Israel became more prosperous.
God’s people cannot worship if they please, and where and when they please. Worship was always to be on God’s terms. No one shows up before God unannounced and uninvited. No one should presume on God’s presence or time. Though we often don’t think about it, NOT thinking about it inevitably leads to a depreciation of the worship assembly, and ultimately no worship at all.
The list is often called the “ten words,” because in Hebrew, the focus is on one word of each command. These provide the basis of the moral code of both the Old and New Testaments, as well as summarize the requirements of every human relationship with God.
God doesn’t undertake to explain why these rules are important to Him. They are His rules. So significant are they that the Lord underscored their seriousness with lightening, trumpet blasts, fire and a voice so awesome that Israel “trembled with fear.”
Why was God so overpowering? To emphasize He’s serious about the rules, or, as Moses put it, “so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
The paragraph following is significant. Wherever Israel went, she was to build an altar for the worship of God. She could use dirt, or rocks, but whatever she used, the content of the materials could not be changed. God made the dirt. Israel could not change that. God made the stones. Israel could not change them. There was nothing she could do to make the elements “better” than God had made them.
Many have tried to change, supplement, re-order or throw out God’s rules. But they are God’s. They will never be better than they already are. We have to remember that.
As I write this (December, 2010), New York has experienced one of the worst blizzards in history. Mayor Bloomberg of New York is under attack for not moving the snow off the streets quick enough. But there’s so much of it, you have to wonder where on earth the mayor could possibly move it. Hundreds of thousands of travelers are sleeping in airports. Today, it would take 1800 747s, on top of the regular planes, to clear out the log-jam of travelers.
Sometimes, there’s no immediate human solution to a problem. You can shout, scream, demand, insist all you want, but in the end, there’s little to be done but wait for God to do something.
Notice how often Israel whines about her condition. When being pursued by Pharaoh’s army, Israel cried to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? When they ran out of food they complained: “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted” (they’d been oppressed slaves remember). Now, they are out of water and quarreling with Moses – about to stone him.
The problem here is not the people’s frustration. It is their lack of faith. The key to chapter 17 is their cry: “Is the Lord with us or not?”
God provides them water, and then further proof of his presence in Israel’s defeat of an attacking Amalekite army. Remember the Amalekites? They are descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob.
What is so memorable about these events is Israel’s lack of faith. God was there all the time. God’s presence did not guarantee Israel would not run out of food or water, nor be attacked. It did guarantee that they could not be conquered by any of these. Instead, Israel wondered if He were really there. Remember that the next time you are faced with insurmountable odds. Do the best you can. Be still. Wait on the Lord. Deliverance will come.
Chapter 14 is the last time you will read about it in the Exodus story, but it has been a prominent part of the narrative since the beginning.
I’m talking about the “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart – mentioned specifically 18 times.
It’s a synonym for stubbornness. Pharaoh is guilty on his own. He makes himself stubborn. But God is also active, hardening Pharaoh’s heart himself when he needs to.
There is a reason for this hardening. God wants Israel to leave Egypt, but His goal is not just an exodus. God is teaching a lesson. Every move God makes just angers the Egyptians even more. Israel has to believe this isn’t the way to win friends and influence people. If they DO get to leave, it will be with the great hostility of the Egyptians. And yet, amazingly, the Egyptians become favorable toward Israel and actually give them parting gifts. On the other side, the plagues turn many of the gods of the Egyptians against them: frogs, the Nile, cattle, the sun, all let Egypt down and the Lord of Israel demonstrates He is in control of them all.
It would have been easy enough for God to have simply destroyed the Egyptians, but that wasn’t his plan. He said to Pharaoh: “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:15).
Pharaoh’s heart was made stubborn so that in God’s time, Israel would be released in precisely the way He wanted, and the Egyptians would learn Israel’s God was in control of everything.
If God would do this to Pharaoh, might he not also harden our hearts so that we cannot be saved? The answer is “yes.” But remember this: God is in the saving business, not the hardening business. Hardening comes as one steadfastly and increasingly turns from God. Eventually, one reaches a point of no return.
Got you worried? Then you aren’t there yet. Change your life before you get there. The sovereign God of the Exodus is sovereign still.