Thursday, March 13, 2008

Leviticus 23-27: Final Laws

Here I am again. I'm going to finish the book of Leviticus even though I was originally going to break it into two sections, because I really want to move ahead into Numbers as soon as possible.

Chapter 23: Laws of Religous Festivals

That's the heading that my Bible gives for this chapter. It's about all the things the people have to do for certain holidays, and specifically for the Day of Atonement. I think it's generally well-known that the word "holiday" literally means "holy day." I dn't usually think so much about what that implies, but this chapter makes it pretty clear. It calls certain days "holy convocation," "sabbath of complete rest," and "appointed time of the LORD." It wasn't really about going water-skiing or picnicking with your family; it was about remembering God's faithfulness and worshiping Him for it for the entire festival.

What amazes me about these holy days is that they weren't just one day long. In fact there were some holidays that lasted for an entire week, and during that whole week the people couldn't do any "laborious work." I think that means there was -some- work they could do (and they kind of had to because back then you really couldn't cook a whole week's worth of food ahead of time).

Holidays were important to God. They were memorials, so that the Israelites would remember where they had come from and what God had done from them. It would be like having Black History Month, only specified to your own ancestors, and with God as the focus. And even though I said it wasn't all about water-skiing or picnicking, it was about celebrating. God told the people to get palm branches, which I guess they would wave around, and rejoice and celebrate before God for seven days. Have you ever celebrated about anything for seven days straight? I haven't. But there's a really good opportunity coming up, because next Sunday is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week. I think Easter is definitely worth celebrating for seven days straight (at least).

Chapter 24

The chapter heading I have is "The Lamp and the Bread of the Sanctuary," but the chapter is not really all about that. In fact, this chapter is weird. It starts off talking about the instructions for the lampstand and the table of the showbread, which were both in the tabernacle, but then in the middle of talking about that, a horrible thing happens. A half-Israelite man and a full-Israelite man got in a fight, and the half-Israelite man "blasphemed the Name and cursed," so they brought him before Moses, and God told Moses that the man had to be put to death. Then God talks about some other things, like how if a man kills another man, he should be put to death, and if you injure somebody then whatever you do to them will be done to you (fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth). Then they take the man who blasphemed God's name outside the camp and stoned him to death.

Isn't that awful? Now, I don't know exactly what "blaspheming the Name" is, but I'm pretty sure it's not like saying "OMG," because the word "Name" is capitalized, which means it's not the generic word for God, which is "El," but God's holy and personal name, YHWH. Jews didn't even -say- this name verbally, which is why we don't know exactly how to pronounce it, so I'm guessing that to blaspheme this Name was a really, really big deal - a direct and deliberate disrespect and rejection of God. And apparently this was a really big deal.

I always find it interesting that freedom of religion wasn't allowed in Israel. Israel, you see, was not supposed to be a model governmental system; other nations are not supposed to look like Israel, and America certainly isn't supposed to look like Israel. Israel was supposed to be a symbol of God's holiness, a beacon to the rest of the world that showed who God is, what He is like, and what He wants from people. Think of a lighthouse. We don't really use lighthouses anymore, but you know the general idea - the glass which surrounded the flame had to be kept clean all the time, so that it reflected the light the best it could. If the glass was dirty, the light wouldn't reflect well, and that might mean that a ship would be unable to see the lighthouse in a storm, and that could be deadly. God wanted people to have a clear reflection of Him, which is why He was so strict with Israel.

Chapter 25 is about the Sabbath Year, the Year of Jubilee, and all the things that went along with that. Basically, every seven years, the people didn't plant any crops but let the land lie fallow, which replenished the soil and all that good stuff. And every seventh sabbath year was called the Year of Jubilee, which was when all debts were cancelled and slaves were set free and all sorts of wonderful things like that happened. It was like a "start over" year, so if you were really poor and had to sell your house and sell yourself into slavery, you could get everything back at the Year of Jubilee.

The rest of the chapter is about what happens when somebody becomes really poor and can't take care of themselves. What I find really awesome is that God commanded that if a countryman became poor, the other people in the community had to help him out and sustain him. I think that's something that the Church is really bad about today. We kind of let everybody mind their own business, and if somebody's having a hard time we feel bad for them, but we don't want to give them much because we don't want them to take advantage of us, but God makes it clear that we are not supposed to just let people stay desperate. Even if they had to become indentured servants, the poor were to be taken care of.

I'm going to do chapter 27 next. I don't really know what it's about, actually. It has something to do with values and how different people are worth different amounts of money, and it has something to do with making vows. I haven't done any research on the subject; does anyone have a clue what's going on here?

I'm doing chapter 26 last because it kind of sums up the whole book of Leviticus, and actually the rest of the Law as well. In this chapter, God tells the people what will happen if they obey Him and what will happen if they disobey Him. What is really neat about this part is that when He tells them about the consequences of disobedience, it's not like "if you mess up, BAM you're dead." There are punishments, but with each list of punishments there's the phrase "and after that, if you don't turn back, then this will happen." Meaning, the punishment only happens when the people are disobedient. If at any moment they repent, the curse will be lifted. God says, "If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers . . . then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land. . . . When they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them. . . ." That was really abbreviated, but the idea is that God will never completely give up on His people, and that if they turn back to Him after messing up, He will forgive them. And that is what's going to happen, many times, in the next several books.