Day 54 (Feb. 23): Punishments, priests and marriage, worthy offerings

Israelite conduct instructions

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 20-22
(1445 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Leviticus 20:2-5): Molech was a popular idol back then?

A. Molech was the god of the Ammonites, one of Lot’s children from Genesis 19 if you recall who was also worshipped by the Canaanites in the Promised Land.  Child sacrifice was central to Molech worship (we will see one of the corrupt kings of a future era do this!), which was particularly detestable to God, who considered children to be a provision from Him, not something to be offered up as a sacrifice to the gods in order to gain power

Q. (Leviticus 20:6-21): We have heard all of these laws before, recently.  Why the repetition?  Is it for emphasis, as we have seen in other stories?  Two other questions come to mind.  In earlier stories like with Abraham and his immediate descendants, they actively sought marriage of kin.  But here, God is saying it’s bad.  Any idea why he didn’t give these decrees hundreds of years earlier?  The other question is, do we inherently know that having sexual relations with relatives is bad or is it learned?  We know it’s not proper because bad traits/genes from the same family make offspring doubly likely to carry those genes and it just makes for very weird family vibes.  But to other nations, if they were never told it wasn’t proper to marry or have sexual relations with relatives, then are they disobeying?  The way I understand the Bible thus far is that some nations did not have knowledge of the Bible.  Or, is being repulsed by having sexual relations with your kin instinctive?

A. It appears that the reason for the repetition in this case was to provide guidance to the appropriate punishments for the violations of the Law.  Please note that in many circumstances the Law is prohibiting sex, especially rape of the close relatives rather than concerns about marriage- so we need to understand that up front.  Regarding the earlier generation seeking close family to marry: oftentimes this was done rather than marrying with other tribes that God did not approve of, but I suspect part of the reason it is forbidden now is that the tribes have gotten much larger.  One other thing to note is that while they did seek close relatives to marry, none of the marriages that actually occurred in the earlier stories (to my knowledge anyway) were in the category of forbidden marriages described here.  In some cases, in fact- I’m thinking of Reuben getting in trouble for having sex with one of (his father) Jacob’s wives — we see prohibition taking place before the Law is even revealed.

Regarding whether we actively seek out relationships with close family: I think that it is our nature to covet what we see around us.  If all you ever see is attractive close relatives, before too long, you probably will desire one of them, and you would therefore have to decide if you wanted to act on it or not.  This is what these rules are really about: setting up a standard so that the people know which relationships are forbidden, and which are permitted.  This is one more way that the people of Israel were set apart from their neighboring tribes: by having an ethic that was designed to prevent incest.

Q. (20:26): This is the verse Rob has been talking about. “You must be holy, because I, the Lord, am holy.  I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.”  Is this the first time we have seen it?  Or did I miss it?  It explains a lot.

A. I think so.

Q. (21:7): God gives some rules to priests about marrying, but he does not say that they must NOT marry.  So why do Catholics believe that their leaders should be single?

A. It’s not so much the married status as the vow of celibacy that makes that a bit complicated.  J  So if you mean why do Roman Catholic priests take the vow of celibacy, then our answer comes from 1 Corinthians 7, in which Paul talks about marriage.  The whole chapter is a good examination of the subject of marriage from the perspective of ministry, but the central point is introduced in verse 32: a man who is married cannot simply focus in on his ministry to God, but must focus a good portion of his time on his wife (rightly so, Paul says; Paul is not looking down on marriage, just stating the facts).  So Paul says that if you want to focus all your energy on the ministry of God, then you can’t get married.  You have to make that a priority in order to be a priest: that’s the way the R/C Church assures their own clergy are solely focused on God (though, of course, that has its downsides as well).

The other motivator for the vow is also the priest’s imitation of Jesus Himself, who, no matter what Dan Brown or silly modern “discoveries” about Jesus and his “wife” claim, was NEVER married.

Q. (21:12): Over and over again, God has told us that touching the dead makes a person, back then, ceremonially unclean.  Why?

A. While I’m sure there is a spiritual component, ultimately I think it’s a sanitation thing, related to our previously stated discussions about public health.  Keep in mind that bodies were a frequent source of disease and (of course) the horrid smell of decay.  There were no undertaking procedures to process a body and make it presentable and smell nice: they got bodies into the ground or tombs ASAP in order to try and prevent the spread of disease.

Q. (21:13): By clan, God means one of the tribes?  So, a priest may marry one that he is related to, just very distant?  How would he dishonor descendants by not marrying someone from his own clan?  Maybe his loyalty would be split?

A. Just as the Israelites were to be a people set apart, the Levites as a subset of the Israelites were called to be a tribe set apart for their special work of God.  God wanted them to remain a people set apart for His work.

Q. (21:16): Rob, here we are again.  I know you saw this question coming!  I am reading this verse and thinking that God is being unfair by not letting those with impairments offer food to God. (I heard an argument lately that, life isn’t fair because I’m a sinner and God still loves me.)  But, I would think God would be fair in this regard.

A. I’m not going to try and defend how unfair this appears on its face.  I’m only going to point out that under this system (which is not the system Christians are under today remember!), the priests (like the sacrifices brought to them) had to represent the best of who the Israelites were: they were to be perfect examples for the people in their leadership.

Q. (22:18): We have seen “foreigners living among you.”  The Israelites are God’s chosen, so why would he not say something about others joining them?  And, why would they want to, traveling in the desert for years on end?  Does it have anything to do with the word out about God being with him in all of his enormity?

A. I think this verse has more to do with the move into the Promised Land, in which Israel is settled as the leading tribes, but others still live in the area.  Those who did not belong to the tribes had to be treated respectfully, but they still had to follow the rules if they wanted to worship the God of Israel.

Q. (22:33): The way this reads is that God is holding his rescuing the Israelites over their head, like saying “you owe me.”  But, I am learning that you have to always read through the perceived tone.  I have to read it, understand the actions, but then go further and look at everything involved in the story and there I find God’s reason.  To me, He is saying this as a reminder to obey.  God is there to protect them, so listen to Him and you’ll be OK.  Stray from Him and you will see trouble.  Yet, I know the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years on their journey to Canaan.  They continually go away from God and then return to Him when things get worse.  So, here He is saying: Listen so I don’t have to say, “I told you so.”  Also, I notice that this translation says “that I might be your God,” like saying I did this so I would be worthy of being Your God.  Like he is serving the Israelites.  Am I reading too much into this?

A. Remember that this is basically an extended version of a covenant between God and the people.  The very first thing God says in establishing the covenant with the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20 is for the people to remember what He has done (v. 1-2): they would still be slaves in Egypt if not for His intervention.  So the call to remembrance in these verses (it will come up again!) is not about God bragging or saying, “you owe me”, but rather, “this is what you agreed to.  It must be my way, or you will not survive.”  We will see Israel struggle with this way, and frequently turn away from God, so perhaps we should consider the reminder as a word of wisdom, because the people will frequently NOT remember what God has done for them.

For further study: What it means to be HOLY:

For more encouragement: Try to be holy, but also be like Holly:

Tomorrow’s reading: Leviticus 23:1-25:23


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