Annual festivals

Day 55 (Feb. 24): Annual festivals: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Harvest x 2, Trumpets, Atonement, Shelters; light for God, eye for eye, Sabbath Year, Jubilee

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 23:1-25:23
(1445 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Leviticus 23:3): I have never heard of the term “holy assembly?”  Is it a church service of some sort?

A. While it is the first time that term has been used, I think, the concept is well established.  The Sabbath is a time for gathering with the community for the purpose of worshipping God.  The people would have gathered at the Tabernacle, and then later the Temple.  As the Jews became spread out among the various nations over the centuries, called the Diaspora, and it became harder to worship directly at the temple, worship sites called synagogues arose in the various cities.  These synagogues will play a major role in the NT story of Christ and the first Christians.  There are numerous references to Jesus observing Sabbath in a synagogue (Mark 3:1 among many), and Paul sought converts in the various cities that he visited on his first missionary journey in Acts (9:20).

Q. In all of these sacrifices, God is so specific.  With Abraham and Jacob, they would occasionally stop and honor God with a sacrifice, but I don’t recall that God told them what to sacrifice.  I wonder if people ever gave their best as an offering, but with no instructions from God.  Why couldn’t the people come up with their own sacrifices/offerings?

A. That’s a good question, and I guess I don’t have a great answer.  My guess would be that the Law was designed to tell the people what was expected of them, as a way to standardize the sacrifices.  The sacrifices were part of the Law that is being established here, so part of the reason we don’t see Abraham and Jacob doing things in that way is because they were not under that system.  We are basically laying the ground rules for a relationship with God that has lasted more than 3500 years.

Q. (23:21): This verse caught my eye.  God said to not do “ordinary” work on the Sabbath.  What does that mean?

A. I would take it at face value: stop the routine work that you are doing to keep these various holidays.  Even if the exact phrase hasn’t been used before, I would take the meaning to be the same.

Q. (23:27): On the Day of Atonement, the people were supposed to “deny themselves” or fast.  Growing up, I don’t remember our church talking about fasting.  Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention to that part.  I know some congregations of believers will fast for a certain thing they are praying for.  Why is fasting a way of worshipping?  When I think about fasting, I think STARVING.  If I am hungry, I can’t think straight.  How can I worship and concentrate on God when I can’t concentrate?  The NT promotes fasting too, right?

A. Fasting is a method of self-denial for the purpose of growing closer to God.  We intentionally deny ourselves food in order to focus on God.  As Jesus tells us, and Satan, in Matthew 4: there is more to life than food, and sometimes it takes us giving up our nearly constant routine of eating to bring our attention to this fact.  Part of the reason it can be so hard to fast the first time is simply because our body isn’t used to it.  Fasting is a discipline, one that both Jews and Christians alike have prescribed as a way to grow closer to God for millennia.

[Quick aside: the notion of giving up something for Lent [our current Church season] has become fashionable in many churches, but on some level I feel our self-denial misses the point.  While there is value, say health-wise, in giving up chocolate or soda for a season, that is not the original intent of a Lenten fast.  The idea is that we set something we enjoy aside for a time, in order to spend the allotted time WITH GOD.  So having no Coke for 40 days may help your waistline, but unless you are spending your soda break time reading scripture or in prayer, you’re not really “filling” the time in the way that Lenten fasts were originally designed to.]

Book recommendation: If you want an excellent guide to fasting and prayer, as well as the other classical Church disciplines, I recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  It is a modern classic (written in 1978), an incredible guide to the spiritual life of a Christian, and frankly, a book that people will likely be talking about and reading 100 years from now.

O.  (23:9-44): This is just a bulleted form of the festivals:

Firstfruits: First cuttings of harvest.

Harvest (Pentecost): Fifty days after Firstfruits, a second offering from the first of their crops.

Trumpets: A complete day of rest in the fall.

Atonement: Day of purification through fasting, nine days after the Festival of Trumpets.

Shelters: Five days after Day of Atonement to remind future generations of Israelites that God made their ancestors live in shelters when He rescued them from Egypt.

Q. (Leviticus 24:21): I guess this backs up the “Thou shalt not murder” commandment by saying, hey, if you do, you die too!

A. That would be the proper application of an eye for an eye in this case.  Sadly, some states and nations just haven’t managed to make it any further than that.

O. (25:1-7): I grew up on a Kansas farm.  I remember my father letting our land lie fallow to restore it’s nutrients.  I think it’s amazing how the Bible covers all the little things that may seem trivial, but very important to livelihood.

Q. (25:8-13): Do Jews still recognize the Year of Jubilee?

A. That’s a tricky question.  Most of the information I read indicated that most rabbis feel that the rule of Jubilee only applies within the Promised Land in a kingdom established by God.  Therefore, the answer most commonly given is that most Jews, even Torah observant Jews, do not mark Jubilee: it only applied to a particular era of their history when it was needed.

On the other hand, there is the concept of tracing the years through the ages, which you could argue is “recognition”.  I couldn’t find a definitive source about the attempts to keep track of Jubilee: some scholars have attempted to recreate a list of the years that should have been Jubilee, and also, some rabbis feel that there should have been one 50 years after the modern state of Israel was established, but most did not.  There have been various attempts by Jewish scholars to track, and therefore project, when the next Jubilee is, but this is mostly scholarly speculation that has little bearing on the life of Jews today.

O. (25:14-17): Sounds like Real Estate 101 to me, or a fair real estate transaction!

For more knowledge
— Is there scientific benefits to letting the land rest? https://blog.freshharvestga.com/why-soil-needs-as-much-rest-as-we-do/ 
— How does letting the land rest look today? https://www.israel21c.org/the-farmers-who-are-giving-their-land-a-years-rest/

Shop: Jesus showed his disciples how to love people.  By following Jesus, we can increase the Kingdom of God. https://livinlight.org/product/teacher-t-shirt/

Tomorrow’s reading: February 25:24-26:46

Atonement. God gave Moses specific instructions for Aaron on practices for the Day of Atonement.

Day 52 (Feb. 21): Contaminated houses, Ceremonially unclean rules, Day of Atonement a.k.a. Yom Kippur

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 14:33-16:34
(1445 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Leviticus 14:33): Can you tell us why God would purposely contaminate the houses with mildew (leprosy)?

A. (See my answer yesterday to the question of the English word choice for translating mildew/leprosy).  I am honestly not sure, but much of the area that will be settled in the Promised Land would be near the coast, so there could certainly be problems with moisture brought in from the Mediterranean.

Q. Was being “unclean” shameful?

A. In the absence of basic sanitation and knowledge about how disease is spread, it was very likely that being unclean would have been seen as God’s punishment, so it very likely was perceived as being shameful, but as we discussed yesterday, most of the time the being unclean was only temporary.

Q. (15:28): What sin has a woman committed through menstruating that she would have to make a sin offering?

A. The sin offering was being made in this case to restore the woman to full “clean” status in the community; she didn’t sin by having her period.

Q. With all due respect, the talk of all these offerings is wearing me out.  I can’t imagine all of these offerings and inspections.  I don’t understand why God made all of this so complicated.  …  Now that I’ve had a second to think about it, I recall that it’s preparing the way for the brutality of Christ’s sacrifice.  The saying, “Look to the cross,” answers so many questions!

A. The system is complicated because life is complicated.  God is making a way for His people to be in close relationship with Him on a daily basis, but they must be ceremonially clean in order for that relationship to take place.  You can probably see why this text is among the most baffling and least read of the OT: It can seem like it is just easier to skip it.  In some regards, it does get better: there are other sections of Leviticus that we will get to — I’m thinking of chapter 19 in particular — that relate to care for the poor and loving one’s neighbor that seem a lot more “relevant” to us.  But there is some important stuff here: we will see a lot of atonement imagery in the crucifixion — as you pointed to — that relates to what we read about the Day of Atonement.  So while it can feel like something that needs to be “waded” through, there will be important principles that will be laid out here that will resonate throughout Scripture.

Q. (16:1-2): God is telling Moses to tell his brother Aaron not to make the same mistake that Moses’ nephews made?  I feel like he is pushing Aaron away because of the mistakes his sons made.  Can you say what God’s reason is for warning Aaron that he will die if he doesn’t fulfill protocol before entering the Most Holy Place?  I always imagine God wanting to get closer to His people, but here, it seems he wants a distance.

A. God’s warning is not about the same thing that got his sons killed.  Verse 1 is only a placeholder for the time: it tells us that these instructions came after his son’s death.  God’s instructions to Aaron were for a different set of rules: for entering the Most Holy Place behind the inner certain in the tent — the resting place of the Ark.  Aaron and his descendants were not allowed to enter the MHP anytime they liked, they were only able to do so one time of year, and after very specific procedures were followed.  But this was probably the most important act of the High Priest the entire year: making atonement for any unconfessed sin for the ENTIRE NATION!

Q. (16:18-22): I see a lot of similarity between the sacrifice of the goat and the release of the “scapegoat” with Christ’s crucifixion.  I’m understanding that the animals will eventually be replaced by Christ.  He takes the reasons of both animals.  He dies for us, purifying us and takes our sins away, making us feel a lot less weighted down.  Yeah!  Thank you Jesus and God!!!!  How about “a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness.” Can we pin that character on anybody in the crucifixion story?

A. I guess you could say that person is Pilate, the man who ordered Jesus to be crucified — under pressure from the Jewish leadership — but I think that’s a step too far.

Q. (16:25): We talked about the fat of the sacrifices belonging to God, but I don’t think I’ve asked about the symbolism of the altar.  Does the altar represent God or just a place where we can offer him things?  I have never given much thought to it other than a platform to burn things.  But now, I’m getting a vibe that it’s more than that.  It’s a place where God embraces the gifts.  He does come in the form of fire a lot.  If you all have already made this realization, please forgive me, there’s a lot to think about in this Holy Book and sometimes I have mommy brain.

A. The altar is everything you have stated above, but I think in addition to these other things, it is a symbol of God’s righteous judgment and wrath.  Don’t miss the imagery of burning and consumption — the imagery used with Hell — in considering the role of the altar: it was a place where the sins of the people were burned away from the people, and I think the people would have been quite clear about the importance of the altar where they could make sacrifices to hold the wrath of God at bay.

Q. (16:29): Does anyone still observe this day: “On the tenth day of the appointed month in early autumn?”

A. Yes.  Yom Kippur, Hebrew for Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the entire year for Jews even today.  It does indeed take place on the 10th day of the month that Jews call Tishrei.  This month always falls in autumn — but is based upon a lunar, rather than solar calendar — the Gregorian equivalent is September or October.  So, for example, the 2013 date of Yom Kippur will be Sept. 13, though note that Jewish holy days begin at sundown of what we would call the day “before,” if that makes sense, on a lunar calendar, and in 2014 it will fall in October.  Check it out for yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_kippur

For further reading: Apply the Bible to today! In Bible times, priests were the mold inspectors: https://www.toolmanmold.com/post/the-bible-the-world-s-oldest-mold-remediation-guide

Tomorrow’s reading: Leviticus 17-19

Priestly conduct Because of their carelessness, two of Aaron's sons who were priests, Nadab and Abihu, died after burning incense in a way that God had not instructed.

Day 50 (Feb. 19): Priests start work, Aaron’s sons sin, priest conduct explained, ceremonially clean, unclean animals

The Jewish Museum / A gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff

Woohoo!  Day 50, can you believe it? We have read about 14 percent of the Bible and have learned so much.

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 9-11
(1445 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Leviticus 9:23, 24): Looks like the sacrifices offer another benefit: God coming down to show His glory and power.  The fire of God would also be like a victory appearance for the Israelites: seeing that God is powerful, listening, watching … in control.  The words “gratification” and “reassurance” also come to mind.  Did I read this correctly?

A. Yes, that’s the idea.  God is reminding the people of His power, and it won’t be the last time He uses fire to consume an offering.

Q. (10:1-3): I guess this is a way of saying “pay attention.”  We have to give God the benefit of the doubt that they were not taking God seriously and didn’t just make an honest mistake?  I noticed Aaron was silent.  This must have been very hard for him!  Just a comment in 10:6, I can’t imagine being told not to mourn the death of two children!

A. As far as I can tell, it goes a bit further than “pay attention”: Aaron’s sons were careless with the incense of God, and were struck dead for their carelessness.  It is an important thought for us to remember as well: though we are in good relationship with God through the work of Christ, we should be very careful about trivializing the things of God.

Q. (10:19): So Aaron’s apology to Moses served as repentance, which spared the lives of Aaron’s remaining two sons and possibly Aaron himself?

A. I don’t think Aaron is apologizing for his actions: he says specifically in this verse that he is mourning his son’s deaths by fasting, which is why he didn’t eat the meat.  He is explaining to Moses why he did not fulfill his duties, especially since Moses is right: they cannot leave the Tabernacle until their work is done.  I think God was clear on Aaron’s reasons, which is why it appears that Aaron wasn’t in danger, but this verse is about explaining Aaron’s actions to Moses and the audience.

Q. (11:1-44): Can you tell us why all of these rules about what they can and can’t eat?  Why are split hooves and chewing the cud important?  God says many of these animals that he says are ceremonially unclean are detestable, but he created them.  Can you explain that?

A. There is not a lot of rhyme or reason to the list.  There are some people who think that some animals were on the “unclean” list for health reasons (cows, which are permitted, are generally cleaner animals than pigs, for example) but this is difficult to substantiate or find any consistent logic in.  Basically, what we should take away from the list is that this particular list should be seen as separating the people from all of the other nations around them, which very likely didn’t have any dietary restrictions or perhaps had different ones.  The guidelines allowed the people to be set apart for the work of God, so don’t get to worried about the particular habits — chewing the cud — or animal types — birds — that were permissible to eat.

Q. Can you tell us something about why the Jewish community still follows these laws?  And Christians don’t because we are under a new law.  But, like other things in the OT, many laws are covered by the New Covenant and thus are still practiced.  So, would God be more pleased with us if we would follow these consumption laws or do we just trust God that Jesus sacrifice made these “ceremonially clean” laws null and void?

A. As we’ve discussed, the line between the Old (Jewish) and New (Christian) Covenants is one of legalism (old) verses freedom (new).  Under the New Covenant, we are not required to keep the Law for the purposes of salvation.  The Old covenant is the epitome of legalism: Jews must rely on their own actions — and the actions of the priests — in order to assure their good standing with God (though Judaism has its faith elements as well).  But with Christianity, we have moved beyond the old system into the new, which says that we are free to keep the rules of the OT where they benefit us, but we do not HAVE to.  Since we are not under that system, no amount of keeping the kosher laws or other restrictions makes us “better” or “loved more” in God’s sight: we are loved outside of our actions, and saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) alone.  So if we as a community see value in keeping some of the rules — say the 10 Commandments— we can follow them, but we are not obligated to.

One of the things Jesus talked about in His earthly ministry is that to sum up the Law, you should love God, and love your neighbor (Luke 10:26-28).  So that should be the lens with which we approach the Law as Christians: does following a command to not eat pork adversely affect my walk with God?  (And for some people, the answer is probably “yes”)  If so, then I should not do it.  If not, then it is probably okay, but we should still seek the Spirit’s guidance in “gray areas”.  How about loving neighbor?  Does committing adultery destroy not just my marriage, but likely other families as well?  If the answer is yes, then again, I should not do it, out of love for my neighbor, not to mention my spouse.  While we know that certain things are clearly off limits — murder, lying, etc. — the new way does have the drawback of giving us a lot more “gray” than black and white, so to speak.  So in the New Covenant, we have the freedom to do as we please, with the understanding that we must be discerning — which frankly can be harder than simply having rules — in what actions we take and how they will be seen by others (see 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 for Paul’s discussion of Christian freedom and discerning choices).

(From Leigh An: Wanting a little more background to this last passage that Rob mentioned, I read all of 1 Corinthians 10 and enjoyed the whole message.  I can’t wait for the NT!)

For further understanding: What does clean and unclean animals mean? https://www.spokengospel.com/devotionals/leviticus-11#video

Shop: Wear your faith comfortably!  Shop for Christian apparel at Livin’ Light. https://livinlight.org/product-category/t-shirts/unisex/comfort-colors-unisex/

Tommorow’s reading: Leviticus 12-14:32