Law and Order. God gave the Israelites specific instructions on how to treat each other, including sexual conduct.

Day 53 (Feb. 22): Blood is necessary for purification, sexual conduct, how to treat others, more of God’s decrees

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

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 17-19
(1445 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

O. (Leviticus 17:10-14): Rob addressed the forbidden blood issue in the first answer to Day 49 (Feb. 18).  Check it out.  Like God said, you must sacrifice in His presence.  If not, the blood (the life) was taken out of His vicinity and the attempted atonement for a sin would not be accepted.  As Leviticus says, “I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you.”

Q. (18:1-30): These laws obviously keep the peace and sanity.  Many are accepted today as taboo and thus no need to bring them up.  However, homosexuality is on the rise.  Does the NT back up the OT on this issue or is homosexuality OK under the new covenant?

A. The laws are set up to create a (fairly) clear ethic of sexual relationships: only between men and women who were married to each other.  Then you add a few other perimeters: not having sex with close relatives was a clear way to respect families and to protect women in particular, since they could be more easily taken advantage of in this system – we will see more rules like these.

The question of homosexuality is a thorny one, and one that I fear is badly overemphasized in the church today.  It does not come up very much — around 10 times in the entire Bible — but where it does, the NT and the Old are clear that it is a sinful action (Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9).  Please note what it does not say: that being attracted to people of the same sex is forbidden, but only acting on that attraction.

There are some (generally among the more liberal Protestant denominations) that consider homosexuality to be acceptable under the new covenant, specifically because Jesus does not speak against it in His earthly ministry.  I don’t agree with the way they tend to reach this position (basically using Jesus as an argument from silence), and then minimizing other verses in both the OT and NT in order to “say” that the Bible doesn’t forbid homosexuality – this is the important part — as it is practiced today.  So there’s a few different positions out there that various groups consider to be the “right” one.

As a more conservative Bible scholar, I don’t like the way the above conclusion about the acceptability of homosexuality is reached, but it is important to understand that this is a real issue that many people struggle with, even many who do not desire to.  We must be sure that we maintain an ethic of loving the sinner, even as we rightly set the Biblical standard for sexuality.  As I said, homosexuality gets a lot of press, but there are much more pressing issues related to marriage and sex that are much more rarely challenged.  The Biblical prohibition of divorce — except in cases of abandonment or infidelity — is clearly not spoken of enough, especially in a culture where there is divorce on demand.  And in the bigger picture on sexuality, the Bible prohibits ANY sexual conduct outside of a man and woman who are married!  And we have many more heterosexual couples that are wrapped up on sexual sin than we ever will gay couples.  To me that says we too often as churches lack the willpower to proclaim this clear truth.  We certainly do not proclaim this standard in our churches very well either.  So while the perception of homosexuality being on the rise gets a lot of the press, there is a total sexual ethic that the Bible paints in this passage and other places that is too often truncated or ignored completely.

Q. (19:1-4): What should I glean from the repetition of “I am the Lord your God.”

A. The reminder that these are God’s standards for the Israelite conduct, not human ones.

O. (19:9-10): I love this small passage.  It shows so much compassion!

Q. (19:17): I don’t understand what is meant by “confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.”

A. This verse appears to be warning against holding a grudge, and carrying around malicious thoughts about a brother or sister in the community.  If a person has sinned against you, this verse teaches us, you become guilty as well if you hate them for it — i.e. you share in the sin.  This verse should be clearly read with the intent that is culminating in the next verse: don’t seek revenge, but love your neighbor as yourself — something Jesus repeats as one of the greatest commandments.  Love for neighbor covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

Q. (19:19): Several of these are violated today. I saw a zorse (half zebra, half horse), there are mules, of course. (Nice poetry, eh?)  Many clothes are made with different kinds of material or thread.  Would you say these are OK under the NT?

A. I think we are ok here.

Q. All of these decrees seem so random, jumping from one subject to another.  I just wonder that if they had a different flow in the language they were written.

A. That might help some, but I think this is very likely an edited volume, where various parts of the Law were brought together into one volume, and so from the outside it might appear to be done in a hodgepodge manner.  There is a lot of scholarly debate about the role of editing in the Old and New Testaments, but I have no problem with the idea that various sections of manuscript were brought together, since it would appear that this was generally done with great reverence and care.

For further study: Reasons for sexual conduct laws for the Israelites: https://www.bibleodyssey.org/articles/sexual-purity-in-leviticus/

Shop: Camp out in God’s word and you will know your path: https://livinlight.org/product/campout/

Tomorrow’s reading: Leviticus 20-22

 

Offering instructions priest guidelines, The Costume of the High Priest. The Jewish Museum / A gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff.

Day 49 (Feb. 18): More instructions for guilt offering, peace offering, blood and fat is forbidden, priests’ portions, priests’ ordination

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

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 7-8
(1445 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Leviticus 7:23-27): Why the strict requirements for blood and fat?  Those are two laws I would have no problem following.

A. There are two separate reasons for the restrictions.  The fat was used as fuel for the altar, and at least in the fellowship offering, the section in question, the fat was the portion that belonged to the Lord.  There is some debate as to whether this was a universal restriction, or only in the instance of this offering.  I couldn’t find a definitive answer.

The blood is a different matter, and there are a couple of reasons for not ingesting it.  First, blood sacrifice was a huge part of the pagan rituals in the Middle East at this time, so this was another example of the people being called to be set apart by not doing something their neighbors would have commonly done — drink blood from sacrifices — including human sacrifice.  But there’s more to it than that: One of the things that God instructs the people is that they are forbidden to drink blood because the blood is the life of the creature in question (Lev 17:11).  The blood belonged to God as the Creator of the being, and it appears God did not want the life of these creatures to be “taken” into His people.  Incidentally, this verse and concept are a big part of the reason that Jehovah’s Witnesses consider blood transfusions to be forbidden: you are, in their eyes, taking life from someone and giving it to someone else — an act they consider God to forbid.  While I think that blood transfusions were not what God had in mind, and I therefore reject that position for JWs, I think that this is a neat concept worth considering.

Q. From reading all of this, I can picture the priests eating a lot of sacrificial meat.  With all the thousands of people of Israel offering sacrifices, I would think that the altars would have been going 24/7, especially with all of the requirements for each sacrifice.  How could the priests keep up?

A. We don’t have any information about how much there were animal sacrifices in the wilderness, but according to what the ancient rabbis wrote about the Temple (where the sacrifice system will move after Israel settles in the Promised Land), the ritual system was a 24-hour a day process.  So yes, there would have been a lot of meat.  I suspect most of it was burned up to prevent it from rotting, but from this we can see that certain portions of the offered sacrifices could be taken home to feed the priests’ family.

Q. (8:14, 18, 22): What’s the reason for the priests putting their hands on the sacrificial animals’ heads?

A. The ritual of sacrifice for sin was a three-step system: offering, transference, and slaughter.  The person who made the offering — the priest in this case — would offer up an animal that would serve to pay the penalty (death) for the sin of the person.  The person would lay hands on the head of the animal, to symbolize the transference of the sin, and also to provide the person in question the clear understanding of what was happening.  The laying on hands was a way to honor this animal that would bear the penalty for the person’s sin, and then the animal would die in a fairly humane manner — if you can believe it — to this day that is a major emphasis of kosher butchering.  God wanted the sinner to be perfectly clear about the cost of sin.  And though the gore of such effort would surely have been nearly unbearable, I wonder if we are always better off by being sheltered from the true and ultimate cost of the sin that Jesus bore in our place.

Tomorrow’s reading: Leviticus 9-11

Plagues in Egypt Frogs were everywhere and Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron.

Day 34 (Feb. 3): Plagues of water to blood, frogs, gnats, livestock, boils, hail

Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

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
Exodus 7:14-9:35
(1446 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Exodus 7:15): Is there any significance in why God chose a staff to demonstrate his power?

A. The staff would have been a powerful symbol of God’s power.  Shepherds such as Moses would have been given a staff in a ceremony when he entered the vocation: this staff was his life.  Not only was it used for obvious things like bringing back sheep and support when a shepherd walked, but it was probably used to fight animals and kill snakes.  Shepherds, still to this day, mark their staffs with various indentations and words, to form something like a personal journal.  So the staff represented the vocation.  God had then ordered Moses to change his vocation, but to keep the symbol of it, and apply it to his new purposes.  This is not the last time in the OT that a staff will play a central role as a conduit of God’s power.

Q. (8:18): Any particular reason why Pharaoh’s magicians couldn’t duplicate this plague?

A. I don’t know if there is something specific about the plague of gnats (some other versions render this lice or mosquitos, it is hard to tell the exact word the writer meant).  But there is an important shift in the narrative.  For the first two plagues, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to “match” the plague (by whatever means they did so as we discussed yesterday), and so Pharaoh could consider himself and his gods to have “not been beaten” by the Hebrew’s God, since his men could do it too.  But after this plague, he loses that excuse, and is forced to take personal responsibility for his actions for not letting the people go.  I think the magicians failure is all about God escalating the pressure on the king.

Q. I saw a TV documentary that showed how the plagues can be backed up scientifically.  So, is it OK to say that scientifically the plagues could have happened or do we just say that it was an act of God.  God did create science.

A. I’ve heard this as well.  One thing I read mentioned that all of the events that take place (even the darkness) are part of the normal cycle of life in Egypt.  Just as a couple of examples, silt that flowed up the Nile from Ethiopia can turn the river a shade of red- and cause a growth of a red algae that can kill fish and make the water undrinkable.  If this happened, then animals such as frogs (the second plague) would have left the water and relocated to other areas.  The insects (3 and 4) would not have been eaten by the frogs, and could have reached high levels of growth without the predation.  The flies could have spread bacteria and diseases to the livestock and boils to the people (5 and 6).  You get the idea.  Even the more powerful plagues were part of the ecosystem of Egypt: thunder and hailstorms, locusts, and giant sandstorms (called khamsin) that could stir up so much dust, they could block the sun.

Two other things are worth mentioning here: the clear implication of the text is that God is bringing these events about, even if He is using naturally occurring phenomenon to do so.  While it can be interesting to speculate about the “natural” origins of these plagues, to do so is ultimately to miss the point: God is demonstrating His power in Egypt in order to free His people.

The other side of the coin that frequently goes unmentioned in discussions such as this one is the association between natural parts of the Egyptian ecosystem and the gods that they worshipped.  Several of the plagues target particular Egyptian deities, and the events that take place would have been a way of the Hebrew God proving His superiority over these false Egyptian gods.  One goddess, Hapi, was the goddess of the Nile, who was revered as giving life to Egypt.  The water to blood plague would have been seen as a clear defeat of this goddess.  Other gods and goddesses were seen as animals, including frogs (plague 2) and livestock (cows, goats, etc., that died in plague 5).  One of the most powerful gods in Egypt was Ra, the god of the sun. The darkness of the second to last plague (i.e. the blocking of the sun) would have been a clear insult to his power.  So while there are natural phenomena that would have been a part of this story, there is certainly religious significance to the story as well, as the God of the Hebrews showed His power over the natural world and the deities of Egyptian worship.

Q. Just a study note.  Is there any difference between Israelites, Hebrew and Jews?

A. In the language of the Bible, no.  These terms can be used interchangeably.  While the origin of the word Hebrew is the least clear of the three (it’s the oldest), the others are fairly straightforward.  The word Hebrew appears to be from Genesis 10:21 and 25, where a son of Shem (Noah’s son) is named Eber.  (Incidentally, the name Semite comes from being descended from Noah’s son Shem).  Abraham is called a Hebrew in Gen 14.

Jacob is renamed Israel (wrestles with God) in his story from Genesis, and therefore people from his line would be called Israelites.

The word Jew comes from a more specific and later subset of the Israelites: the descendants of the tribe of Judah (and Benjamin).  These two tribes, along with Levites, are the Israelites who survive in the Southern Kingdom after most of the other tribes are wiped out in the story recorded in 1 and 2 Kings.  That’s why Jew is the most recent of the three terms.

Hope that helps!

For further reading: Did the plagues really happen? https://evidence-for-thebible.com/archeological-evidence-for-the-bible/archeological-evidence-for-the-plagues-in-egypt/

Shop: Various sources support the Bible’s account of the 10 Plagues of Ancient Egypt.  The Bible gives us Truth!  https://livinlight.org/product/truth-pepper/

Tomorrow’s reading: Exodus 10-12