Vol.XXVI March 2, 2011 No.5
Letting God be God
In our daily bible reading, we have spent the last couple of weeks in the book of Leviticus. It is an interesting study, and at the same time it contains some of the most tedious reading in all of the Bible. The degree of detail throughout the book is exhausting - the various sacrifices, the designations concerning what is clean or unclean, the problem of leprosy, moral instruction, Sabbath regulations, etc. I cannot envision living under a system of worship, or life for that matter, that would be so demanding and fastidious. How could those people remember it all? Did they not live in constant fear of missing a detail? And interspersed throughout the book are warnings or examples of punishment that accentuate God’s personal holiness and justice. In Lev.10:1f, Nadab and Abihu offer “profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them” and God strikes them dead. Again, in Lev.24:10f, a young man engaged in a fight “blasphemed the name of the LORD and cursed” and God commanded the people to take him outside the camp and stone him to death. And such examples of severity only serve to amplify the many demands of God for extreme measures of discipline. Capital punishment alone was demanded for everything from improper entry into the Most Holy Place to idolatry to cursing one’s parents to sexual immorality/perversion to witchcraft. Add to this the overwhelming attention given to the consideration of sin and sacrifice; holiness and ceremonial cleanness; feast days and Sabbath laws; inheritance and redemption. It is in many ways, a frightening and confounding part of God’s revelation.
That being said, I enjoy preaching out of Leviticus, because there are some wonderful insights into the mind of God therein. It seems to me that the concepts of justice and holiness are intended to make an impression upon us. And while there is clearly a great emphasis upon the mercy of God as He provided forgiveness/atonement through a system of animal sacrifices, there are few other books in the bible that offer such a singular glimpse at the uncompromising demands of our God. And that, in and of itself, is instructive, for the requirements of much of this book would have clearly tested the faith of individuals who lived under the Mosaic covenant. How many farmers would let their land lie fallow every seventh year, trusting that God would provide enough in the sixth year to not only live on for three years, but to have enough seed left to replant after the Sabbath year (Lev.25)? How many people would actually participate in the stoning of a child who cursed his parents? How many masters would release their slaves or return purchased property in the year of Jubilee (Lev.25)? How many people would only offer as sacrifices the very best animals that they had, knowing that the sacrifice of such would insure that what was left for breeding stock was inferior (Lev.22:17f)? How many people who developed some suspicious skin ailment would subject themselves to a priest’s examination, knowing that they might well be cut off from society (Lev.13f)? How many of the Israelites, when no one else was around to witness the matter, would conform themselves to the tedium of Leviticus?
In all of its details, all of its demands, all of its distinctions, all of its punishments, the book of Leviticus would test in Israel whether or not the people would be willing to let God be God. And isn’t that the great challenge that people have always faced when it comes to religious considerations? You have to think that those folks would have objected to some of God’s demands, or at the very least found some of them to be either distasteful, or subject to modification. I don’t know exactly what Nadab and Abihu did that constituted the fire in their censers to be “profane”, but the very term that describes it means that it was foreign or adulterous - that their activity was a violation of their covenant with God. It must have seemed to them either insignificant or indifferent in some way. But it was not so with God. And what about all of those little details involving the sacrifices? What if the priest sprinkled the blood of the sin offering on the veil of the tabernacle only six times instead of seven? If you consider carefully the language, then the forgiveness offered in those sacrifices was conditioned upon the proper offering of them (Lev.4:20,26,35). We often tend of view such details as minute aspects of service that simply cannot be that important. But in so doing, are we not assuming the role of God Himself?
One of the great downfalls of modern “Christianity” is the almost absolute neglect of authority for religious activity and doctrine. Most everyone gives lip service to the idea that God is God and that He has given all authority to Jesus Christ (Mt.28:18f). But how many folks really measure what we believe and do by what we can find in the bible? The only apparent standard upon which decisions are made by religious entities these days is whether or not the matter seems to be capable of attracting a crowd. Worship is obviously entertainment-driven. Doctrine is subjected to the dogma of inclusiveness and political correction. Even modern standards of morality are as determined by social acceptance as they are by God’s revelation. Don’t believe me? Just look at the immodest attire in the average worship service or the number of those unscripturally divorced and remarried within almost any given religious body or the percentage of single “Christians” who are sexually active. Does anyone care much anymore about what God says? Do we examine our grand ideas with the question, “Does God authorize this?”
Many times I’ve heard people make distinctions in religious matters between what they consider “salvation issues” and “non-salvation issues”, and I can appreciate that there are questions that I do not have to have answered in order to obey God. But are we trying to consider His Word from His perspective? Am I playing God by deciding what is important and what isn’t? Isn’t part of true faith accepting and obeying God’s demands even though they may not suit my own preferences or traditions or understandings? And is it my right to decry, alter, or ignore His revelation and still expect Him to save me? I’m really glad that the covenant to which Leviticus is attached is not the covenant under which I live. But, regardless of the covenant or the demand, we absolutely must let God be God.