Give an Order
“Kindness, Justice, Righteousness”
Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-23
by Mark Huey
While reading about the different offerings instructed, and the variety of sacrificial procedures in this week’s Torah portion, you can easily see how God was very specific about the guilt offering, burnt offering, grain offering, sin offering, and peace offering. After detailing these specific offerings and their associated procedures, Leviticus ch. 8 describes how Aaron and his sons were to be consecrated as priests before the Lord. For the first time in the history of Israel, the high priest and the attendant priests are set-apart for service unto God and the people. Our parashah closes with a final word that seems to punctuate this selection of teaching in Leviticus chs. 6-8:
“Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses” (Leviticus 8:36).
For centuries, Ancient Israel attempted to follow these instructions with varying degrees of zeal and accuracy. The Tabernacle migrated throughout the wilderness, into the Promised Land to the period of the Judges and onto Shiloh, to ultimately be placed on Mount Moriah, when a magnificent Temple by the direction of King Solomon would finally be constructed. Thereafter, Israel had a more permanent place to bring their respective offerings. But apparently by the time of the Prophet Jeremiah, the intentions of the offerings had digressed to various perversions that were rampant among the people. If you take the time to read the context of our coupled Haftarah reading (Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-24), you should be appalled by the declension to idolatry, theft, murder, adultery, and even child sacrifice. Jeremiah even prophesied that the Temple will end up like Shiloh and that the Southern Kingdom of Judah will be scattered just like the Northern Kingdom exiles had been two centuries earlier:
“‘And now, because you have done all these things,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer, therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim’” (Jeremiah 7:13-15).
Jeremiah makes the following opening remarks from this week’s Haftarah selection:
“For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you’” (Jeremiah 7:22-23).
When the Prophet Jeremiah declared God’s word, “when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices” (NIV), is this at all to be taken as a contradiction of the commandments witnessed in Leviticus chs. 6-8? Or, is Jeremiah’s declaration intended to have a deeper understanding to a generation that has fallen into disloyalty and irreverence before God?
What Jeremiah says is that God is most concerned that the people obey His voice! If they do so, then they will have the Lord as their God, they will be His people, and they will be blessed by Him. God is more concerned with a personal and steadfast obedience from His people, and their loyalty to Him, than with them presenting Him burnt offerings and sacrifices offered in a hollow spirit.
When you reflect upon Jeremiah 7:22-23, and realize that the sins of the Southern Kingdom were greatly abominable—to the point of child sacrifice being present—the significance of Jeremiah’s prophetic utterance should take on some brevity. The word delivered indicates that a violent destruction of great parts of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and even the beloved city of Jerusalem, were coming because of the terrible deeds committed by the people. We even see that those of the Southern Kingdom would largely choose death rather than life, even in the places where they will be scattered:
“‘And death will be chosen rather than life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family, that remains in all the places to which I have driven them,’ declares the LORD of hosts” (Jeremiah 8:3).
Such concluding remarks are so disturbing that the Jewish Sages decided to add a few verses from Jeremiah 9, in order to allow the tradition of giving hope to the reader so that one’s study may end positively:
“‘Speak, “Thus says the LORD, ‘The corpses of men will fall like dung on the open field, and like the sheaf after the reaper, but no one will gather them.’” Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:22-24).
While reading these final verses from our Haftarah portion, what is the redundant nature of the various offerings described in Tzav supposed to communicate to us? They are certainly very meaningful and specific instructions, with the Lord most concerned about detail and compliance. Yet, in lieu of our modern era—and especially in light of the ultimate sacrifice for sin performed by the Messiah Yeshua at Golgotha (Calvary)—I personally found that it was much easier to identify with Jeremiah’s statements. Jeremiah was speaking to a religious and secular audience that is very similar to the one we cohabit within our current generation.
What delights the Holy One of Israel is that people can boast and exclaim of personal knowledge, understanding, and grand experiences partaken of in Him. By knowing the Lord, a person should understand that He exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness. It is these three attributes which summarize the infinite love that our Creator has for His human creatures! When you take the time to review these awesome attributes, you will discover that when we mirror these attributes, we are a delight to Him.
While meditating upon these character traits, it is difficult to not consider a statement made by the Messiah to some of the religious leaders of His day, who He rebuked for their hypocrisy:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24).
Yeshua’s words parallel those of Jeremiah, in stating how obeying the Torah will reflect the graceful attributes of our Heavenly Father. The “weightier matters” of Moses’ Teaching are what we should all be seeking to demonstrate in our own maturation of faith. We should ask ourselves if we are extending justice to those who are oppressed. Do we show mercy and lovingkindness to those who need it? What about faith and how it relates to righteousness? Is it not by faith that we are considered righteous?
“Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
What is our faith focused upon? Is it upon the variety of offerings and animal sacrifices that we read about in Tzav this week? Surely these things are of the faith, but they cannot provide us with the internal confidence and trust in our Creator which only comes by us focusing our complete attention upon Him. And, for the Ancient Israelites who made these sacrifices with pure intentions, there were limitations in that they could not provide a permanent degree of atonement and/or restitution before the Holy One. Consequently, it is only faith in the completed work Yeshua—which is typified by those offerings—where eternal redemption can be found. The Apostle Paul gives us some thoughts to consider:
“Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH’ [Habakkuk 2:4]. However, the Law is not of faith; [yet, ‘HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE IN THEM’] [Leviticus 18:5] [Leviticus 18:5]. Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE’ [Deuteronomy 21:23]—in order that in Messiah Yeshua the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:11-14).
The Apostles teach us that Yeshua the Messiah has redeemed us from the curse of the Torah (Galatians 3:13; cf. 4:4-5), the penalties and guilt incurred from our common disobedience to the Law. The great value of the salvation that born again Believers possess in Yeshua is precisely because it is freely offered, and no human activities can be performed to acquire it. However, following salvation we are surely expected to demonstrate our faith via obedience to the Lord, as the Torah’s instruction is to regulate our behavior, attitudes, and physical actions. (Do not overlook how Leviticus 18:5 in Galatians 3:12 is quoted from a section of the Torah that relates to sexual conduct.)
James the Just addresses the connection between true faith and its fruit, which is evidenced in works. But keep in mind that these works are primarily works of grace and mercy (cf. James 1:27) that come from a person who has been perfected by the Holy Spirit:
“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS [Genesis 15:6],’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:17-26).
If you have become a willing vessel for the Spirit of God to use for His good pleasure, then by faith you should be submitting to His will for your life and allowing Him to operate through you. As a result, the good works that He has prepared for you in which to walk will be evident:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Additionally, it is critical that we diligently hearken to His voice when His indwelling Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. Jeremiah implored his ancient listeners to listen to the voice of God in order to understand and know Him. Thankfully, we can recall that our Messiah Yeshua also affirms the reality that redeemed, Spirit-filled Believers will hear the voice of God because “He knows them.” In fact, Yeshua was almost stoned for His description of how His sheep or His faithful followers hear His voice, which is, in no uncertain terms, the voice of God:
“The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Yeshua answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him” (John 10:24-31).
Our challenge, as we deal with the controversial issues of the day, is to cry out for wisdom and for a heart which listens more intently to His voice. In so doing, I believe He will conform us to His image over time, and in the process, allow each of us to extend lovingkindness, justice, equity, and true righteousness as we yield to His work. Offering ourselves together as a living sacrifice for His righteousness (Romans 12:1-2) is better than all the sacrifices listed in Tzav that we could make!
However, there are some distinct “offerings” that faithful men and women must bring before His altar in Heaven. These include prayers for God’s people being persecuted all around the world, who live in countries where belief in Yeshua (Jesus) is outlawed or taboo. As Messianics, we should especially offer intercessory prayers for the Jewish community in the Land of Israel and abroad. We also must pray for our own Messianic community as it struggles to be salt and light, working toward excellence and perfection (not so easily at present). As we listen intently to the Lord’s voice, He will surely instruct us in all things, but do not be surprised if your pleadings turn to groans or even cries:
“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:22-28).
Do you now understand why Jeremiah is often known as “the Weeping Prophet”? From the revelation he received, and the Voice he heard, he knew that the judgment of God was coming in just a matter of time to the rebellious Southern Kingdom. In a like manner, as we study the Scriptures understanding the ways of the Lord—while coming to know Him more fully—I pray that as we learn to listen to His voice, we also know that judgment is coming to our modern world because His righteousness requires it.
Our problem is that, by His grace, we do not know when the judgment or the Day of the LORD will erupt in its fullness (Jeremiah 25:31; Acts 17:31; Revelation 14:7). But we do know that He delights in our acts of lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness. May these commanded attributes be evident in our faith-exercised, as we hearken to His voice and demonstrate His goodness to all!
 Leviticus 6:1-7; 7:1-10.
 Leviticus 6:8-13.
 Leviticus 6:14-23.
 Leviticus 6:24-30.
 Leviticus 7:11-20.
 Grk. all’ ho poiēsas auta zēsetai en autois.
Editor’s note: It might be better to take the conjunction alla here not as adversative, but rather as “forming a transition to someth. new,” including another “matter for additional consideration” (Frederick William Danker, ed., et. al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000], 45), hence the rendering of it as “yet,” and not the more common “but.”
James D.G. Dunn, Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Galatians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), pp 175, 176 fairly observes, “It needs to be stressed that this is essentially a positive view of the role of the law.” He further states, “it is highly pertinent to note that in context Lev. xviii.2-5 emphasizes the distinctiveness of Israel’s way of life from that of the surrounding nations.” The sexual instructions seen in Leviticus 18, of course, would be among the non-negotiable requirements the non-Jewish Believers had to follow in order to enter into the ekklēsia, as issued in the Apostolic decree (Acts 15:19-21).