“Priests, Feasts, Equally Speaking”
by Mark Huey
This week’s Torah reading in Leviticus continues the major theme of the book, in how the community of Israel is to seek holiness and sanctification, just as the Lord Himself is holy. Holiness, as a message to be heeded, is noted multiple times throughout the Book of Leviticus:
“For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45).
“Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’” (Leviticus 19:2).
“Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).
After some of the previous Torah portions have dealt with a variety of commandments for the general population of Israel to observe, in order to maintain holiness before the Lord and be the Kingdom of priests and holy nation He desired (Exodus 19:6)—the emphasis on personal and individual holiness among the people shifts toward the Levites, because of their specific duties for the Tabernacle. Leviticus chs. 21-22 detail a wide number of restrictions and prohibitions placed upon the Levitical priesthood, which are particularly instituted to maintain the priests’ physical and spiritual purity before the Lord. In reading the various requirements for those responsible for offering sacrifices at the Tabernacle, limitations on how to handle the deceased, marriage parameters, physical requirements, dietary restrictions, and sacrificial specifications, are noted.
Even with the series of specific commandments given to regulate the Levitical priesthood—undoubtedly because of how consecrated the priests needed to be—readers see a constant reminder of how for those within the community of Israel, the overall instructions remain relatively the same. Whether someone is native-born of Israel, or is a sojourner who enters into the community, the instructions regarding the presentation of offerings before the Lord are uniform (cf. Leviticus 22:17-18).
In Emor, we do see that the Lord makes an important distinction between those who were to serve as Levitical priests, and the general population of Israel composed of both native-born and sojourners. The Levitical priesthood of Ancient Israel is best likened to a kind of aristocracy, or even royal family: you have to be born into it. Yet, even with some specific expectations designed to be fulfilled by the Levitical priesthood, the average Israelite was to still take some instruction regarding the principles of holiness and sanctification unto the Lord, from being informed about what He required of His priests.
After going into significant detail on what the Levitical priests were required to do, Leviticus ch. 23 turns to the details about the appointed times of the Lord. The overall instructions about how God’s people are to commemorate these moedim—which range from the weekly Sabbath, to the Spring season of Passover and Unleavened Bread, to the Feast of Weeks, to the Fall season of the Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles—are delineated. It is these appointed times which basically frame the Hebrew calendar, from week to week and season to season. Since these commemorations are integral parts of what the Holy One requires of His followers, anyone who serves the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob should realize that remembrance of them is not only to be expected, but that these should be times of the year highly anticipated, for communion with one’s Creator and deriving special blessings from participating in them!
Emor further relates an incident witnessed in the camp of Ancient Israel, when a half-Egyptian, half-Israelite committed blasphemy against the Lord (Leviticus 24:10-12). What was to be done with this person? We read that when the matter was taken before Moses, anyone within the camp of Israel—be they native or sojourner—was to be given the same level of punishment for blasphemy. This scene helps to build how, perhaps unlike some other Ancient Near Eastern societies, the culture of Ancient Israel did not hold its natives to one standard of capital judgment, and everyone else in the community to another standard:
“They put him in custody so that the command of the LORD might be made clear to them. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Bring the one who has cursed outside the camp, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then let all the congregation stone him. You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “If anyone curses his God, then he will bear his sin. Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. The one who takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life. If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him. Thus the one who kills an animal shall make it good, but the one who kills a man shall be put to death. There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God.”’ Then Moses spoke to the sons of Israel, and they brought the one who had cursed outside the camp and stoned him with stones. Thus the sons of Israel did, just as the LORD had commanded Moses” (Leviticus 24:12-23).
Elsewhere in the Torah, there are additional instructions given, helping to support the premise that the same Law affects all within the community of Israel—be one native-born or a sojourner (Numbers 9:14; 15:13-16, 29-31). Obviously, readers need to be careful to understand what these instructions meant to their audiences in Ancient Israel first, and not haphazardly use little quotations about “one law” or “one Torah,” without understanding some of the original context. Yet, the overarching conclusion, which one sees in the Pentateuch, is how all people within the ancient community of Israel were expected to heed Moses’ Teaching, in some form or another:
“Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:12).
What various instructions detailing “one law” or “one statute,” often mean to people in today’s Messianic community, has been heightened by the significant number of non-Jewish Believers entering into a lifestyle of Torah obedience. It is absolutely true that not only does the New Covenant relate to the supernatural transcription of God’s Torah onto the hearts of the redeemed (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; cf. Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17), but that the nations are to come to Zion to be taught the Law (Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4). Such people are regarded as citizens of the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13; 3:6) or the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), grafted-in by faith (Romans 11:17-18).
When today’s non-Jewish Messianic Believers read chapters like Leviticus 23, there tends to be a bit of a dilemma, because Christianity has historically not observed the appointed times of the Torah, and has interpreted various Pauline passages as speaking against them. These Pauline passages themselves, though, have some ancient contexts to be considered, per the original issues and circumstances facing their original audiences. Foremost to be considered would be how the appointed times were caught up in false, esoteric teachings and human traditions, present in fringe branches of First Century Judaism (Galatians 4:9-11; Colossians 2:16-17), as well as how disputable opinions that were disrupting communal fellowship had to be addressed (Romans 14:5-6).
A reasonable conclusion to draw, from surveying the Gospels and the Apostolic Writings, does allow people to see that Yeshua the Messiah and His Disciples did observe the weekly Sabbath and appointed times. This is most especially seen in His Last Supper, a Passover seder meal, an intimate time that the Lord held with the Disciples (cf. John chs. 13-17) before being arrested and executed. For the season in which we currently find ourselves (2012), Counting the Omer between Passover and the Feast of Weeks, we can be surely reminded of how the early followers of Yeshua observed Shavuot (Acts 2:1; 20:16). Part of all modern-day Messiah followers needing to observe the appointed times is a definite component of His fulfillment of the Torah (Matthew 5:16-19), and in all of us—be we Jewish or non-Jewish—understanding the Father’s plan of salvation history. While there have no doubt been some changes to the spiritual economy naturally enacted by Yeshua’s sacrifice for human sin, to argue for a widespread dismissal of the Torah, as is too commonly seen in today’s Christianity, is unjustified.
As we each read through and reflect upon Emor this week, how are modern-day, Messianic students of the Torah to take some fair-minded direction from a reading that deals with priests handling the sacrifices, the feasts of the Lord, and even a few verses in the Torah that speak to equal adherence and treatment of the native-born and the sojourner? How do we approach these things in a manner that causes us to be more holy and sanctified, as the Lord is holy?
Each of us, as redeemed men and women, has been called and consecrated unto the Lord for His service. And so from this, a modern-day follower of the Messiah Yeshua can surely take some pointers from the Levitical priesthood seen in the Torah, without some of the specificity that definitively relates to the priests themselves. Born again Believers are to recognize that they are to be intermediaries between the Creator God and the unredeemed world at large, fulfilling on a macro level, what the priests themselves were to do in their intermediary capacity for those who would be served by the Tabernacle.
What about participating in the feasts of the Lord? There have surely been religious authorities, both Christian and Jewish, over the centuries, who have denied the applicability of the appointed times to many followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet it can be clearly observed today how remembering the appointed times has seen many evangelical Christians not only exposed to their Hebraic Roots, but has been what has specifically drawn them to become Torah observant Messianic Believers. While there are those Christians who think that the Biblical feasts should only be understood from the perspective of “enrichment,” and not as a major part of all Believers’ lifestyle—there is definitely a more positive approach witnessed in much of contemporary Christianity toward the appointed times, than what was witnessed in the past. This is a start…
While it is not possible in this week’s teaching to get into all of the nuances of why opinions regarding the Torah’s instruction vary—I urge you, that regardless of how you feel about the application of the Torah’s instruction to God’s people, to consider some of the words of the Apostle Peter, one of Yeshua’s closest disciples. He emphasized how the requirement to be holy extended far beyond external cleanliness or rigorous devotion to detail, but how holy behavior was definitively required for those who recognized Yeshua:
“As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Messiah within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Messiah and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY’ [Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7]. If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Messiah. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER’ [Isaiah 40:6-8]. And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:10-25).
Peter reminded his readers about the most critical need to understand the message of the gospel above all. This is because once the good news of Yeshua has been understood and embraced, personal holiness must be sought by the Believer. The combination of truly knowing the Lord’s salvation, with a desire for personal holiness, should then result in a sincere love of the brethren and a fervent love for others from the heart. There are people in the Messianic movement today whom our family has encountered who do not know how to do this. And so, we must each heed the good instructions of Emor!
Knowing what is required of Levitical priests, or participating in the Biblical feasts, or even knowing that God’s commandments are anticipated to be heeded by all of His people—means very little if it is not accompanied with a sincere, unadulterated and unfettered love for all people, especially one’s brothers and sisters in the Messiah. The Apostle John puts it this way:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:7-13).
When you meditate upon this week’s Torah portion, remember that the Holy One of Israel desires all to truly know Him (cf. John 3:16). There may be those who strictly observe the commandments seen in Emor, but because they lacked a holy demeanor and sanctified way of approaching Him—with little care or concern for others—are likely to be excluded from His Kingdom. Make sure that your observance of the Torah is definitively coupled with a concern that all come to a saving knowledge of Yeshua as Lord!
 Consult the article “Approaching One Law Controversies: Sorting Through the Legalism” by J.K. McKee.
 Consult the article “Does the New Testament Annul the Biblical Appointments?” by J.K. McKee.