Shemini

Shemini

Eighth

“Be Ye Holy”

Leviticus 9:1-11:47
2 Samuel 6:1-7:17 (A); 6:1-19 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Previously in Tzav (Leviticus 6:1[8]-8:36), Aaron and his sons were to be consecrated for seven days in order for them to be ordained into the priestly service (Leviticus 8:33). Having completed this seven-day period of cleansing and dedication, our Torah portion for this week, Shemini or “Eighth,” now begins:

“Now it came about on the eighth day [b’yom ha’sh’mini] that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel” (Leviticus 9:1).

Aaron and his sons have been consecrated to God and they can begin to offer up the various sacrifices for themselves and the Israelites. Further on, we read that after the different sacrifices have been made on the altar, the glory of God appeared among the people of Israel:

“Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD [kavod-ADONAI] appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:22-24).

In an awesome display of His holiness, Aaron the high priest blessed the people of Israel, and a fire consumed the burnt offering. The Israelites shouted and fell on their faces. The Lord was pleased with their obedience and He accepted their offerings.

Within some undetermined amount of time, tragedy came upon the family of Aaron. For unknown reasons, Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu, presented unauthorized fire before the Lord. In His displeasure He consumed them with a fire from the altar. When you reflect upon the descriptive verses, you can readily conclude that reverence, respect, and awe for the God of Israel are things that He requires of all His servants:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire [eish zarah] before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:1-2).

Nadab and Abihu did something which God considered grossly disrespectful of His holiness. This is explained to Aaron, who in his pain of loss simply remained silent:

“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the LORD spoke, saying, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.”’ So Aaron, therefore, kept silent” (Leviticus 10:3).

However, within a few short verses, our parashah turns to the problem of serving the Lord while under the intoxicating influence of “wine or other fermented drink” (Leviticus 10:9, NIV). Various readers have thought that Nadab and Abihu could have been drunk while offering the strange fire before the Lord, accounting for their lack of reverence before God. As an example for generations since, the dramatic loss of their lives by a consuming fire has indelibly reminded people in positions of spiritual responsibility that the Lord requires absolute sobriety and attention placed upon Him, when one is conducting ministerial duties:

“Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:9-10).

Separation Unto Him

Continuing the account, we see a link between not being intoxicated with alcohol and the requirement upon God’s people to make a distinction between the holy and profane, and the clean and unclean. This is where the balance of Shemini begins to rivet our attention. The Hebrew verb badal, generally meaning “be divided, separate” (BDB),[1] is frequently used, and becomes the primary emphasis of thought. The royal priesthood, the nation of priests, and all the community of Israel who have been called out to be, as Isaiah declared centuries later a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6), are commanded to make a distinction between the holy and profane, and to understand the difference between the clean and unclean.

When you see a cursory usage of the verb badal, you find that it is used in the Hebrew Scriptures in a total of 41 verses.[2] It is used three times at the beginning of Genesis. I would submit that its high occurrence in the opening statements of the Torah is something for Bible readers to take note of:

“God saw that the light was good; and God separated [badal] the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. Then God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate [badal] the waters from the waters.’  God made the expanse, and separated [badal] the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so” (Genesis 1:4-7).

Here, we see a major description of the separation of light from darkness. How more vivid a picture would you like to see of separation? Badal is employed to describe the distinction between the dry expanse and the waters, and the separation between the sky and ground. When we move forward to this week’s Torah portion, the concept of understanding the difference between the holy and profane, and the clean and unclean, is about as stark a contrast as the human mind can possibly fathom. Consequently, God’s people should be those with the ability to determine what is holy and what is clean.

In His mercy God chose Israel to communicate His requirement to separate the things that are holy from the things that are profane. The Lord made this clear to Moses as the Ancient Israelites left Egypt, and as they were preparing to receive the Ten Commandments:

“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation [goy qadosh]. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel” (Exodus 19:5-6).

Moses will repeat these same declarations to the Israelites in the Book of Deuteronomy, as he summarized the works that God had performed for them, prior to their entry into the Promised Land:

“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God [ki am qadosh atah l’ADONAI Elohekha]; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

The Prophet Isaiah reiterates the call of Israel to be a nation of priests unto the Lord:

“But you will be called the priests of the LORD; you will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast” (Isaiah 61:6).

Finally, in the Apostolic Scriptures, we see that the Apostle Peter appropriates the declarations of Moses and the Prophets as he exhorts all Believers in Yeshua to be who they have been called to be. He emphasizes his point by writing how people in the Messiah have been brought out of darkness and into the light of God:

“But you are A CHOSEN RACE [Isaiah 43:20], A royal PRIESTHOOD [Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6], A HOLY NATION [Exodus 19:6], A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION [Isaiah 43:21; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2], so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY [Hosea 2:23]” (1 Peter 2:9-10).[3]

Clean and Unclean

Moving through Shemini, the balance of the narrative goes into great detail discussing the kosher dietary laws which summarize what God considers clean and unclean animals for human consumption (Leviticus 11:1-47). Moses categorically lists what the Lord considers to be edible an inedible for His people, in terms of what is clean and unclean.

Does the Holy One of Israel know what is best for the human diet? Some say yes, but others are not so sure. Compliance with the dietary laws of Scripture is usually not a problem for those who are following the Torah’s other commandments. Within the broad Messianic community, Jewish Believers are among those with the least amount of hang-ups and difficulties in terms of following kashrut law. Non-Jewish Believers entering into the Messianic movement do have various levels of difficulty when it comes to the kosher issue. This is largely because of certain passages in the Apostolic Scriptures (i.e., Acts 10:1-16; 11:1-10; Romans 14:14; Colossians 2:16; 1 Timothy 4:1-5) which are commonly interpreted as negating the significance of the Biblical dietary laws. Each one of these passages, to be certain, is worthy of some careful re-reading and consideration of their ancient context.[4]

In spite of any claims that the kosher dietary laws are unimportant, the Biblical requirement to be holy just as God is holy still remains. The steadfast expectation for God’s people to be holy, perhaps ironically, appears within the very chapter of the Torah that details the significance of kashrut! When the Apostle Peter quotes from Leviticus 11:44-45, is he at all emphasizing the need to be holy by eating kosher?

“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. 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 11:44-45).

“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]” (1 Peter 14:13-16).[5]

In 1 Peter 14:13-16, the Apostle applies the various principles we see in Shemini into a short admonition, to direct his audience to see the bankruptcy of their sinful behavior prior to their salvation. He directs them to “not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (RSV). He wants them to turn from any sin still present in their lives, and turn toward godly and holy behavior. It just so happens that the text he quotes relates to eating kosher.

There is a distinct link in Peter’s words to the possible problem that Nadab and Abihu had with alcohol. Peter reminds his readers to be sober, employing the verb nēphō, “to drink no wine” (LS).[6] Many in Peter’s audience were raised in pagan cultures where unclean meats were eaten. When he talks about the cravings that they experienced as sinners, could this likewise pertain to what they would eat? Keep in mind the fact that at many Roman parties, people would sit and drink, consume so-called “delicacies” (unclean things), and frequently engage in group-related sexual activities. How many of us ever connect drinking, eating, and ungodly sex? In the First Century, it was a bit more common than it is today. And, eating according to God’s Instruction is only one of many areas where the behavior of Messiah followers is to surely be set-apart!

“Be Ye Holy”

Some of you who might be reading this Torah commentary may have not yet concluded that the kosher dietary laws bear any relevance to you. I would ask you to give the words of Moses, Peter, and others some consideration. After all, as God’s people and His representatives in the world, we are commanded to be holy or separated out. Is one way for this to be accomplished, by only eating what God considers clean meat? We are surely to be priests unto Him, who are to demonstrate to the whole world the difference between the holy and profane—between what is acceptable and unacceptable. If we cannot control our intake of alcohol or our choice of the animals we eat, then is it possible that He will chastise us or penalize us as His designated representatives? I pray that you will consider these things as you approach the Lord this week in prayer and study of His Word.

It is very important for each one of us to seek a holiness that comes by obeying God’s commandments. By obeying God, we have been designated as a holy and set-apart people for His own possession. Once you truly recognize that you are His and blessings can abound by obeying Him, pleasing Him via a Spirit-led obedience is a delight beyond all of the desires or cravings of the flesh. And so I urge you: be ye holy!


NOTES

[1] BDB, 95.

[2] This figure was determined using a lemma search of the Hebrew Tanakh (WTT) in BibleWorks 8.0.

[3] Aland, GNT, 789.

[4] For a further discussion, consult the article “To Eat or Not to Eat?” by J.K. McKee.

Be aware that Messianic Apologetics will be releasing a Messianic Kosher Helper sometime in the future, which will address both the significance and theology of kashrut.

[5] Aland, GNT, 786.

[6] LS, 532.

Tzav

Tzav

Give an Order

“Kindness, Justice, Righteousness”

Leviticus 6:1[8]-8:36
Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-23


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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,[1] burnt offering,[2] grain offering,[3] sin offering,[4] and peace offering.[5] 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[6]’] [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!


NOTES

[1] Leviticus 6:1-7; 7:1-10.

[2] Leviticus 6:8-13.

[3] Leviticus 6:14-23.

[4] Leviticus 6:24-30.

[5] Leviticus 7:11-20.

[6] 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).

Vayikra

Vayikra

He called

“A Witness Who Keeps Silent”

Leviticus 1:1-5:26[6:7]
Isaiah 43:21-44:23


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

As we begin to examine the Book of Leviticus, the Torah student gets an opportunity to study the sacrificial system that was instituted by the Lord to cover the transgressions of His people. In Exodus, the Ancient Israelites have just completed the construction of the Tabernacle, and have witnessed God’s glory descend upon it. The weight (Heb. kavod) of His presence was so intense that Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting in order to communicate directly with the Almighty (Exodus 40:34-35).

There is little doubt that at the close of the Book of Exodus, Moses’ credibility and reputation with the people of Israel was at its pinnacle. Moses’ revealed God’s instructions on how to build the Tabernacle and all of its accoutrements, and they were followed to precision. The result had to be an awesome sight to these former Egyptian slaves, who were privileged to participate in the construction projects. From a distance they were all eyewitnesses to the pillars of fire and cloud that were guiding them by night and day, but now the manifestation of God’s presence was preventing access to the awesome structure.

It is at this point that the Torah prescribes the sacrificial system that Moses was given directly from God in the Tent of Meeting. Without any significant interruption in the text, it appears that the Lord, from His new location in the midst of Israel, began to address the need for the individual atonement of the sins of the people:

“Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.” If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.” He shall slay the young bull before the LORD; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer up the blood and sprinkle the blood around on the altar that is at the doorway of the tent of meeting’” (Leviticus 1:1-4).

In these opening verses of Leviticus, we discover that the sacrifices for transgressions are intended to be quite personal. The one who is guilty of sin is instructed to place his hands on the head of the animal that has been chosen from the herd, onto which the sin guilt will be transferred. The individual is told that “He is to slaughter the young bull before the LORD” (Leviticus 1:5, NIV), and then Aaron and his sons are to take the blood and offer and sprinkle it in the appropriate places. Can you imagine the impact this ceremony would have on you if you were required to participate in this ritual? If you have ever slaughtered an animal—which the great majority of modern-day people have never done—you might have some understanding of the significance of what was mandatory. But can you visualize actually placing your hands on an innocent animal’s head with the knowledge that your sin has required a blood atonement, in order for you to be restored to a right relationship with God? From an economic standpoint, what would happen if you had to slaughter your prize bull in order to affect a degree of reconciliation with the Creator?

Many of these thoughts are difficult to fathom, but as you read through the Book of Leviticus, the variety of offerings and their significance for the array of sins of commission and sins of omission, can be a bit overwhelming. It is understandable that many, especially in the nearly two thousand years since the Second Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem, have had a tendency to not really comprehend what is being communicated in passages such as these. Since Yeshua’s atoning work for sinful humanity at Golgotha (Calvary), the propensity for His followers to focus on His permanent sacrifice has understandably outweighed the study of the Book of Leviticus in most Christian teaching. As a result, the ability, to personalize the gravity of sin and what was required to restore a right relationship with God, has been largely mitigated. Many Believers simply claim the “blood of Yeshua” when they transgress the Father’s will—if they are even aware of what it is—at too many times resulting in very little, if any, spiritual growth toward maturity. While none of us should ever be found degrading or downplaying the eternal salvation available in the Son of God (cf. Hebrews 10:29), how can we appreciate such salvation if we do not first appreciate the sacrificial system of Leviticus?

This is one of the primary reasons that the Lord today has convicted many Believers to return to a consistent study of the Torah. By actually reading through this Torah portion, Vayikra, and meditating upon some or all of the sins which require atonement, one should be able to analyze areas of his or her life where some “fine tuning” would be appropriate. Who among us is not personally guilty of various sins of commission or omission at times? Even if we have experienced the transformative power of the good news, having received the Lord Yeshua into our hearts—are there not areas of our lives which need (significant) improvement? How frequently do we fail to really consider the gravity of the words of 1 John 1:8-10?

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).

I trust that many of you reading this commentary have taken care of the bulk of the sinful habits and behaviors that might have once been present in your life. But, among those areas that you know do need to change, have you been completely honest with yourself? Does sin truly have no influence at all over you?

Interestingly, I have seen 1 John 1:8-10 described in the past as a “Christian confessional bar of soap,” as God is able to forgive us and cleanse us of all our sin and guilt if we ask Him. Our sin nature inherited in Adam, can still at times have a tendency to negatively influence us, our decisions, our thoughts and demeanor, and how we conduct ourselves in the workplace and in family life. The Apostle John describes some of the significant benefits of a true salvation experience, as we are to have each become redeemed children of God who are experiencing victory over sin and lawlessness:

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:1-10).

Here, we see that John clarifies the concept of sin and the fact that when we are in Him and abiding in Him we do not sin. But the problem is that in our spiritual journey, the sanctification process takes time, and a knowledge of just what sin is—and what righteousness is—is mandatory in order for us to mature. Take this one example from Vayikra as a starter in your personal appraisal:

“Now if a person sins after he hears a public adjuration to testify when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt” (Leviticus 5:1).

Have you ever been in a predicament when you were a primary eyewitness to some sinful circumstances that were being investigated or adjudicated by some authority? This could be a civil or criminal offense from a minor misdemeanor to a felony. Perhaps you did not want to be involved in the investigation or prosecution, because of your relationship to the offender. Or perhaps you were concerned about your potential loss of time. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, you might have justified your decision to act ignorant to the circumstances. By doing so, did you know that you were not only disobeying secular law, but also God’s Law?

Perhaps by thinking and meditating on many of the different implications from this single commandment, you can hopefully become a better corporate citizen to the community where you live. If you do not come forward, then the Torah of Moses says that you will bear the guilt of the offender! I urge you to consider this, and recall some instances in your life when you should have stood up to say something.

What if you are an employee at a company and you witness some people stealing some of the company pens and paper for their own personal use? What if the owner of the company asks all the employees to report any known offenders? Are you going to come to the employer and report what you have witnessed? Or are you going to remain silent and bear the guilt of the offender? At least consider the possibility that if you do not come forward and say something, that all employees could be penalized if the situation remains unresolved. Do you really want to lose pay, vacation time, or be laid off because of someone else’s transgression?

On a spiritual level when we witness our brothers or sisters in sin, there is an admonition that allows us to deal with them in love. In his final statement in his epistle, James gives us a strong encouragement to go to fellow members of the faith community, in order to save them:

“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

This is a strong parallel passage that echoes the words of Yeshua, when He was instructing His Disciples about how to deal with issues of sin in the community:

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED [Deuteronomy 19:15]. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly; and if he refuses to listen even to the assembly, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).

The problem we face on all of these levels throughout the world is that most people do not know the ramifications of a Torah commandment like Leviticus 5:1. If we understood the guilt of our lack of performance to testify, when we have personal knowledge of some offense, then perhaps we would follow the instructions. In so doing, our culture may improve as offenders are duly prosecuted. Companies would avoid the loss of assets from internal theft. Our assemblies and congregations would function more righteously as the “sin in the camp” is properly handled. Most importantly, those who refuse to confront flagrant sin that they have personal knowledge about, would not be burdened with the guilt that should rest upon the offender, rather than the one who keeps silent.

If you take the time to reflect upon all of the different offerings in this portion, I am confident that you will be able to identify with some of the different sins of commission or omission, and perhaps let the indwelling Spirit convict you of where you need to confess, repent, and be restored to His grace. The following is an appropriate summary I would ask you to reflect upon before our Heavenly Father:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘If a person acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally against the LORD’s holy things, then he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD: a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation in silver by shekels, in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. He shall make restitution for that which he has sinned against the holy thing, and shall add to it a fifth part of it and give it to the priest. The priest shall then make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and it will be forgiven him. Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment. He is then to bring to the priest a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation, for a guilt offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his error in which he sinned unintentionally and did not know it, and it will be forgiven him. It is a guilt offering; he was certainly guilty before the LORD’” (Leviticus 5:14-19).

Comprehending the sacrificial system of Leviticus more fully is a blessing to those who take the time to meditate on the ramifications of intentional or unintentional disobedience. By doing so, it gives the revelatory power of the indwelling Spirit the opportunity to expose areas of your life which need to be dealt with through confession and repentance. As a result, those who are seeking the truth, while being led and taught by the Holy Spirit, have an opportunity to develop a deeper and more profound walk with the Lord as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:11-13). And, unlike the Ancient Israelites who would have to offer various animal sacrifices over and over again—we can walk in the assurance that with the arrival of Yeshua the Messiah and His permanent sacrifice—that an everlasting solution to the guilt incurred by sin is available to all those who place their trust in Him!