LEVITICUS – Jesus is the destination!

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I recall when I first saw building plans as a kid. It looked fascinating and puzzling and confusing all at once. I could not work out how that thing I saw on paper would turn into the real building on the ground. Thankfully the engineers, builders, and all the other adults involved in the house project knew how to go from building plans on paper to achieving the real thing on the ground.

The real thing, the main thing, that makes the Bible message valuable is Jesus. The Bible story is that God created humanity with free will; humanity then chose a life independent of God, to live in the world through our ability alone. Since that decision was made, God seeks for humans who will walk with him, and Jesus is the perfect example of walking fully with God and the reward for doing so.

When Adam and Eve made the choice to live independently of God, they were promised a son who will make the opposite choice (Genesis 3:14-15). This was the first promise of Jesus in the Bible. The promise was repeated to Abraham and that the promised son will come from his descendants (Genesis 22:18). Thus, the promised son Jesus, came out of Israel – Abraham’s descendants. This is how and why Israel became and remains an extremely important part of God’s plan.

In Leviticus, we see how much God invested in his intimate relationship with Israel, it is because it had been decided that the promised son Jesus, will be born through that branch of Abraham’s family. A building plan to reconcile God and humanity through Jesus, was revealed in Genesis, and the rest of the Bible is about how that building plan progresses to become reality on the ground in the world.

Take Leviticus 23, where God gave Israel dates for their national celebrations – the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles. Jesus died during the Passover (Matthew 26:2), and the Holy Spirit came on the Church during Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). This is no coincidence, the Old Testament including Leviticus prepared the way for the promised son Jesus. The book of Hebrews fully explains how Leviticus prepared the way for the work of Jesus.

In John 5:39-40 (The Message Bible), Jesus says to Israel: “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there… These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.”

Dear God, help us to see that Jesus is the destination in the Bible, Amen!

LEVITICUS Lesson 6 – entering God’s intimate zone

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My wife was my friend for eight years, before we drew closer and got married two years later. As casual friends, our conversations were great but was focused more around our professional interests, a little bit about our faith, and almost nothing about our families. As we drew closer together in the next two years, we still talked about our professional interests, but we started talking more about our faith, and a lot lot more about our families. Our relationship progressed into the intimate zone.

The book of Leviticus has many lessons, one of which is God showing Israel how to walk closely, intimately, with him. In Exodus, after God delivered Israel from Egypt, he brought them to Mt. Sinai and came down to meet with them. At that meeting, Israel agreed that they will worship and serve him (Exodus 19); and were given the ten commandments (Exodus 20). This happened three months after they left Egypt, the instructions in Leviticus were given nine months after the ten commandments.

Leviticus shows God bringing Israel into his intimate zone. In Chapters 1 to 7, God calls for their absolute commitment; in Chapters 8 to 10 God shows his absolute commitment to Israel; in Chapters 11 to 15 God teaches Israel about public health; in Chapter 16, the day of atonement, God addresses Israel’s spiritual health; and in Chapters 17 to 20 God calls on Israel to be unique in their lifestyle from what they eat, what they wear, in their relationships and sexual habits.

Leviticus 21 and 22 instructs the priests about their work and life; in Chapter 23 God sets the dates for the yearly feasts of Israel (passover, pentecost, day of atonement, and tabernacles); Chapter 24 has more priestly instructions and penalty for breaking the law; Chapter 25 has economic instructions to protect the land and the poor; Chapter 26 details the blessings and penalty for obedience and disobedience; Chapter 27 concludes Leviticus with instructions about fulfilling our vows.

In Leviticus 22:31-33 (The Message Bible) God says to the priests: “Do what I tell you; live what I tell you. I am God. “Don’t desecrate my holy name. I insist on being treated with holy reverence among the People of Israel. I am GOD who makes you holy and brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am GOD.”

Leviticus reveals the depth, full weight, and seriousness of God’s relationship with Israel. This level of investment in the relationship between God and Israel, with the accompanying responsibilities, expectations, and sanctions, shows that this is a bonded relationship not just a casual thing. Thankfully, Jesus has come and made possible a less burdensome relationship between God and us!

Dear God, Leviticus teaches us the high price on Israel to draw near to you, thank you for Jesus who has made this less burdensome on us today, praise be unto you, Amen!

LEVITICUS Lesson 5 – Be different from Egyptians and Canaanites

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My high school anthem is titled ‘Builders of Bridges’. The first line of the anthem is ‘Builders of bridges across split minds’. Whenever we sang the anthem, the school authorities would remind us that we are builders, and therefore we have to be examplary leaders in society. I left high school three decades ago, but my classmates and I continue to call ourselves ‘Builders’. The school authorities composed an anthem that made us feel unique, defined a mission, and thus gave us a purpose.

When God saved Israel from Egypt, and brought them to camp at Mt. Sinai for a year, it was a period of rest, of organizing them into a new nation, of teaching them how to worship him, teaching them how live with one another, teaching them how to be different from Egypt where they were slaves, and how to be different from the people in the land of Canaan where they were going.

God defined a mission and a purpose for Israel at Mt. Sinai. It is in this light that we understand Leviticus 17 to 20. Chapter 17 warns against killing an animal for sacrifice and not going ahead with the sacrifice; the people are told that life is in the blood, don’t kill just for fun, respect blood. Chapter 18 lays out God’s instructions about sex; Chapter 19 is about how to live with each other and differently from the nations around them; Chapter 20 lays out consequences for disobedience.

Leviticus 18:1-5 (The Message) says: “God spoke to Moses: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, I am God, your God. Don’t live like the people of Egypt where you used to live, and don’t live like the people of Canaan where I’m bringing you. Don’t do what they do. Obey my laws and live by my decrees. I am your God. Keep my decrees and laws: The person who obeys them lives by them. I am God.”

If the language and penalty for not obeying the law seems like the people were in the army, it is by design. The people had left Egypt, a warrior nation, and were going into Canaan, another warrior nation. God was not just organizing them to live a good life, God was organizing them to be a warrior nation. There is more about this in the book of Numbers that come directly after Leviticus.

Lord, help us to see your mission and purpose in Leviticus, Amen!

LEVITICUS Lesson 4 – God heals our broken relationship

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When the bonds of a relationship is broken between two people, who should take the first step towards healing? If it is the bonds between friends, should it be the friend who is wrong, or the friend who is on the right? If it is bonds between married couples, should the husband take the first step or the wife, no matter who is wrong or right? Leviticus 16 is about healing broken bonds.

Leviticus 16 is titled ‘Day of atonement’ in most Bibles. Atonement simply means repairing a wrong or an injury. If I offend a friend and broke our relationship, I could make atonement by asking their forgiveness and take any other steps required to heal our relationship. Leviticus 16 is God instructing Moses, on what the High Priest needs to do to heal the relationship between us and God.

There are two sets of sacrifices in Leviticus 16. First, the High Priest offers a young bull (male cow) and a ram for himself. The bull is a sin offering for forgiveness and the ram is a burnt offering pledging commitment. The High Priest then offers two goats and a ram; the goats are the sin offering for the people, one is killed and the other is taken to the desert and set free, symbolizing that the people’s sins have been removed from the camp. The ram is a burnt offering symbolizing the people’s commitment.

Leviticus 16:15-16 (Modern English Version) states: “Then he shall kill the goat… and bring its blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it over and in front of the mercy seat. And he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel and because of their transgressions in all their sins, and so he shall do for the tent of meeting that remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness.”

Leviticus Chapter 16 brings together all we have learnt from Chapters 1 to 15. We learnt about the sacrifices (Chapters 1-5), then the role of the priests (Chapters 6-10), then the instructions about physical health and cleanliness (Chapters 11-15). Leviticus 16 shows the role of the priests and the sacrifices for the spiritual health and cleansing of the people, in order to heal their broken bonds with God.

There is so much more to be explained about Leviticus 16; if you are interested in learning more, watch episode 9 of ‘Leviticus: The Bloodline to Christ‘ series by Pastor Jack Abeelen on YouTube. While the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur in Hebrew) in Leviticus 16 was for the healing of the broken relationship between God and the people, it was temporary; Jesus is the permanent fix.

Dear God, help us to understand Leviticus better, Amen!

LEVITICUS Lesson 3 – God cares about our health

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As parents we pay attention to what our children eat. We control their consumption of sugar and all other food items we believe will make them sick. We do this out of love, out of a concern for our own peace of mind, and out of the wisdom to avoid hospital bills. It is in this light that we view Leviticus Chapters 11 to 15 – these chapters provide health instructions for the new nation of Israel.

Remember that the new nation was about 2-3 million people living in a camp in the desert. Israel was living in conditions where illness and infection in one person could easily spread to thousands within a few days where there are no strict public health rules. If one person has diarrhea or any of the many types of fungal infection, it will spread like wildfire in a camp without strict health rules. These rules will often include quarantine of the sick person – we see this in Leviticus.

Leviticus 11 provide instructions about food, Chapter 12 provide health instructions around childbirth, Chapters 13-14 is on skin diseases and other infections including fungus, Chapter 15 is about good health practices around genital discharges. It is easy for us today to make fun or mock some of these instructions; it is easy for us to judge some of them as too strict. We forget that the new nation Israel, living in camps in the desert, needed these strict rules to protect the people from epidemics.

Consider Leviticus 11:35-38 (The Message Bible): “Anything that one of these carcasses falls on is unclean – an oven or cooking pot must be broken up; they’re unclean and must be treated as unclean. A spring, though, or a cistern for collecting water remains clean, but if you touch one of these carcasses you’re ritually unclean. If a carcass falls on any seeds that are to be planted, they remain clean. But if water has been put on the seed and a carcass falls on it, you must treat it as unclean.”

In the above passage, the people are told that if a dead animal falls into a spring or a water storage system (the flowing type), the water remains clean. This is in a situation where the animal is removed and not allowed to rot. Similarly, if a dead animal falls on a dry seed, the seed is ok; but if dead animal falls on a wet seed, the seed is unclean (could be infected). This passage shows that these instructions are intelligent; they are not foolish and thoughtless as they are sometimes presented and mocked.

Dear God, in your wisdom there is life, thank you for caring, Amen!

LEVITICUS Lesson 2 – God’s commitment to us

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Commitment always involves two or more persons in a relationship with one another. Commitment is meaningful and satisfying when everyone involved is fully committed to everyone else. When commitment is only one way in any relationship, there is frustration and anger, because one party is sacrificing much to build the relationship while the other party does not care.

In Leviticus lesson 1 last Sunday, we focused on Leviticus Chapters 1 to 7, the sacrifices and offerings the Israelites were to offer to God. Sacrifices of gratitude and repentance; sacrifices that symbolize the people’s deep spiritual commitment to God. God is building a new relationship, a new lifestyle, with the people, and considers this a very serious relationship that requires total commitment.

In Leviticus Chapters 8 to 10, we see God’s commitment to this new relationship. In Chapters 8-9, God asks Moses to dedicate and install Aaron and his sons as priests responsible for managing the sacrifices and offerings. When a government or a business is installing officials, the more important the official, the greater the installation ceremony. Chapters 8-9 shows all the processes and ceremony involved in the installation of Aaron and his sons, this was a very important event.

Leviticus Chapter 9:22-24 (The Message Bible) says: “Aaron lifted his hands over the people and blessed them. Having completed the rituals.. Moses and Aaron entered the Tent of Meeting. When they came out they blessed the people and the Glory of God appeared to all the people. Fire blazed out from God and consumed the Whole-Burnt-Offering and the fat pieces on the Altar. When all the people saw it happen they cheered loudly and then fell down, bowing in reverence.”

At the completion of the installation of Aaron and his sons, the priests God appointed to manage the sacrifices and offering, God appeared and confirmed the appointments in front of all the people. When the people saw this, we are told they cheered loudly and bowed with reverence. The people were joyful, they could see that God is indeed fully committed to this relationship.

Sadly in Leviticus Chapter 10, Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, were careless in their priestly service and lost their lives. The severity of this event showed Israel that they had entered into a deadly serious relationship with God. This event showed the people that God is fully committed to them.

Lord, help us to see the depth of your commitment to us, Amen!

LEVITICUS Lesson 1- Spiritual Commitment

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Where do we draw strength to cope with the challenges of life? Many draw strength from family, friends, and colleagues; some from their religion. Whether we draw strength from a religious or non-religious group, members relate to one another based on rules. In a family, you respect your parents; at work, you listen to your manager; in a shrine, you follow the instructions of the priest/priestess.

Our level of importance in our social groups, depend on the sacrifice, gifts and offerings we devote to the group. Our sacrifices signal our level of commitment. The highest sacrifice is to die for the benefit of the group. Sacrifices, be it a chicken in a shrine, or a sheep during a cultural festival, is a symbol that we offer our lives as a sacrifice – in total commitment – to the spirit being worshipped.

In Leviticus, God gives Israel a new lifestyle, which calls for total commitment to serving him. Thus Leviticus Chapters 1 to 7 starts with five types of sacrifices the people have to make in the Temple. They are the (1) burnt offering (2) meal offering (3) peace offering (4) sin offering (5) trespass offering. The first three are to express gratitude; the last two are for repentance and forgiveness for wrongdoing.

When an Israelite makes a sacrifice, the Israelite is saying I fully commit to serving God, I am thankful for his salvation and provision, and I ask forgiveness for not living fully to God’s word. Later, the New Testament showed that the people’s sacrifices and offerings were imperfect as they were never fully committed to God, the perfect sacrifice was Jesus, whose dedication and commitment to God was total.

Jesus did say in John 15:13 (Amplified Bible): “No one has greater love [nor stronger commitment] than to lay down his own life for his friends.” Jesus did not lay down his life symbolically by sacrificing chickens or sheep, he laid down his life practically. Leviticus starts with the sacrifices because our foundational response to God who saves us and provides for us, should be dedication, gratitude, and repentance.

May the Lord give us insight into Leviticus, Amen!

LEVITICUS – NEW LIFESTYLE FOR A NEW NATION

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When we move from one country to another, we encounter new cultures, new traditions, new laws, and new lifestyles. While we may not fully understand why the laws are different, we obey them, else we will get punished even if we are new to that country. Laws influence our lifestyle; they have this power because they come with punishment for those who will not obey.

In the creation story in Genesis, God lays out his big plan in Genesis 1:26 (Good News Translation)Then God said, “And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.” Adam and Eve were the starting point of this plan, not the final product, there were many steps still ahead.

In Exodus, we see God advancing his big plan. He has created humanity, and given us all a sharp mind, a brilliant mind, a creative mind, just like his own. This mind needs an education, needs exposure, needs learning, needs community, needs a counsellor as it makes its decisions on how to live. In Exodus, God has a community of people who accept to be a nation under God as their leader.

In Leviticus, God gives this new nation, a new culture, new traditions, new laws, and a new lifestyle. This new nation, Israel, had been born in Egypt, and lived their lives according to Egyptian culture and laws. God brought them out of Egypt, first to the desert mountain of Sinai, to organize them, and to wash them clean of their Egyptian lifestyle, and lead them into a new lifestyle he had designed.

Israel left Egypt and camped at Mt. Sinai for a year. At Sinai, God started teaching them about himself, how to live with him and with one another, and how to live with neighboring countries. So Leviticus Chapters 1 to 16 focuses on how to worship God, and Chapters 17 to 27 on how to live with him and with one another in love. Leviticus advances God’s plan to create humans to resemble him. Join me and lets study this beautiful but very deeply misunderstood book of Leviticus.

Lord, give us all great light into the book of Leviticus, Amen!

THE MIND OF DAVID – AN EXAMPLE FOR US

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In 1993 the archaeologist Gila Cook, discovered a Canaanite stone record that made reference to the House of David. This was the first historical evidence that proved the existence of David. The story of David is told in the Bible from 1 Samuel Chapter 16, through all of 2 Samuel, to 1 Kings Chapter 2. While this presents us with the acts of David, the Psalms give us an understanding of David’s mind.

The Bible states in Acts 13:22 that David was a man after God’s own heart. What is God’s heart? A book can be written in response to this question. One of the answers is found in Matthew 22:37-38; Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment and replies, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.”

The Psalms show without doubt that David loved the Lord God, with all his heart and mind. There are 150 chapters in the Psalms and David wrote about 75 of them. In some Bibles like the New International Version (NIV), at the start of each chapter, you will be told if it is a Psalm of David or not. In some Bibles you will also be told what happened in David’s life before he wrote that particular Psalm.

Let’s consider Psalm 51; my NIV Bible says at the beginning of the Psalm – “For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” This Psalm has 19 verses filled with David’s repentance and pleas to be forgiven, after he was informed by Prophet Nathan that God will judge him for his adultery with Bathsheba.

Let’s see David’s mind in Psalm 51:1-4 (NIV): “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.”

David did not curse God; did not try to justify his sin; did not run away from God. In the 19 verses of Psalm 51, David acknowledged that God is fair to judge him; he acknowledges that God is merciful, and in humility he sought forgiveness. This is a great example of how God wants us to relate with him.

Lord, teach us more about the heart and mind of David; help us to see so that we can copy, in Jesus name, Amen!

DAVID’S SOURCE OF STRENGTH

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In the past two weeks, the blog has focused on lessons from the life of King David in his times of crises. The story of David’s life and his many crises is found from 1 Samuel Chapter 16, through all of 2 Samuel, to 1 Kings Chapter 2. Significant periods of crises in David’s life include the seven years he was hiding from King Saul, the discipline he received from God for his adultery with Bathsheba, and the failed attempt of his favorite son, Absalom, to forcefully take over the throne from David.

I encourage you to read the story of David for yourself, and take note of the many times God rescued David. Even when David killed the giant Goliath with stones (1 Samuel 17), even in that story, we see that David had divine support. Why, why, why? Why did heaven stand tall and stand strong with David? Was it because of his skin color, eye color, hair color, or parent’s bank account? Thankfully, David was a writer, and shared some of his innermost thoughts with us in the book of Psalms.

Psalm 1:1-3 (The Passion Translation Bible) states: “What delight comes to the one who follows God’s ways! He won’t walk in step with the wicked, nor share the sinner’s way, nor be found sitting in the scorner’s seat. His passion is to remain true to the Word of “I AM,” meditating day and night on the true revelation of light. He will be standing firm like a flourishing tree planted by God’s design, deeply rooted by the brooks of bliss, bearing fruit in every season of life. He is never dry, never fainting, ever blessed, ever prosperous.”

David, considered as Israel’s greatest king, says ‘what a delight comes to the one who follows God’s ways’, that person stands firm like a flourishing tree planted by God, bearing fruit in every season of life (good and bad times). Indeed, even in those periods of crises in David’s life, he produced good fruit – humility, repentance, and reflections in the Psalms that have blessed the world for 3000 years.

David’s source of strength was his sincere faith in God, strengthened by regular Bible study, which provides the teachings that we meditate on day and night. David’s life was not guided by Egyptian magic, or Philistine idols, or Greek philosophy, he was guided by teachings and principles for life that he learnt from God. This is why his life was fruitful, never dry, never fainting, ever blessed, ever prosperous!

May our lives be fruitul in every season too, like David, Amen!