Friday, 14 February 2014

(46) February 15: Leviticus 20-21 & Matthew 28:1-20

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider how these penalties would have affected Israel.

To ponder:
All sin is serious. Indeed, every sin deserves death (Rom 3v23). We should therefore understand long life as God mercifully delaying his justice. It is in the light of this that we should consider the death penalties. For certain sins, God required that the penalty of death be dispensed prematurely. This was not only to punish the sin and so prevent God’s anger breaking out against the people more broadly, but would also remove the sinner and so prevent others being led astray.
The death penalty could be through stoning by the community (20v2). This seems barbaric, but would ensure the community take responsibility for what went on (20v4), and act as a powerful deterrent. It might however be by “being burned in the fire” (20v14), perhaps illustrating the burning anger of God at sin. Alternatively, death could come by God’s direct action in order to “cut off” the individual from his people, as with those who fail to dispense the death penalty in (20v5). Whether “cut off” implies this is uncertain. It may mean exclusion from the covenant community. The NT equivalent to the death penalty amongst the church was certainly excommunication, applied by Paul for the very sin of Leviticus 20v11 (1 Cor 5v1-13).
            Throughout we see on one hand God’s opposition to sin: “I will set my face against the person.” At another, we see the individual’s responsibility for what they have done. We read “their blood will be on their own heads” in the case of the death penalty, and “they will be held responsible” as a way of prescribing lesser penalties, such as in 20v19-21. It reminds us we have no excuse for our sin, and “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10v31).
            The penalties in chapter 20 are for the sins of chapter 18. Again, obedience is urged so that the people are not “vomited” out of the land like the nations before them, and because Israel are “set apart.” In the light of this, adherence to the cleanliness laws are also affirmed as a distinctive to Israel, reflecting the utter perfection and order of Israel’s God.
            In serving this holy God, priests are required to be particularly pure. They are only allowed to touch the dead bodies of close relatives, have nothing to do with the cultic practices of the nations (21v5), and must marry only virgins, unless they marry a widow. Moreover, disabled priests are not allowed to officiate – although God still ensures they are provided for by keeping their share of the food. As for high priests; they are not allowed to touch any dead body at all, or even mourn. And they are not permitted to marry widows.
            As previously seen, like approaching the sun, the closer one is permitted to God’s holiness, the more protection they need. Unless sufficiently clean, whole and perfect, they would “desecrate” God’s sanctuary (21v23). Thanks be to God that we are made holy in Christ.

Praying it home:
Praise God that he will bring all things to judgement. Pray that you would own a healthy fear of him, that keeps you close to Christ.

Thinking further:
Previously we noted that to some extent the death penalties reflected Israel’s unique situation. Sin needed to be contained so that the nation would remain stable and God’s promise be fulfilled. Moreover, we have also seen that because God was especially present within Israel, sin also needed to be contained so that his holiness would not break out against them, or he remove himself for their protection. For this reason too, the death penalty may have been particularly necessary. It cannot therefore be assumed the same penalties should be applied in different cultures. Having said that, careful consideration needs to be given to the universal commandment with respect to murder in Genesis 9v6.

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