Friday, 7 February 2014

(39) February 8: Leviticus 4-6 & Matthew 25:1-30

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

To discover:­­
As you read consider what is learnt about unintentional sins.

To ponder:
Unintentional sins matter. This is the theme of chapters 4-5. Whereas the previous offerings were voluntary, these are required. Where sin occurs atonement must be made if God’s covenant relationship with Israel is to be maintained - if his holy presence isn’t to break out against them.
            “Sin offerings” differ according to status and responsibility. Within the church too, sin by leaders is more serious because of its impact (James 3v1). So both priests and the whole community bring the most expensive sacrifice - a young bull. This is because as representative of the community, the priest’s sin implicates everyone else and so is equivalent. As before, sin is to be passed to the animal. But this is more serious than usual. Its blood is sprinkled on the curtain entrance to the holy of holies itself. God’s holy anger must be pacified. Blood is also put on the horns of the altar of incense to “purify” it (8v14) and poured out at the base of the altar of burn offering to “consecrate” it (8v15) – both needing to be rid of contamination by sin. The fat is burned, and the rest taken outside the camp.
            Leaders must bring a lesser sacrifice – a male goat, and everyday laypeople – a female goat or lamb. The principle is however the same. Sin is to be transferred, the animal killed in the place of the sinner, the horns of one altar cleansed, the blood poured out at the other’s base, and the fat burned on that altar. Atonement is then made and the sinner “will be forgiven.” The poor can bring two doves and pigeons “as a penalty” for their sin (5v7). A burnt offering may have followed the other sin offerings too – perhaps implying rededication to God. If really poor, flour can be offered instead. But to distinguish it from the grain offering, oil and incense cannot be added. God grants grace to rich and poor alike.
            The sort of sins requiring these sacrifices are mentioned: not speaking up when required to, touching what is unclean, thoughtlessly making oaths. The need for confession and so acceptance of sin is also stressed, patterning the need for the same as we seek forgiveness through the death of Christ.
            The guilt offering is for restitution. If the things set-apart for the priests and tabernacle were unintentionally treated wrongly, a ram was to be sacrificed and a fifth of the value of the item “violated” paid. More intentional deception over property would likewise require the offering and restitution of any loss plus a fifth more. Christ has made restitution to God for our sin. Nevertheless, restitution to those aggrieved may be appropriate as modelled by Zacchaeus.
            6v8-30 give more instructions regarding burn, grain and sin offerings, but for the priests rather than the sinners. They must keep the altar burning, perhaps to symbolise the unquenchable fire of God’s anger at sin. And clothes worn in offering burnt offerings must be taken off before they leave the tabernacle. Moreover, priests must eat their share of the grain and sin offerings “in a holy place.” Indeed, by touching them they “become holy.” So holiness can be contagious, setting people apart for God. We might note how Paul writes that the children and even non-Christian spouse of a believer are therefore in some sense “holy” (1 Cor 7v14). 6v19-23 record an ordination offering of grain to be offered in the morning and evening when Aaron is anointed.
Praying it home:
Praise God for making it possible for us to live in his presence him through Christ. Consider and confess any sins you may have unintentionally committed.

Thinking further:

Ideas of unclean, clean, common and holy abound in Leviticus. It’s not entirely clear, but the word “unclean" suggests what is unacceptable in the presence of God. We will see this is due to imperfection because of sin, weakness or disease, possibly because they stem from the fall. By contrasting what is common, “holy” implies what is special or set-apart. In the middle, clean and common therefore describe acceptability and normality. We can see then that these categories suggest degrees of inappropriateness or appropriateness related to one’s closeness to God’s presence. So being clean is necessary to approach him in worship at the tabernacle, and holiness necessary to serve him. Those who touch a carcass (for example) therefore become unclean (5v5) not because that is inherently sinful, but because a carcass reflects death and may be diseased - things that are unfitting in the presence of God. Moreover, the exact commands regarding sacrifices ensure they are offered perfectly, and by making the priests who touch them holy, the priests’ are made fit to eat what has been devoted to God. They must even eat in a holy place to ensure this holiness is not lost. To us of course, this may all seem rather elaborate and strange, but it wonderfully brings home the absolute holiness of God, the faultless perfection necessary to come close to him, and the huge achievement of Christ in enabling us to draw near with assurance despite our sin.

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