Living Leviticus

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 27.34
34 These are the commands the Lord gave Moses at Mount Sinai for the Israelites.

Reflection: Living Leviticus
By John Tillman

When we read Leviticus, we may ponder, “How can we live like this? Are these commands for us today, or are they only commands for the Israelites gathered at the foot of Sinai?”

The themes of Leviticus are gospel values which we should enact.

Do we value holiness over hypocrisy? Even as it lays out the detailed performance of rituals, Leviticus grounds its purpose not in performative religious acts but in the identity of God and our relationship to him.

So let us take seriously the call to be a distinct and different people who reflect the holiness of God. Let us be not performative or hypocritical but take actions based on who God is and whose we are.

Do we value righteousness and justice? Leviticus levels the ground at the entrance to God’s presence. The rich have no advantage over the poor in seeking God. The wealthy are held responsible for the well-being of the poor and the powerful held responsible for the well-being of the weak. The foreigner and the native-born are commanded by God to be treated one and the same.

So let us, in our individual lives, in our communities, and in our governments, take seriously the call to care for the poor, the weak, and the outsider. Let us uphold the rights of the weak and prevent the powerful from abusing their positions.

Do we honor God with all we have acknowledging that we own nothing? Leviticus demands a willing admission that everything which we might think of as “ours” is truly God’s. 

So let us submit to being tenants and no longer claim to be owners. May we recognize that things we have deeds for, receipts for, titles for…they all belong to God. Let us give them over to God and put them to work to earn profits not for our own blessing but to bless others.

We can’t perfectly live out Leviticus but Jesus is our living Leviticus. The Levitical law is completed in Christ, not destroyed. He lived it out on our behalf. 

Jesus is the substitute that redeems us. He is the high priest who sanctifies us. His is the blood that makes us holy. It is under his authority that we can turn to others and offer redemption, sanctification, and holiness. Let us do so with love in our hearts and with open, pure hands.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 27 (Listen – 4:45)
Psalms 34 (Listen – 2:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 1 (Listen – 6:21) Psalms 35 (Listen – 3:21)
Numbers 2 (Listen – 3:47) Psalms 36 (Listen – 1:21)

Read more about Shameless to Blameless
Christ was shamed that we could be called righteous. The glory and righteousness he gained, he gives to the humble and repentant.

Read more about Stop Following Old Laws
These laws also were intended to shape God’s people into something new. All nations and empires were (and are) sinful and unjust. Israel was to be different.

He Is Faithful When We Are Not

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 26.44-45
44 Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God. 45 But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the Lord.’ ” 

Reflection: He Is Faithful When We Are Not
By John Tillman

God will be faithful to his purposes even when his people are not.

Like many places in scripture, in Leviticus 26 God lays out stark choices and consequences. He says, in effect, “Will you have promises and blessings or curses and punishments?” 

One of the benefits of rereading the Bible over and over is more easily recognizing patterns and recurring descriptions. The descriptions of consequences for the unfaithful are so accurate to the actual events that occur later in Israel’s history they might as well be read as prophecy. Sadly, every one of the events described will occur as Israel continues to turn away from God in the future.

Warnings, promises, consequences, and blessings all seem like they would be effective motivators. “Do this and die or do this and live,” seems easy enough. But it isn’t.

Despite clarity of the consequences, Israel persevered in sin, rather than faith.
Despite miraculous evidence of God’s faithfulness and power, Israel chose to trust false promises of political powers.
Despite being granted the visitation of the invisible God in a visible form (Leviticus 9.23), Israel chose to trust idols of human creation rather than the God who made the wood and stone from which false idols were carved. (Isaiah 44.16-19)

Haven’t we made similar errors in judgment? Haven’t we suffered through anguish persisting in sin yet abandoned righteousness when it got uncomfortable? Haven’t we shown incredible loyalty to political powers who proved themselves to be the opposite of credible? Haven’t we trusted in idols of technology that shape our psyches rather than the God who desires to shape our souls? Our faithlessness was never in doubt. However, our salvation does not rest upon our faithfulness—it rests upon his. 

Whatever his people choose, God is making a choice, too. God knows Israel will be unfaithful. He’s going to be faithful anyway. God knows Israel’s love for him will run cold. He’s going to love her anyway.

It is not only true that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5.8) It is also true that before we had even sinned, God determined he would provide salvation for us. While we did not yet know what depths of sin we would commit, God decided that there was no depth so deep that he would not rescue us.

However deep in sin you sink, lift eyes and hands to him. He is prepared to pull you out.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, for we have had more than enough of contempt,
Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, and of the derision of the proud. — Psalm 123.3-4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 26 (Listen – 6:22)
Psalms 33 (Listen – 2:08)

Read more about Too Much To Hold
Like Jonah sunk, beneath the earth
A dark and hopeless pit
Into that pit our savior slides
His mission: open it

Read more about The Undeserved Banquet of the Gospel
God sets his table for scoundrels, shaking hands with undeserved trust.

Beyond Jubilee

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 25.9-10
9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.

Luke 4.16-19
16 …He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
because he has anointed me 
to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, 
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Reflection: Beyond Jubilee
By John Tillman

Weekly sabbaths bring us freedom and joy in this world. This freedom and joy grows more expansive as we ponder the sabbath of years and Jubilee.

Sabbath years built, in an exponential crescendo, to Jubilee. After seven septennial sabbath years, trumpets were to announce liberty throughout the land. Liberty from debt. Liberty from enslavement. Liberty that brought a national reset of property and land ownership. Every 50 years, the “monopoly game” was to be folded up, properties redistributed, and the game started over with all participants on equal footing once more. This was to remind Israel that the land did not belong to them. It belonged to the Lord. 

It is difficult for us to imagine such an economic system. In the dominant economic systems of their world and ours, the game never stops and each generation starts the game with an inherited benefit or handicap. Generational wealth and poverty are features, not bugs, of every world economic system in history. 

Biblical laws are intended to be a check on our tendencies toward greed, violence, and inequity. Jubilee was a systemic reboot, restoring the moral code God desired—equity, justice, righteousness, unity.

Talking about Jubilee upsets some people. Some dogmatically demand implementation of Jubilee in today’s economic terms, even though they would not submit to any other laws from the Old Testament. Others work just as stubbornly to deemphasize or even ignore Jubilee because it conflicts with their economic beliefs. (It is beyond the scope of this devotional to discuss how some of us have greater religious devotion to and faith in sociological, economic, and political ideas than we do in scripture or theological ideas…)

We must remember that many systems and laws in the Bible, like Jubilee, are bandaids on gaping wounds. For example, Jesus challenged laws regarding marriage and the sabbath, saying they did not complete God’s intention or will. (Matthew 19.3-12; Mark 2.23-28; Luke 6.1-10; Luke 13.10-16) We have little evidence of how Israel enacted Jubilee, but to whatever degree they did, it was insufficient. Great inequities persisted. (Deuteronomy 15.7, 11; 1 Samuel 2.8; Isaiah 41.17; Matthew 19.21, 26.11)

Implementing Jubilee would be insufficient. The gospel compels us to go beyond it. As the sacrifice of Christ surpasses the sacrifice of lambs, and our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, our sacrificial generosity should surpass that of Jubilee. (Matthew 5.20)

In Jesus, Jubilee is now and forever. Jubilee is the gospel. (Isaiah 55.1-2; John 7.37; Revelation 22.17

May our voices and actions be jubilant trumpets declaring liberty, freedom, and joy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; I call upon you all the day long. — Psalm 86.3

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 25 (Listen – 7:41)
Psalms 32 (Listen – 1:34)

Read more about The Gospel and the Year of Freedom
Equity is the default setting of God’s spiritual economy.
Leaders (princes) must set an example, creating fairness and justice.

Read more about Loving God by Loving Others
When we collect all the profit to ourselves we are stealing by keeping what you instructed us to leave for the poor.

A Taste of Eternity

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 23.3
3 “ ‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord. 

From John: Later this week, we will look at the expanded Sabbath applied to years and how it applies to the concept of Jubilee. Today we look back at Rabbi Heschel’s perspective on the weekly Sabbath.

Reflection: A Taste of Eternity
By Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

It must always be remembered that the Sabbath is not an occasion for diversion or frivolity; not a day to shoot fireworks or to turn somersaults, but an opportunity to mend our tattered lives; to collect rather than to dissipate time.

He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.

Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.

The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work. “Last in creation, first in intention,” the Sabbath is “the end of the creation of heaven and earth.”

The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.

Three acts of God denoted the seventh day: He rested, He blessed, and He hallowed the seventh day. To the prohibition of labor is, therefore, added the blessing of delight and the accent of sanctity. Not only the hands of man celebrate the day; the tongue and the soul keep the Sabbath.

Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind, and imagination. To attain a degree of excellence in art, one must accept its discipline, one must adjure slothfulness. The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy and reticence. In its atmosphere, a discipline is a reminder of adjacency to eternity.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
For the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me. — Psalm 31.3

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 23 (Listen – 6:31)
Psalms 30– (Listen – 1:32)

Read more about Keeping the Sabbath by Action
Keeping the Sabbath holy, maintaining God’s justice, and establishing righteousness are not passive, actionless, states of spiritual attainment.

Read more about A Restoring Sabbath
Weekly sabbaths teach us that the sabbath doesn’t condemn the week of work, but it blesses it and redeems it.

Stop Following Old Laws

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 20.22-14
22 “ ‘Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. 24 But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations. 

Psalm 25.12-15
12 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord? 
He will instruct them in the ways they should choose. 
13 They will spend their days in prosperity, 
and their descendants will inherit the land. 
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him; 
he makes his covenant known to them. 
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord, 
for only he will release my feet from the snare. 

Reflection: Stop Following Old Laws
By John Tillman

God does not desire for people to perish but to flourish. His prohibitions are not designed to cause denial or suffering but to bring out fulfillment and pleasure. 

Godly wrath, punishment, and judgment come from love for victims. There is no such thing as victimless crime. Yet, even the harshest earthly penalties, cannot truly compensate victims for their sufferings. They are still only tokens, looking forward to the true justice that would be wrought by the sacrifice of Jesus. 

God desires the best for all people, even perpetrators. Victims are not the only ones harmed by sin. Perpetrators of violence, promiscuity, and greed harm themselves, in addition to their victims. God’s prohibitions are flashing red warning lights that say, “I love you. Don’t do this.” Every stroke of a pen in the Law is an arrow pointing away from harm and toward blessing for ourselves and others.

However, when we are convinced of our own righteousness, we argue against the righteousness of God. The surest way Satan tempts us to sin, perhaps the only way he ever has tempted us to sin, is to convince us that God is unjust.

These laws also were intended to shape God’s people into something new. All nations and empires were (and are) sinful and unjust. Israel was to be different. All humans victimized others. They were to be different. All humans considered sexuality as just another tool of manipulation and control. They were to be different. All peoples considered themselves better than all others. They were to be different.

We think of laws from the Bible as “old” and irrelevant. But the cultural laws we follow today were old before God’s law came:

“The strong will survive.”
“Eat, drink, and be merry.”
“Get it while you can.”
“Do what is best for you.”

Our culture is still following these “old laws” of dominance, indulgence, impermanence, and selfishness. These old laws are irrelevant in God’s kingdom. God’s laws given to Israel are the new laws:

“Take care of the weak.”
“Leave extra for others.”
“Live for eternity, not the moment.”
“Do what is best for others.”

These are the new laws of justice, equity, eternality, and sacrifice that Jesus came to fulfill. May we live out this law today. When we do, we will find our feet freed from the snare of sin and we will make visible a glimpse of the coming kingdom of God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Why should I be afraid in evil days, when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,
The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods, and boast of their great riches?
We can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our life;
For the ransom of our life is so great, that we should never have enough to pay it, — Psalm 49.6-10

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 20 (Listen – 4:18)
Psalms 25– (Listen – 2:18)

This Weekend’s Readings
Leviticus 21 (Listen – 3:08), Psalms 26-27 (Listen – 3:13)
Leviticus 22 (Listen – 4:41), Psalms 28-29– (Listen – 3:41)

Read more about Two Lamechs, One Jesus
Lamech multiplies all of Cain’s sins….violence and oppression…“marrying” two wives…

Read more about Uprooting and Replanting
In the flood, we see uprooting and replanting. The thorny brambles of Cain and Lamech filled the world with violence and bloodshed.

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