7. Principles of Priesthood (Leviticus 8-10)
Have you ever watched someone performing a very dangerous task and gone away smiling at the thought that this person is risking his neck, rather than you? There are several occupations that I would gladly pay someone else an exorbitant salary to do than to have to do it myself. One such task is that of washing windows on skyscrapers, another is painting bridges, like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The other day I saw a brief news feature on the men who change the light bulbs on top of the Reunion Tower. More power (and more pay) to them! Anyone who wants to risk their life in such occupations has my full support.
I would imagine that if I had lived in the days of Moses and the ancient Israelites I would have felt the same way about those whose occupation was the priesthood. In the text which we are going to study in this lesson two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, were struck dead for exercising their priestly duties in a way that dishonored God. While at the end of chapter 9 fire came down from heaven, consuming what was left of the people’s sacrifice, at the beginning of chapter 10 fire came down from heaven, consuming two of Israel’s priests. From this day forward, every Israelite looked upon the priesthood as a very dangerous occupation.
This week, Jerry Soderberg suggested to me that this incident is similar to that found in the New Testament Book of Acts, chapter 5, in which Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead by God for lying to the church (and thus to the Holy Spirit) about their contribution to the church. I think this is a very helpful insight. In both instances, there was the beginning of a new era, some would say a new dispensation. In Leviticus chapter 10, where the death of Nadab and Abihu are recorded, the Mosaic Covenant has just been instituted, along with the tabernacle and the Aaronic priesthood. In Acts chapter 5, where Ananias and Sapphira were judged of God, the church age has just commenced with Pentecost (Acts 2). In both cases, the death of God’s people is designed to set a precedent, so that those who enter into the new dispensation would grasp the significance of the holiness of God in relation to the institutions which He has just created.
As the Israelites of old and the New Testament church learned to take heed to God’s commandments and character, so let us listen well to the words of our text, for these are weighty matters with which we are dealing.
A Survey of the
History of the Priesthood in the Pentateuch
The Aaronic Priesthood is just being formally established in Leviticus chapter 8, but the concept of priesthood is not new to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, written by Moses. In a curious incident in the life of Abraham, a priest-king by the name of Melchizedek is introduced:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand” (Gen. 14:18-20).
Not until Psalm 110 is Melchizedek referred to again, and much is made of this order of priesthood in the Book of Hebrews (chaps. 5-7).
Joseph’s wife was the daughter of an Egyptian priest (Gen. 41:45, 50; 46:20), and Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was known as “the priest of Midian” (Exod. 2:16; 3:1; 18:1). At Mt. Sinai God proclaimed that He had delivered Israel from bondage and set her apart to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exod. 19:6). Most interesting is the fact that there was some order of priests before the Aaronic Priesthood was officially instituted. When God first appeared from Mt. Sinai, but before instructions concerning the priesthood had been given (cf. Exod. 28, 29), God gave this warning:
“And also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them.” And Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for Thou didst warn us, saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.’” Then the LORD said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest He break forth upon them” (Exod. 19:22-24, emphasis mine).
As in other instances, it would seem that the Mosaic Covenant formalized and regulated institutions and practices which already existed prior to the making of this covenant.
It is in Exodus chapter 28 that legislation concerning the Aaronic priesthood begins with a description of the garments which will set Aaron and his sons apart as a priesthood:60
“Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me—Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. And you shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me. And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastpiece and an ephod and a robe and a tunic of checkered work, a turban and a sash, and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister as priest to Me” (Exod. 28:1-4).
In Exodus chapter 28 God instructed Moses concerning the priestly garments which would set Aaron and his sons apart. In chapter 29 instructions for the consecration and ordination of Aaron and his sons are meticulously outlined. It is this chapter which is virtually mirrored by the account of the ordination of Aaron and his sons in Leviticus chapter 8. A brief summary of these two chapters will show the close relationship they have with each other:
Present one bull, two rams, unleavened bread, cakes, oil (vv. 1-4a)
One bull, two rams, basket of unleavened bread brought to tent of meeting (vv. 1-5).
Aaron and sons to be washed, clothed with priestly garments (vv. 4b-9)
Aaron and sons washed and clothed with priestly garments (vv. 6-9)
Bull to be offered as a sin offering (vv. 10-14)
Bull offered as sin offering (vv. 14-17)
First ram to be offered as burnt offering (vv. 15-18)
First ram offered as burnt offering (vv. 18-21)
Second ram to be offered as an ordination offering (vv. 19-28)
Second ram offered as an ordination offering (vv. 22-29)
Moses to anoint Aaron and sons (vv. 29-30)
Aaron and sons anointed (v. 30)
Commands related to the eating of the ram of ordination (vv. 31-34)
Moses instructs Aaron and sons concerning the eating of the ordination ram (vv. 31-36)
An Overview of Leviticus 8-10
Chapters 8-10 of the Book of Leviticus describe the origin and the ordination of the Aaronic priesthood. Let me briefly summarize the major contribution of each chapter.
Leviticus 8 portrays the fulfillment of God’s commands pertaining to the ordination of Aaron and his sons, as detailed in Exodus chapter 29. This chapter highlights Moses, who, until after the ordination of Aaron and his sons, functions as Israel’s priest.
Leviticus 9 changes the focus from Moses to Aaron. Aaron and his sons are now commanded to offer sacrifices, first for their own sins, and then for the sins of the nation. A Sin Offering, Burnt Offering, Peace Offering, and Grain Offering were offered for Aaron and his sons (vv. 1-17), and also for the people (with the exception of the Grain Offering, vv. 18-22). The purpose of these offerings is to make preparations for the revelation of the glory of God to the people:
And Moses said, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you” (Lev. 9:6, emphasis mine).
And so the glorious conclusion to the chapter is the revelation of God’s glory:
And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD 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 (Lev. 9:23-24).
Leviticus 10 begins with another account of fire descending from heaven, but this time it is God’s judgment in response to the “strange fire” which is offered up by Nadab and Abihu, the two oldest sons of Aaron. Immediately thereafter, God gave Aaron instructions concerning drinking while on duty (vv. 8-11), and then Moses gave further instructions about the eating of the sacrifices (vv. 12-15). The chapter concludes with a very interesting account of Moses’ protest concerning the uneaten goat of the sin offering, which was successfully answered by Aaron.
The death of Nadab and Abihu is the most striking incident in chapters 8-10, and serves to dramatically convey some important principles related to the priesthood. Nadab and Abihu were the oldest of Aaron’s four sons (cf. Exod. 6:23). These men were privileged to accompany Moses and their father, along with others, to Mount Sinai, where they participated in the covenant meal with God (cf. Exod. 24:1, 9). They had just recently been ordained and begun to assume their duties as priests. We do not know how long they had been serving in this capacity when they were put to death, but the inference is that this incident came close on the heels of their ordination.
The text does not inform us as to the precise nature of the sin of these two priests. They sinned, we are told, by “offering strange fire before the LORD” (v. 1). It was, however, clearly designated as an act of direct disobedience to God’s commands. They did that “… which He had not commanded them” (v. 1). My understanding is that God has declined from giving a precise description of their sin so as to underscore the more general nature of the sin—disobedience. They were in some way carrying out their priestly duties in a way that disobeyed some of God’s exacting requirements.
Nadab and Abihu must have agreed among themselves concerning their actions, for they both sinned and both were put to death. There is a kind of conspiracy here. Simply finding others who agree with us and will join us in disobedience is not sufficient reason for disobeying God. Many denominations and cults err here. They think that sheer numbers must prove them right.
This disaster had a very beneficial effect on at least one of the other sons of Aaron, Eleazar. Eleazar was one of the other sons of Aaron, who assumed the role of one of his dead brothers (v. 6). He was also the father of Phinehas, who zealously acted in behalf of God’s holiness:
Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked (Num. 25:6-8, cf. also vv. 10-13).
I take it therefore that Eleazar learned to regard the holiness of God very highly, and that this same regard was later evidenced in his son, Phinehas.
Verses 8-11 seem to be a direct outgrowth of the death of Nadab and Abihu. God spoke directly to Aaron, rather than to speak to him through Moses (as He does in vv. 12ff.). God instructed Aaron that alcohol was not to be mixed with priestly duties. It would be easy to infer that Nadab and Abihu may have both been drinking before or on duty, and that alcohol had diminished their capacity to carry out their duties in a way that was honoring to God. At least we can say that priestly ministry should be done with one’s full capacities, and that nothing which diminishes our careful attention to upholding the glory and the holiness of God should be practiced by priests.
Verses 12-15 are instructions to Aaron and the priests which are conveyed through Moses. I believe that these instruction precede the final section (vv. 16-20) because they provide us with the backdrop for understanding the consternation of Moses when the sin offering cannot be found. When a goat was offered for a sin offering, the breast which was a wave offering was to be eaten by the priests. Moses therefore looked for the meat from the sin offering which the younger sons of Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar, had just offered (vv. 16-18). The meat was missing, and Moses seems to have been angered at the thought that these two sons had also disobeyed God’s instructions, and that they, too, might be smitten for their sin.
Surprisingly, Aaron was not shaken by the anger and accusation of Moses. Moses was probably rightly motivated, but Aaron’s explanation prevailed: “Behold, this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD. When things like these happened to me, if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight of the LORD?” (v. 19). As I follow Aaron’s logic, he is saying that it was probably on this very day that Nadab and Abihu were stuck down by God for their sin, and it was also on this day when Eleazar and Ithamar were required to offer a sin offering for themselves, just as Aaron and his two oldest sons had done as recorded in chapter 9. Because of the tragic events of the day and the inauguration of his two younger sons, Aaron felt that eating of the sin offering of the people would have been inappropriate. Thus, the meat which could have been eaten was burned up, just as the uneaten portion would have been anyway.
Aaron’s actions and those of his two younger sons were not normal, but then this was no typical day in the lives of the priests. In the light of this, Moses was satisfied that they had not done something forbidden, but had only declined from exercising their priestly privileges, for higher considerations.
The significant fact here is that Aaron has come into his own, and that even Moses had to recognize his position and his wisdom in the decision he had reached and the actions which followed it.
Lessons for Ancient Israel
The first question which we must ask, as we seek to discover the meaning of these chapters, is, “What did this mean to the ancient Israelites, who first read this divinely inspired account, penned by Moses?” I believe that the Israelites would have been impressed with several truths.
First, the ancient Israelites would have been impressed with the prominence of the priesthood in God’s order, and with Aaron, as their first high priest. At the beginning of our text, in chapter 8, Moses was the prominent figure, as he has been throughout the account of the exodus. In chapter 10, however, Aaron is installed as the high priest, and he very much comes “into his own.” Moses’ provisional priestly role seems to come to an end here. He is the great prophet, like unto whom the Messiah will be (Deut. 18:15), but Aaron is the great priest, who is the foreshadow of Christ, our Great High Priest.
Second, the Israelites would have been impressed with the grace of God in the appointment of Aaron as Israel’s high priest. This Aaron, who is now honored by being appointed as Israel’s first high priest, is the same man who seemed to be, at best, a sort of tag along helper of Moses. More than this, this is the man who was instrumental in leading Israel in her false worship of the golden calf (Exod. 32). Now, this same Aaron is Israel’s high priest. One can only explain the Aaronic priesthood as purely a matter of God’s grace. Much like Paul, who was a persecutor of the church, and then came, by God’s grace, to be a great apostle to the church, Aaron, a hindrance to Moses and Israel, now becomes her spiritual leader.
Third, the Israelites would be reminded of the holiness of God, and of the dangers faced by those who would draw near to Him in service. The priesthood was an exceedingly dangerous job, for those who drew near to Him in service dare not do so casually or carelessly, as did Nadab and Abihu.
Fourth, Israel would be painfully aware of the limitations of this Aaronic Priesthood. Thus they would be prepared for and looking forward to a “better Priest and priesthood” which would be the result of the New Covenant and of the coming of the Christ. The Aaronic priesthood was shown to have failed at its very outset. It is as though an unsinkable ship was launched, and at the first instant it struck the water it sank. If these two priests, Nadab and Abihu were so sinful as to be struck dead by God, how could anything they or any other sinful priest did bring people to perfection? Any system which had an imperfect priesthood could surely not bring the people to perfection. The flaws of the old covenant and its Aaronic priesthood pointed to the need for a new and better covenant, with a better priesthood. The Aaronic priesthood was only a provisional, imperfect priesthood. A sinner was the high priest, and his sinful sons were priests as well. There was no basis for unbridled optimism in the Aaronic order.
Lessons for New Testament Christians
There are a number of principles of priesthood to be found in the Book of Leviticus which apply to both Old and New Testament priests. Before we consider these there are several New Testament principles which will guide us in differentiating between the Aaronic priesthood of Leviticus and the priesthood which is described in the New Testament.
Principle 1: The Old Testament Aaronic priesthood has been fulfilled and rendered obsolete by Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest.
When we come to the Old Testament Levitical priesthood, we must recognize that this priesthood has been rendered obsolete by the coming of Christ, and the inauguration of His perfect priesthood, which brings men to perfection. If the Aaronic priesthood was plagued by the imperfection of its priests, the priesthood inaugurated by our Lord is marked by the perfection and the holiness of Jesus Christ, in whom there was no sin. It is in those very areas where the old priesthood was weak and inadequate that Christ has proven to be the perfect priest. The standards which God set for the priesthood and which men failed to meet are those which Christ has met fully.
The Book of Hebrews has much to say about Christ as our great High Priest, and of His superiority to the Aaronic order. Ideally, the Aaronic priesthood would have taken away iniquity:
“You shall also make a plate of pure gold and shall engrave on it, like the engraving of a seal, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ And you shall fasten it on a blue cord, and it shall be on the turban; it shall be at the front of the turban. And it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall take away [bear, cf. marginal note, NASB] the iniquity of the holy things which the sons of Israel consecrate, with regard to all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD” (Exod. 28:36-38).
Due to the sinfulness of these priests provision had to be made to cover their own sins, so that they would not die (cf. Exod. 28:40-43; 29). It was not until Jesus Christ came as Israel’s Messiah and Great High Priest that the sins of men were atoned for, once for all. The writer to the Hebrews makes much of the superiority of Christ and of His priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek. He writes,
Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives … Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession (Heb. 2:14-15, 17-18; 3:1).
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself …
In the days of His flesh, when He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and who was heard because of His piety, although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation; being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 4:14–5:3; 5:7-10).
In chapters 7-10, the writer to the Hebrews reaches the climax of his arguments for the superiority of the priesthood of Christ. He provides the following lines of evidence:
- A better priesthood—7:1-10
- A better covenant—7:11-28
- A better ministry—8:1-13
- A better tabernacle and a better sacrifice—9:1-28
- A better sanctification—10:1-18
The conclusion to the argument of these chapters in Hebrews is found in verses 19-25 of chapter 10:
Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near (Heb. 10:19-25).
There is a second New Testament principle of priesthood which is an outgrowth of the first:
Principle 2: The Lord Jesus Christ has instituted a new priestly order, not of a few select individuals, but of all those who are born again, who are united by faith with His priesthood.
Just as Aaron, Israel’s first high priest, was the top ranking priest of a whole order, so Jesus Christ is the head of a New Testament order of priests. The priesthood of the Old Testament was called the Aaronic priesthood because all the priests were the offspring of Aaron, they were members of his family. The priesthood of the New Testament is composed of all who are “in Christ.” This is implied in the Book of Hebrews. In chapter 8 we read of a “better ministry.” In chapter 9 we are told of one of the results of the high priestly ministry of Christ:
For if the blood of goats and bulls and ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:13-14, emphasis mine).
The service which is to result from the cleansing accomplished by our Great High Priest is a priestly service. Thus, in chapter 10, the application of Christ’s work in the believer’s actions is described in the priestly vocabulary of the Old Testament priesthood:
… since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near (Heb. 10:21-25, emphasis mine).
The Old Testament priests were those who drew near, and were those who had to be washed in order to carry out their priestly duties. This terminology is now applied to all who are in Christ, because all who are in Christ are priests. This is clearly taught elsewhere in the New Testament. Our Lord taught that the new order which He would bring into existence was one in which a religious hierarchy would not and could not exist. There was to be no laity and clergy distinction. No men were to be put on a higher spiritual level than others:
“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:8-12).
Thus, in the New Testament, all believers are said to be the priesthood of the New Covenant:
You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:5, 9).
And He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen (Rev. 1:6).
Often in the New Testament we find the ministry of the New Testament saint couched in the sacrificial language of the Old Testament because we who are in Christ are His priests (cf. Rom. 12:1; Phil. 1:18; Heb. 13:9-17).
The cross of Jesus Christ marks the greatest dividing line of all history. There may be other lines drawn in the history of God’s dealings with men, but none matches this one in its significance. This line has not always been viewed as clearly as it should have been, however. In the history of the church, the line has had to be redrawn, or at least rediscovered. The Reformation, brought about by a former Roman Catholic monk, Martin Luther, was one such redrawing of the line. As Christ drew the line between the traditions of Judaism and the teachings of the Old Testament, so Luther drew the line between the authority of the church and the authority of the Bible. As Christ drew the line between a salvation of works and that of faith in His shed blood, so Luther reiterated that men were saved by faith in Christ alone, and not by their works.
Unfortunately, the Reformation did not redraw the line as fully as it should have. Many matters of ecclesiology, that is, matters pertaining to the forms and functions of the church, were left virtually unchallenged. Thus, for example, the distinction between laity and clergy was maintained. In most Catholic and Protestant churches, there is either a formal or an informal priesthood, an order of those who somehow mediate between God and men. Thus, much of the Aaronic Priesthood, which we find defined and described in the Book of Leviticus, is simply carried over into the New Testament church, with only superficial changes or alterations. Such practice is ignorant of (or worse yet, disobedient to) the fact that with Christ came a New Covenant, as well as a new priesthood, and that this priesthood includes every true believer, not a select few.
Why is it that the clear teaching of the Bible has not been followed, as it pertains to the new priestly order or the New Testament? Why has the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” been set aside, both doctrinally and practically, so that an elite priestly class still performs the religious rituals for the laity? I think the reason can be seen in the Old Testament text. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, and the people partially perceived the holiness of God, they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die” (Exod. 20:19).
Before the death of Nadab and Abihu (as seen above) and after it as well, I suspect, the people were glad to let someone else get close to God. They wished to play it safe by keeping their distance. I think that is one of the principle reasons why Christians today want to have a small priestly class, and clergy, as it were, who will represent them before God, and who will relieve them of the responsibility of getting to close to God, and having to pay the higher price of purity, discipline, and devotion which this entails.
Moses exemplifies the change which God wants to see in all of us. When God first called Moses, as recorded in the early chapters of the Book of Exodus, Moses kept retreating from God and drawing back from the position to which God has called him. He wanted God to send someone else, and only very reluctantly went after God’s anger was evident, and when Aaron was sent along with him.
The great change in Moses occurs after the “fall of Israel” in Exodus 32, when the people sinned by their worship of the golden calf. From here on, we have the sense of Moses pressing toward God—almost dangerously so. He is not content with God’s promise to be personally present with him alone. He wants God’s promise to be present with His people. Even beyond this Moses pressed God to reveal His glory to him, in a way that definitely was life-threatening (cf. Exod. 33:17–34:35).
The man who drew back from God now pressed upon Him. How can we explain this change? Two things explain the change, and they are at the very heart of the Book of Leviticus: loving God and loving men. Moses loved God so much that he wanted to be near Him, even to see His undiminished glory, if possible. He loved the Israelites so much that he would not settle only for God’s promise of His personal presence and blessing, but for nothing less than His presence with His people. When we love God and men we wish to draw near to God, not to draw away from Him. The reason why many of us want an elite priesthood, a clergy, is that we don’t sufficiently love God or our fellow men. Let us learn from Moses and from other godly saints to “draw near.”
Principle 3: The Book of Hebrews, in particular, uses the inferiority of the Aaronic Priesthood as an argument for not being tempted to go back to the old order, which prefers law to grace, and Moses to Christ.
The strong emphasis on the superiority of Christ’s priesthood to that of Aaron is for a very specific purpose in the Book of Hebrews. There were apparently those who were tempted (by Jewish persecution) to fall away from their faith and to return to the practice of Judaism. As we study the Aaronic priesthood, we should be overcome with gratitude to God for the better priesthood which Christ has inaugurated, and be motivated to continue in grace, rather than to fall into works.
Having emphasized the differences between the former priesthood and the new, let me now state a very important principle, which enables us to appreciate the continuity between the Old Testament Aaronic priesthood and the New Testament priesthood of all believers:
Principle 4: Most of the principles of priesthood which are found in the Old Testament apply equally to the New Testament priesthood as well.
For many Christians, a study of the priesthood in the Book of Leviticus should emphasize the differences between that priesthood and the priesthood of all believers today. For most of us, however, these distinctions are quite clear. We attempt, in this church, to avoid all distinctions between an elite clergy and a large, and lower order, known as the laity. In our efforts to maintain the crucial distinctions drawn by the cross of Christ, we may neglect to give due attention to the many similarities which exist between the former Aaronic priesthood and the priesthood of all believers today. Therefore, I want to close by emphasizing those principles of priesthood which have remained unchanged, from the days of the Aaronic order to our own days.
Old Testament Principles of Priesthood
(1) Priesthood is bestowed upon all those who are a member of the right family. Just as it was only the sons of Aaron who were priests under the Law of Moses, so it is only those who are in Christ by personal faith who are priests today. Priesthood is not something which men can bestow upon other men, or even which the church can bestow; it is the result of the new birth, which constitutes one to be a child of God and thus to be in Christ. Priests are those whose sins have been atoned for, so that they are free to minister to other sinners. This atonement for the New Testament priest is that which Christ, our Great High Priest, has made through the shedding of His blood on the cross.
(2) God’s priesthood is a holy priesthood. We are to learn from God’s words, quoted by Moses, that disobedience to God dishonors Him and fails to regard Him as holy. A God who is Holy is a God who is to be honored, and we honor God by obeying Him. This same principle of showing honor by our obedience applies to others, including children, who are to honor their parents (Eph. 6:1-2), and citizens, who are to honor those in authority (cf. Rom. 13:1-7).
God takes the sin of His priests very seriously. Being in close proximity to God brings with it correspondingly high standards of conduct. This is indicated in several ways in the Book of Leviticus. God frequently indicated that disobedience to His commands would bring about the death of the violator. The expression “lest you die” is often found in this context (cf. Exod. 28:35, 43; 30:20, 21; Lev. 8:35; 10:6, 7, 9). In addition, a previous statement of God is quoted by Moses in our text as an explanation of what happened to Nadab and Abihu and its implications for the priesthood:
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 (Lev. 10:3).
Priests must not let their human sympathies and family affections dim their regard for the holiness of God. Specifically, Eleazar and Ithamar were not allowed to touch the bodies of their brothers, nor were they allowed to mourn their death, as others could do (v. 6). The priests were to represent and reflect the holiness of God, and thus they could not identify with the sympathies of men. To have mourned for their brothers would have implied a sorrow for their deserved judgment, and would have implied an excessive severity on the part of God, who judged them.
(3) Priests must not do anything which dulls their sense of judgment or their grasp of the significance of what they are doing (vv. 8-11). I understand verses 8-10 to be directly related to the death of Nadab and Abihu. Distinct from later instructions, which are given by Moses, verses 8-10 are said to have come directly from God to Aaron (v. 8). I take it that it is possible, perhaps even likely, that Nadab and Abihu had been “tipping the bottle” before or while they were acting as priests. The consequent dullness of mind, or even downright drunkenness, could have contributed greatly to their disobedience. Today, we remind people not to mix drinking and driving. In those days God reminded the priests not to drink and be on duty. Drinking can be deadly, to those who drive and to those who serve God.
You will remember that the abuses which Paul sought to correct in the remembrance of the Lord in the church at Corinth involved excesses in drink, so that their commemoration of the Lord’s Table was one that was dishonoring to Him:
Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk … Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Cor. 11:20-21, 27-32).
(4) The function of priests is to serve God and men. Repeatedly in the 28th chapter of Exodus, the garments which are made for Aaron and for his sons are those which enable them to minister to God. So that we frequently find the expression, or one that is similar, “… that he (or they) may minister as priests to Me” (cf. Exod. 28:1, 3, 4, 41; also 29:44). The emphasis here is on serving God, more than on serving men, though I believe both elements are present.
Just what is involved in the ministry of Aaron, and of his sons? As I have pondered Exodus chapter 28 it seems to me that each of the various components of Aaron’s attire relates to a particular facet of his ministry. The ephod is to contain two stones on the shoulder pieces (cf. Exod. 28:6-14). On these two stones were engraved the names of the sons of Israel. Aaron was to wear these, “as stones of memorial for the sons of Israel,” to bear “their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for a memorial” (Exod. 28:12). Aaron also was to wear a “breastpiece of judgment” (vv. 15-30). On this breastpiece four rows of stones were set, with three stones in each row, each signifying one of the tribes of Israel. The purpose of these stones is given in verse 30: “… and Aaron shall carry the judgment of the sons of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually” (Exod. 28:30b). On Aaron’s turban was to be placed a “plate of gold” (Exod. 28:36-39). It was to be engraved with a seal, reading, “Holy to the Lord” (v. 36). This had to do with “taking away the iniquity of the holy things which the sons of Israel consecrated,” “so that they may be accepted before the LORD” (v. 38).
I must be honest with you and confess that I do not really comprehend all that Aaron’s ministry entailed, but I am certain that a study of his garments would prove worthwhile. I also believe that the ministries of Aaron and his sons as priests have their fulfillment in Christ, and have a counterpart in New Testament priestly ministry. It is worthwhile to recall that the practical righteousness of the Christian is often described in terms of garments, and thus “putting off” and “putting on” refer to character qualities of the saint (cf. Colossians 3). The weapons of the Christian are likewise described as those things which are worn by the saint (cf. Ephesians 6:10-20).
A Biblical Philosophy of Failure
It has occurred to me that the Pentateuch is really a record of repeated human failures, and contains very few real “success” stories. Very early into the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve sinned, losing the bliss of their sinless state and the joys of living in the Garden of Eden. In chapter 6, the whole race had to be wiped out, due to its sin. The human failures of the remainder of the book far outnumber the successes. And then in Exodus we find the Mosaic Covenant broken in chapter 32, before “the ink has dried.” In the Book of Numbers, chapter 14, the Israelites fail at Kadesh Barnea, refusing to go into the land and face the “giants” who possess it. In Deuteronomy Moses fails to enter into the land, due to his sin, and thus even the greatest leader the nation has yet known does not enter Canaan.
The Book of Leviticus has much to say about the priesthood, as its name implies. In chapters 8-10, the priesthood is established, and yet at what seems to be the very outset of the priests assuming their duties, the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, are smitten of God for their irreverence. Think of it, at the very outset of the ministry of the Aaronic priesthood, two of the highest order of priests failed, and paid with their lives.
The entire Pentateuch, I repeat, is the record of human failure, much more than of human success. What is the purpose of such a dismal record? The New Testament tells us:
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:11-12).
For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).
In these two texts, both penned by the apostle Paul, we learn that the Old Testament Scriptures, which report the stories of human failure and tragedy, are given to us to warn us of our fallibility, and to cautions us not to be over confident. At the same time, these Old Testament passages also give us hope.
It is not difficult to see how reports of human failure would caution the Christian not to be too self-confident, but how can they produce hope at the same time? The answer to this is very clear in the Bible, and it is one that is consistently taught. It is the essence of the Gospel: When men come to the point that they see they cannot trust in themselves, they must turn to God alone for their deliverance. Thus, human hopelessness is the basis for biblical hope. Over and over in the Bible, God brought people to the end of themselves, so that in their weakness they might find God sufficient. When all human hope is lost, men still have the promises of God, backed by His power and by His character.
Here is the critical difference between the “hope” which the world offers me and the true hope which God offers. The world’s hope is a counterfeit hope, it is only a delusion. God’s hope is certain. Hebrews chapter 11 focuses on the biblical hope which sustained the men and women of faith in the Old Testament times, especially when all human hope was lost.
The world’s “hope” differs from God’s hope in the way it is spelled. God’s hope is spelled H O P E. The world’s “hope” is spelled H Y P E. Hype is furthered and fueled by success, while hope is promoted by failure. HYPE is confident of what men can do. Hope is confident in God, not men.
The sad reality, in my personal opinion, is that the church has all too often exchanged its hope for hype. We think that “success stories” build the hope of Christians, but the Bible suggests otherwise. It is those who are sick who turn to someone else for healing, as the afflicted turned to our Lord in the gospels. It is those who are sinners, who look for salvation in someone outside of themselves.
You see, when we as Christians view our hope as being synonymous and signaled by our successes, we have switched to hype, not hope. And the tragedy is that those who are afflicted and suffering are told (or it is at least strongly implied) that they must have too little faith, when it is these very trials which God has given us to strengthen our faith, just as He gave to those who are listed in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews chapter 11.
The failures of the Aaronic Priesthood caused men and women of faith to look to God for a better High Priest, and a better priesthood. It instructed the saints of old not to put their trust in men, but in God. Every failure which is to be found in the Pentateuch (and in all the Bible, for that matter) is recorded to cause us to distrust ourselves, and to place our trust more fully in God, who is worthy of our trust.
May God grant that we, like the Israelites of old, might learn from the failures of the old institutions that God always has a better way. May God grant us to see, and to believe that the better way has been finished by our Lord Jesus Christ, who is all sufficient, and who is worthy of all of our hope and trust.
60 An informative text concerning the establishment of the priesthood is found in the Book of 1 Samuel: “Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: “Did I not clearly reveal myself to your father’s house when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh? I chose your father out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in my presence. I also gave your father’s house all the offerings made with fire by the Israelites. Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?”’” (1 Sam. 2:27-29, NIV).
17. The Love of God
For those who believe there is a God, we all agree on one thing: God is love.110 And the love of God is a biblical truth (1 John 4:8). But why is everyone so eager to embrace this attribute, unlike many other of God’s attributes? Arthur W. Pink tells us:
There are many who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. The truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed in Scripture. That there is urgent need for this is apparent not only from the ignorance which so generally prevails, but also from the low state of spirituality which is now so sadly evident everywhere among professing Christians. How little real love there is for God. One chief reason for this is because our hearts are so little occupied with His wondrous love for His people. The better we are acquainted with His love—its character, fullness, blessedness—the more our hearts will be drawn out in love to Him.111
The need to study and to grasp the love of God is vital for a number of reasons (and even more!).
(1) The love of God is widely accepted, but wrongly understood. As indicated, many people believe in a “God of love,” who operates according to their definition of love. Those people will be shocked to find themselves spending eternity in hell if they believe “a loving God would not condemn anyone to hell.” But the error is not just among unbelievers, for many Christians also have a very distorted concept of God’s love.
(2) The love of God is the basis for God’s great acts in history. In Psalm 136, we find the love (“lovingkindness”—NASB) of God repeated after each new line of the Psalm. The Psalm praises God for His lovingkindness for two major acts in history, the creation of the world and the deliverance of Israel from their Egyptian slavery. The prophets of the Old Testament emphasized the love of God during the dark days of Israel’s captivity (Isaiah 49:8-16; 63:7; Jeremiah 31:3; Hosea 11:1), and the New Testament speaks of the love of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ (1 John 4:9).
(3) The love of God is the cause, the basis and the standard for the love we are expected to demonstrate in our lives as Christians (Matthew 5:43-48; John 15:7-12; 1 John 2:4-11; 3:10-11; 13-24; 4:7-11).
(4) The entire Old Testament law can be summed up in terms of love. The commands of the Law, given to the people of God, can be summed up as: love God, and love your neighbor.
34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40).
8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10).
(5) Love is to be a principle goal of our lives as Christians (1 Corinthians 12:31; 13:13; 14:1; see 2 Peter 1:7, where love is the pinnacle of Christian virtues to be pursued).
(6) It is the love of Christ which controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14).
(7) What we love is what we will tend to be like, to imitate (see Hosea 9:10).
(8) Love is one of the prominent terms and concepts in the New Testament. When our Lord was soon to be arrested and crucified, He spoke to His disciples in what has become known as the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17) concerning the things important for them to know in light of His coming death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. “Love” is one of the prominent terms in this section.
Love is also prominent in the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, being mentioned in each chapter. In chapter 1, verse 4, love is first mentioned as the motivation of God as He chose us for salvation in eternity past. In chapter 2, Paul reminds his readers they were once dead in their trespasses and sins, and that God provided salvation for us because of His mercy and His great love with which He loved us (2:4). In chapter 3, Paul prays that his readers might be “rooted and grounded in love” (3:17), and “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (3:19). In chapter 4, Christian unity is urged, as believers show “forbearance to one another in love” (verse 2). In the same chapter, Paul says that the church, the body of Christ, builds up itself in love as Christians speak the truth in love (verses 15-16). In chapter 5, Paul urges believers to “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (verse 2). Husbands are instructed to “love their wives, just as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself up for her” (verse 25). In his concluding words to the Ephesians, Paul writes,
23 Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with a love incorruptible (Ephesians 6:23-24).
(9) Love for others is evidence of a true faith in Christ, and the absence of love is an indication of a false profession. These statements, written by the apostle John, are challenging to the Christian, and a sobering warning to those who merely think or profess to be saved:
9 The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes (1 John 2:9-11).
14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:14-17).
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. . . 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also (1 John 4:7-10, 20-21).
If the New Testament abounds with references to the love of God and the believer’s responsibility to demonstrate this same kind of love, the Old Testament references are less frequent. This is not to suggest that the Old Testament avoids the subject of God’s love, but rather that the matter comes to full bloom with the coming of Christ. Another reason for the relative rarity of love in the Old Testament is a failure on the part of Bible translators. The Hebrew word, hesed, is often employed in the Old Testament, rendered “lovingkindness” 176 times, and “unchanging love” but twice. Nevertheless, hesed is the key word in describing the love of God toward man. Thus, “love” is much more frequently the subject in the Old Testament, even though it may not be the English word “love” that is employed.
God’s Love is Infinite, Limitless, Unfathomable
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him (Psalm 103:11).
7 I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, According to all that the Lord has granted us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel, Which He has granted them according to His compassion, And according to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses (Isaiah 63:7).
17 So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18-19; see also 2:4).
For all of eternity we shall ponder the love of God, and never will we fully be able to comprehend it, for His love is infinite.
God’s Love is Eternal
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 2 Give thanks to the God of gods, For His lovingkindness is everlasting (Psalm 136:1-2, so also verses 3-26).
3 The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).
The value of an article is due largely to how long it endures. Gold and precious stones, for example, are more precious than wood or paper, which do not last. God’s love, or lovingkindness, as the term hesed is rendered in Psalm 136, is everlasting. It is eternal.
God’s Love is Immutable, Changeless
How quickly human “love” can turn to hate in the divorce court. God’s love is not like this. His love is unchanging. As God is immutable, so is His love.
6 “Put me like a seal over your heart, Like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, The very flame of the LORD. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, Nor will rivers overflow it; If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, It would be utterly despised” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7).
18 Who is a God like Thee, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love (Micah 7:18).
20 Thou wilt give truth to Jacob And unchanging love to Abraham, Which Thou didst swear to our forefathers From the days of old (Micah 7:20).
17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow (James 1:17).
God’s Love is Holy
Like God, God’s love is holy. It is communicated to us through the Holy Spirit:
5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5).
God’s love is always an expression of God’s holiness. It is also directed toward producing holiness in us. God’s love seeks to make us holy.
4 Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love (Ephesians 1:4).
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5:25-26).
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; 6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness (Hebrews 12:5-10).
Many people think God’s love is such that He “accepts me just as I am.” This is not true. We come to Him in the words of the hymn writer, “Just as I am, without one plea.” But He cannot accept us this way. He accepts us “in Christ,” just as Christ is. God cannot and will not accept our sin. And so, in love, God disciplines us, moving us in love toward holiness. The love of God is not a guarantee that we will not suffer; it is the assurance that whatever suffering we endure is directed toward making us holy by a God who loves us. If it was necessary for Christ to suffer in order to demonstrate God’s love toward us, why would we think our suffering is incompatible with God’s love toward us?
God’s Love is Sacrificial
God’s love is not self-serving but sacrificial. Love comes at a high cost, and the one who loves is the one who willingly pays the price.
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).
Love always has a price tag, and the “lover” is gladly willing to pay the price. From eternity past, God set His love on us and purposed to save us through the sacrificial death of His Son.
God’s Love is Sovereignly Bestowed By Grace
God’s love is selective. When a man wants to marry, he chooses the woman he wants to be his wife. He chooses her apart from, and above, all others. He makes a selection. God’s love is likewise selective. He chooses some and not others:
“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13; Malachi 1:2-3).
“Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day (Deuteronomy 10:15).
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you” (John 15:16).
God’s love is not given to men because they are lovely. He has chosen to love us in spite of our miserable condition.
7 “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
We must conclude then that love is a choice—God’s choice. God chose to love us above others, not because of anything which we have done, or will do, but simply as a choice of His sovereign grace:
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is a word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Romans 9:6-16).
There is nothing whatever in the objects of His love to call it forth; nothing in man could attract or prompt it. Love among men is awakened by something in the beloved, but the love of God is free, spontaneous, unevoked, uncaused. God loves men because He has chosen to love them—as Charles Wesley put it, ‘He hath loved us, He hath loved us, because he would love’ (an echo of Deut. 7:8)—and no reason for His love can be given save His own sovereign good pleasure. The Greek and Roman world of New Testament times had never dreamed of such love; its gods were often credited with lusting after women, but never with loving sinners; and the New Testament writers had to introduce what was virtually a new Greek word agape to express the love of God as they knew it.112
The Love of God is Personal and Individual
God’s love is an exercise of His goodness towards individual sinners. It is not a vague, diffused good-will towards everyone in general and nobody in particular; rather, as being a function of omniscient almightiness, its nature is to particularize both its objects and its effects. God’s purpose of love, formed before creation (cf. Eph. 1:4), involved, first, the choice and selection of those whom He would bless and, second, the appointment of the benefits to be given them and the means whereby these benefits would be procured and enjoyed. All this was made sure from the start. So Paul writes to the Thessalonian Christians, ‘we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, beloved by the Lord, because God chose you (selection) from the beginning (before creation) to be saved (the appointed end) through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth (the appointed means)’ (2 Thess. 2:12, RSV).113
God’s Love is One Attribute Among Many
The love of God is one attribute of God, one of many. God’s love is not the complete truth about God as far as the Bible is concerned; it is one attribute among many. God’s love is related to His other attributes:
It is not an abstract definition which stands alone, but a summing up, from the believer’s standpoint, of what the whole revelation set forth in Scripture tells us about its Author. This statement [God is love] presupposes all the rest of the biblical witness to God. The God of whom John is speaking is the God who made the world, who judged it by the Flood, who called Abraham and made of him a nation, who chastened His Old Testament people by conquest, captivity, and exile, who sent His Son to save the world, who cast off unbelieving Israel and shortly before John wrote had destroyed Jerusalem, and who would one day judge the world in righteousness. It is this God, says John, who is love. It is not possible to argue that a God who is love cannot also be a God who condemns and punishes the disobedient; for it is precisely of the God who does these very things that John is speaking.114
Here is precisely where many go wrong. Men often reason like this:
(1) God is a God of love.
God(2) is all-powerful.
(3) God therefore cannot allow suffering and pain if He is both loving and powerful.
The logic fails because it omits other critical elements of the equation. God is also holy. He hates sin. Men are sinful, hostile to God, to His Word, and to the way of righteousness. Human suffering tells us as much about men as it does about God. In love, God allows sickness and suffering to notify us that something is wrong. But what is wrong is not God; it is sinful man and the world man has corrupted by sin.
God’s Love is the Source of Human Love
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:7-11).
We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
God’s Love is Expressed and Experienced in Christ
In love, God provided a cure, a salvation not only for fallen men but for a fallen creation as well. In love, God sent His Son to die on the cross of Calvary, bearing man’s sins and offering to fallen men the righteousness of God. Those who receive the gift of salvation in Christ become the special objects of divine love, and then they begin to manifest this love toward others, who live in a sick, pain-filled, fallen world.
By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).
God’s love to sinners was expressed by the gift of His Son to be their Saviour. The measure of love is how much it gives, and the measure of the love of God is the gift of His only Son to be made man, and to die for sins, and so to become the one mediator who can bring us to God. No wonder Paul speaks of God’s love as ‘great,’ and passing knowledge! (Eph. 2:4, 3:19.) Was there ever such costly munificence?115
God’s Love Evidenced in the Forgiveness of Sins
God’s love is evidenced in the forgiveness of sins, but not incompatible with punishing sinners. Some wrongly think of love as antithetical to punishment. They believe they love their children by not punishing them. They expect God to bless them and make them happy, and then they become angry and frustrated when God allows suffering or pain. This evidences an inadequate definition of love.
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:6-7).
In Exodus 34:6-7, the lovingkindness, compassion, and grace of God are evident in the forgiveness of sins, which He brought about through the punishment of our sins. Full and final forgiveness of our sins was accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. But how was this forgiveness brought about? It was accomplished when God punished us for our sins in Christ.
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him (Isaiah 53:4-6).
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).
24 And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25).
“How,” some ask, “can a loving God send anyone to hell?” The truth is that our loving God sent His Son to hell for our sins, so that we might have our sins forgiven and enjoy the blessings of heaven rather than endure our just punishment in hell. Those who reject God’s punishment of His Son in our place must endure the punishment themselves. That men go to hell is not so much a reflection on God’s love as a reflection of our animosity toward the God of love who provided a way of escape, a way which some reject.
The first and foremost question I must ask you is this: “Have you accepted God’s gift of love in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ?” Jesus Christ is the “beloved Son” of God, in whom God is well pleased (Matthew 3:17). Because of this, we should “listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5). To accept the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary as God’s gift of salvation to you is to enter into His love. To reject Jesus Christ and attempt to stand before God in your own righteousness is to shun the love of God and to deservedly await eternal punishment. Only those who trust in Jesus Christ can experience and express the love of God. Those who reject the gift of His love in Christ have no claim on His love. The fact is that none of us have any claim on His love, but those who are saved gratefully receive it, and give glory and praise to Him for His grace.
In our witness to a sinful, lost, and dying world, we dare not distort the love of God. God is the One who defines love, not men. We must accept God’s love as God has defined and expressed it. We dare not rely on God conforming to the distorted perceptions of love to which fallen men ignorantly cling. We must be careful not to compartmentalize God’s love and separate it from His other attributes, or try to evangelize men by appealing only to the love of God. Our Lord did not indicate that we should depend upon the “attraction” of His love, as much as He has indicated that lost men should be compelled by a sense of His righteousness, our sin, and the judgment which awaits sinners (John 16:7-11). The sinner ought not to be comforted by assurances of the love of God (apart from Christ), but should be reminded that God hates sinners:
The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity (Psalm 5:5).
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates (Psalm 11:5).
I hate the assembly of evildoers, And I will not sit with the wicked (Psalm 26:5).
If we are to enjoy the benefits of God’s love, we not only need to embrace it through faith in Jesus Christ, we need to actively enter into it in an ongoing way as a lifestyle:
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (John 15:9-10).
May God grant that we may enter more and more into His love, and that we may therefore become instruments of His love to a lost and loveless world.
110 Packer defines the love of God this way: God’s love is an exercise of His goodness towards individual sinners whereby, having identified Himself with their welfare, He has given His Son to be their Saviour, and now brings them to know and enjoy Him in a covenant relation. J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 111.
111 Arthur. W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), p. 72.
112 J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 112.
113 Ibid., pp. 112-113.
114 Ibid., p. 108.
115 Ibid., p. 114.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)
18. The Glory of God
One of the saddest events in the Old Testament is associated with the name Ichabod. Ichabod was born when his mother heard that her husband and father-in-law had died, which immediately caused her to give birth and subsequently die. This sad event occurred because of the tragedy which took place in Israel, resulting indirectly in Eli’s death when he was informed of the defeat of the Israelites by the Philistines, the capture of the ark of the covenant, and the death of his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas:
19 Now his daughter-in-law, Phinehas’ wife, was pregnant and about to give birth; and when she heard the news that the ark of God was taken and that her father-in-law and her husband had died, she kneeled down and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20 And about the time of her death the women who stood by her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have given birth to a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. 21 And she called the boy Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel,” because the ark of God was taken and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken” (1 Samuel 4:19-22).
The tragic irony of this event was that the Israelites were greatly encouraged by the presence of the ark, but the Philistines were terrified by it:
2 And the Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel. When the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. 3 When the people came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies.” 4 So the people sent to Shiloh, and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 And it happened as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, that all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth resounded. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” Then they understood that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp. 7 And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. 8 “Woe to us! Who shall deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. 9 “Take courage and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews, as they have been slaves to you; therefore, be men and fight.” 10 So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent, and the slaughter was very great; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died (1 Samuel 4:2-11).
Earlier in Israel’s history, Samson had lost his God-given power, which he did not even realize at first:
18 When Delilah saw that he had told her all that was in his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up once more, for he has told me all that is in his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands. 19 And she made him sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his hair. Then she began to afflict him, and his strength left him. 20 And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him. 21 Then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains, and he was a grinder in the prison (Judges 16:18-21).
We find the same thing described in the New Testament, where men have a false confidence of God’s presence and power among them when it simply is not true:
2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these (2 Timothy 3:2-5).
1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 3 ‘Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you” (Revelation 3:1-3).
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. 16 ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. 19 ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:14-19).
There are those who believe that the glory of God has long since left the church of our Lord in our nation, and we, like men of old, hardly seem to notice it. A. W. Tozer is one of those who saw the downward decline of American Christianity and spoke up about it, as he wrote:
The message of this book does not grow out of these times but it is appropriate to them. It is called forth by a condition which has existed in the Church for some years and is steadily growing worse. I refer to the loss of the concept of majesty from the popular religious mind. The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.
The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.
With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. The words, ‘Be still, and know that I am God,’ mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century.
The loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains and the churches are more prosperous than at any time within the past several hundred years. But the alarming thing is that our gains are mostly external and our losses wholly internal; and since it is the quality of our religion that is affected by internal conditions, it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field.
The only way to recoup our spiritual losses is to go back to the cause of them and make such corrections as the truth warrants. The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is.116
J. I. Packer agrees as he writes in the introduction of his classic book, Knowing God,
Ninety years ago C. H. Spurgeon described the wobblings he then saw among the Baptists on Scripture, atonement and human destiny as ‘the down-grade’; could he survey Protestant thinking about God at the present time, I guess he would speak of ‘the nose-dive’!117
Tozer has some helpful comments concerning what we can do to bring back the departed glory. Listen to him:
What can we plain Christians do to bring back the departed glory? Is there some secret we may learn? Is there a formula for personal revival we can apply to the present situation, to our own situation? The answer to these questions is yes.
Yet the answer may easily disappoint some persons, for it is anything but profound. I bring no esoteric cryptogram, no mystic code to be painfully deciphered. I appeal to no hidden law of the unconscious, no occult knowledge meant only for the few. The secret is an open one which the wayfaring man may read. It is simply the old and ever-new counsel: Acquaint thyself with God. To regain her lost power the Church must see heaven opened and have a transforming vision of God.
But the God we must see is not the utilitarian God who is having such a run of popularity today, whose chief claim to men’s attention is His ability to bring them success in their various undertakings and who for that reason is being cajoled and flattered by everyone who wants a favor. The God we must learn to know is the Majesty in the heavens, God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, the only wise God and Saviour. He it is that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, who stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in, who bringeth out His starry host by number and calleth them all by name through the greatness of His power, who seeth the works of man as vanity, who putteth no confidence in princes and asks no counsel of kings.118
As we conclude this series, I will attempt to find one label which will serve as a biblical summation of the attributes of God.119 We will then consider the relevance and importance of this subject matter to men and women today.
A biblical expression which may encompass all of God’s attributes is found in the description of Moses’ encounter with God in Exodus 33 and 34:
17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight, and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!” 19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (Exodus 33:17-19).
5 And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. 6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:5-7).
Moses requested of God that He show him His glory (33:18). After making it clear that He will not reveal His full glory to Moses, and that He is sovereign in bestowing His saving grace upon men, God manifests Himself to Moses. There is absolutely no description about how anything looked to Moses; we find here only the recorded words of God to Moses, words which declared His attributes. God’s attributes are the manifestation of the “glory of God.”
A similar linking of God’s attributes and God’s glory is found in the first chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures (Romans 1:18-23).
God revealed Himself in nature. In nature the invisible attributes of God are displayed (specifically, God’s eternal power and divine nature, verse 20). Men exchanged the “glory of the incorruptible God” for the image of corruptible men and other earthly creatures (verse 23). The attributes of God are God’s glory, and men are therefore obligated to glorify God in response to the revelation of such attributes.120 Sinful men do not glorify God, and consequently they prove themselves to be guilty sinners, rightly under divine condemnation. I wish to emphasize that the attributes of God and the glory of God are very closely associated, so much so that we might say God’s glory is the sum total of who God is, and who God is is defined by His attributes.
Even in Christian circles, the study of the attributes of God is looked upon as the kind of thing theologians do with little or no relevance to everyday people in their everyday lives. How wrong! Nothing is more relevant to the Christian than the glory of God. We shall first consider the glory of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, we will turn to the glory of God and the unbeliever. Finally, we will give thought to the glory of God and the Christian.
The Glory of God in Jesus Christ
The glory of God was to appear in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah foresaw this and spoke of it:
37 But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 “He has blinded their eyes, and He HARDENED THEIR HEART; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said, because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him (John 12:37-41).121
At the birth of our Lord Jesus, we find references to the glory of God:
14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).
32 A light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32).
Both John and the author to the Hebrews emphasize that Jesus is the manifestation of God’s glory:
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3).
When Jesus performed His first sign by turning the water into wine, John saw this as a manifestation of the glory of God in our Lord Jesus Christ:
11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him (John 2:11).
Why would we be surprised to find that the temptation of our Lord involved Satan’s offer of an inferior “glory”?
8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8-9).
The disciples had a distorted perception of the glory of God, and they wanted to be a part of it (see Mark 10:37). Only later would they understand the glory of God and the fact that we must suffer with Him in order to enter into His glory.
There were a few events in the life of Christ which gave men a glimpse of our Lord’s full glory. The first happened before a crowd:
27 “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 “Father, glorify Thy name.” There came therefore a voice out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The multitude therefore, who stood by and heard it, were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him” (John 12:27-29).
The other incident was the transfiguration of our Lord witnessed only by Peter, James, and John:
29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. 30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him (Luke 9:29-32).
In His high priestly prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus prays that the Father would glorify Him (17:5), indicates that He has given His followers the glory which the Father gave to Him (verse 22), and asks that they may be with Him in order to behold His glory (verse 24). When Jesus was raised from the dead, it was by (not just for) the glory of God:
4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
His return to the earth, to defeat His foes and establish His kingdom, will be in glory (see Matthew 16:27; 24:30; 25:31).
The Glory of God and the Unbeliever
The unbeliever’s problem is sin and its consequences. The glory of God is the standard by which sin is defined, and because all men fall short of God’s glory, they also are under divine sentence of condemnation:
23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
Although the creation reveals the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:19-20), unbelieving men reject this knowledge, choosing instead to exchange God’s glory for the false glory of created things, including man himself (Romans 1:21-23). As a result, man comes under divine condemnation122 and comes to glory in things which are really a shame to man (Romans 1:24-27; Philippians 3:19).
To be saved, men must acknowledge their sin, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the sentence of death which awaits them (see John 16:8-12). They must trust in Jesus Christ as God’s provision for sinners. He, the sinless Son of God, died in the sinner’s place, bearing the penalty for our sins. His righteousness is available to all who believe in Him for salvation (John 1:12; 3:16, 36; Romans 3:21-26; 10:9-11). But Satan has blinded the hearts and minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the glory of God in Christ through the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). In the final analysis, only the Spirit of God can open the eyes of the blind to see the light of the glorious gospel and come to faith (see Luke 4:18-19; John 6:65; 8:43-47; Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:18).
In the days of the Great Tribulation, men will experience the wrath of God and be given another opportunity to give glory to God and avoid judgment, but they will refuse (Revelation 14:6-7; 16:9). All men will ultimately acknowledge Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God (Philippians 2:11), but not as adoring believers. In the end, they will spend eternity separated from the glory of God (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
The Glory of God and the Christian
The church plays a vital role in bringing glory to God:
21 To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:21).
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:24-29).
When God purposed the salvation of individual believers, He did so for His own glory:
22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles (Romans 9:22-24).
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:3-6, see also verses 12, 14).
5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; 6 that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. 8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers (Romans 15:5-8).
Christians understand that their privilege and calling is to bring glory to God. Man is not the center of the spiritual universe, and God is not our servant, at our beck and call to make us feel good and to keep us from pain. God is the center of the universe, and He causes all things to work together for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). “All things” includes persecution and suffering and difficulties.123 The Christian sees that God causes good things to come from our suffering and trials:
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:18-21).
3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 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 (Romans 8:18-23).
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance (James 1:2-3).
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory124 and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:12-14).
Whatever suffering and sorrow we may experience in this life cannot hold a candle to the glory which awaits us:
16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
The glory of God should be the goal for all that we do and the standard by which we determine what we should or should not do:
31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
In this passage, Paul is writing concerning the exercise of our individual, personal convictions as Christians. He is not speaking about things that are clearly commanded, but about things which are permissible. The standard by which we determine whether we exercise a particular liberty is not whether we can, or even whether we want to, but whether it glorifies God. Thus, while Paul has the right to be financially supported as an apostle, he chose not to on numerous occasions for the promotion of the gospel and thus the glory of God (see 1 Corinthians 9:1-23).
Many people agonize over “knowing the will of God,” and many books have been written on the subject. But the answer is intensely simple at the core. Does God command or forbid something? Then you know the will of God. It is imperative that we read our Bibles, pray, witness, and gather to worship with other believers. It is God’s will that we abstain from immorality, and do not lie. But in allegedly gray areas, those areas where God has not give a command or a prohibition, we need only ask one question: Does it glorify God?
When we pray, the goal for our petitions should be the glory of God. We should not focus on God “meeting our felt needs,” but on God receiving glory. We can be assured that prayers for the glory of God are much more readily heard and answered than prayers which ask God to meet our selfish desires (see James 4:3).
Finally, the glory of God is the key to understanding God’s order in the church. We should recognize that the church is central to God’s purposes in this age just as Israel was in Old Testament times, and that it will be again (see Romans 11). The church is the body of Christ. Through His Spirit, Christ indwells His church, and through His “body,” Christ continues to work in the world. Some of Christ’s instructions to the church may seem difficult to understand and even more difficult to apply. One area is the ministry and conduct of women in the church. One can hardly deny the New Testament teaches that women are to be in submission in the church. This submission relates to women’s dress (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-5), their prohibition from teaching or exercising authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11-15), and the requirement that they “keep silent,” which includes even the asking of questions in the church meeting (1 Corinthians 14:34-36).
My intention is not to convince you that these instructions are just as applicable today as they were in the first century, though this is the simple fact of the matter. The principle objections to the instructions given to women by Peter and Paul come from our own sin natures and from the culture in which we live. Arguments against the simple, straightforward teaching of the New Testament on the ministry and conduct of women in the church are based on a handling of the New Testament which is far from compelling.125
Be all this as it may, my desire is to point out in the context of this message that the glory of God is one of the keys to understanding why these New Testament instructions for women have been given.126 Interestingly, it is the problem passage in 1 Corinthians 11 which most plainly deals with the aspect of the glory of God:
2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:2-16).
While the exposition of this text is not my focus, it is clear that while we may argue over certain “gnats” of this text, the “camels” ought to be clear. The principle underlying the passage is headship. The word head could hardly be more emphatic than in these verses. What a woman does with regard to her head is directly linked to the headship of Christ over His church. Headship does involve authority, but it involves much more than just authority. Headship also involves glory. That is what the New Testament instructions to women are all about. For the wife to dress in such a way as to draw attention to herself is for the wife to bring glory to herself, rather than to her husband. For a wife to have an uncovered head was to openly display her glory (her hair is her glory), rather than to bring glory to her husband. For the wife to teach or to exercise authority is to take a position which usurps the glory she should seek to bring to her husband. When all is said and done, the principles underlying the ministry and conduct of women in the church are those of headship and glory. If a woman desires to glorify God by her conduct, she will seek to bring glory to her husband rather than seek glory for herself.
Hard words? Perhaps, but I am convinced they are both biblical and true. But do not think this matter of God’s glory only applies to women. Neither is the headship of Christ and His glory an excuse for men to seek a position of preeminence in the church, for preeminence is all about glory, and the glory should be our Lord’s. This is also why we find the principle of plurality taught in the Scriptures. There is but one “Head” of the church, and that “Head” is our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). And because of this, no man is to seek to be preeminent, for the glory is to be our Lord’s:
1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them. 4 And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 “And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:1-12).
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:1-4).
What a marvelous reality is the glory of God. The glory of God is our hope. The glory of God is our ambition, our motivation, our goal. The glory of God should govern our actions, our prayers, our motives, our ministry. And, like Moses, we should always seek to see more of His glory as we study His Word and seek to behold the glory of His nature and attributes. May this study be only the beginning of a lifetime of seeking to know God, to see His glory, and to seek His glory. His glory is our highest goal and our highest good. To God be the glory!
23 Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: 24 But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23-24, KJV).
116 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1961), pp. 6-7.
117 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 7.
118 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pp. 121-122.
119 The reader should note that the expression, “The attributes of God,” is a theological label and not a biblical expression. We should therefore seek to find a biblical term or expression which refers to the attributes of God.
120 See also John 1:14, where the glory of God is further explained in terms of the two attributes, grace and truth.
121 The significance of this statement by John is that the blindness of the Jews is explained by the reference in Isaiah 6:9-10. John goes on to inform us that Isaiah’s vision of God, described in Isaiah 6:1-5, was not just a vision of the glory of God the Father, but a vision of the glory of God the Son. As Jesus told His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
122 Herod is a most dramatic illustration of the judgment which falls upon those who do not give glory to God but seek to glorify themselves (see Acts 12:20-23).
123 For example, one need only consider the life of the apostle Paul to see that spiritual people face adversity and suffering (2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 6:4-10; 11:22-29).
124 Is it not noteworthy that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, is called here by Peter the Spirit of glory?
125 Those who attempt to reject the teaching of the New Testament pertaining to women invariably go to 1 Corinthians 11, and there they do some strange things. Rather than base their conclusions on the clear texts of Scripture, they base their conclusions on the most perplexing text. I like what B. B. Warfield said on this point years ago. Allow me to quote him here:
In the face of these two absolutely plain and emphatic passages [1 Corinthians 14:33ff. and 1 Timothy 2:11ff.], what is said in 1st Cor. 11:5 cannot be appealed to in mitigation or modification. Precisely what is meant in 1st Cor. 11:5, nobody quite knows. What is said there is that every woman praying or prophesying unveiled dishonors her head. It seems fair to infer that if she prays or prophesies veiled she does not dishonor her head. And it seems fair still further to infer that she may properly pray or prophesy if only she does it veiled. We are piling up a chain of inferences. And they have not carried us very far. We cannot infer that it would be proper for her to pray or prophesy in church if only she were veiled. There is nothing said about church in the passage or in the context. The word ‘church’ does not occur until the 16th verse, and then not as a ruling reference of the passage, but only as supplying support for the injunction of the passage. There is no reason whatever for believing that ‘praying or prophesying’ in church is meant. Neither was an exercise confined to the church.
B. B. Warfield, “Women Speaking In The Church,” pp. 3-4. [Reprinted by Calvary Press, as taken from The Savior of the World.]
126 This is not to say that we must first know why God has commanded anything before we obey, but to say that there are reasons, whether we understand and accept them or not.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)
8. The Clean and Unclean-Part I (Leviticus 11)
Leviticus 11 is dealing with the subject of cleanness and uncleanness—specifically, with the subject of clean and unclean foods. The word “clean” has a lot of different meanings today depending upon the context in which it is used. For example, in the operating room, things must be clean, and that has a very rigid, strict interpretation—to be as free as possible from all germs and contamination. In an electronics plant where silicon crystals are grown, the clean room is incredibly clean. There is hardly any contamination at all! The restaurants in which you and I eat are supposed to be clean, especially the kitchens. That is not always true. I remember someone telling me of his experience not long ago. He was taking this girl out for the first time, and as they waited at their table in the restaurant, he noticed a huge roach crawling up the booth right beside her. He thought to himself, “Now shall I tell her and ruin the whole night, or shall I not tell her and hope the roach just walks away?” He decided not to tell her, and the roach went on its way and continued up over the booth and then down the other side. When my friend got to the cashier, he said as quietly as he could, “You all have a real roach infestation here. We had a trophy roach in the booth where I was eating.” Not at all taken back by the comment, the cashier replied, “Oh, that’s nothing! You should see the size of them in the kitchen!”
Clean and unclean—that can be a matter of great importance to us, but it is also a matter of differing definitions. In third world countries, “clean” means “free of large clumps of contamination.” In our children’s bedrooms, clean has a definition which means that everything has been kicked into one general pile and if given enough time, they can find what they left in that pile.
Clean means something different when we come to the definition of clean versus unclean in Leviticus. It is important for us to understand the meaning of clean and unclean, as it is used in the Old Testament, and its application for us in the New Testament.
For one thing, the expression clean and its counterpoint unclean is one of the prominent themes of Leviticus. Author G. J. Wenham,62 in a footnote in one of his commentaries, says that unclean and its cognates occurs 132 times in the Old Testament; over 50 percent of these are Leviticus. So the sense of uncleanness is a predominate theme, and the word clean, along with its related terms, occurs 74 times in Leviticus, which is over one-third of the uses found in the Old Testament. All of that says to us that if we are going to begin to get some kind of grasp of Leviticus, we must have some kind of grasp over what clean and unclean means and how these words apply to the Israelite.
When we leave the Old Testament and come to the New Testament, we once again find that the definition of clean and unclean is critical to our understanding. We find these issues discussed and debated heatedly between the scribes and the Pharisees, and our Lord had to do with cleanness and uncleanness—particularly the area of ceremonial uncleanness as defined by Jewish tradition, not so much as defined by Old Testament revelation. If we are going to understand how our Lord differed from the scribes and the Pharisees, if we are going to understand how Judaism “went to seed” on the area of clean and unclean, we must first understand the backdrop teaching of cleanness and uncleanness as it is introduced in Leviticus chapter 11. We must also observe that cleanness and uncleanness is related to holiness. Certainly, this is so in Leviticus. And if that is so, then if you and I are committed to the concept of holiness in general, and to the reality of holiness in specific in our lives, then we must understand the role which cleanness plays in regard to holiness. All of this says to us that these chapters are important. We must understand what we are dealing with as we come to our study because clean and unclean is one of the great issues of the Bible.
We should note that clean and unclean was the great issue dividing Jews and Gentiles. Clean and unclean was the critical issue that had to be met head on and solved in Acts 10 and 11 before the church could become a church where the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles was torn down.
When we come to Leviticus 11, we come to the third major section of Leviticus. In chapters 1-7, we had the offerings and the sacrifices that the Israelites could bring. Chapters 8-10 dealt with the priesthood—the actual ordination of Aaron and his sons which culminated in the death of two of Aaron’s oldest sons—and the instructions which come to Israel and to us from that. There were the offerings, the priesthood. Now chapters 11-15 deal with those things which are clean and unclean. Chapter 11 begins by talking about clean and unclean food, and then in chapter 12, the uncleanness that is the result of a woman bearing a child. I’m sure all of us want to know why that is so. And then there is uncleanness that is the result of issues that come forth from an individual. So there are a number of areas in which we find uncleanness.
The matter of uncleanness is related, I believe, to Leviticus 10:10, where it is commanded that the priests are not to drink wine or strong drink, so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane and the clean and the unclean. This matter of declaring something clean or unclean was a matter for the priests, and they needed full comprehension to do that. Also we will notice in Leviticus 16, which is the chapter dealing with the Day of Atonement, that the purpose of the annual atonement was to make the people of Israel clean. Cleanness and uncleanness was the preparatory issue that comes to declare the people of God unclean and therefore in need of the great day of Atonement as it will be described in Leviticus 16.
Categories of Cleanness and Uncleanness
Now let’s take a brief look at some of the details of chapter 11. Let me preface this by giving one word of caution. When we come to the animals named here, some of us agonize over not being able to pronounce them correctly, let alone understand what they are. But one of the scholars has pointed out that likely in no more than 40% of the creatures named here can they be absolutely confident they have the right name, let alone the right one. We understand then that when a translator is dealing with Hebrew terms and trying to isolate and identify a specific creature, it is not always easy, nor even possible, to do so with a great deal of accuracy because you and I are not worried about whether we eat or don’t eat those things—it doesn’t matter anyway. I simply want to share with you that as you read the different translations, you may find some difference of opinion. Essentially it is easy to at least discern that we are dealing with three different categories of creatures. When we come to chapter 11, we find first the land creatures, the animals that roam about through the earth (vv. 1-8); then we find in verses 9-12 the water creatures, those that live under water or in the water, and finally we have the flying creatures.
So we have the same three basic distinctions found back in Genesis 1 where God created all life that is in the heavens, on earth, and under the waters. Those three categories are all dealt with, and creatures that are in those categories are defined as being either clean or unclean, according to the formula that God lays down.
Verses 24-47, basically the last half of the chapter, deal with the cure, the solution for the problem of uncleanness. Generally speaking, one of the prominent themes of those last chapters has to do with death—that is, whether it is a clean animal that is corrupted or made unclean by its death because all dead creatures are unclean, or whether it is an unclean animal that has been perhaps killed in order to be eaten. It is in its death that the animal contaminates. If we are going to eat a creature, the first thing we generally do is that we kill them. The death of any creature contaminates it and makes it unclean. There is only one way in which an animal can be killed in order for it to be clean, and that is to offer it as a sacrifice to God. Leviticus 17 clearly spells that out. If we were to go through our Bibles and circle the work carcass, or carcasses, we would see that we are stepping over carcasses all the way through the second half of the chapter because these animals contaminate in their death, but the cure for contamination is given.
Essentially, we are dealing with misdemeanor offenses in chapter 11. These are not felony-type offenses because usually one is only unclean until the evening, and one may be cleansed by simply washing oneself, or the item involved, in water. If a clay pot was defiled and could not be cleansed, then it could be destroyed, but normally the solution was to wash it with water, and in the evening it would be cleansed. There are greater levels of uncleanness in chapters 12 and following, but these are the lesser matters that are solved by the application of water itself.
Let’s go through the categories of cleanness and uncleanness as they are defined by God in these verses. Notice in verse 1 that God “spoke again to Moses and to Aaron saying to them …” I think that is significant because normally God would have spoken through Moses, but now he is speaking through Moses and Aaron. You may remember that I suggested from chapter 10 that Aaron as the great high priest, now that he is installed, has come into his own, and he has a leadership role to play—and now Moses and Aaron share that leadership role. Also it is the priests who will declare whether something is clean or unclean, so this is a priestly function, and it is natural that Aaron would be the one addressed as well as Moses in terms of what makes or constitutes cleanness or uncleanness.
First, there are the land animals. There are two basic stipulations which must be met before an animal that dwells on the land can be considered clean and therefore can be eaten by the Israelite. It must be split-hoofed, and it must be a cud-chewer. It cannot be just one of those; it must be both of those. So a non-cud chewing split-hoofer isn’t good enough. It has to be both, and the text makes it very clear. A rabbit, for example, is called a cud-chewer (I think you and I understand that rabbits do not chew their cud like a cow does). But if we watched a rabbit eat, we would observe that as the rabbit ate his food, he chewed it up very carefully.
We have two dogs and they are not cud-chewers. We throw a piece of food on the floor, and they don’t chew AT ALL! One animal is so fearful that the other animal is going to get it that they just inhale the food. They don’t chew their cud. But when we look at a rabbit, we see that a rabbit sort of works on that food, and works on it, just like mothers tell their children they ought to chew up their meat and other things. So a cud-chewer does not technically have to be cow-like in having multiple stomachs, but one that chews its food well. I think we could say it is that which chews its non-meat food well. So cud-chewers are vegetarians. It is to be split-hoofed and cud-chewing if it is clean, and therefore the Israelites may partake of it.
Second, the sea creatures. When we come to the creatures that dwell in the sea, they must meet two qualifications as well—they must have fins and scales. Now that is certainly the norm. Those of us who are fishermen and hope to catch something when we throw our lines in expect that it will have fins and scales. It must have both of those in order to qualify. That would mean that creatures that live in the sea, like shrimp, lobster, and those kinds of creatures, would not fit. Only those that have fins and scales—only those that are fishy—would be clean.
Third, those creatures that are in the air. It seems as though, essentially, no qualifications are given. That is, it doesn’t have to have two wings, but rather it seems as though those creatures in the air are creatures that are non-vulture like. That is, they are not sitting around waiting for something to die so they can go pick it up and eat it. It doesn’t look as though these are meat eaters or those that feed off of the dead carcasses of other creatures. Then we have flying insects that are described. Here all flying insects are called unclean, with the exception of those that have a set of jumper legs which propel them so they can leap through the air and thus propel themselves through the air. Jumping, flying insects are edible; all the rest are not.
Fourth, there is the category of dead animals which are unclean. Essentially, any dead animal other than an animal which has been killed through the sacrificial process in the front of the door of the tent of meeting is unclean. There are unclean animals that will defile in their death, and there are clean animals that will defile man in their death, if their death is not a sacrificial death. The carcasses are that which can contaminate, therefore if a person eats a cow which has just been killed by a wolf, that person would be ceremonially unclean even though he could eat the meat if it were sacrificed to God.
Fifth, swarming animals. These are a bit of a puzzle, but this category includes things like mice, lizards, and most all of those things that I can readily pass up, so I can easily and readily identify them. I don’t know how many of you saw the movie “Cry Wolf” but I’ve seen it a couple of times and giggled my way through that scene where the fellow eats the mice. He studies the wolves, and he can’t understand what they live on during the winter when the things they normally feed on are gone. Then all of a sudden one day hordes of mice appear all over, and the man must decide how the wolves could live on the protein of the mice, so he cooks up a batch of mouse stew. I can remember when he popped that first mouthful in and crunched its bones. I say to myself “Unclean! Unclean!” I can agree with that—I understand! But apparently they are called swarming because they go about together in groups, and they seem to have an erratic, unpredictable manner of movement.
A General Definition of Cleanness and Uncleanness
Now let’s talk now about cleanness and uncleanness just in terms of generalities. What are some of the things we can observe about cleanness and uncleanness as we find it in Leviticus 11? Other points will come as we get to different kinds of uncleanness, but let me touch on a few characteristics of cleanness and uncleanness.
First, in chapter 11, cleanness and uncleanness has to do principally with food. It deals secondarily with cleanness or uncleanness that is the result of contact with a dead animal, but it seems the reason the dead animal is called unclean is because we couldn’t eat it. Even a clean animal, a bull or a sheep, could not be eaten if it were not killed in a sacrificially prescribed way. So it has to do with food or that which is touched when dead.
Second, cleanness or uncleanness is a matter of category more than of condition. When we talk about being clean, we generally speak of a condition someone is in. If our children come in unclean, they need to have their hands washed, but they are still in the category of a child. When we read in the paper that there is a car for sale, and it says Clean, that supposedly describes the condition of the car, not the classification of it. It may be a coupe, sedan, or station wagon. It may be a convertible or not. Those are classification areas. Clean in automobile terms is a condition, but basically what we are dealing with here is categories. Clean is a categorical pronouncement. It is all those land animals that chew their cud and have split hooves, whether their hooves have been washed or not. The category is clean or the category is unclean, depending upon the classification of the creature that is in mind.
Third, cleanness is that which is defined by God and declared by the priests. Clean or unclean is clean or unclean by the definition, and the definition for the clean and unclean creatures is given in Leviticus 11. It is declared by the priests, which will become more and more important as we get into skin disorders. It is the priest who must say, this person or this disease is clean or unclean. It is God’s definition; it is the declaration the priests will make.
Fourth, it is the state of access to God. The practical outworking of being declared unclean means that we have to stay back. For example, a priest in Leviticus 22 cannot go about his priestly duties in a state of uncleanness. He must wait until he is ceremonially clean. So one may not approach God in his normal worship in an unclean state. It restricts one’s fellowship with God, and it restricts one’s fellowship with men. That is the natural consequence of the declaration of uncleanness.
Cleanness is somehow related to holiness. We say that “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” but I don’t think that is scriptural. In our bathroom, we have a little plaque that says, “Cleanliness is next to impossible!” Now that has some earthly wisdom to it! But in Leviticus, cleanliness is next to holiness. When we get down to the basic reason why an Israelite is to make these distinctions between clean and unclean, it is because God says, “You are to be holy, for I am holy.” For the first time in history—for the first time in the Old Testament—men and women are to observe these distinctions because God has made them. Therefore cleanliness is related to God’s holiness, and Israel is to observe it because of the holiness of God. Twice it is repeated in this chapter. Therefore there is a direct relationship between what is clean and what is holy in Scripture. What is unclean can never be holy. Some things that are clean may be consecrated and set apart as holy, but nothing which is holy is unclean; only that which is clean can become holy.
There is also an intensification which goes on here. When we read through chapter 11, we start out with the sense that these are the creatures that are going about on the land, and some of them are clean and some are unclean—the clean ones they could eat, the unclean ones they were to avoid. But by the time we get to the category of those that are in the water, it talks about them being abhorrent, “and their carcasses you shall detest.” There is a sense in which one’s emotions must come to agree with God’s.
There are certain kinds of food we would not even begin to think about eating. When I was visiting my folks recently, my Dad had been loaned a book by one of the great western artists, and he had written a number of stories. I don’t know if they are true or not, but one of the stories I read was called, “The Dog Eater.” This poor old man was a trapper, and he was stuck out in the middle of winter in a cabin with no food. He and his dog were together. As the man neared the condition of starvation, he began to have these terrible dreams that he did not want to dream, but they kept coming to him. It was a dream of having dog-tail soup. Finally the day came when the man crept up behind the dog with an ax, lopped off his tail, and boiled it for soup. A few days later the dog came back with his stump of a tail, and the man shared his soup with the dog, who seemed to think it was all right. I read a story like that, and I can’t think of anything more abhorrent than to eat dog-tail soup.
There is a sense in which the Israelite is called to detest what is unclean. It is not enough for the Israelite to say I can eat this, and I can’t eat that. It is more a matter of saying that I can eat this, and those things which I can’t eat, I loath. We cannot rightly relate to the unclean things until we loath them. When Eve looked at the forbidden fruit, it looked good to eat. She looked at that as something desirable not just to look at, but something desirable to eat. God knows that if we look upon something as desirable, sooner or later we are going to eat it. It is only when we look at that as something terribly undesirable that we are not going to eat it.
I am getting close to the point of going on a diet, and when I do, I have to start looking at donuts as not only something I can’t eat, but I have to start looking at them as a friend of mine puts it, as “Fat-pills!” I can’t eat them. I have to start looking at them as the worst thing in the world. And that is what the Israelite was called to do with regard to unclean animals. It was to be abhorrent to them, to be detestable to them, so that they didn’t even have the inclination to want to eat it. That seems to be the sense here in the detestable and abhorrent terminology.
Reasons for Cleanness or Uncleanness
God never tells Israel why something is clean or unclean. He never gives a reason for the definition of clean or unclean. For centuries, men have tried to give reasons for these definitions of clean and unclean, and Wenham’s commentary outlines four, which I think are worthy of mentioning. Why is one kind of food clean and another kind of food unclean?
First, the cultic explanation says that certain kinds of creatures were used in pagan ritual and worship. Because of those animal’s association with paganism, God could not allow them to be brought into the Israelite’s worship of the True God. For example, pig bones were found all over the Near East, and they were involved in pagan sacrificial rituals. Apparently, this was true in Egypt also. But we have to remember that among the pagans, the sacrifice of a bull was prominent too. God had no problem in saying to Israel that they ought to sacrifice a bull. In other words, it just does not seem to play out that the creatures God proclaimed were unclean were all creatures that were involved in pagan worship, and the creatures God said were clean were not.
The second explanation is called the hygienic explanation. This is the one Christians love so much today. The basic theory is found in a number of books, one of which is None of These Diseases. The basic theory is that God prohibited the eating of certain animals because it was unhealthy to eat them in those days. They didn’t have refrigerators or microwaves, or all the things that kill germs. Now that sounds like a reasonable thing, and I would go so far as to say that there may be some creatures that God called unclean that were not healthy to eat. But that distinction doesn’t hold water either, because our Lord declared all of those to be clean. He did that at a time when there were still no refrigerators or ranges, and when all of the dangers that would have been present before would have been present after his definition, “All things now are clean.” Therefore it doesn’t seem that health is the issue concerning cleanness or uncleanness.
The third view that Wenham suggests is the symbolic interpretation. In those things man eats, or does not eat, he is an imitator of God—that is, there are only certain things which God allows to be offered up as burnt offerings to Him. Interestingly, the sacrificial terminology is used, but it is offered up as food to God. Now obviously God does not eat the food, but it is the symbolism employed. So if God is selective about what He eats, that is, what is sacrificed to Him, the Israelites ought to also be choosy about what they eat.
It seems to be partly true, if not universally true, that many of the creatures that are unclean are those creatures which may live on meat and may therefore be blood-shedders. For instance, in the category of those animals which prowl on the face of the earth, the cat family, as an illustration, does not have a split hoof; it has paws. Neither does it have those kinds of teeth that look like cow teeth that are for chewing up grass. They have claws, and they have sharp teeth because they kill other animals; they shed blood in order to eat. It would seem that often, though not always, the animals that are unclean are blood shedders, or they are those that eat off dead prey, as vultures of some sort or another. So there is some similarity there between what Israelites are to eat. They are not to eat of animals that of themselves sacrifice the life or come into contact with other animals. So man only eats creatures which are themselves free from contamination by death, by not shedding blood in a sacrificial way. It is possible that there is a great deal of symbolic information that ought to be seen here.
I lean most heavily toward the fourth answer, and that is the arbitrary definition. Why did God call the pig unclean and a cow clean? God never explains this, and by looking at all the commentaries, we find that nobody has figured it out either. It may be that there isn’t any reason at all other than that God said “clean” or “unclean.” Think about God’s choice of Israel as a nation. Is there some reason why God chose Israel as opposed to the Canaanites? Did he choose the Israelites because they were so spiritually pure? They weren’t! The prophets remind Israel that they served foreign gods when they were in Egypt, and they brought those foreign gods with them when they came out of Egypt. Was it because they were powerful and numerous and looked promising, and God wanted to go with a winning team? No, they were nobody! Why did God choose Israel and not some other nation? It was just God’s sovereign choice. That’s all! There was nothing intrinsically good about them or intrinsically more evil about anybody else. God just made a choice. It seems to me, therefore, that the arbitrary explanation, while it may not fully explain all of it, at least gives meaning and fits when nothing else does. It was just God’s choice. God said He chose Jacob, and He rejected Esau. Why? Because sovereign choices are sovereign choices, and they don’t have reasons. Election is the point we see in the clean and the unclean, as well as in the salvation of Israel.
Cleanness or Uncleanness in the Old Testament
Now let’s look at cleanness and uncleanness in the Old Testament from a broader brush view. If we were to look at the words cleanness or uncleanness, we would discover that clean and unclean are found only in Genesis 7 and 8—with Noah. And it is only found with respect to those animals that were brought onto the ark. Remember there were seven of each species that were clean. At the end of Genesis 8, Noah offered up the clean animals as a sacrifice to God. The distinction between clean and unclean is much older than in Moses’ day; it goes clear back to Noah’s day. Noah didn’t say to God, “Clean? Unclean? What is that?” Noah knew what a clean creature was, and he knew what an unclean creature was, and he brought seven of the clean ones so that he could sacrifice them to God.
Noah already understood that anything that was to be offered to God had to be something that was clean. So the distinction between clean and unclean begins far earlier than the Book of Leviticus. However, it is not until Leviticus 4 that the “clean and unclean” terminology reappears after Genesis 7 and 8. Now it is given more substance, and “clean and unclean” are brought to bear on Israel’s worship of God and on Israel’s eating habits. So there is a history of clean and unclean that goes back beyond the Book of Leviticus and beyond the life of Moses.
Cures for uncleanness are spelled out in Leviticus and on through the Old Testament. In particular, what is interesting is that as we move toward the end of the Old Testament period and into that period of the prophets, we discover that the prophets begin to talk about cleanness and uncleanness as something internal rather than something merely external. Before, something unclean was always something “out there,” or it was something “out here,” as something that grew on my skin. It was not something apart. We find in Psalms 19:9 “The fear of the Lord is clean.”
David says in Psalms 51:10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Now cleanness becomes something that is more internal than external. Ultimately, God says that He is going to make the Israelites clean, something that never was possible through the Old Testament legal system and through the Old Testament sacrificial system. He was going to make them clean, but it was going to be through the New Covenant and the coming of Messiah.
Ezekiel 36:24-27 spells this out:
“For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols; moreover I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh and I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.”
Even in Old Testament times, the prophets were pointing forward and saying that ultimately cleanness can only come by the work of God Himself. It can only come when the internal part of man is transformed, when he is cleansed, and when he has a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone. In other words, cleanness can only come ultimately through the New Covenant and through the coming of Jesus Christ, whose blood cleanses us from all sin. The prophets looked forward to that.
Cleanness or Uncleanness in the New Testament
When we come to the New Testament, we discover immediately that our Lord begins to talk in terms of clean and unclean, and particularly as the scribes and Pharisees are disputing with Him. In Mark 7, for example, they debate about whether Jesus and His disciples can come in from outside and then begin to eat dinner, and they have not ceremonially (ritually) washed their hands. This is something the Jews added to the interpretation and the meaning of the Old Testament. They had more emphasis on cleanliness that was by their tradition than it was by Scripture. And our Lord says, “Don’t you understand that it is not that which comes from without that defiles a man, but that which comes from within that defiles a man.” Then, Mark says parenthetically, “Thus He declared all things to be clean.” No one really understood the implications of that until after the death of Jesus Christ.
Cleanness and uncleanness in terms of food was what distinguished a Jew and a Gentile. That is, a Jew, in order not to eat of the kinds of food God had prohibited, could not eat in a Gentile home because undoubtedly there was going to be contamination there. That built up a great wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles. That distinction was designed in the Old Testament, but it had to be set aside in the New Testament. The Book of Ephesians says the middle wall of partition has been torn down—the enmity that existed there has been taken away, and the Jews and Gentiles have been brought together in one new body—the church. The distinctions therefore that separate Jews and Gentiles have to be set aside. Thus in Acts 10, God said in a vision to Peter (a Jewish Jew) that He wanted him to eat of these things which Peter recognized as being unclean by Old Testament definition. And Peter said “Oh, no! No ham sandwich for me!” But God said to him three times, “What I have called clean, don’t you call unclean.” He takes the arbitrary definition of clean and unclean. Something is clean or unclean because God declares it to be just that. That means if God re-declares that something which was unclean is now clean, it is clean. And Peter had difficulty understanding that.
When he finally got the message, he went to the house of Cornelius, and he ate his ham or bacon and tomato sandwich, and he shares the gospel with him. And they are saved! Then the whole church, which is predominately Jewish at the time, has to go through the same struggle. And Peter has to remind them that God no longer has distinguished between Jews and Gentiles. We saw what happened in Act 2—the Spirit came down on the Jews. Now when the gospel was preached to this Gentile group, the Spirit came upon them in exactly the same way. God doesn’t distinguish Jewish Christians from Gentile Christians. They are one body!
And the church says, “Oh, Oh! So God doesn’t distinguish anymore!” And then the next verse says they went out and preached only to Jews! (Acts 11) It wasn’t until after a few brave souls went out and began to share the gospel with Gentile unbelievers and they got saved that we begin to have a church that was mixed with Jewish and Gentile believers. The distinctions were set aside. Therefore, it was wrong to maintain the distinction of food laws. And here Paul had to jump all over Peter in Galatians 2 because Peter was now sitting only with a Jewish group, and he was implying to the Gentile group that if they wanted to become a part of this Jewish group they had to act Jewish. Paul jumps all over them and says it is not just wrong, but it is a denial and a contradiction of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is because the gospel of Jesus Christ not only removes the barrier between men and God, it removes all barriers between Jews and Gentiles. The distinctions don’t count! Therefore those distinctions cannot be maintained.
In the New Testament, we find chapters like Colossians 2 which says these practices which have to do with external things have no value in overcoming the struggle with the flesh. That is an internal issue that is worked out in part—not an external issue handled by these kinds of prohibitions. It forced them to distinguish themselves from other nations, for those kinds of food stipulations meant that an Israelite could not have real intimate interaction with a Gentile because intimacy most often came around a dinner table. So if you didn’t eat with Gentiles, you didn’t have the intimacy of communion that you would have had otherwise. Remember that it is when they started eating and drinking and making merry that the Israelites started mingling with the Canaanites. So God’s distinctions with regard to food helped to maintain the distinction of Israel as a nation apart from Gentiles as a nation in the Old Testament. It distinguished them as a people. It identified them with God as His people. It reminded them of the principal of election that God is the One who defines what is clean and unclean. It forced the Israelite to be meticulous about everything they did because they realized how easy it was to become contaminated under the laws of cleanness and uncleanness.
What does it say to a New Testament saint? When we are looking at the change of God’s law with regard to a kind of food, it is often a signal that we are dealing with a change of dispensation. There are distinctions with the way God has dealt with men. What happens in Genesis 1 when God creates all those creatures, and He makes man in His own image (Gen. 1:29-30)?
Then God said, “Behold I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food; …”
When God started creation, everybody was a vegetarian, including the animals! And in Genesis 3, what was the test? The test was food—whether you ate or didn’t eat of the particular food that was on the Tree of Good and Evil!
After the sacrifices are made by Noah of the clean animals (Genesis 8), then God blessed Noah, and in Genesis 9:3, He says, “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you. I give all to you as I gave the green plant, only you shall not eat flesh with its life” (that is its blood). So there is a change in dispensation, because God is now giving not only just the green things to eat, but He has given meat to eat. One stipulation was that meat had to be killed in such a way that the blood was drained from it. Then in the Mosaic Law in Exodus and Leviticus, we see restrictions that bear upon the way in which Israel eats.
In the New Testament, what is the basic issue among the strong unbelieving Jewish element? He eats with unwashed hands; he eats with Gentiles. He doesn’t maintain the distinctions between clean and unclean. What does the New Testament say? Those things don’t matter anymore!! Romans 14 says, “All things are clean.” That is because there is a new age, a new dispensation. It signals that God has done something new. Whenever God prescribes something new to eat, He is doing it in relationship to a covenant; He is doing it in relation to a change that bears upon His relationship with men.
Food is often the test today! Whether a certain kind of food was eaten or not eaten was a critical issue in the New Testament—not only in the issue between Jews and Gentiles—but it was also the issue that had to do with Gentile Christians who were going to eat at the home of a pagan neighbor. In the Old Testament, ignorance was never bliss because the sacrifices for the sin and guilt offerings were for sins you didn’t know you committed at the time. You may have sat down at your neighbor’s table and had what you thought was beef stew, but later discovered it was pig stew. Then you were a sinner, and you had to take care of it. But Paul says, if you go to your neighbor’s house, don’t ask them what they are serving. If they don’t tell you what they are serving, don’t ask; eat it! It doesn’t matter! Ignorance is bliss! If they tell you this has been sacrificed to an idol, then you can’t eat it because your neighbor obviously thinks that is important, though it wouldn’t have mattered to you.
When we get to the New Testament and the issue of whether or not a Christian ought to eat this meat or not eat the meat, it is not a matter of black or white. It is not a matter of yes or no, and no in between. It is a matter of personal conviction. The Christian there may eat it freely, knowing that God has given him all things to eat. There are others however who have different scruples. If they cannot eat in good conscience, they should not eat. If I can eat in good conscience, but I cause a weaker brother to go ahead and eat and defile his conscience, then it is sin. The Old Testament did not leave room for convictions. The New Testament does! It is the work of God that is written in our hearts, and it is the work of the Spirit inside that guides us as we make those kinds of decisions.
There are two primary motivations that we ought to evidence which the Old Testament saints also evidenced: (1) loving God and (2) loving man. If God’s distinctions between clean and unclean are arbitrary, then there are no good reasons for obeying Him other than that He is God. We have a choice to make. The decision is based not on whether something makes sense, but on who God is. It is as though a young man is dating a beautiful young lady, and he finds out that she hates liver and onions. Now, not only will that young man not order liver and onions for his date, but he won’t order it for himself. Why? Because it is detestable to her. If Israel is to have that same sense of abhorrence toward unclean things, they must begin to feel about things the way God feels about them. It is ultimately Israel’s love for God that is at issue. If God thinks something is unclean, if He abhors it, then I abhor it! I don’t care if there is no reason for it! I don’t care if it isn’t healthy to do it. I only care that God says that is what He hates, and this is what He loves, and I’m going to do what He loves and avoid what He hates.
Loving God! That is the motive for doing something—whether God’s commands are arbitrary or not. Whether we can find out a reason for them or not, if God hates it, I hate it; if God loves it, I love it! Loving God is the key! As I look at my believing neighbor, and I know that he is weak, I know that I can eat that meat but that it may cause him to stumble. My love for my neighbor overcomes my love for food. My love for my neighbor says to me, “Don’t eat it.” So what we do and what we don’t do is basically rooted in loving God and loving man. The Old Testament commandment is applicable in New Testament times.
Few things today are just as clear and simple as clean and unclean. Some days I wish it was that easy, don’t you? Don’t you wish that every choice and every decision you and I had to make we could just say, it’s clean or it’s unclean? It’s yes, or it’s no. It’s evil, or it’s good. I sometimes wish that life were that simple, but most often it isn’t. But there is one issue in which it is just that categorical, and that is when it comes to our relationship with God.
When it comes to our relationship with God, when it comes to the issue of where we will spend eternity, it is a clear-cut, clearly defined issue. All of those who are in Christ are saved, and their sins are forgiven. It is a category. All of those who are trusting in anything else, including their good works, are not in Christ. In that sense, our salvation is a very clear-cut yes or no, in or out matter. All of those who trust the shed blood of Jesus Christ, shed on their behalf, are in. All of those who trust in anything else are out! A clean issue! We are either in Christ, or we are not.
61 Normally, these messages are manuscripts, and not merely a transcription of the message which was preached. In this case, the manuscript was not completed, so what you will find here is an edited transcript of the sermon, as it was preached. It will therefore not have the footnoting, but perhaps something is better than nothing at all. Bob Deffinbaugh.
62 G. J. Wenham, The International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979). For references to Wenham’s commentary in this lesson, see “Unclean Animals,” pp. 161-184.
9. Offending God: The Clean and the Unclean—Part II (Leviticus 12-15)
The closest I have come to the Old Testament condition of “uncleanness” was the way I felt I was treated in the hospital during the birth of several of our children. I know that times have changed, and that fathers of newborn children are now invited into the delivery room and accepted as a key player in the team effort of child-bearing. During the birth of our first child, however, this was not the case. I remember the way that the nurses and doctors worked at keeping me out of the way. They really didn’t want me around, and they surely paid little attention to my efforts to get my wife some relief from her pain. (I must confess that after the first three or four of our children were born, I began to reflect some of the same casualness toward what was taking place.) After the baby was born, you could only get in to see your wife at rare occasions. It was as though I would contaminate the whole place. And you could only see your baby from behind a window, held by a nurse. I felt privileged to even get to hold the baby until after we got home.
If this is the closest I have ever come to the feeling of uncleanness, think of what it must have meant to a person who had a serious skin problem to be publicly declared unclean, to be banned from worship, and even banned from the camp, living outside the camp in an unclean place, removed from fellowship with God, family and friends. Even more frustrating for me is the dilemma of the woman, who, as a result of bearing a boy baby, was unclean for seven days, and then kept apart from worship for another 40 days. How could a woman be declared unclean for having a baby? Worse yet, if an Israelite woman had a girl baby, the consequences (or should I say, the penalty) was doubled, so that she was unclean for 14 days, and then separated for yet another 80 days. Imagine that, for every girl child a mother bore she was kept apart for over three months!
In our study of the Book of Leviticus, last week we came to the third major section of the book. In chapters 1-7 we learned about the sacrificial offerings and how they were to be presented. In chapters 8-10 we studied the origination and ordination of the Aaronic priesthood. Now, in chapters 11-15 we are learning about the distinction which God has defined between those things which are clean and those which are unclean. Last week we studied clean and unclean animals in chapter 11. This week we are considering the remaining chapters, chapters 12-15, which deal with other types of uncleanness. Chapters 12 and 15 deal with the uncleanness related to sexual reproduction, and the process of purification. Chapters 13 and 14 define unclean “skin”63 ailments, and the process of purification.
The Problem of the Passage
As I have considered these four chapters in the Book of Leviticus, I have come to the realization that the dilemma of the woman who has borne a child is not the only perplexing problem in the text. In virtually every case of uncleanness which is defined by God in these chapters the one who is declared unclean is not responsible for his or her condition. A wife could hardly be held responsible for bearing a child to her husband. A woman could hardly be guilty for having a normal monthly period. A man with a serious skin ailment can hardly be said to be guilty for his condition. A husband and wife cannot be guilty for having normal physical relations. And yet, in each of these cases God has declared that the person in these circumstances is unclean. That person is barred from participation in worship, in offering sacrifices, in having any access to the tabernacle, where God dwelled. In addition, the unclean person was removed from fellowship and communion with the congregation of Israel, and was required to live “outside the camp.”
The problem of uncleanness without personal responsibility has been recognized by Bible students,64 but their explanations often leave much to be desired and fail to come to a consensus. The more I have considered this dilemma, the more convinced I have become that the answer to this quandary is the key to our understanding of the distinction of clean and unclean in the Old Testament. The explanation also aids us greatly in appreciating the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old. Let us listen well to these words from the Book of Leviticus.
As I approach these chapters I am going to deal with them in a more general way, focusing on broad generalizations and on the particular problem which I have raised. I will deal with chapters 13 and 14 first, which deal with the matter of unclean “skin” conditions. Then we will consider chapters 12 and 15 together, since both chapters pertain to uncleanness related to the processes related to sexual reproduction. In conclusion we will attempt to find the solution to the puzzle of uncleanness for which there is no direct responsibility.
Uncleanness Resulting From Skin Disorders
(Leviticus 13 & 14)
Chapters 13 and 14 declare serious skin ailments to render the individual unclean, and pronounce the process by which such ailments are identified, as well as how the recovered Israelite may be pronounced clean. The term “leprosy,” employed by most translations, is unfortunate, as it is very likely that the disease we know as leprosy is not mentioned in our text as one of the unclean skin ailments.65 The NIV better renders the original term, employed for all of these unclean skin disorders, “infectious skin disease.” This is undoubtedly a better, and more accurate rendering of the text. It is not possible, nor is it necessary, for us to identify with precision the ailments which are described as unclean by the text.
Characteristics of the Unclean Skin Disorders
According to Wenham,66 there are 21 different cases of skin disease in chapter 13, along with 3 different cases of diseased garments. We will not attempt to deal with each of these, but we should note some of the common characteristics of these maladies:
(1) They are all visible, external (not any internal diseases). The term “skin” is used broadly here, referring not only to the skin ailments of people, but also the outer coverings of material, leather, and buildings.
(2) By and large, the ailments were not fatal, not as serious as we might have expected.
(3) These ailments affected only a part of the body, not all of it.
(4) The skin diseases are all chronic (persistent, serious), contagious, and/or contaminating.
(5) Only the priest could declare a skin condition to be clean or unclean, which sometimes required him to go “outside the camp” (cf. Lev. 14:3).
(6) The primary concern is not curing the individual, nor protecting the public health, but of protecting the sanctity of the dwelling of God in the midst of the camp: “ … so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst” (Num. 5:3; cf. Lev. 15:31-33).
“Since the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you lest He turn away from you” (Deut. 23:14).
The Consequences of Being Declared Unclean
Things which were declared unclean in chapters 11-15 either had to be purified or destroyed: (a) Washed with water (cf. Lev. 11:32; 15:6). (b) Burned with fire (cf. Lev. 13:52, 55, 57). (c) Broken (cf. Lev. 11:33, 35). (d) Torn down and demolished (cf. Lev. 14:40-41, 45).
People who were declared unclean by the priests suffered the humiliation of being declared (and, in some cases of having to declare oneself) unclean, and then the resulting isolation from the presence of God and from association with the people of God. That which was unclean was put outside the camp, away from the presence of God and His people. “… she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary” (Lev. 12:4). “… the priest shall isolate (lit. shut up) him” (Lev. 13:4, cf. vv. 11, 21, 26). “… send away from the camp …” (Num. 5:2). “The one to be cleansed shall then wash his clothes and shave off all his hair, and bathe in water and be clean. Now afterward, he may enter the camp, but he shall stay outside the tent for seven days” (Lev. 14:8). In some cases the unclean thing or person was viewed as being a contaminator of others (cf. Lev. 15:4-12, 23-24, 26-27).
The Cleansing Process
Once the individual recovered from his or her unclean malady, there was carefully prescribed ritual of cleansing and, at times, a sacrificial ritual, which was required before the person could approach the dwelling of God, the tabernacle. These rituals include: (a) “Wash and wait” (e.g. Lev. 15:7-11, 17, 18, 22). (b) Atonement for cleansing (cf. Lev. 14:20, 31; 15:14-15). (c) The cleansing ritual, with the string, the cedar, and the birds (e.g. cleansing of house, Lev. 14:49-53). Ultimately, for the Israelite, there was the annual day of atonement (cf. 16:16, 30), which will be the topic of our next lesson.
It is relatively easy to see why the kinds of exterior maladies described in chapters 13 and 14 were offensive to God. The things which are unclean in chapters 12 and 15 are a bit more perplexing. I have chosen to call these, “Dishonorable Discharges.”
Uncleanness Resulting From “Dishonorable Discharges”
(Leviticus 12 & 15)
Chapter 12 describes the uncleanness which a woman acquires as the result of the birth of a child. The uncleanness is the result of the “flow of blood” following the birth of a child. The blood, while it is unclean to her and others, is the instrument of her cleansing. In the text (Lev. 12:4-5) it is called “the blood of her purification.” It is impure, I suspect, partly because it removes the impurities of the child-bearing process from her body, thus making the blood unclean and defiling. The explanation for why having a girl child results in a doubled period of uncleanness is difficult, and most efforts to solve this puzzle prove unsatisfactory.
Chapter 15 declares certain discharges as unclean. Two of the ailments pertain to men; the other two to women. Both the men and the women have what might be called normal discharges (men, 15:16-18; women, vv. 19-24), and abnormal (men, vv. 2-15; women, vv. 25-30). I think that it is safe to conclude that these chapters generally are referring to those discharges which are relative to sex and the sexual organs. While some have viewed the ailment of Leviticus 15:1-12 as that of hemorrhoids, this seems unlikely, as the context is that of sexually related discharges.67
In chapter 12 the woman who is unclean due to bearing a child must offer sacrifices, including a sin offering. The inference is clearly made that there is some kind of sin to be atoned for. In chapter 15 the unusual discharges of men and women also require a sin offering, among other things. Why is there the suggestion that sin is related to reproduction?
This is not a new concept to the Israelite. In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve were said to be ashamed, due to nakedness (3:7), even when they made coverings for themselves, they were still ashamed and hid from God (3:10).
In Exodus 19, God gave these instructions to the people through Moses: “So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, ‘Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman’” (Exod. 19:14-15, emphasis mine).
In Exodus 20, God told Moses to tell these words to the people: “‘And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it’” (Exod. 20:26).
Again, when Moses was given instructions on Mt. Sinai concerning the garments worn by Aaron, God said,
“And you shall make for them linen breeches to cover their bare flesh; they shall reach from the loins even to the thighs. And they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they enter the tent of meeting, or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not incur guilt and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and to his descendants after him” (Exod. 28:42-43).
Thus, when we read in Leviticus chapters 12 and 15 that discharges related to sex and reproduction cause a man and/or his wife to be unclean, this should not take us totally by surprise.
The regulations of Leviticus concerning sex-related uncleanness served one very important purpose—it clearly separated sex from religious worship. If one had sexual relations with his wife this rendered both unclean until evening. This meant that the Israelites could not have sexual relations during the Sabbath, since this would cause both to be unclean, thus prohibiting their participation in worship. The effect was to encourage the Israelites to keep their minds devoted to worship. Ideally, both sexual intimacy and spiritual intimacy require the undistracted involvement of body, soul, and spirit. This means that either activity should be engaged in apart from the competition of the other. One can see a similar theme in Paul’s practical instructions to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 7).
The separation of sexual activity and worship was particularly important to the Israelites because of the pagan worship rituals of the Canaanites, whose fertility cult engaged in carnal sexual union as an act of worship (cf. Num. 25:1-9), a practice into which the Israelites had already once fallen (cf. Exod. 32:6). If the clean/unclean legislation did no more than to create a wide gap between sex and worship it did the Israelites a great favor. It distinguished their worship from that of their pagan neighbors.
The question remains, “But why was the Israelite woman punished two-fold for bearing a girl child?” I have only one explanation, which is similar in nature to the reason for separating sex from worship. The reason is not to be found as much in the cause of the uncleanness as it is in the result this uncleanness will have in the life of the Israelite woman. In my opinion, the two-fold period of uncleanness will cause the Israelite mother of a girl child to ponder the reasons for her plight. Why is a woman singled out for uncleanness in the birth of the child, and especially so when the child is a female, like her? In other words, what is that about womanhood that merits this “curse”?
Ah, but doesn’t this word “curse” supply us with the key? This long period of isolation should have given the Israelite mothers a fair period of time to ponder why women should be cursed as they were. I believe that Genesis chapter 3 supplies her with a good part of the reason. This chapter could have provided her with ample food for thought, and taught her not only the way in which a woman participated (even led) in the fall of man, but also the ways (especially involving childbirth) in which she has been cursed, due to the fall.
The Heart of the Matter
Let us return to the great and pressing problem which confronts us in all of these chapters on the clean and the unclean: Why is a person declared unclean and caused to suffer for something for which he or she is not responsible? Further, why, in some cases of uncleanness, was a sin offering required when no specific sin was committed by the one making the offering?
I would begin by suggesting that these questions are precisely those which God intended the Israelite to ask, and to meditate upon, as they suffered the consequences of their “undeserved” uncleanness. The demands of the Law of Moses, summarized by the Ten Commandments, demanded or forbade specific actions. The violation of any of these commandments would have been evident, and no one could question the consequences which befell the Israelite for disobedience. But why would God bring the curse of uncleanness upon an Israelite for suffering from a condition for which he or she was not responsible? Can an Israelite woman be blamed for bearing a child, or for having a monthly period? Is this a matter which falls under her control? I believe the answer is an evident “No!” How, then, can some conditions result in suffering for an Israelite, and even require a sin offering, as though a wrong was committed?
The answer to the question, “Why must the Israelite suffer when no wrong has been committed by the individual,” is answered by this principle: The fall of man, as recorded in Genesis 3, has brought chaos and suffering to all creation, including mankind. The fall has rendered man inherently sinful from birth. Thus, man sins because he is a sinner. So, too, he will suffer in life because he lives in a fallen world where the consequences of sin cause chaos and suffering.
This principle occurred to me as I was thinking about the words of David in Psalm 51. Note the terms which are similar to those we have seen in Leviticus pertaining to uncleanness:
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. … Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow (Ps. 51:1-3, 7).
David loved the law of God and meditated upon it constantly. Whether or not he authored Psalm 119, this is apparent in the psalms which he did write (e.g. Psalm 19). We know that the background to Psalm 51 is the sin of David with Bathsheba, and the murder of Uriah, her husband. As David speaks of his sin, however, he sees his specific sins as evidence of his more general sinful state. Elsewhere in this Psalm David makes the statement, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity. And in sin my mother conceived me” (v. 5). David acknowledged his specific sin, but he went even farther by confessing his innate, inherited sinfulness, which was the result of the fall. David understood that he was “unclean” even from birth. His specific act of sin with Bathsheba was the outgrowth of his innate sinful condition, the condition in which he was found at birth. If his own acts of sin did not render him a sinner at birth, whose sin did? The answer is, the sin of Adam.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of Adam’s offense, who is a type of Him who was to come” (Rom. 5:12-14).
In this passage, Paul teaches us that Adam’s sin has constituted that all of his offspring (all of mankind) are born sinners. We inherit this sin nature and are thus born sinners, just as David indicates in this psalm. Later on in Romans, Paul informs us that the entire creation has been adversely affected by the fall, and that the creatures, like mankind, suffer and groan in this fallen condition, and will continue to do so until the Kingdom of God is established, with a new heaven and a new earth:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 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 (Rom. 8:18-23).
The laws of uncleanness were instructive tools, by means of which God taught the Israelites those truths fundamental to their religious faith. One of those truths was what we now call the “doctrine of the depravity of man.” Man is born a sinner, by virtue of being a child of Adam. When the Israelite asked himself (or herself), “Why should I be unclean for a condition I did not cause?,” the answer, contained in the first chapters of Genesis was, “Because of the sinful condition you inherited from your forefather, Adam.”
As you stop to think about it, most of the conditions which caused the state of uncleanness were those which resulted from the fall. All sickness and death is the result of the fall. Child-bearing is at least related to the curse. Sex was distorted and diminished by the fall, to the point where Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness and fled from God. This first view that sex was “dirty” and unacceptable to God originated with man, as a result of the fall, not God. Thus, we can say that uncleanness was a condition resulting from the fall, from sin, and thus uncleanness also required a sin offering. As the Israelite offered up the sin offering due to uncleanness, he or she also acknowledged their sinful condition inherited from Adam.
And so there were two different categories of sin for the Israelite. The first was that sinfulness in which the Israelite was born, that sinfulness to which David confessed. This sin was highlighted by the laws of cleanness and uncleanness. The second was that sin which was the result of the individual violating the specific commands of God.
In Psalm 51 David saw his uncleanness as much more serious than just some external offense, some physical malady which God declares to be offensive. David confesses his specific sin as a result of his sinful state, inherited from Adam. The following verses of this Psalm indicate that David understood that the act of offering sacrifices would not make him clean, but that only God could forgive when he repented in sincerity:
For Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise. … Then Thou wilt delight in righteous sacrifices, In burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then young bulls will be offered on Thine altar (vv. 16-17, 19).
This same theme was resounded by the Old Testament prophets. When given a vision of the holiness of God, Isaiah proclaimed, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). Later on, Isaiah spoke of man’s best efforts as “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). As I understand it, these filthy rags would be the rags which are associated with the woman’s monthly flow of blood.
It is at this point that the Israelite of Moses’ day came to a very sobering realization. While the Law could pronounce a person unclean, it made no provision to make him clean. The priest could declare an unclean person unclean, and he could pronounce a clean person clean, but there was no means to cure the condition which produced the uncleanness. It was only with the coming of Christ, who inaugurated the New Covenant, that the condition of uncleanness, and the curse of Adam, would be remedied.
Jesus, the One Who Makes Men Clean
The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day did not have this grasp of what really constituted uncleanness. They saw it merely as a matter of external things. Thus, they were greatly offended at the actions of our Lord, and considered Him to be unclean, and a law-breaker. Their opposition to Him was frequently sounding the note: “unclean.” They could not understand why He spent His time with the unclean, the publicans, the harlots, the sick, even the lepers. Their error was to fail to see Him as the One who had come to do what the Law was unable to do—to make men clean.
The Old Testament Law required that the unclean could never come into the presence of the Holy God, and yet the Holy One, the Messiah, Jesus Christ took upon Himself human flesh, and He dwelt in the midst of men. In His ministry he avoided the self-righteous, who thought themselves clean, and He sought out those who were regarded unclean. The barrier that the Old Testament Law and its sacrificial system could not break down, the New Covenant in the person of Jesus Christ did. The cleansing which the Law could not perform, but could only pronounce, was done, once and for all by the atoning death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Repeatedly, the New Testament writers speak of the cleansing which the Christian has received:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6; cf. Eph. 5:25, 26; Heb. 10:22).
The consequences of sin have not yet been fully set aside. It is only in the Kingdom of God that they will be. Heaven will be that perfect place, where all of the things that are the result of the fall of man are removed. In the Book of Revelation, we are told of a number of other things which will not be there, which we have known on earth: (a) No sun or moon (21:23; cf. 22:5). (b) No sickness, sorrow, or death (21:4). (c) No curse (22:3).
But take special note of these words:
and in the daytime (for there shall be no night there) its gates shall never be closed; and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:25-27, emphasis mine).
The death of Christ provides the solution for both of the sin problems of the Old and New Testament saint. As the second Adam, Jesus Christ reversed the effect of Adam’s sin, thus removing the guilt and sinful state inherited from Adam (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). By faith in Christ’s death, men are declared clean, and thus look forward to dwelling in God’s presence forever—heaven. While the full and final remedy is yet future, it is certain, accomplished through the atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.
I understand that no one will go to Hell because Adam sinned. The only reason why God condemns any person to hell is because of his own acts of disobedience, his own sin. And since Christ died to remove the guilt of all sin (that of Adam, as well as that of every individual), the only reason why any person must suffer the torment of hell is because they have not accepted Christ as their Savior, their sin-bearer.
I want you to think through the Gospel accounts with me for a moment. It was the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees, who thought that they were clean, who rejected the Lord Jesus as unclean, and who considered Him worthy of death, hung upon a cross, “outside the camp,” as it were, at Calvary.
On the other hand, it was those who knew that they were unclean who came to Jesus to be cleansed. When Jesus touched the lepers and made them clean, they understood that touching the unclean could not defile the Holy God, in whom was healing and cleansing. Thus, the woman with the hemorrhage did not hesitate to touch the Master, believing the He could make her clean, and yet not be defiled by her touch. Jesus could drink water from the woman at the well and not be defiled, for He was the Holy One of Israel.
The wicked flee from the presence of God, for they cannot approach His holiness. And yet the repentant sinner can come to Him for cleansing. I was deeply stirred as I read again the account of Peter and our Lord in Luke chapter 5. When Peter saw the fishing nets overflowing with fish at the mere spoken word of the master Luke tells us, “But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus feet, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’” (Luke 5:8). Do you see the paradox here? Peter fell at the feet of our Lord, but at the same time, sensing His holiness, invited Him to depart. Obviously Peter did not wish to depart, for he fell at His feet. And He did not depart, until after He had finished His work on the cross, by which all men can be clean if they but believe.
May I ask you this morning, my friend, are you clean or unclean? We all are unclean. Isaiah, the prophet of old described our best efforts at self-made cleanness as the filthy rags associated with a woman’s monthly uncleanness: “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa. 64:6a). For those whose sins have caused them to feel impure, unclean, I can say with the assurance of God’s word, “You can be clean. Trust in Him, who alone has died to make you clean.”
For those who have already found cleansing in the blood of Jesus Christ, there are two very important lessons to be learned which are an application of our text. The first lesson is that Christians should expect undeserved suffering in this life, as the result of living in a fallen world. Just as the clean and unclean laws of Leviticus brought undeserved suffering to the Israelites, so Christians today should expect suffering to come into their lives, even when they have committed no specific sin. Romans chapter 8 teaches us that we live in a fallen world, a world in which the saint, along with all creation, suffers and groans, waiting for the new heavens and new earth which are still to come:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat? But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:10-13).
Second, my Christian friend, I must give this word of exhortation. Even as our Lord went “outside the camp,” seeking to save the unclean, so you and I are called to do likewise. As the writer to the Hebrews has put it, “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:12-13). Outside the camp is the place where the unclean dwell. I know of many ministries whose goal is to reach the lost, but I must say with sadness that many, perhaps most, of these ministries are targeting the “clean” as those they seek to reach, rather than the “unclean.” All men need to hear the gospel and be saved, but our task of evangelism demands that we take the gospel “outside the camp” to proclaim the cleansing which Christ can give to those who so desperately need it, and who more often than the self-righteous and self-sufficient are willing to receive it.
63 When I use the term “skin” here I use it in a most general way, since included in this category is the “skin” of clothing, of leather goods, and of the wall of a house. In each case the exterior, visible portion of a person, place, or thing is in view. The Hebrew text uses the same term for the “skin” of a person and these other things, and thus we can legitimately reflect the original text in our terminology without reservation. Cf. also, Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 201.
64 Cf. Wenham, pp. 187-188.
65 Wenham lists these reasons for concluding that leprosy (Hansen’s disease) is not found in these chapters of Leviticus: (a) Archaeological evidence suggests that leprosy was not a serious problem until later on in history. (b) Neither the symptoms of leprosy nor its pathognomonic features are described in our text. (c) The Greek term lepra did not refer to true leprosy, either. Ibid., p. 195. Wenham goes on (pp. 196-197) to suggest some of the skin conditions which may be referred to in the text.
66 Ibid., p. 193.
67 Wenham mentions two reasons why this ailment, like the others in chapter 15, is related to the sex organ of the individual, rather than hemorrhoids: (a) There is no mention of loss of blood, which would be likely in the case of hemorrhoids. (b) The same term (“flesh”) is employed in verse 19 with reference to the woman’s vagina. Wenham, p. 19.
What is the Gospel?Related Media
In a day of depressing headlines and uncertainty all around us, good news is very welcome. What better news could there be than as the old hymn says: “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives?” When Christians refer to the “Gospel” they are referring to the “good news” that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might become the children of God through faith alone in Christ alone. In short, “the Gospel” is the sum total of the saving truth as God has communicated it to lost humanity as it is revealed in the person of His Son and in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. If you aren’t sure whether or not you are God’s child, you might want to read God’s Plan of Salvation before you read on in this lesson.
The term gospel is found ninety-nine times in the NASB and ninety-two times in the NET Bible. In the Greek New Testament, gospel is the translation of the Greek noun euangelion (occurring 76 times) “good news,” and the verb euangelizo (occurring 54 times), meaning “to bring or announce good news.” Both words are derived from the noun angelos, “messenger.” In classical Greek, an euangelos was one who brought a message of victory or other political or personal news that caused joy. In addition, euangelizomai (the middle voice form of the verb) meant “to speak as a messenger of gladness, to proclaim good news.”1 Further, the noun euangelion became a technical term for the message of victory, though it was also used for a political or private message that brought joy.2
That both the noun and the verb are used so extensively in the New Testament demonstrate how it developed a distinctly Christian use and emphasis because of the glorious news announced to mankind of salvation and victory over sin and death that God offers to all people through the person and accomplished work of Jesus Christ on the cross as proven by His resurrection, ascension, and session at God’s right hand. In the New Testament these two words, euangelion and euangelizo, became technical terms for this message of good news offered to all men through faith in Christ.
The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia summarizes the gospel message this way:
The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of His son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8–11; II Cor 5:14–19; Tit 2:11–14).3
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, the apostle Paul summarizes the most basic ingredients of the gospel message, namely, the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of the resurrected Christ. Note the four clauses introduced by that in bold type in verses 3-5 below:
15:1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 15:2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 15:4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 15:5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…4
These verses, which were an early Christian confession, give us the heart of the gospel and show the that the resurrection is an integral part of the gospel. Note that Paul described this as “of first importance”—a phrase that stresses priority, not time. The stress is on the centrality of these truths to the gospel message.
Actually, the central ingredient of the gospel message is a two-fold confession: (1) Christ died for our sins and (2) He was raised on the third day. The reality of these two elements can be verified by the Scriptures (cf. Ps. 16:10; Isa. 53:8-10) and by such awesome historical evidence as the empty tomb and the eye witnesses. Thus, the other two elements mentioned here accomplish two important facts regarding the gospel. The fact that He was buried verified His death, and the fact that He appeared to others verified His resurrection.
While gospel is often found alone, it is very often modified by various terms that focus on a particular aspect of the gospel.
It is modified by various descriptive phrases, such as, “the gospel of God” (Mk 1:14, ASV; Rom 15:16), “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” (Mk 1:1; I Cor 9:12), “the gospel of his Son” (Rom 1:9), “the gospel of the kingdom “ (Mt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14), “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (II Cor 4:4, ASV), “the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15), “an eternal gospel” (Rev 14:6, RSV). Although distinctive aspects of the message are indicated by the various modifiers, the gospel is essentially one. Paul speaks of “another gospel” which is not an equivalent, for the gospel of God is His revelation, not the result of discovery (Gal 1:6–11).5
In the New Testament, the various modifiers bring out some aspect of the gospel that is being stressed in the context and is a part of the good news of what God offers us in Christ.
(1) The gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1; 1 Cor. 9:12) and the gospel of His Son (Rom. 1:9). These two descriptions speak of the good news of salvation that comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ who is the very Son of God in human flesh. Again, this is a good news of deliverance from sin’s penalty, power and presence through the two advents of Christ.
(2) The gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24) emphasizes that salvation in all of its aspects is on the basis of grace rather than on some meritorious system of works.
(3) The gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14) is the good news that God will establish His kingdom on earth through the two advents of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(4) The gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15) describes how this good news of salvation in Christ brings peace in all its many aspects (peace with God, the peace of God, peace with others, and world peace) through the victory accomplished by the Savior.
(5) The eternal or everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6) expands our perspective of gospel as we normally think of it. This gospel as proclaimed by the angel has several key elements of gloriously good news that are developed in three commands and two reasons:
- Command #1: “Fear God.” This refers to a holy reverence that recognizes the sovereign authority and power of God to deal with man in His holy wrath and thus, to bring an end to the world of sin as we now know it. To fear God is to recognize Him as the true God who can destroy the soul and not just the body as God will do with the beast of Revelation and His anti-God system.
- Command #2: “Give Him glory.” This refers to the praise and honor that should accrue to God from mankind due to our recognition and high estimation of God as the sovereign Creator of the universe.
- Command #3: “And worship Him who made …” The word “worship” means to show reverence or respect. This word emphasizes the external display as seen in our obedience, prayer, singing, and formal worship. The word “fear” emphasizes the reverential mental attitude behind the worship. In the Tribulation people will be forced to fear and formally acknowledge the beast and his image. In this message the angel is demanding that mankind reject the beast and formally turn to God to worship Him (cf. Rev. 14:11).
- Reason #1: “The hour of his judgment has come” is a reference to the final judgments of the Tribulation—the bowl judgments—which are about to occur that will put an end to the system of the beast and bring the rule the Lord Jesus, the King of kings. These will conclude with the return of Christ Himself (Rev. 19) and lead to the removal of all unbelievers from the earth. The emphasis is to not delay because the time is short.
- Reason #2: This is seen in the reference to God as the Creator in verse 7b. Here we are called to pay attention to the ageless and universal message of the creation itself. Age after age creation has called mankind to recognize God’s existence and to seek after Him (cf. Acts 17:26-27 with Psalm 19:1-6). This means people are without excuse and that, when the angel proclaims this gospel, the hour of the Creator’s judgment is about to fall (see Rom. 1:18f). Though this is the essential and primary element of the angel’s everlasting gospel, perhaps he will say more than this for from age to age a person’s capacity to reverence, glorify and worship God has come only through believing and knowing Christ (cf. John 14:6 with Acts 4:12; John 4:23-24).
Popular notions about the term ‘gospel’ tend to limit it to the message of how one may receive eternal life through faith in Christ, but it is much broader than that. For instance, Paul says in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “the righteous by faith will live.” But by using the term “gospel” here, Paul is not
…limiting his thoughts to those central truths by which a person is given eternal life. For Paul, his gospel included such matters as justification by faith (3-5), sanctification through the Spirit (6-8), and God’s future for Israel (9-11). In fact, the gospel gathers together all the truths that are found in Romans. Therefore, we can conclude that in Rom 1:16, Paul is expressing his confidence that the truths of justification, sanctification, and even glorification provide God’s power to deliver us from enslavement and bondage to sin.6
In a footnote to the above statement, Hart adds the following explanation.
Romans 16:25 demonstrates that sanctification truth (Romans 6-8) was part of Paul’s gospel”; “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel…” (italics added). In Romans, Paul is defending the gospel he preached. While the apostle preached “the gospel of His [God’s] Son” (1:9), the “gospel of God” (1:1; 15:16), and the “gospel of Christ” (1:16, MajT; 15:19), Paul also found it necessary to use the phrase “my gospel” (Rom 2:16; 16:25). Paul’s use of the term “gospel” is very broad, including all the truths about Christ in the Old Testament and the New Testament. The gospel (1:1) concerned Old Testament revelation about Christ (1:2), his Davidic lineage (1:3), the Holy Spirit’s role in the resurrection (1:4), and Paul’s apostleship to Gentiles (1:5).… It is more adequate to see Paul as using the term “gospel” in a wider scope than popular notions about the word.7
One of the important issues about this gospel message has to do with how one receives the salvation offered in the gospel. The fact that God offers us salvation from sin’s penalty and power with the glorious promise that this will one day result in the glorious reign of Christ on earth with sin, death, and Satan as vanquished foes is glorious news to be sure. However, the fact that God offers us salvation as a free gift through faith in Christ is good news beyond description. Paul clearly links the gospel with faith in Galatians 3:6-9.
3:6 Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” 3:7 so then, understand that those who believe are the sons of Abraham. 3:8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, proclaimed the gospel to Abraham ahead of time, saying, “all the nations will be blessed in you.” 3:9 So then those who believe are blessed along with Abraham the believer.
If the salvation offered to us were dependent on our merit or our ability to keep the law, it would not be good news because of our sinfulness and complete inability to keep the law or any kind of righteous principles as a means of our justification or right standing with God.
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:19-20 NASB).
16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified (Gal. 2:16 NASB).
Why is this element of grace such wonderful news? Because it guarantees justification with God and the reason is that justification is based on the accomplished work and merit of Jesus Christ.
4:13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 4:14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. 4:15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. 4:16 For this reason it is by faith that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants—not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (Rom. 4:13-16, emphasis mine).
One of the beautiful and joyful aspects of the message of salvation in Christ that makes it such good news is the element of grace (Acts 20:24). Salvation is the free gift of God to be received by faith alone in Christ alone (Rev. 21:6; 22:17; Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-5). But the message of grace goes contrary to the heart and thinking of man who intuitively thinks in terms of merit. After all, you can’t get something for nothing—at least not if its worth anything. Man has always had a problem with grace and this is easily seen in the book of Acts. From the very early days of the church, it has faced the problem of those who wanted to add some form of works to the message of grace.
In Acts 15:1 we read these words: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Verse 5 tells us that these were men from the sect of the Pharisees who had believed. From within its own ranks (they were members of the church) a controversy broke out concerning the exact nature and content of the gospel message. Later the apostle Paul had to deal with a similar controversy in the book of Galatians. Writing regarding those who wanted to deny the gospel of grace, Paul wrote, “Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves. But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you” (Gal. 2:4-5).
So, the apostle warned of those who offer a gospel of works for salvation rather than grace. We should remember, as Paul teaches us in Romans 4 and 11. If it is by grace, it is no longer by works and if by works, it is no longer by grace (see Rom. 4:3-4; 11:6). So in reality, any time someone offers a gospel of works, it is not the gospel—a message of good news. Instead it is bad news, it is false, and a terrible distortion.
1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and following a different gospel— 1:7 not that there is another gospel; but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ. 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! 1:9 As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell! 1:10 Am I now trying to gain the approval of people or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ (Gal. 1:6-10).
Therefore, if distorted by rejection of the truth that all God does for us in Christ is by grace alone through faith apart from works or by a denial of who Jesus is, then the “gospel” is a “different gospel, which is in fact, no gospel at all (Gal. 1:7).”
In summary, what is the gospel? It is the message of the good news of salvation, the word of truth offered to mankind by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is a message not only of eternal life, but one that encompasses the total plan of God to redeem people from the ravages of sin, death, Satan, and the curse that now covers the earth.
The world is blinded to the gospel by Satan who wants to keep people from seeing the glorious nature of the gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:3-4), but the Christian should never be ashamed of the gospel nor reticent to share it because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes for the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17).
Furthermore, the gospel does not come simply in words. “For our gospel did not come to you merely in words, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (in much assurance) (1 Thess. 1:5).
Of course, the gospel is a message of words since words are basic to the intelligent communication of God’s truth. As a message, the gospel is a witness to the historical work of God in the person and work of Christ for which the right words are crucial. However, this message is not merely a message of words. Words can be very eloquent, persuasive, and entertaining and they may move people emotionally and intellectually, but such can not save them and bring them into the family of God (see 1 Cor. 2:1ff). Thus, the apostle added, the gospel came “also in power.”
In contrast to mere words, the gospel came “with power.” Some would like to relate this to miraculous works as authenticating signs, but normally, the plural, “powers,” would be used if that were meant (see Matt. 13:54; 14:2; 1 Cor. 12:10; Gal. 3:5; Heb. 2:4; 6:5). Others would relate it to the inward power in the messengers as a result of the filling of the Spirit, but this important characteristic is brought out by the next prepositional phrase mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, “with” or “by the Spirit.” Rather, could it not refer simply to the inherent power of the gospel as the “Word of God which is alive and powerful” (Heb. 4:12)? It is not just a message of words, but a message which is living, active, powerful and able to bring people into a saving relationship with the living God for one simple reason: It is God’s Word and it is truth. It is the true revelation of God’s activity in Jesus Christ. See also the apostle’s comment in 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
But Paul quickly adds, “and in the Holy Spirit.” This takes us to the second of the positive elements that gave these missionaries their boldness in presenting the gospel. Paul and his associates knew they were indwelt by the Spirit as their helper or enabler for ministry (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7f; Acts 1:8). The Spirit of God, as the third person of the Trinity, is called “the Spirit of Truth” because of His role in taking the truth of the Word and revealing it to men (see John 14:17; 15;26; 16:8-13; 1 John 4:6; Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 2:6-16). Because of the blindness and hardness of men’s heart, they are powerless to even desire, much less grasp the life-giving truth of the gospel (cf. Rom. 3:11), but by the powerful pre-salvation ministry of the Spirit who led the missionaries (see Acts 16:6-10), who prepares hearts (Acts 16:14), and who convicts and draws men to God (Rom. 2:4; John 12:32; 16:8f), some will listen, grasp, and believe the gospel and experience its saving power (see also 2 Thess. 2:13).
Thus, the apostle added a third positive element concerning the gospel which they brought to the Thessalonians—“and with full conviction.” This point us to the faith and confidence of the missionaries. It was not in their looks, in their beaming personalities, in their eloquence or oratorical skill, nor in their methodology that they trusted. They preached the gospel with conviction resting in the fact they were preaching the powerful, life-giving truth of God fortified by the powerful ministry of the Spirit of God who worked both in the missionaries and in their hearers.
May we realize with Paul that the gospel is a sacred trust (1 Tim. 1:11). Thus, may we with the apostle be under divine compulsion to proclaim it (1 Cor. 9:16), and seek the prayer of others that we may carry out the task of sharing the gospel with boldness (Eph. 6:19). This will often involve us in opposition (1 Thess. 2:2) and affliction (2 Tim. 1:8), but the gospel of salvation is “the word of truth” (Eph. 1:13).
4 Unless otherwise note, all quotations are from the NET Bible www.bible.org.
God's Plan of SalvationRelated Media
1 John 5:11-12 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life.
This passage tells us that God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son, Jesus Christ. In other words, the way to possess eternal life is to possess God’s Son. The question is, how can a person have the Son of God?
Separation From God
Isaiah 59:2 But your sinful acts have alienated you from your God; your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
According to Romans 5:8, God demonstrated His love for us through the death of His Son. Why did Christ have to die for us? Because Scripture declares all men to be sinful. To “sin” means to miss the mark. The Bible declares “all have sinned and fall short of the glory (the perfect holiness) of God” (Rom. 3:23). In other words, our sin separates us from God who is perfect holiness (righteousness and justice) and God must therefore judge sinful man.
Habakkuk 1:13a You are too just to tolerate evil; you are unable to condone wrongdoing.
The Futility of Our Works
Scripture also teaches that no amount of human goodness, human works, human morality, or religious activity can gain acceptance with God or get anyone into heaven. The moral man, the religious man, and the immoral and non-religious are all in the same boat. They all fall short of God’s perfect righteousness. After discussing the immoral man, the moral man, and the religious man in Romans 1:18-3:8, the Apostle Paul declares that both Jews and Greeks are under sin, that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:9-10). Added to this are the declarations of the following verses of Scripture:
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not of works, so that no one can boast.
Titus 3:5-7 he saved us, not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.
Romans 4:1-5 What then shall we say that Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh, has discovered regarding this matter? 2 For if Abraham was declared righteous by the works of the law, he has something to boast about (but not before God). 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.
No amount of human goodness is as good as God. God is perfect righteousness. Because of this, Habakkuk 1:13 tells us God cannot have fellowship with anyone who does not have perfect righteousness. In order to be accepted by God, we must be as good as God is. Before God, we all stand naked, helpless, and hopeless in ourselves. No amount of good living will get us to heaven or give us eternal life. What then is the solution?
God is not only perfect holiness (whose holy character we can never attain to on our own or by our works of righteousness) but He is also perfect love and full of grace and mercy. Because of His love and grace, He has not left us without hope and a solution.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This is the good news of the Bible, the message of the gospel. It’s the message of the gift of God’s own Son who became man (the God-man), lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sin, and was raised from the grave proving both the fact He is God’s Son and the value of His death for us as our substitute.
Romans 1:4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 4:25 He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.
2 Corinthians 5:21 God made the one who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the right-eousness of God.
1 Peter 3:18 Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh but by being made alive in the spirit.
How Do We Receive God’s Son?
Because of what Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross, the Bible states “He that has the Son has life.” We can receive the Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior by personal faith, by trusting in the person of Christ and His death for our sins.
John 1:12 But to all who have received him--those who believe in his name--he has given the right to become God's children
John 3:16-18 For this is the way God loved the world: he gave his one and only Son that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in Him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.
This means we must each come to God the same way: (1) as a sinner who recognizes his sinfulness, (2) realizes no human works can result in salvation, and (3) relies totally on Christ alone by faith alone for our salvation.
If you would like to receive and trust Christ as your personal Savior, you may want to express your faith in Christ by a simple prayer acknowledging your sinfulness, accepting His forgiveness and putting your faith in Christ for your salvation.
If you have just trusted in Christ, you need to learn about your new life and how to walk with the Lord. May we suggest you start by studying through the ABCs for Christian Growth available online at www.bible.org. This series will take you step-by-step through some basic truths of God’s Word and will help you build a solid foundation for your faith in Christ.
Note: We would like to have this article/tract translated into all the languages of the world. So if you do not see your language listed below, please translate it and send us a note to http://bible.org/contact?category=Translations. We will reply with an email address you can send attachments to. To help us create translated graphics, here is a document with the words from the graphics. Translate these words and we will make new graphics for your translation of the text.
Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)
10. The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)
I have always loved to see the spring come each year, with all that it brings, with one notable exception—spring cleaning. You married men know that dreaded day as well as I do. Your wife gets that certain restlessness and a peculiar look in her eye. She wants to throw out half of the treasures you have gathered over the year. Worse yet, she wants you to help her move things around, and around, and around.
Israel’s annual Day of Atonement was something like a spiritual spring cleaning, except for the fact that this sacred day came in the fall of the year, in September-October, six months after the celebration of Passover. According to the Israelite calendar, it came on the tenth day of the seventh month (cf. Lev. 23:26-32; Num. 29:7-11).
In one sense, Israel did not look forward to the coming of this day any more than I look forward to spring cleaning. Unlike the other Jewish holidays, the Day of Atonement was no festive event. It was a day of national mourning and repentance. This was a Sabbath day celebration, which meant that no work could be done (Lev. 23:26-32). Anyone who did not observe this Sabbath was to be cut off from his people (Lev. 23:29), which is a euphemism for being put to death. Beyond this, this was a day when the people were to “humble their souls” (cf. Lev. 16:31; 23:27; Num. 29:7), which, according to many, included fasting. This would thus be the only religious holiday which was characterized by mourning, fasting, and repentance.
Relationship of Chapter 16 to the Preceding Chapters
There is a very logical development of the argument of the Book of Leviticus evident in the first 16 chapters. Chronologically chapter 16 should follow directly after chapter 10, for the first verse of chapter 16 informs us that God gave the instructions of chapter 16 to Moses “after the death of the two sons of Aaron,” which, as we know, is recorded in chapter 10. The first section of Leviticus, chapters 1-7, outlines the sacrificial rituals the priests must follow; chapters 8-10 records the inauguration of the Aaronic priesthood, who will offer the sacrifices; chapters 11-15 distinguishes the clean from the unclean, and proper procedures for dealing with uncleanness. In short, we have:
Leviticus 1-7: Ritual (Offerings)
Leviticus 8-10: Religious Officials (Priests)
Leviticus 11-15: Reasons for Sacrifices (Uncleanness)
Leviticus 16: Repentance and Restoration (Day of Atonement)
Leviticus 16 builds upon the preceding chapters by outlining the sacrifices of the great Day of Atonement. This instruction is directed primarily toward Aaron and the priests (vv. 1-25), but not exclusively so, for the people have a role to play as well (cf. vv. 26-31). No other sacrifice in Leviticus more clearly anticipates the future, greater, atonement of Israel’s Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. And no other sacrifice provides a better backdrop against which to see the vast superiority of our Lord’s atonement over that of Aaron. Let us learn well from this chapter.
The Structure of Leviticus 1668
The chapter is not strictly chronological in its organization. Verses 6-10 serve as a preliminary summary of the offering of the bull and the two goats, but this is then taken up in greater detail in verses 11-22.69
Background of the Day of Atonement
The first reference to the Day of Atonement comes in the Book of Exodus, chapter 30. The first nine verses detail the plans for the Altar of Incense. There is then a special word of warning, followed by a brief reference to the Day of Atonement: “You shall not offer any strange incense on this altar, or burnt offering or meal offering; and you shall not pour out a libation on it. And Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year; he shall make atonement on it with the blood of the sin offering of atonement once a year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD” (Exod. 30:9-10).
It is noteworthy that in this passage, the warning about offering “strange incense” immediately precedes reference to the Day of Atonement, just as Leviticus 16 introduces the instructions concerning the offerings by referring to the death of Nadab and Abihu, who were smitten of God for offering “strange fire” (cf. Lev. 10:1).
An Overview of the Day of Atonement
Before we discuss the significance of some of the events of the Day of Atonement, let us pause to “walk through” the entire ceremony which is outlined in Leviticus chapter 16. This will enable us to get a feel for the ceremony as a whole, before we move to an examination of its parts.
From all appearances, the rituals outlined in our text do not begin the day’s activities for Aaron, but come after the exercise of some of his regular duties. The day would seem to begin as usual with the offering of the morning sacrifice, the burnt offering of a one year old lamb (cf. Exod. 29:38-42; Num. 28:3-6). After these duties were performed, the High Priest would commence the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement, as prescribed in our text:70
(1) Aaron was to take off his normal priestly garments, wash, and then put on the special garments which were prescribed for the sacrifices which took him into the holy of holies (v. 4; cf. Exod. 28; 39).
(2) Aaron secured the necessary sacrificial animals: a bull for his own sin offering and two male goats for the people’s sin offering; two rams, one for Aaron’s and the other for the people’s burnt offering (vv. 3, 5).
(3) Aaron slaughtered the bull for his own sin offering (vv. 6, 11).
(4) Before entering into the Holy of Holies with the blood of the bull, Aaron had to create a “cloud” of incense in the Holy of Holies, covering the mercy seat, to “veil” the glory of God so that he could enter in (vv. 12-13). The best approximation to this in my experience is what a bee-keeper does, smoking the hive of the bees, before he begins to remove the honey. In the case of Aaron, he was to offer only the prescribed incense so as to create an obscuring veil of smoke, thus dimming the glory of God’s presence and sparing his life.
(5) Aaron then took some of the blood of the bull and sprinkled it on the mercy seat seven times (v. 14).
(6) Lots were then cast for the two goats, to determine which would be slaughtered and which would be driven away (vv. 7-8).
(7) The goat for slaughter, the goat of the people’s sin offering, was sacrificed, and its blood was taken into the Holy of Holies and applied to the mercy seat, as the bull’s blood had been (v. 15).
(8) Cleansing was then made for the holy place (v. 16), seemingly by the sprinkling of the blood of both the bull and the goat. The atonement of the holy place is done alone, without anyone present to help, or to watch (v. 17).
(9) Next, outside the tent, Aaron was to make atonement for the altar of burnt offering,71 using, it would seem, the blood of both the bull and the goat (vv. 18-19).
(10) Now the second goat, the one which was kept alive, had the sins of the nation symbolically laid on its head, and was driven from the camp to a desolate place, from which it must never return (vv. 20-22).
(11) Aaron then entered the tent of meeting, removed his linen garments, washed, and put on his normal priestly garments
(12) The burnt offerings of rams, one for Aaron and his family and the other for the people, was now offered (v. 24)
(13) The earlier sacrifices of the bull and the goat were completed. The fat of the sin offering was burned on the altar (v. 25), and the remains of the bull and the goat were taken outside the camp, where they were burned (v. 27).
(14) Those who had been rendered unclean by handling the animals on which the sins of Aaron or the people were laid were to wash themselves and then return to camp (vv. 26, 28).
The People’s Role in the Day of Atonement
The people were not to be passive in the Day of Atonement, although they (and those dwelling in their midst) were to observe a Sabbath rest. They were commanded to remember this ordinance as a permanent statute, by “humbling their souls” (v. 29).
Observations Concerning the Day of Atonement
There are several features of the Day of Atonement which are worthy of our attention, which prepare us to consider the meaning of this text. Let us briefly consider each of these.
(1) God’s instructions to Aaron concerning the offerings of the Day of Atonement begins with a reminder of the death of his two sons, as recorded in chapter 10. This serves as a chronological clue, indicating that the commandments given here must have come shortly after the death of Aaron’s sons. There is also the logical connection. Aaron’s sons died while in the tabernacle, specifically while they were burning incense. In the course of Aaron’s duties on the Day of Atonement, he too will offer incense. This note thus serves to underscore the importance of Aaron’s very meticulous obedience to these instructions.
(2) The priestly garb which Aaron was to wear on this one occasion was very different from that which he normally wore in the course of his duties.
Beautiful colored materials, intricate embroidery, gold and jewelry made him look like a king. On the day of atonement he looked more like a slave. His outfit consisted of four simple garments in white linen, even plainer than the vestments of the ordinary priest (Exod. 39:27-29) … On this one day the high priest enters the ‘other world,’ into the very presence of God. He must therefore dress as befits the occasion. Among his fellow men his dignity as the great mediator between man and God is unsurpassed, and his splendid clothes draw attention to the glory of his office. But in the presence of God even the high priest is stripped of all honor: he becomes simply the servant of the King of kings, whose true status is portrayed in the simplicity of his dress. Ezekiel (9:2-3, 11; 10:2, 6-7) and Daniel (10:5; 12:6-7) describe angels as dressed in linen, while Rev. 19:8 portrays the saints in heaven as wearing similar clothes.72
In the course of his daily sacrifices, Aaron, the High Priest, represented God, and thus his garments were of great beauty and splendor. But when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies in performing the atoning ritual of the Day of Atonement, he went before God in simplicity and humility. One cannot help but think of the 13th chapter of John’s Gospel, where our Lord took off His garments, and stripped down to the garb of a slave, so as to cleanse His disciples. On both these occasions (John 13 and the Day of Atonement) there is a symbolic representation of the kenosis, the setting aside of our Lord’s glory and splendor, so that the work of atonement could be accomplished (cf. Phil. 2:5-8).
(3) The ceremony of Aaron’s offering the bull for his sins and his family (especially among whom were the priests) is similar to that described in 4:3-12, but is also different. In both offerings, a bull is sacrificed, and in the same way. In chapter 4, the blood of the bull is sprinkled only on the horns of the altar of incense, but in chapter 16 the blood is also sprinkled on the mercy seat itself. The offering of the Day of Atonement is more extensive than the normal offering of the priest.
(4) The ceremony of offering the bull in chapter 16 is also similar to, yet different from, the offering of the bull which was a part of the ordination of Aaron and his sons. In this case, too, the offering on the Day of Atonement was similar to the former offering, but was greater in that there was an entrance into the Holy of Holies.
(5) The sin offering for the people is both unique and compound. With the exception of the two birds (Lev. 14:3-9, 49-53), there is no other sacrifice quite like this, which involves both a dying and a living animal. There has been a great deal of discussion as to the term “Azazel,”73 associated with the goat which lives, but there is no totally satisfactory answer, and the discussion is hardly needed to understand the ritual.74
As a rule I think that most of us are inclined to look at the slaughtered goat as paying for the sins of the people, while the living goat lives, as though it symbolizes the forgiveness of the people. This is not the case, however. The goat which was “the LORD’s” was sacrificed for the sins of the people, like the bull, and the blood was applied in the same ways. The fate of the goat which lived (Azazel) is, in my opinion, worse than that of the one which is slain. On this goat, the sins of the people are placed, and then it is handed over to an Israelite (Azazel?), whose task it is to drive the goat into the wilderness, so that it will never return.
Can you imagine the impact on the people if the goat somehow found his way back to the camp? This thought must have haunted the one in whose charge the living goat was placed. I am sure that he was most diligent to take the goat far away. Jewish tradition has it that the goat was led to a high cliff, and then pushed backward, over the precipice. The possibility of these goats returning to the camp is just one more indication that this Day of Atonement was not permanent,75 and that there was a tentativeness about what was accomplished on this day. To have killed this second goat, as the Jews may later on have done, would have made the people feel much more secure about this sacrifice. To leave the goat living, roaming about the wilderness, must have caused some uneasiness and insecurity.
(6) The Day of Atonement is the cleansing of a place and of a people. I have always had a certain mental picture of the Day of Atonement, and I have just now discovered how partial and incomplete it was. I thought that the sole purpose of this annual sacrifice was to cleanse the people from their sins. I have always visualized individual Israelites waiting anxiously outside the tent, wondering if Aaron would return, if the sacrifice he offered would be accepted, and if penalty for my sins of the past year would be delayed yet longer. This is one of the things which the Day of Atonement accomplished for the people. God said, “For it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you shall be clean from all your sins before the LORD” (Lev. 16:30).
Even more emphatic in this chapter is the fact that the Day of Atonement was provided by God to cleanse His holy dwelling place, the Tabernacle, and the holy things associated with it.76 That for which atonement is made is that with which God came in contact, that which had become defiled over the past year, due to the sins of the people and their priests: “And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel, and because of their transgressions, in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities” (Lev. 16:16).
So the priest who is anointed and ordained to serve as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement: he shall thus put on the linen garments, the holy garments, and make atonement for the holy sanctuary; and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar. He shall also make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly (Lev. 16:32-33).
The issue at stake is whether or not God will continue to abide within the camp, in the midst of His people. The uncleanness of the people contaminated the dwelling place of God, and the Day of Atonement was provided to remove these sins. The most dreaded evil for Israel was the absence of God’s presence in the midst of the people. This is that for which Moses eloquently and passionately pleaded, after the apostasy of the nation, when they worshipped the golden calf (Exod. 33-34). God promised to dwell with His people, and the Tabernacle, along with the priestly system and the offerings was the provision for Him to do so. Their highest use was seen on the Day of Atonement.
Note that there were two kinds of impurity atoned for on the Day of Atonement: “And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel, and because of their transgressions, in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities” (Lev. 16:16).
The first “impurity” was that with which contaminated every Israelite by virtue of being a child of Adam and living in a fallen and corrupted world. Thus, God spoke of the “impurities of the sons of Israel.” In addition He referred to “their transgressions, in regard to all their sins.” This was the impurity resulting from disobedience to the commandments of God—personal sin. The Day of Atonement cleansed from both kinds of impurity.
(7) The Day of Atonement foreshadowed and anticipated a greater, permanent cleansing of God’s people and of His dwelling place, which was to be accomplished by a better priest, who offered a better sacrifice. I believe, for example, that both Israel’s goats for her sin offering symbolize the death of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, in the years to come. The dying goat signifies the death which Christ died, as did the other sacrificial animals. The goat which is driven away from the camp, into the wilderness, never to return, symbolizes the even greater agony of our Lord, His separation from the Father, due to the fact that the sins of all men were borne by Him. This is the agony which caused Him to agonize in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is the one Old Testament sacrifice which reflects one of the most gruesome aspects of our Lord’s atoning work as our substitute.
The New Testament, particularly the Book of Hebrews, stresses the superiority of the death of our Lord, in contrast to the Old Testament sacrifices, of which those of the Day of Atonement are most prominent. Our text clearly indicates the superiority of the person of Christ to Aaron. Aaron was a sinner, if we had not already figured this out (cf. Exod. 32). Our Lord, Christ, was (and is ) sinless. He did not need to make an offering for Himself. As the Scriptures put it,
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever (Heb. 7:26-28).
Further, Aaron died, but Christ lives forever (Heb. 7:15-25). Christ is vastly superior to Aaron, and to all the high priests of Israel.
The place of Christ’s ministry is also superior to the place of Aaron’s ministry. Aaron ministered in a small earthly sanctuary, entering into the Holy of Holies but once a year. The people could never enter into this privileged place. Christ “tabernacled” among us in His flesh, during His earthly ministry (cf. John 1:14; Heb. 3:14; 10:5, 11). And after He offered Himself once for all, He entered into the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 8:1-2; 9:1-10).
The sacrifice of Christ was superior to those offered by Aaron. Aaron and all the other priests could but offer the blood of bulls and goats, but Christ offered His own precious blood:
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:11-12, cf. also vv. 13-14).
The superiority of Christ’s one offering to that of Aaron’s many offerings is also seen in the fact that the results of Christ’s sacrifice are greater. The best that one could hope for with the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement was that the impurity of sin would be put off for another year. Christ’s death put away sin altogether:
For all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed (Rom. 3:23-25).
Aaron’s offerings could only produce forbearance; Christ’s offering brought forgiveness.
The last aspect of the superiority of Christ’s atonement to Aaron’s (which we shall consider here) is that Christ’s sacrifice brought better access to God. Aaron himself could only “draw near” to God, that is to the Holy of Holies, but once a year. The people could not come this near ever. But when our Lord was crucified and His blood was shed for the sins of the world, the veil which formerly kept men apart from God was torn asunder, signifying that every believer has full and unlimited access to God. Thus, the writer to the Hebrews can say,
Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb. 10:19-22).
(8) Just as the Israelite awaited that which the Day of Atonement anticipated, so the Christian awaits that which the atonement of Christ has accomplished.
In the laws of clean and unclean, we saw how the fall of man in the Garden of Eden brought suffering and adversity to the Israelites. Israelite women, for example, were afflicted with 40 or 80 days of separation and ceremonial uncleanness for having a child.
Romans chapter 8 deals with the spiritual life of the believer and describes the present difficulties and adversities of life. In the development of Paul’s argument in the book, the atonement of Christ has won forgiveness of sins and justification for the one who believes (Romans 1-5). It has also accomplished the sanctification of the believer (chapters 6-8). Nevertheless, the lot of the Christian is present difficulty (cf. 5:3-5; 7:14-25; 8:18-39).
Nevertheless, there are a number of schools of thought which do not take the teaching of Romans (especially chapter 8) seriously enough. These various schools of thought have one error in common: they suppose that since the death of Christ has accomplished many wonderful things, the full realization of His victory in every area of life can be claimed and experienced now.
For example, some say that the death of Christ made physical healing a possession for all to claim.77 This simply is not true. It flies in the face of biblical revelation and of practical experience. Satan was defeated on the cross of Christ (John 12:31; 16:11), and yet he is still very much alive and at work, resisting the work and the people of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2; 6:11-12; Rev. 12:9). It is not until the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ that Satan will finally be put out of circulation forever (cf. Rev. 20).
So, too, the believer is saved and sanctified through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, but the suffering, sickness and struggles resulting from sin will not be eliminated until Christ’s return. Thus, Romans 7 describes the struggles of a Christian and chapter 8, which speaks of our victory in Christ, also speaks of our present frustration, along with all of creation (cf. Rom. 8:18-25).
The Holy Spirit does not miraculously deliver us from these “groanings,” but intercedes for us in order to bring us through them safely (Rom. 8:26-27). Knowing that God is both good and sovereign, Paul assures us that God is able to use even the present evils of this world to bring us to the perfection which only heaven will bring (Rom. 8:28-30), thus none of those destructive and damaging present evils can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:31-39).
(9) The Day of Atonement was a time for dealing with unknown sins, for which no offering had been made in the past year.78 The text does not specifically state this, but the inference of the text is that there were so many sins which might go unnoticed, that these, had they been neglected beyond the year, would have produced intolerable contamination. It was not those sins for which atonement had already been made that the Day of Atonement was given for, but for those which had not been recognized, and for which a sacrifice had not been offered.
Remember, too, that the sacrificial system was provided to atone for unintentional sins, not intentional sins. The offerings of chapters 4-6 were those which were made for sins unintentionally committed (cp. 4:13, 22, 27; 5:15, 18). Willful sins could not be atoned for by these sacrifices, no was there any sacrifice for them (Num. 15:27-31). The sacrificial system God established assumed that some sins which were not recognized as such at the time they were committed would come to the attention of the individual at a later time (Lev. 4:13-14, 27-28; 5:2-5). I believe that the Day of Atonement is based on the assumption that some sins never come to the attention of the sinner.
This matter of unknown sin was one that concerned godly Israelites. David prayed, “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12). Knowing this led him to pray elsewhere, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps. 139:23-24).
Moses, the author of the Pentateuch, was also the author of this psalm, in which he prayed, “Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, Our secret sins in the light of Thy presence” (Ps. 90:8).
Unknown sins are hidden sins, those transgressions which we, in our fallen state, are either unable or unwilling to acknowledge. Proverbs has much to say about the unseen evils in our lives:
There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death (Prov. 14:12).
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel (Prov. 12:15).
All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the Lord weighs the motives (Prov. 16:2).
These passages tell us that fallen man is not capable of seeing many of his own sins. Thus, a godly man must seek the knowledge of his sin from God and from the wise counsel of others.
New Testament Christians are not as concerned about unknown sins as they should be. Some seem to think that “ignorance is bliss.” It is not true. I am convinced that it is often our unconscious sins which are the most damaging to ourselves and to others. These sins are not so deeply hidden that they cannot be discovered. Indeed, these sins, while unknown to the sinner, are blatantly obvious to those who are close to him (or her). Marriage has been designed, in part I believe, so that we cannot say there was no way of being informed of our sins. Our mates know our sins all too well.
The wonder of this matter is that often our “secret” or “unknown” sins are often sanctified by us by the use of spiritual terminology and biblical texts. Let me briefly mention how this can work, and then leave the reader to ponder the implications. A man who is domineering and dictatorial may very well justify this sin in his life as a real strength. He may see this as “taking a stand for the truth or for what is right.” He might justify domineering over his wife as “assuming his biblical place of headship.” Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The wife, on the other hand, may have learned early in life that the way to please her father was to totally bend to his every whim. She would do nothing to offend or to lose his approval. Then, when she marries, she continues the same kind of blind conformity. And she commends herself for her “submission.” The evil here is not in being “submissive,” but in the woman’s self-seeking desire for approval, at any cost. She sacrifices her convictions and her unique contribution in the name of submission. True submission is seeking the best interest of the other, rather than our own interest. Some seek self-interest by domineering, while others seek it by “door-matting.” In either case it is evil, by whatever label we name it.
The Day of Atonement was a time for each Israelite to reflect on his own sinfulness, and to respond appropriately with mourning and repentance. I urge you to follow the example of the saints of the Bible, especially the psalmists, and to make your unknown sins a matter of priority. These are very likely sins which greatly hinder our fellowship with God and men.
(10) The Day of Atonement was a time for the priest to confess before God the sins of the nation. I have wondered to myself how long Aaron’s confession for the people’s sins, briefly mentioned in verse 21, actually took. One could imagine him confessing for hours. No doubt the confessions of Moses (Exod. 32-34), Ezra (Ezra 9), and Daniel (Dan. 9), among others, provide us with an idea of what the high priest’s prayer might have included.
Since we who are New Testament believers are priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), we need to make intercession for our nation as well (cf. 1 Tim. 2). How, then, should we pray? What should we confess? These are not easy matters, for we are a part of the evil fabric of our country. We find it difficult to stand back from our culture and see its sins. Many times our national sins are concealed by government or the press. It is good to confess those obvious sins, such as the legalization of abortion, but we need to become much more sensitive to the more subtle (unknown?) forms of sin as well.
Doing this will have great personal benefits. You see, the evils of our nation are those practices and pressures which constitute our “world” (as in, the “world,” the “flesh,” and the devil). To become sensitive to the evils of our age is to become sensitive to the evils which press upon us and tempt us.
As I conclude this message, I want to urge you to act upon the truths of which you have been convicted by the Holy Spirit. In particular, I would encourage you to read through the Book of Hebrews in the next day or two, seeking to see those ways in which Christ’s death surpassed the sacrifices and ministry of the Aaronic priesthood.
Furthermore, I want to urge you to take that first step of application which the writer to the Hebrews urges his readers: “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith …” (Heb. 10:22a). It may be that you need to draw near in personal faith and commitment. In other words, it may be that you need to be born again, to be saved. Have you had a day of atonement in your life, when you repented of your sins and trusted in the sacrifice of Christ? You need but one such day to be saved, but you must have one. Let Leviticus chapter 16 be the point in your life when you come to experience God’s atonement in Christ.
For those of you who are saved I must admit that I have no idea of what “drawing near” may mean for you. I am convinced, however, that every one of us has many ways in which we need to continue to draw near. I urge you to meditate upon the Book of Hebrews, and to pray the prayers of the psalmists concerning hidden sins. I encourage you to ask God to show you what drawing near means for you, today.
68 This is the structure as outlined by Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), p. 228. As a result of my study of this chapter, I have come to break the chapter up somewhat differently: I. Introduction—Requirements: Verses 1-5; A. Caution required, vv. 1-2; B. Materials required—animals and clothing, vv. 3-5. II. Survey of the Sin Offerings: Verses 6-10; A. Aaron’s sin offering, v. 7; B. Israel’s sin offering, vv. 8-10. III. Detailed Description of the Day of Atonement Rituals: Verses 11-28; A. Aaron’s role, vv. 11-25; B. The role of others, vv. 26-31; 1. Those who have had contact with the sacrificial animals, vv. 26-28; 2. The people of Israel as a congregation, vv. 29-31. IV. Provisions for the Perpetuation of the Day of Atonement: Verses 32-34.
69 The rituals outlined in verses 6-10 are reiterated in greater detail in verses 11-22, with the exception of the process of casting lots for the goats, which is only mentioned in verses 7 & 8. I believe that the omission of this process in verses 11-22 is significant. Some of those who insist that there is a mere duplication of material press the matter to demonstrate their hypothesis that there are multiple authors of the Pentateuch. The one author of this book, Moses, did not feel that it was necessary to repeat the casting of lots for the goat in verses 11-22 because he had already sufficiently covered the subject in verses 6-10.
70 The exact order of events is not certain in some cases, but this is at least the general order of the ritual.
71 There is a difference of opinion at to whether the “altar” in verse 18 is the altar of incense inside the veil or the altar of burnt offering outside. Noordtzij argues forcefully for the latter: “(1) The term ‘altar’ in verse 20 must clearly refer to the altar of burnt offering, yet it would have no previous reference apart from verses 18 and 19. (2) Verses 20 and 33 speak of atonement for the ‘Holy Place,’ the ‘Tent of Meeting,’ and the ‘altar.’ Since the ‘altar of incense’ is a part of the ‘Tent of Meeting’ there is no need to specify it, while there would be a need to specify the altar of burnt offering, outside the tent.” A. Noordtzij, Leviticus, trans. by Raymond Togtman (Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library, Zondervan Publishing House, 1982, pp. 167-168.
72 Wenham, p. 230. Bush adds, “There were eight different garments belonging to the altar of the high priest, four of which, called by the Jews ‘the white garments,’ and made wholly of linen, are here mentioned as to be worn on this day. The remaining four which are mentioned Ex. 28.4, were called ‘the golden garments,’ from there being a mixture of gold in them. Inasmuch as the day of atonement was a day of sorrow, humiliation, and repentance, the high priest was not to be clad in his rich pontifical robes, but in the simple sacerdotal vestments which were thought to be more appropriate to this occasion.” George Bush, Leviticus (Minneapolis, Klock and Klock Publishers [reprint], 1981), pp. 144-145.
73 The difficulty of this term is reflected by the variety of ways it is translated: “The translation of this word [Azazel] has varied considerably, and includes such renderings as ‘that shall be sent out’ (Wycliffe), ‘for discharge’ (Knox), ‘Azazel’ (RSV), and ‘for the Precipice’ (NEB). The idea of ‘precipice’ seems to have been derived from Talmudic tradition, where … was translated by ‘steep mountain.’ The allusion appears to have been to the precipitous slope or rock in the wilderness from which in the post-exilic period the goat was hurled to death.” R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), p. 170.
74 Bush goes into a lengthy discussion on the various explanations for the meaning of Azazel, associated with the scapegoat. He surveys and critiques these views and concludes with his own. In short, these are: (1) The name of the place the goat was led. (2) The name of the goat itself. (3) The one goat symbolized Christ’s death, the other His resurrection. (4) The scapegoat is offered to Satan or demons, as Christ allegedly was. Bush’s view, which I find hard to grasp, is that the second goat typifies Israel, who, due to their disobedience and rejection of Christ, had their sins heaped upon themselves. Cf. Bush, pp. 145-158.
75 Harrison states, “In view of this injunction [Day of Atonement to be a permanent statute, v. 34] it is curious that no specific reference to the day of atonement occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament, despite the periodic occurrence of certain significant events in the seventh month (cf. I Ki. 8:2, 65-66; Ezr. 3:1-6; Ne. 8:17-18).” Harrison, p. 175.
76 Wenham goes so far as to say that the main purpose of the day of atonement was not to cleanse the people, but to cleanse the holy place: “The main purpose of the day of atonement ceremonies is to cleanse the sanctuary from the pollutions introduced into it by the unclean worshippers (cf. 16:16, 19). … The aim of these rituals is to make possible God’s continued presence among his people.” Wenham, p. 228. Wenham also says that the purpose of the day of atonement was “… to prevent Aaron, in theory the holiest man in Israel, suffering sudden death when he enters the tabernacle (vv. 2, 13).” Wenham, p. 236.
77 Many of the Bible scholars with whom I am familiar would choose to argue this matter on the grounds of what is meant by the expression, “by His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). I would differ. I would grant that whether the text proves it or not, the death of Christ remedies all of the consequences of the fall (cf. Rom. 5), which includes sickness. The issue is not whether or not there is physical healing in the atonement, but rather when we can expect the full manifestation of healing. In my understanding of Romans 8 and the rest of Scripture, we cannot expect (and certainly cannot demand) the full realization of any aspect of Christ’s work (salvation, sanctification, healing, etc.) until He comes again, destroys and renews the earth, finally and fully limits Satan, and transforms our physical bodies.
78 Bush writes, “The idea of the institution seems to have been, that inasmuch as the incidental and occasional sin-offerings had, from their very nature, left much sin for which no expiation had been made, there should be a day in which all omissions of this sort should be supplied, by one general expiation, so that at the end of the year no sin or pollution might remain for which the blood of atonement had not been shed.” Bush, p. 164.
11. The Preciousness of Blood (Leviticus 17)
Down through the centuries, men have sought to identify and then to acquire what is precious. Many are those who have been mistaken in what they have valued most highly. When an error is made here, the tragedy is great. Some have valued things too highly. Some have treasured things, only to have them stolen, or to see them slowly deteriorate through natural processes. Some have erred in attributing value to what others value, only to discover that values change. Money has always been valued, but look at what Confederate Money is worth today!
Today, gold and silver are considered one of the precious commodities that can be accumulated and that will assure one of having something of worth in the future. Think of what would happen to the value of gold if a process was discovered which would enable men to make gold as reasonably and in as great a quantity as nylon or plastic. Let’s face it, there are not very many things which we can call precious, with any certainty that their value will endure.
The things which we can be assured are precious are those things which God has declared to be so. What He values as precious we should value as well. Leviticus chapter 17 clearly identifies one of the few precious commodities of this world—blood. While blood has been implied to be of great value previously in history, here it is directly stated. The value of blood results in several exacting requirements. These requirements are set out for the Israelites in chapter 17 as well. The purpose of our study will be to identify the reason for the value of blood, and then to seek to discover how the preciousness of blood relates to the New Testament Christian.
A Preview of Leviticus 17
Leviticus 17 is a transitional chapter.79 On the one hand, it concludes the previous 16 chapters, which have focused on the sacrificial process by applying the principle of the preciousness of blood to the daily practices of the Israelites. On the other hand, it introduces the following chapters, which deal with the practice of holiness in the everyday life of the Israelites.80 If the first 16 chapters of Leviticus were addressed primarily to the priests of Israel, this chapter is addressed principally to the people of Israel. If the previous chapters deals with the sacred—the tabernacle, the sacrifices, and the priests—this chapter deals with the secular, the normal course of life of the Israelite.
After a characteristic introduction in verses 1 and 2,81 the chapter itself divides into four sections:
(1) Regulations concerning the slaughter of sacrificial animals, vv. 3-7.
(2) Regulations concerning other sacrifices, vv. 8-9.
(3) Regulations concerning the eating of blood, vv. 10-13.
(4) Regulations concerning one who eats an animal that has died or been killed by another animal, vv. 14-16.
The structure of Leviticus is, then, not unlike that of the New Testament epistles. Both begin with principles and precepts, followed by instruction which is very practical in describing the ways in which divine revelation is to become real and relevant in the daily lives of God’s people.
Our approach will be to briefly describe the nature and purpose of the regulations outlined by these four sections of the chapter. We will then seek to identify the most striking features of this chapter. Next, we will attempt to show the ramifications of these regulations in the lives of the Israelites. Finally, we shall seek to derive the principles which underlie these regulations, their relationship to New Testament revelation and their relevance to men and women today.
The Slaughter of Sacrificial Animals
In these verses only “sacrificial animals” are in view, those animals which an Israelite could offer to God as a sacrifice: “an ox, or a lamb, or a goat” (v. 3). In offering one of these animals in one of the sacrifices prescribed earlier in the Book of Leviticus, these animals would have been slaughtered82 only at the tent of meeting. The regulation of verses 3-7 presupposes that an Israelite would be tempted to slaughter one of his animals for non-sacrificial purposes, most likely to kill the animal for its meat. Any slaughter which was not sacrificial was considered a danger, for the blood might well have been improperly disposed of. Thus, this regulation forbade the Israelite to slaughter one of his “sacrificial animals” in any other way than in accordance with the ritual prescribed for one of the sacrifices (cf. chaps. 1-7, 16). Since it appears that the purpose for a non-sacrificial slaughter was to obtain meat for eating, the fellowship offering is the only one considered in these verses.83
You will remember that in the fellowship offering, regulations for which are found in chapter 3 and 7 (cf. also 19:5-8), the animal’s blood was sprinkled around the altar, its fat was burned on the altar of burnt offering, the breast and right thigh were given to the priest, and the rest was eaten by the offerer and his guests. The command given in Leviticus 17:3-7 had some immediate and evident implications:
(1) No Israelite could eat the meat of one of his flock or herd unless he first offered it as a sacrifice.
(2) Sacrificial animals could only be killed according to the sacrificial rituals prescribed previously in Leviticus.
(3) This assured that the priests would be provided for.
The primary concern behind this regulation is not to see to it that the priests were kept busy or even fed. Neither was the great danger that the Israelite might slaughter his cattle in some irreligious way. The great danger was that the Israelite would slaughter his beast in a way that would be an act of pagan sacrifice and worship:
“The reason is so that the sons of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they were sacrificing in the open field, that they may bring them in to the LORD, at the doorway of the tent of meeting to the priest, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD. … And they shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons84 with which they play the harlot” (Lev. 17:5, 7a, emphasis mine).
You can see by the expressions (“which they were sacrificing,” “no longer,” “they play”) which I highlighted in the text above, that the danger of worshipping goat-demons was not hypothetical, but actual. The purpose of this regulation was not prevention, but cure. Pagan sacrifice which involved the worship of “goat-demons” was something which the Israelites had learned in Egypt and were persisting to practice in the wilderness. The commandment contained in verses 3-7 was thus intended to bring a particular false practice to a halt. The more we learn of this people, the more we realize how much idolatry and false worship they had learned in Egypt and brought with them into the wilderness. Thus, Joshua, the successor to Moses, would have to command the next generation of Israelites: “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:14; cf. also Amos 5:25-26).
Apparently the people of that day had a “killing ritual” which they employed in slaughtering their beasts, and this ritual was, in reality, pagan. The slaughtering of an animal by an Israelite was thus destined to be an act of worship, either of God or of a “goat-demon.” There was no purely “secular” slaughter, but only a sacred ritual, of one kind or the other. God’s command in verses 3-7 instructed the Israelites to exchange their heathen practices for those which worshipped Him. This commandment was one that had very practical and pressing reasons behind it. This regulation would later be modified due the new circumstances of the Israelites once in the land of promise.85
The Offering of All Other Sacrifices
The previous command specifically related to the “fellowship (peace) offering,” for this was the only offering which enabled the offerer to partake of the meat of his sacrifice. What of sacrifices other than the “fellowship” offering? The regulation of verses 8 and 9 plugs any “loophole” which might be abused by some. No other offering or sacrifice could be made which is not made at the tent of meeting. This assures that the priests will offer the people’s sacrifices according to God’s instructions, already laid down in previous chapters. In the light of the Israelites’ pagan sacrificial practices, no sacrificial act was left to occur outside the camp, away from the scrutinizing eye of the priests.
The Consumption of Blood
The previous regulations had to do with the place and with the ritual by which the blood of a sacrificial animal was shed and then disposed of. The regulation of verses 10-13 seeks to prevent another way in which blood was misused in the ancient Near East—by eating it.
The regulation of verses 10-13 forbids both the Israelite and the alien to eat the blood of any animal (not just the sacrificial animals dealt with above). The reasons for this prohibition are given as well: (1) “the life of the flesh is in the blood,” and (2) the function of shed blood is divinely appointed for the atonement of man (v. 11).86 Thus, anyone who eats the blood of an animal will be “cut off” from his people, an expression which, at best, refers to one’s expulsion from the nation, and, at worst, execution, either by the hand of man or by a direct act of God.87 This command includes the blood of wild game, as well as of domestic animals (v. 13). It makes sense that the blood of wild animals would be singled out here, since the previous regulations have required the animals from the Israelites’ flocks or herds to be offered at the tent of meeting, where the blood would have been disposed of by the priest. The blood of the wild animal must be poured out on the ground and covered, buried, if you would.88 Here (v. 13), as above (v. 10), the alien and sojourner must abide by God’s command not to eat blood.
Animals Not Slain by Human Hands
The previous regulations have pertained to either domestic or wild game, which the Israelite kills. What about those animals which have died naturally (that is, by some kind of accident) or have been killed by another animal? In this case, the blood of the victim would not and could not have been poured out, as God had instructed above. The principle of not eating the blood of an animal, because its life is in its blood, is first reiterated in verse 14, along with a repetition of the consequences for the violator.
In verse 15 it is made clear that such an animal, which has died apart from the hand of man, may be eaten, but since the blood could not be poured out as per the instructions given, the individual who thus eats of this animal’s flesh will be unclean, and must therefore wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening time he will be clean. This is essentially a repetition of what God had previously said in Leviticus:
‘Also if one of the animals dies which you have for food, the one who touches its carcass becomes unclean until evening. He, too, who eats some of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; and the one who picks up its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening’ (Lev. 11:39-40).
The priests, however, could not eat such meat (Lev. 22:8). For any of the people to disobey this command to be washed caused one to “bear his guilt” (v. 16; cf. 5:1; 7:18), an expression which gives a rather vague pronouncement of guilt and consequence. It does seem to suggest that the consequences will come as a matter of course or nature, rather than by the hand of men.
As I understand it, both from chapter 11 and from chapter 17, the Israelite is not forbidden to eat the meat of an animal which has died, but neither is he encouraged to do so, especially since it will render those who touch and/or eat this meat unclean.
Overall Impressions From This Passage
As I have reflected on the chapter as a whole, two impressions predominate. The first is that this is a very bloody chapter. The one topic which overshadows the chapter is the proper practice of the Israelites as pertains to the handling of blood. The blood of the sacrificial animals (vv. 3-7) must be sprinkled on the altar of burnt offering by the priest. The blood (implied) of all other sacrifices must not be poured out anywhere other than the altar (vv. 8-9). The blood of no animal can be eaten (vv. 10-13), and since the blood of an animal not slaughtered by man is not poured out properly, eating the meat of this animal makes the person unclean and requires washing (vv. 14-16).
The second impression is that penalties prescribed are “tough.” Any violation of these regulations brings very severe consequences. With the exception of the last section (vv. 14-16), which is a kind of “misdemeanor” offense, the rest of the violations are “felonies,” indeed, one might call them capital offenses. Think through the chapter with me and see what I mean. The transgression in most of these violations is identified as “bloodguiltiness”89 (cf. v. 4). This is the expression which is used of murder. Thus, the consequences for such a violation can be expected to be serious. Failing to slaughter a domestic “sacrificial” animal as a fellowship offering at the tent of meeting brought the sentence of being “cut off” from his people (vv. 3-7), as did offering a sacrifice anywhere other than at the tent of meeting (vv. 8-9) or eating blood (vv. 10-13). Being “cut off” may very well have meant death.
As if matters could not get worse, there is something about the punishment which is even more frightening. The violation of some of these “blood” regulations brings the direct involvement of God in the matter: “‘And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people’” (Lev. 17:10). It is bad enough to think of suffering some natural consequences for sin. It is even worse to have to face your countrymen. But when God promises to “set His face against” the violator so as to personally “cut him off,” that is a most sobering thought.
The impact of these regulations on the Israelites has been grasped by a Jewish lawyer, who is cited by Wenham:
The threat of being “cut off” by the hand of God, in His own time, hovers over the offender constantly and inescapably; he is not unlike the patient who is told by his doctors that his disease is incurable and that he might die any day. However merciful, because of its vagueness and lack of immediacy, this threat of punishment may seem to modern criminals, in ancient times its psychological effect must have been devastating. The wrath of the omnipotent and omniscient God being directed particularly at yourself of all people, and being certain to strike at you with unforeseeable force and intensity any day of the year and any minute of the hour, was a load too heavy for a believer to bear.90
Practical Ramifications for the Israelite
While I don’t think that this lawyer caught the major thrust of these regulations, he surely did grasp some of their impact. But what was the impact of these regulations intended to be? What was God trying to accomplish in the lives of His people by their obedience to these regulations?
Negatively, they must have created a sense of ominous danger, for a failure here could well be fatal. Keeping these regulations (and who would dare to violate them?) would, of necessity, keep the Israelite from offering pagan sacrifices. It would also greatly restrict the Israelite’s social intercourse with the Canaanites, who did not observe such scruples regarding blood.
We can continue to see this “separating” dimension to the blood regulations even to this day. These regulations are the basis for the Jews’ practice of eating only Kosher foods,91 that is meat which is killed in such a way as to comply with the blood-draining requirements of the Law. Because of “kosher” foods, the Jews are set apart from other peoples and their social interaction is restricted. One of the intimacies of the ancient world (and even of our own) is the intimacy of sharing a meal. Thus, the blood regulations kept the Israelites apart from their contemporaries.
The greatest significance of these blood regulations was in their declaration of the preciousness of blood, due to the interrelationship between life and blood, and consequently the preparation of the Israelites for the atoning work of Messiah in a day yet to come. It is only in the light of the death of Christ that the significance of these blood regulations can really be grasped.
I believe that this chapter underscores several principles which are vital to the spiritual life of every man, woman, and child. Let us prayerfully consider each of these principles and the practical way in which they should intersect our lives.
(1) The principle of progressive revelation. The principle of progressive revelation is simply this: God has chosen to reveal His truths to mankind sequentially. Thus, the great doctrines of the faith are generally introduced early in the Old Testament, later developed more fully by the prophets, and then by our Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry, and finally seen in their fullest form in the New Testament, in the light of the interpretation and teaching of the apostles.
In Leviticus chapter 17 the principle of progressive revelation is very clearly demonstrated in several ways. First, it can be seen in the progressive way in which God revealed the sins of the Israelites to them. Only at this point has God exposed the pagan dimensions of the sacrifices which the Israelites had been offering all along in the open field (cf. vv. 5-7). God did not reveal this sin until He had the solution for it, a sacrificial system which He had designed.
Second, we can see the principle of progressive revelation at work in the way God has progressively revealed the preciousness of blood in His plan of redemption. Early in Genesis, God took the shed blood of Abel seriously (Gen. 4), and later, after the flood, God gave more exacting commands regarding blood-shedding (Gen. 9:1-6). In the life of these Israelites camped at the base of Mt. Sinai, God used the shed blood of the Passover lamb to distinguish His people from the Egyptians, who were visited by the death angel (Exod. 12). Now, in Leviticus, Israel’s conduct with regard to handling blood is even more carefully prescribed, with very serious consequences for any violation.
While the importance of shed blood was once only to be learned by inference, now the principle of the preciousness of blood is stated more clearly than ever before (cf. Lev. 17:11, 14). The Old Testament will continue to clarify and expand on the value of shed blood for atonement (cf. Isa. 53), and in the New Testament the matter will come into full focus, in the light of the atonement which God has provided for man in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. As Peter put it, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Here, Peter does not compare the precious blood of Christ to gold or silver; he contrasts it with these supposedly “precious” metals. He places gold and silver in the category of “perishable things,” which infers to us that the blood of Christ is imperishable, and thus of eternal value. We know, of course, that this is the case, for in heaven it will be the shed blood of the Lamb of God which is still valued for saving sinners:
… Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood (Rev. 1:5).
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:6-9).
A matter as important as the atoning work of Christ was so vital, so important, so precious, that God long beforehand began to prepare men for its coming to pass. Thus we find the preciousness of blood and the principle of atonement revealed very early in the Pentateuch, and then clarified throughout the remainder of biblical revelation.
This leads me to a very important application: The principle of progressive revelation provides us with a vital clue to the importance of any teaching.
Because the atoning work of Christ was so important, so precious, God began to reveal the underlying principles very early in time. I believe that the same thing can be said for any doctrine that is truly vital, truly important, truly precious.
I would hope that you could readily and enthusiastically agree with this principle that important doctrines should have a long history of being progressively revealed. And yet the practice of many violates this principle. Think about it for a moment. What characterizes those truths about which some become most enthusiastic, and which they are so eager to proclaim to others? Let me suggest a few of the characteristics of revelation which is eagerly sought and taught:
(a) That truth which is new and novel, which does not have a long track record. Often these truths are packaged and sold under the guise that “God has, in these last days, revealed some new and wonderful truths.” Rather than feeling the need to apologize for this novelty, these false teachers look down upon those in the past as less enlightened than they. This excuses their teaching from having to conform either to biblical revelation or from the church’s understanding of it through the history of the church. In the Book of Acts we see this desire for “newness” in the philosophers of Athens (Acts. 17:19-21).
(b) That truth which is obscure, which is not clearly taught, and thus not recognized and accepted by most evangelical Christians. Rather than having to explain the fact that few accept their teaching, the false teachers look down upon those who haven’t “seen the truth” as unspiritual and less enlightened. In the days of the New Testament churches, this took the form of gnosticism. Also in Paul’s letters to Timothy there was the warning against speculative teaching.
(c) That truth which conforms to one’s evil lifestyle, and which enables the “believer” to follow his own appetites and evil desires. Strangely enough, the “new doctrines” which are seen by the spiritual elite and missed by the masses, are those truths which justify the sins of its followers. Paul warns of those who will have itching ears, who will gather people who preach to their preferences (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Peter likewise warns of those who teach in a way that enables and encourages men to indulge in the flesh (cf. 2 Pet. 2:18-19).
Let us learn from the principle of progressive revelation that those truths which are vital and most valuable are those which have been taught in greater and greater clarity throughout the entire Bible. Let those matters which are scarcely mentioned not be major concerns or undue subjects for our curiosity.
In addition, the principle of progressive revelation provides us with the key to quickly discerning one’s orthodoxy: ONE OF THE BEST TESTS OF ORTHODOXY IS TO DETERMINE WHAT VALUE ONE PLACES ON THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST.
The doctrine of the preciousness of shed blood develops in its full bloom in the New Testament by declaring that the most precious substance of all is the shed blood of Christ. Thus, anyone who denies the preciousness of the blood is not true to the faith of the Bible, and thus denies saving faith as well. We do not need to know everything which a certain sect teaches (although they are eager to teach us), we only need to know what they make of Christ’s blood. Is it alone what atones for our sins? Here is one of the touchstones for orthodoxy. This question may not flush out all heretics, but it will expose most of them, if answered honestly.
(2) The preciousness of blood in God’s sight. The Israelite of old learned from Leviticus, as nowhere else up to that point in time, the preciousness of blood to God. How much greater value does blood take on for the New Testament saint, whose blessings are all a result of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. As Harrison summarizes the matter,
The blood is the life of the flesh (Lev. 17:11), and it is through the atoning blood of Christ that the believer receives redemption (I Pet. 1:18-19), forgiveness (Eph. 1:7), justification (Rom. 5:9), spiritual peace (Col. 1:20), and sanctification (Heb. 13:12).92
Blood is not precious in its own right, but because it is equated with life. The principle conveyed first in Leviticus 17 is that “the life is in the blood.” Pressing this matter further, then, we can safely conclude that God values life as precious. Blood is the instrument through which atonement is made, which spares the life of the sinner. Life is thus precious to God, as well it can be for it was God who created all life (Gen. 1-2).
If blood (and, as we have seen, life) is precious, then there are several areas of application. The first application is that God values all life. Let the abortionist take note! Let those who talk about “quality of life” beware. God is the giver of life; Satan, through sin, seeks to destroy it. Let us prove to be on God’s side by seeking to save life, rather than to destroy it.
Pressing the fact that God values all life to its personal level, we can say with great conviction, God values your life. God values your life much more highly than you do. The measure of the value which God has placed on your life is the price which He was willing to pay to save it: the precious blood of His only Son, Jesus Christ. According to this standard, God has placed infinite value on your life. May you and I value our life in the light of the value God has ascribed to it.
Further, knowing the value which God has assigned to life enables us to better grasp the evil of sin, which seeks to destroy life by producing death. Sin can only be appraised in the light of its ultimate result—death, and death can only be evaluated in the light of its opposite —life. How ugly sin is in the light of the value of the life which it seeks to destroy.
(3) If we truly treasure the blood of Christ, we will not defile it. The preciousness of the blood of Christ is a very pertinent factor in the life of the Christian. Peter maintains that the preciousness of the blood is to be the Christian’s motivation for purity—for avoiding profaning the price of our redemption. In other words, to resist the goal for which the blood of Christ was shed is to profane the price which was paid to realize this goal: purity and holiness. Put differently, the degree to which the blood of Christ is precious is also the measure of the penalty for profaning it.
The regulations which God gave to the Israelites in chapter 17 of the Book of Leviticus were intended to prevent the profaning the blood of living creatures. It should be granted, then, that what is precious should not be profaned. Are there ways in which the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is profaned? I believe so.
First, the believer profanes the blood of Christ by persisting in the very sins from which the precious blood was intended to cleanse us. Listen to these most sobering words from the Book of Hebrews:
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? … It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:29, 31).
A second way in which the Christian can profane the precious blood of Christ is by a disregard for the Lord’s Table, or by misconduct in the remembrance of the Lord’s death. You will recall that in the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the misconduct of the Corinthian saints was described. The result was that some were judged by sickness and some by death (1 Cor. 11:30). The reason given by Paul was that the saints did not “judge the body rightly” (v. 29). A part of this was surely that the blood, as symbolized in the wine (of which some drank too much, v. 21), was disregarded and thus profaned.
Not only is misconduct at the Lord’s Table profaning the blood of Christ, but also absence from the Lord’s Table. There are many who view communion as a ritual at best to be endured, and then only occasionally. The New Testament saints remembered the Lord daily (Acts 2:42, 46), and later it was weekly (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11, cf. 16:2). Those who consistently fail to commemorate the Lord’s death not only disobey the command of our Lord (cf. Luke 22:19-20), but they profane the blood He has shed by valuing it so little that they fail to commemorate His death as He has instructed us. Forget your anniversary and you get a taste of what such neglect conveys to your loved one. Neglect the Lord’s Table, in the light of what we have learned of the blood, and profane His blood.
There is essentially but one way in which non-Christians profane the blood of Jesus Christ, and that is by esteeming it of so little worth that they seek acceptance with God on the basis of their own works, in place of the atonement, in which Christ shed His own blood. Imagine standing before the judgment seat of God (the Great White Throne) and having God ask you but one question, the answer to which determines whether you spend eternity in heaven or in hell. The question, I assure you, will be this, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE SHED BLOOD OF MY SON?”
God cares nothing for what you have to offer, but only for what He Himself has offered you, His only begotten Son: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). How dare any man think he could offer God anything for his own redemption, when God has paid the price in full, as the cost of the blood of His Son.
If you have never claimed the blood of Christ for your own salvation, as payment for your sins, I urge you to do so now. If you would hesitate, let me leave you with this solemn thought. Every man will have to give an account for the blood of Christ. Those who accept it as God’s atoning gift will spend all eternity giving praise to God and to the Lamb for that blood. And those who reject it will have these words with which to identify, the words of those who, at the trial of our Lord, called forth to Pilate as they rejected Him as their Messiah, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). These words will haunt ever unbeliever for all eternity, for those who reject the blood of Christ as their atonement, will find it to be their accuser.
(4) The value which we place on the blood of Christ is not proven as much by what we profess, as by what we practice. As I have been meditating on the practical implications of the preciousness of the blood of Christ, it occurred to me that the Israelites’ practice was to prove their regard for blood. Their obedience to the regulations of Leviticus 17 was evidence that they, along with God, found blood to be precious.
The same is true for us. It is not enough to assent to the preciousness of the blood of Christ as a fact. It is not even enough to believe in the blood of Christ for one’s salvation. There must be some practical way in which we prove our regard for Christ’s blood by the way we act. This is not a particularly biblical pattern, but I can say from a few years of observation that people who find something precious tend to act the same way. Let me characterize the actions of one who has found something precious, and see if this describes your life as a result of finding Christ’s blood precious.
First, when a person finds something which he values as precious he will give all that he has to acquire it. The parable of the “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:45-46) is but one illustration of this. If the blood of Christ is truly precious, we do not have to bribe men with false promises to convince them to accept it, nor do we have to minimize the cost. To put it in other words, to the degree that we dilute the gospel message (which has as its central theme the blood of Christ), we betray our own devaluation of His blood and we suggest to the lost that it is not worth a man’s all.
Second, when we value something as precious, we can’t get enough of it. A person who values a certain kind of car as precious will get as many of them as he can. The one who values gold will also get all of it he can get his hands on. So, too, with the blood of Christ. We will not only claim it once for our salvation, but we will claim it on our every approach to God. We will never tire of talking of it, meditating on it, or speaking of it to others. The Lord’s Table will never be a burden, but a delight, if we truly find His blood precious. I find that when I acquire something I value greatly, I keep going out (usually it is in my garage) to look at it. So we should see the blood in the Bible, from cover to cover, and never tire of looking for it and at it again.
Third, when a person finds something that is precious to him he seeks to share it with others. One who has a very rare coin, or jewel, or automobile will not try to give it away, but he will seek to share its beauty with others. That is, he will seek to show it off to others. Now my analogy breaks down here because the things which we value most on earth are rare. Thus, one is not about to give away something which is in short supply and which cannot be replaced. But the blood of Christ is very different. The blood is infinitely precious, but it is also infinitely available. Therefore you can give it away to as many as will receive it and not have your own supply of it diminished. What I am trying to say here is that we would seek to bring others to Christ through the blood if we really valued the blood ourselves. Our estimation of the preciousness of Christ’s blood is the measure of our evangelistic zeal.
Fourth, when we truly find something precious we seek to guard it from damage or defilement. The things which are precious to us we lock up, we put bars around, and we buy alarm systems to protect. If we truly find the blood of Christ precious, we will do our best to keep from profaning it ourselves, or to keep others from profaning it. This relates, once again, to the way in which we remember the Lord’s Table and the way in which we live out our lives in personal holiness.
(5) The shedding of blood is the standard by which love is measured. There remains but one thing more to say, and that is that the measure of true love is ultimately one’s willingness to shed his blood for another. Our Lord taught that no one has greater love than the one who will lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). The death of Christ went one step beyond this, for He died for us while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:6-8). If we truly love others, we will shed our blood for them. If we truly love God, we will be willing to shed our blood for Him. It is against this principle that the words of the writer to the Hebrews come on us with stinging force. He is writing to those who would forsake their faith because of some opposition, and he concludes, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). Any struggle with sin which does not go this far betrays a lack of love.
May the blood of Christ be more precious to you now than it has ever been before.
79 “I prefer to view ch. 17 as a hinge linking the two halves of the book: chs. 1-16 containing the ritual regulations for public life and worship, and chs. 18-25 regulating the personal and private affairs of individuals.” Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 241.
80 “Unlike the regulations in the preceding chapters, this section says very little about the role of the priests. It concentrates on the mistakes a layman is apt to make: he may be tempted to kill animals outside the tabernacle (vv. 3-7) or forget to drain out the blood before eating the meat (vv. 10ff.). In this respect these laws have more in common with those that follow in chs. 18-26, which are designed to promote the holiness of all Israel.” Ibid., p. 240.
81 “Chapter 17 is systematically arranged. It begins with an introductory formula typical of Leviticus (vv. 1-2; cf. 1:1; 4:1; 6:1; 7:28; 11:1; 15:1; 16:1-2; 18:1-2; 19:1-2). Four paragraphs follow, dealing with sacrifice and the consumption of meat. Each paragraph begins in similar fashion: ‘If any Israelite or resident alien who dwells among them’ (vv. 3, 8, 10, 13), continues with a definition of the sin (vv. 3-4, 8-9, 10, 13-14), prescribes the punishment of ‘cutting off’ for disobedience (vv. 4, 9, 10, 14), and generally closes by giving an additional reason for obeying the law (vv. 5-7, 11-12, 14).” Ibid.
82 “The word ‘kills’ may cover slaughter for nonsacrificial purposes (e.g., Gen. 37:31; 1 Sam. 14:32), though it is most commonly used for the ritual slaughter in sacrifice (cf. Lev. 1:5, 11, etc.).” Ibid., p. 241.
83 There is disagreement among scholars as to what is forbidden in verses 3-7. Some think that God has only forbidden sacrifice, particularly the fellowship or peace offering, to take place outside the camp. Others believe that all slaughter is forbidden. This is, to some degree, a result of the ambiguity of the term “slaughter” (cf. fn. 4 above), which can mean either “sacrifice” or simply “to slaughter” (kill). I am inclined to think that all slaughter is forbidden, and not just sacrifice. This best explains why only the peace (fellowship) offering is in view in verses 3-7 (because this was the only offering which left meat for the offerer to eat), while all other sacrifice is covered in verses 8-9.
84 “Both the thing and the name were derived from the Egyptians, who worshipped goats as gods (Josephus c. Ap. 2,7), particularly Pan, who was represented in the form of a goat, a personification of the male and fertilizing principle in nature, whom they called Mendes and reckoned among the eight leading gods, and to whom they had built a splendid and celebrated temple in Thmuis, the capital of the Mendesian Nomos in Lower Egypt, and erected statues in the temples in all directions (cf. Herod. 2, 42, 46; Strabo, xvii. 802; Diod Sic. i. 18).” C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, trans. by James Martin (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968 [reprint]), II, p. 409.
85 “This law could be effective only when eating meat was a rare luxury, and when everyone lived close to the sanctuary as during the wilderness wanderings. After the settlement it was no longer feasible to insist that all slaughtering be restricted to the tabernacle. It would have compelled those who lived a long way from the sanctuary to become vegetarians. Deut. 12:20ff. therefore allows them to slaughter and eat sheep and oxen without going through the sacrificial procedures laid down in Leviticus, though the passage still insists that the regulations about blood must be observed (Deut. 12:23ff.; cf. Lev. 17:10ff.).” Wenham, p. 243.
86 “Of the seven prohibitions in the Pentateuch against eating blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 3:17; 7:26-27; 17:10-14; 19:26; Deut. 12:15-16, 23-24; 15:23), this one (Lev. 17:10-14) is the clearest and provides the underlying rationale.” F. Duane Lindsey, “Leviticus,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), p. 199.
“The first reason simply forms the foundation for the second: God appointed the blood for the altar, as containing the soul of the animal, to be the medium of expiation for the souls of men, and therefore prohibited its being used as food. ‘For the blood it expiates by virtue of the soul,’ not ‘the soul’ itself. … Accordingly, it was not the blood as such, but the blood as the vehicle of the soul, which possessed expiatory virtue; because the animal soul was offered to God upon the altar as a substitute for the human soul. Hence every bleeding sacrifice had an expiatory force, though without being an expiatory sacrifice in the strict sense of the word.” Keil and Delitzsch, II, p. 410.
87 “In other words, this offense [bloodguiltiness due to killing a sacrificial animal apart from ritual sacrifice] is as serious as murder. He has shed blood, consequently he will be punished by God directly. This is the traditional understanding of the phrase ‘to be cut off,’ and it does seem to fit the different contexts in which it is found (e.g., Exod. 30:33; Lev. 7:20ff.; 20:17ff.).” Wenham, p. 241.
“Other interpretations have been suggested. One is that it is a demand for the death penalty to be imposed by human agency following conviction in the courts. But though death does seem to be envisaged by the phrase, it is unlikely that judicial execution is intended, because many of the crimes to which this penalty is attached are secret sins which would be difficult to prosecute in the court (e.g., Exod. 30:38; Lev. 7:20-21; Num. 15:30-31). Moreover, God sometimes threatens to cut people off himself. Such a threat would be unnecessary if capital punishment were mandatory (17:10; 20:3ff.).
“Another possibility is that ‘being cut off from his people’ means being expelled from the nation. Support for this idea can be found in the Laws of Hammurabi, par. 154, which provides for banishment in a case akin to Leviticus (20:17). But the same objections apply to this as to the previous interpretation, namely, the difficulty of prosecution in many cases and the fact that God exacts the penalty in others.
“… It appears, therefore, that this phrase may not only refer to premature death at the hand of God, but hint at judgment in the life to come. Offenders will be cut off from their people forever.” Wenham, p. 242.
88 “In Deut. xii 16 and 24, where the command to slay all the domestic animals at the tabernacle as slain-offerings is repealed, this is extended to such domestic animals as were slaughtered for food; their blood also was not to be eaten, but to be poured upon the earth ‘like water,’ … like water which is poured upon the earth, sucked in by it, and thus given back to the womb of the earth, from which God had caused the animals to come forth at their creation (Gen. i. 24).” Keil and Delitzsch, II, p. 410.
89 “Bloodguilt was a legal term which was normally used in the Old Testament with reference to manslaughter or murder.” R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), p. 178.
90 H. H. Cohn, Israel Law Review 5 (1970), p. 72, as cited by Wenham, p. 242.
91 “Any animal meant for human consumption had to be killed in such a way that all the blood was either drained or washed from its body, a principle that results in what the Jews call kosher meat.” Harrison, p. 181.
92 Harrison, p. 176.
12. Obedience—The Obligation of Being Owned (Leviticus 18:1-5)
To an American in the 20th century, slavery is but a bad memory, an evil which pricks the conscience of society. There are still many of the scars left from the time when slavery was practiced, but the evil itself is something largely recorded in the history books. Such is not the case in other parts of the world, and it surely was not so in the ancient Near East at the time Moses wrote the Book of Leviticus.
As we approach our text and the subject of slavery we must recognize that we do so with a bias. Unlike the peoples of the ancient world, to whom slavery was a fact of life, a condition which could be either good or bad, depending upon the master, we can think of slavery only in negative terms. We think of the evils of slavery in our own country in days gone by, or in terms of the oppression of people in South Africa, evils which I do not wish to minimize or to condone. But because of the abuses of slavery we have come to look upon slavery as a categorical evil, one that can never be good or beneficial to the slave.
It is this bias which must be set aside if we are to appreciate what is being taught in the latter portion of the Book of Leviticus. The laws which the Israelites are given in chapters 18-20 (and the following chapters as well) are those which are legitimate and compulsory because the Israelites are God’s slaves and He is their new master. Such a condition cannot be viewed as evil, but as holy, righteous and good. Such a state cannot be wrong, and thus we must view it differently from most of the slavery which has been practiced (or imposed) in history.
The Israelites had been the slaves of Pharaoh. We know this all too well from the early chapters of Exodus. Some might think that when the Israelites passed through the Red Sea and the Egyptians passed under it, that slavery was ended once for all for the people of God. Such was not the case at all. The exodus freed the Israelites from bondage to Egypt, but it also brought them under the yoke of their God, who had delivered them.
As God’s slaves, the Israelites were not free to live where they wished, nor to live as they liked. These people were now to live under a new order. That order was spelled out by the terms of the covenant which God, Israel’s new King, made with them. We call it the Mosaic Covenant. The Ten Commandments, along with the rest of the Law, is a part of that covenant. The priestly system, outlined in the early chapters of Leviticus, is also a part of the Mosaic Covenant. And now, the judgments and statutes93 which God is about to lay down through Moses, are the expression of the dictates of a sovereign over his subjects.
The preamble to the latter half of the Book of Leviticus is vitally important to the Israelites because it deals with their motivation for obeying the laws which God is going to lay down in the following chapters. I would suggest that motivation is the most important factor involved in obedience. We may learn methods which help us to obey, but apart from a will to obey they are worthless.
Motives are critically important in our own lives, thousands of years removed from the days of Moses and the people whom he led. We are inclined to think, at times, that evangelism does not occur because people have not been taught how to evangelize. We suppose that marriages are in deep trouble because they have not been taught proper techniques for dealing with marriage problems. Methods and techniques have their place, but the real reason why we disobey God, why we fail to evangelize, why we do not relate to our mates and to our children as we should is because we do not want to do so. The old saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” is largely true. Thus, one of the most important factors in godly living is godly motives. Leviticus 18:1-5 provides the people of Israel with the proper motivation for obeying God’s laws. These motives, as we shall see, are also found in the New Testament, and thus they apply to us as well. Let us listen well to the voice of God in this text, for these are words of great import to our spiritual lives.
Let us bear in mind that as we come to this 18th chapter of Leviticus we are beginning a new division of the book. Chapters 1-17 have largely applied to the priests, while chapters 18 and following are directed more toward the people. Chapters 1-17 pertained more to ceremonial or ritual righteousness; chapters 18 and following pertain to practical righteousness. In particular, chapters 18-20, which we will study as a unit, pertain to righteousness in the home (chapter 18), and in the community (chapters 19). Chapter 20 deals with “capital offenses.”94
Scholars have recently recognized that the form of the Mosaic Covenant is similar to the form of those covenants made in the ancient Near East in the days of the Moses. This is especially clear in Exodus and Deuteronomy. It is also apparent here in chapter 18:
In chapter 18 the preamble is I am the Lord your God (2), while the historical prologue is the phrase Egypt, where you dwelt (3). The basic stipulation is covered by the injunction do my ordinances and keep my statutes and walk in them (4), while the detailed stipulations comprise the material in verses 6 to 23. The blessings occur in a shortened form in verse 5, a man shall live, while the curses are found in verses 24 to 30. This latter situation is typical of Hittite vassal treaties, where the curses always greatly outnumber the blessings.95
Verses 1-5 thus serve as the preamble to the stipulations, the regulations which are to follow. In this message I wish to focus on the message of the preamble, for it is the basis for the laws which are to be given and of God’s demand that they be kept. In verses 1-5 one phrase is repeated three times: “I am the LORD (your God).” The importance of this statement can hardly be overemphasized. It provides us with a vital clue to the structure of this paragraph. Three crucial statements are made, each of which is concluded with the statement, “I am the LORD (your God).”
The message of these verses can best be viewed as having three principle statements. The first is the premise (v. 2), the basis which God declares for what He will demand. The second is the practical outworking of the premise stated both negatively: “You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes” (18:3), and positively: “You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them” (18:4). The third states the benefits of obedience, a promise of God’s blessing: “‘So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them’” (18:5).
The Premise: “I am the LORD”
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the LORD your God.’”
The expression, “I am the LORD your God,” is the fundamental truth on which the following verses, and on which the following chapters must stand. The critical question for us, then, is to determine precisely what God meant by this expression.
When God had led the Israelites out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and to Mt. Sinai, He made a covenant with His people. The Ten Commandments, a vital part of that covenant, are first recorded in Exodus chapter 20. In the introduction of the covenant, God spoke these familiar words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exod. 20:2).
When the Mosaic Covenant was reiterated to the next generation virtually the same words were employed in the introduction (cf. Deut. 5:6).
In Leviticus, the same expression is found, particularly in close proximity to divine regulations. Thus, in chapter 11, it is found in conjunction with the laws concerning the clean and the unclean (Lev. 11:44). When the stipulations of the covenant are spelled out in more precise form, the same words are found in the introduction (Lev. 18:1-5), no less than three times. The expression in either its long (e.g. 18:2, 4) or its short form (18:5) will be found frequently in chapters 18-20 (18:2, 4, 5-6, 30; 19:3-4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 25, 30, 31, 32, 34, 37; 20:7, 24) and later (21:12; 22:2-3, 8, 30-31, 33; 23:22, 43; 24:22; 25:17, 38; 26:1, 2, 13, 44).
From the many uses of the expression, “I am the LORD (your God),” we can discern several facets to its intended meaning:
First, the expression is intended to recall the deliverance of Israel from her bondage in Egypt. The expression, “I am the LORD your God” is sometimes followed by a further statement, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (cf. Exod. 20:2). Israel’s deliverance is thus one thought which is brought to remembrance by this expression.
Second, the expression is one that declares God’s sovereignty, particularly focused upon His sovereignty over His people. The exodus showed God to be superior to the gods of Egypt, and to be sovereign over the forces of nature. Israel’s God is a sovereign God. The God of Israel is not only viewed as sovereign over His people, but over the Egyptians (including Pharaoh) and nature. You will recall that when Moses delivered this message from God, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me,” Pharaoh’s response was, in effect, “Say’s who?” Pharaoh thought of himself as sovereign. Why, then, should he obey Israel’s God. The account of the ten plagues is God’s answer. And the passing through the Red Sea also demonstrated God’s power (sovereignty) over nature (which can also be seen in the plagues). The exodus thus proved God’s sovereignty.
Third, the exodus event made God Israel’s King. God was the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before the exodus, but after this event He became Israel’s king. He became king when He liberated His people and led them from Egypt toward Canaan. He became King of Israel when He gave the people the constitution, the Mosaic Covenant. The “Song of the Sea,” recorded in Exodus 15, is the song which the Israelites sang to God in praise after the incident at the Red Sea. The inference of this song is that God has been installed as their king (cf. v. 18). The exodus made God King of His people.
Fourth, the expression is also a claim of divine ownership. Just as the Israelites were the slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt,96 now they are God’s slaves. Later in the Book of Leviticus, God told Moses, “‘For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God’” (Lev. 25:55; cf. also v. 42).
To draw all of these various factors together into one central thought we can conclude that the expression, “I am the LORD your God,” teaches the principle of possession. To put the matter pointedly, God has the right to rule over His people. If God has the right to rule then He also has the right to make the rules. So it is that this statement, “I am the LORD your God,” precedes the regulations which God gave His people.
The Practical Outworking of God’s Rules
God has the right to rule, and thus the right to make the rules. These rules will be spelled out in great detail in the verses and chapters which will follow, but for now the essence of what God commands is summarized, both negatively and positively in verses 3 and 4. Let us briefly consider both the negative and the positive implications of God’s sovereign ownership of His people, Israel.
Negatively, the Israelites are to avoid the ways (statutes) of the Egyptians, among whom they have lived, and the Canaanites, whose land they are about to possess:97 “‘You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes’” (Lev. 18:3).
The prohibition here includes Israel’s past, in the land of Egypt, and her future, in the land of Canaan. Broadly speaking, I think that two major areas are in view in this prohibition.
First, God’s prohibition includes not only the lifestyle of the Egyptians and the Canaanites, it also includes their laws. God told the Israelites not to walk in their “statutes” (v. 3). As I understand what God is saying, the ungodly lifestyle of the heathen often is reflected in ungodly legislation. Thus, for example, in Daniel’s day, as in Esther’s, the laws of the heathen clearly contradicted God’s laws. The Israelites were not to live according to the pagan lifestyles or the pagan legislation of the Egyptians or the Canaanites.
Second (and, I think, primarily), this prohibition involves the lifestyles of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. The terms “statutes” and “judgments” have a very formal sound to our ears, but that is not necessarily the sense in which they are used here. God prohibits “walking in the statutes” of the heathen, but He also prohibits “doing what is done” in Egypt and Canaan. In the Book of Ezekiel, reference is made to Leviticus 18:5 (Ezek. 20:11). Later on in the same chapter Ezekiel wrote, “And I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, or keep their ordinances, or defile yourselves with their idols. I am the LORD your God; walk in My statutes, and keep My ordinances, and observe them’” (Ezek. 20:18-19, emphasis mine). Here it would seem that the ordinances and statutes which the Israelites followed in the wilderness were simply their own ways, their traditional, sinful way of living, which was enforced by culture than by actual written law. While there were undoubtedly some laws of these nations which were evil, there were also many aspects of the Egyptian and Canaanite cultures which were evil as well. These will be seen by the kinds of evil which were forbidden in the next chapters of Leviticus. Included are the areas of marriage, sex, family practices, religion, social concern and ethics.
While the form of the covenant which God made with the Israelites was very similar to that of other kings in the ancient Near East, the substance of the stipulations of these covenants differed radically. God’s laws sometimes parallel those of the secular and pagan societies around them, but very frequently they surpass them in the high moral standards they uphold and require of God’s people.
Positively, the Israelites were to live in accordance with God’s statutes: “‘You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the LORD your God’” (Lev. 18:4). The laws which God is about to lay down—or should we say the laws which God is going to further clarify and apply—are to be lived by. The God who owns Israel and thus has the right to rule now commands His people to live by His commandments as opposed to the culture of the heathen.
Blessings for Keeping God’s Rules
The final “I am the LORD” comes at the end of verse 5, which contains a brief promise of the blessings which accompany living according to God’s laws: “‘So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD’” (Lev. 18:5). In concise terms God promised that obedience to His judgments and statutes caused a man to “live.” But what does it mean to “live”?
(1) To live means the preservation of one’s life, and the avoidance of death. Frequently, God’s commands have been accompanied with the warning, “lest you die” (cf. Exod. 28:35, 43; 30:20, 21; Lev. 8:35; 10:6, 7, 9; 15:31; 16:2, 13). To obey God’s laws kept one from incurring guilt and the death penalty of divine judgment.
(2) To live is to be the recipient of divine blessings.98 You will remember that the form of these verses follows that of the near eastern suzerainty-vassal treaties. We know from the form of these treaties that we can expect verse 5 to summarize the blessings of keeping this covenant. Thus, to live is not merely to survive, as suggested above, but to live in the blessings of God, with whom this treaty has been made.
One of the clearest definitions of “life” as it is used in Leviticus 18:5 is found in the Book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy the Mosaic Covenant is reiterated to the second generation of Israelites. In chapter 28 the “blessings and cursings” are outlined in detail. If the Israelites keep the law of God, they will be greatly blessed in the land (28:1-14); if they disobey and disregard the law, they will be greatly cursed (28:15-68). Then, in chapter 30, God spoke these words:
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I commanded you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it” (Deut. 30:15-16, emphasis mine).
“Life,” then, in this context is synonymous with God’s blessings in the land, and “death,” with the adversity which comes from God, including expulsion from the land.
The final paragraph in Leviticus chapter 18 (vv. 24-30) tends to support this conclusion. It stresses the fact that the sins of the Canaanites defiled the land and led to their expulsion. It also warns the Israelites that if they fail to live according to God’s laws they, too, will defile the land and thus be expelled from it. It is not until the conclusion of Leviticus that a clear statement of the blessings of obeying God’s laws are spelled out in greater detail:
‘If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land’ (Lev. 26:3-5, emphasis mine).
The promise of God’s blessing for obedience continues through verse 13, and then the promises of God’s cursing are detailed as the consequence for disobeying God’s laws (vv. 14-39). To “live,” then, means to enjoy the covenant blessings of God, and to “die” means to suffer the curses of the covenant which come upon God’s people as the consequence of their disobedience.
Leviticus 18:5 in the New Testament
Since Leviticus 18:5 is cited several times (Luke 10:28; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12) in the New Testament, it is necessary for us to pause to reflect on the meaning of this verse as it is used in the Old Testament and in the New. It is my understanding that the New Testament writers who cited this verse did so out of a clear understanding of its original meaning, as well as its perversion by legalistic Judaizers.
We have already established that when God promised the Israelites they would “live” by keeping the statutes and judgments of the law, He referred to those blessings of prosperity in the land of promise, not the blessing of eternal life. The law was never given as a means to achieving eternal life. It was a temporary provision given to a sinful people to enable a holy God to dwell in their midst, and for them to dwell in the land of promise. The blessings which the law promised (prosperity in the land of promise) were bestowed upon those who obeyed all the law. The blessings of salvation are promised elsewhere, and not on the basis of works (obedience to the law), but on the basis of faith.
So it was that Abraham was called a believer before the law was ever given, and before he did any works. He did nothing but believe in the promises of God. This is the account given to us in Genesis chapter 15, and it is the point which Paul presses home in Romans chapter 4, proving that salvation has always been by faith, apart from the works of law-keeping. In Habakkuk 2:4 the principle of faith is once again reiterated. Thus salvation has always been on the basis of faith, not obedience to the law. “Life,” that is God’s blessings on His people in the land of Canaan, is the result of law-keeping.
When Paul cited Leviticus 18:5 in Galatians 3:12 he was not using the verse as God had meant it to be understood (that physical blessing in the land of promise was attained by law-keeping), but as the Judaizers whom he was refuting would interpret it. They taught that law-keeping was the way men were justified in the Old Testament, and now in the new age as well. Thus, the Gentile converts had to become Jewish proselytes and observe the Old Testament laws and their traditions (additions to the law) to boot. Paul referred to Leviticus 18:5 with this backdrop in view. If, as the Judaizers taught, men could be justified by works, then according to this interpretation of the law, men must keep all the law. The Judaizers thus understood “live” as justification, not as earthly blessings. Herein was their fundamental error, and Paul pressed this erroneous interpretation to its illogical and tragic conclusion: such a view demands that men must keep all the law if they are to live, or else the law serves to condemn, rather than to save.99
God has introduced the regulations which are to follow by (1) establishing His right to rule, and thus to make the rules; (2) spelling out in broad terms, negatively and positively, what these rules require; and, (3) promising to bless His people when they faithfully live by His rules.
Implications for the Israelites
From these first five verses of Leviticus chapter 18 the Israelites are provided with a strong sense of motivation for obedience. From these words, God’s people should take the commandments which will follow most seriously. God is their sovereign owner, their King, and thus He has the right to rule and to make the rules. If they fail to keep these commandments they will face His discipline; if they obey they will experience His blessings. If they obey, they will avoid the ways of the Canaanites and the Egyptians and will follow the ways God has prescribed.
Implications for the Contemporary Christian
The Principle and Practice of Slavery
One would suppose that the demands of God pertaining to Israel’s obedience would have little to do with the New Testament saint. Especially this might seem to be the case when we read Paul’s arguments in his epistles, especially that of Galatians chapter 3. It is true that we are not the nation Israel, nor is the Mosaic Covenant binding on us. Nevertheless, the principles found in this text in Leviticus are almost identical with those found in the New Testament, based upon the work of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant which He has inaugurated. Consider the principles of the New Testament which parallel those which we have seen in our study of our text in Leviticus.
If one were to boil down the message of verses 1-5 it is simply this: The Israelites were God’s slaves, and thus were obligated to obey. The “slavery” of the Israelites was based upon the sovereignty of God, and on God’s deliverance of this people from their bondage to Egypt.
The New Testament teaches us that those who are truly born again have ceased to be the slaves of sin and Satan and become slaves of righteousness, slaves of God:
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18).
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Thus we find that the Christian is a slave of Jesus Christ. No one sensed or expressed this more frequently than the apostle Paul (cf. Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Gal. 1:10).
We might be inclined to question our status as slaves on the basis of our Lord’s words to His disciples:
“You are My friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves; for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you … This I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:14-15, 17).
Has our Lord not indicated that the role of servant is extinct, and that now His followers are only His friends? Then Paul was sadly mistaken in referring to himself as Christ’s slave, as well as all saints. Notice that our Lord is still giving commands in the context of John chapter 15 (v. 17). This is what masters do to their slaves. The fact is that our Lord is simply indicating a change in the kind of slavery which the Christian enters into as a result of trusting in Him as Savior and Lord.
There are two ways in which our “slavery” to God differs from that of the Old Testament saint. First, we are slaves of a vastly greater privilege. While slaves normally are not privy to the intimate plans of their master, the disciples of our Lord are. Normally slaves are told what to do, but are never told what their master is doing, or why. In boot camp, new recruits are taught that they are the slaves of their superior officers. They are told to dig holes, and then to fill them, and they are not told why (indeed, there is no real reason, other than to teach obedience).
Up to this point in our Lord’s ministry, He had not fully disclosed to His disciples what He was doing. Now, He will disclose His most intimate plans and purposes to them. In this sense they are His friends, more than they are slaves. This does not mean that we are not slaves in any sense, however.
Second, the slavery of the New Testament saint to the Lord is voluntary, it is a bondage of love: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
There is a greater sense of compulsion in Leviticus than there is here. What I mean to say is that obedience in Leviticus comes from the top down, it is demanded. In the gospels, obedience is the response of love and gratitude to the grace of God: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God …” (Rom. 12:1). I do not mean to press this distinction too far, however, for the Israelites were to serve and obey God out of love and gratitude as well.
The Old Testament provides us with a picture of the “love slave,” which beautifully portrays the kind of slavery into which the Christian should voluntarily place himself. The slave who could have been freed, but chose to become a permanent slave had his ear pierced with an awl by his master (Exod. 21:5-6; Deut. 15:16-17). In this sense every Christian should have “pierced ears,” figuratively speaking.
Slavery is not a very popular subject amongst many contemporary Christians because it is contrary to the spirit of our age. Think about it for a moment. In the many different representations of what it means to be born again and to be converted, how many of these clearly portray God as the Sovereign Master of the Universe, to which the Christian is to submit, Whom he or she is to serve as a slave? Not many, I can assure you. More often, Jesus Christ is presented as the servant of men, the one who has come to make people feel better about themselves, to give them eternal life, and to answer their every prayer, more like a magic genie than a sovereign master.
The real issue here is that of authority—to be specific, God’s authority to rule His people. The reason why such emphasis is placed on the authority of God is because fallen man rebels against authority, especially God’s authority. God created Satan with great beauty and authority, but it was not enough for him, he wanted more, he wanted to be greater than God (cf. Isa. 14:13). Adam and Eve were created with great honor and authority, and yet they rebelled against God’s authority. Both rebelled against God’s rules and ate the forbidden fruit, hoping to be “like God,” as Satan had falsely promised (Gen. 3:5).
All through the Scriptures man has resisted God’s constituted authority. The Israelites rebelled against Moses and Aaron. Some of the people rebelled against David. Later, they rebelled against the prophets. Is it any wonder that the Jewish religious leaders, once they understood that the Lord Jesus was not going to follow their leadership, began to challenge His authority with the question, “By what authority …?” (e.g. Matt. 21:23). And when things began to get completely out of hand, they arrested Him and brought charges against Him. When they were forced to do so, these leaders said to Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
The awesome fact is that God has given Jesus Christ ultimate and final authority. In the great day of judgment which lies ahead, all men must fall before Him and acknowledge His authority:
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left” (Matt. 25:31-33).
Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).
Which will you be, my friend, one of the sheep or one of the goats? Will you be one who falls before the Lord as King as a willing worshipper, or will you fall as a subdued enemy, reluctantly acknowledging His authority and power? You must decide to accept Him as Savior and Lord now, and if you do not, you will remain a slave of sin and of Satan. If you have made excuses for not trusting in Christ as your Savior and Lord, my guess is that you have not admitted the real reason to yourself. It is not because there is a lack of evidence, but because of your rebellion against His authority.
If the Bible tells us anything, it is the Jesus Christ has the right to reign over men, and that someday He will reign over all men. Some will be His worshippers, while the rest will be His enemies, His defeated foes. I urge you to submit to His authority, and to trust in His shed blood for your forgiveness. Take Him as your Savior and your King. He has the right to rule.
Most of my readers will have already trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior. I would hope that you will also submit to Him as Lord. But what does this mean in very practical terms? This is a very profitable topic on which to meditate, but let me help begin the process by suggesting several ways in which we may express the kingship, the lordship of Jesus Christ:
(1) Those who have submitted to Christ as Lord will see that the slave-master relationship is appropriate in the light of who God is and who we are. They will understand that it is appropriate for the saint to view himself as God’s slave, and to view God as his master. This is but one practical application of the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and the depravity of men, of the infinity of God and of the finiteness of man.
(2) Second, those who have submitted to Christ as the Lord and King will pray for His kingdom to come to earth, as the Book of Revelation describes it in its full and final form. Our Lord taught His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
The Book of Revelation speaks much of the actual coming of this kingdom in days to come. The saints should be looking for this kingdom, and most of all for their King. In the meantime, the Lord’s slave will be seeking to extend His kingdom among men.
(3) Third, the Lord’s slave will not be as interested in his own concerns as with those of his Master. The parables which our Lord taught in the gospels teach the Lord’s slaves that they must be faithful to do their duty, even in His absence. They teach that obedience is to be expected, and that personal rewards should not be our primary concern: “So you too, when you do all things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’” (Luke 17:10).
(4) Fourth, the slave should be marked by his or her obedience to the Master.
(5) Fifth, the slave will find his identity in his master, and will look to Him for provision, protection, and praise.
Slavery and Baptism
We have shown that the same principles which were taught in Leviticus 18:1-5 are renewed in the New Testament. Just as Israel’s deliverance from Egypt constituted them God’s slaves, so our redemption from sin constitutes us God’s slaves. In both the Old Testament and the New the radical change from slavery to an evil master to that of bondage to God is signaled by baptism. In 1 Corinthians chapter 10 Paul speaks of the Israelites being “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:2). In Romans chapter 6, Paul speaks of baptism (I take it to be Spirit baptism, symbolized in water baptism) as that dividing line which signifies a radical break with the bondage of the past and an identification with and bondage to Christ.
It interesting to observe the significance of baptism in many parts of the world, if not in America. In some parts of the world it is not one’s accepting of Christ which alienates unbelieving parents and family, but baptism. This is because of what baptism implies. A parent can tolerate a child who professes faith in Christ. That, after all, is but a matter of the mind. But when the new believer takes that step of water baptism there is a commitment to make a clear break with the world and to continue to follow and obey Christ as one’s master. Thus, while a profession of faith is tolerated, baptism is vehemently opposed by unbelieving friends and family.
The baptism of a new believer is the testimony that the individual has died to sin in the death of Christ, and that he or she has also been raised to a new kind of life. Thus, at least in the ancient church, the old clothes were removed and new clothing was put on, symbolizing the change of lifestyle which our text in Leviticus requires, as well as the teaching of the New Testament.
As we conclude our service today, we are going to appropriately do so with the baptism of two believers, both of whom wish to give testimony to their faith in Christ, who died, was buried, and in three days was raised from the dead for their salvation. In addition they are giving testimony to their intention to live as slaves of Jesus Christ, leaving behind their old ways and living in obedience to the Word of God.
May I ask you if you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior? If so, have you also submitted to Him as your Lord, the one who has the right to make the rules and to expect you to keep them? This is not to obtain your salvation, but to express it in very practical ways. And, may I ask, have you taken that first step of obedience and been baptized?
93 Of the terms “statutes” and “ordinances” (“judgments,” NASB) Harrison writes, “The word huqqim (‘statutes’) comes from a root ‘to engrave,’ thus describing permanent behavioral rules prescribed by authority and recorded for the instruction and guidance of the individual or society. An ordinance (Heb. mispat) was a judicial decision arrived at by properly constituted authority or on the basis of tradition, which would serve as a precedent for the future guidance of judges under specific circumstances.” R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), pp. 184-185.
94 “Hertz argues that the order of the laws in chs. 18-20 is significant. These chapters set out ‘the foundation principles of social morality. The first place among these is given to the institution of marriage … the cornerstone of all human society. … Any violation of the sacred character of marriage is deemed a heinous offence, calling down the punishment of Heaven both upon the offender and the society that condones the offence.’” J. H. Hertz, Leviticus (The Pentateuch and Haftorahs) (London: Oxford UP, 1932), p. 172, as quoted by Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 250.
95 Harrison, p. 184.
96 It is interesting to read the account of Genesis 47:13-19 in relationship to the matter of the king owning the people. After the Egyptians ran out of “trading stock” to exchange for wheat, they said to Joseph, “Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we and our land will be slaves to Pharaoh. So give us seed, that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate” (Gen. 47:19). My point is simply that God prepared the way so that even the Egyptians were viewed as the property of Pharaoh. If this were so with the Egyptians, how much more so did Pharaoh think he possessed the Israelites, who were slaves? Thus, having been the possession of Pharaoh, the Israelites should not be shocked to learn they now belonged to God.
97 Note that here there is a forward look, not dealing so much with the immediate situation of the Israelites, but with their entrance into Canaan.
98 This seems to be the view of most commentators. Harrison, for example, writes, “The kind of life which the law brought would be one of divine blessing and material prosperity, consonant with the covenantal promises, but contingent always upon implicit obedience to the will of God.” Harrison, p. 185.
With this Wenham agrees: “For the OT writers life means primarily physical life. But it is clear that in this and similar passages more than mere existence is being promised. What is envisaged is a happy life in which man enjoys God’s bounty of health, children, friends, and prosperity. Keeping the law is the path to divine blessing, to a happy and fulfilled life in the present (Lev. 26:3-13; Deut. 28:1-14).” Wenham, p. 253.
99 Wenham writes: “This is not to say that the Christian accepts the interpretation placed on v. 5, ‘if a man does them, he will enjoy life through them,’ by some of Paul’s Pharisaic opponents. They argued that this showed that keeping the law brought man into a right relationship with God (Gal. 3:12; Rom. 10:5). Paul argued that keeping the law is the fruit of justification rather than the means of justification. His exegesis is more faithful to the original setting of Lev. 18:5. The law was given to the covenant people after their redemption from Egypt (v. 3), not as a moral hurdle they had to clear if they wished to be saved.” Wenham, pp. 260-261.