Week Five Reading Assignment:
Leviticus 3 - Leviticus 25
"Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord... Open my eyes, so that I may behold the wondrous things out of your law... The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces... Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long... Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is the truth...Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble."
(Psalm 119:1, 18, 72, 97, 142, 165 NRSV)
(Psalm 119:1, 18, 72, 97, 142, 165 NRSV)
This Week's Video: Reviving the Soul Part 1
This Week's Video: Reviving the Soul Part 2
In Defense of Details
One of the common experiences of folks reading through the Bible cover-to-cover is a feeling that the repetition and details found in some parts of the Law make for tedious reading. That experience is especially common for folks during the material we are reading during these weeks. The details of the Tabernacle at the end of Exodus and the details of the sacrifices at the beginning of Leviticus make many readers ask, "What's the point?"
Somewhere along the way, each of us has dealt with someone who seems to have lost track of details, and it has been a frustration to us. Perhaps it was a server at a restaurant who didn't recall the particulars of our order. Perhaps it was an employee who didn't get the job done according to our specifications. Or perhaps it was a family member who, it seems, didn't listen carefully to what we had said.
Meanwhile, somewhere along the way, we ourselves have probably been on the other side of that experience. We have mishandled some detail, and that has become a frustration to someone else. And, more than just frustration: perhaps that other person expressed feeling hurt.
That is the phenomenon that deserves our consideration as we read these sections of the Old Testament Law. Why is it that we human beings feel hurt by a person forgetting or neglecting details? We feel hurt, I think, because details reflect importance.
Look at it this way... I do not personally need a new little girl's bicycle for myself. As a result, I give no thought to what color or what features I might want. It is irrelevant to me.
If, however, my little girl needs a new bicycle, chances are that the selection of color and features will be very important to her. And so if I promise to get her a new bike, but I do not pay careful attention to her details, then I will come home with the wrong sort of bike. If I do, her feelings will be understandably hurt. After all, my neglect of her details will seem like a disregard for what is important to her. And that, in turn, will make her feel personally neglected and disregarded.
And so we see the two principles at work here.
First, details indicate importance. If something is important to me, then I probably track a lot of details about that something. If something is not important to me, then the details remain vague in my mind.
Second, how we handle another person's details is an indication of that person's importance to us. To disregard their details is, in effect, to disregard them. It is hard to pretend that you are important to me if I am casual about the things that are important to you.
Rather than lulling us to sleep, therefore, the abundance of details in the Old Testament Law should prompt us to sit up and take notice. They are, after all, a peek into the heart of God. They give us a clue into what is important to Him. And once we know what is important to Him, we ought to internalize that insight so that those things would become important to us, as well.
What's in a Name? Part 1
At the beginning of last week's reading assignment, we came across some of the most familiar material in the Bible: the Ten Commandments. All of the commandments are familiar to us, of course, and most of them are what we might expect. For example, laws about killing and stealing are standard fare in any civilized society, and prohibitions of idolatry and the worship of other gods are unsurprising within the context of Israel's covenant relationship with the Lord.
On the other hand, those familiar Ten Commandments also prominently feature at least two instructions that we might not expect. If we knew that God had given ten special laws, but we did not know what they were, we might do a good job guessing half of them or more. But I wonder how many possible laws we might propose before we would come to commandments about the Sabbath and the Name.
We will consider elsewhere the theme of the Sabbath. Right here, though, we want to begin to give some thought to the Name. It is, in fact, a major theme in Scripture, and so we will trace that theme and explore its meaning throughout the course of this year.
The first thing to be noted is that the Name is a more prominent theme than we realize. It is right before our eyes, and we don't even see it. To illustrate the point, let me invite you to turn to Psalm 110 in your Bible.
Depending upon the translation you use, the first verse will read something like this: "The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool" (Psalm 110:1 KJV). Hidden within that text is a clue to the prominence and the significance of the Name.
The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, and in our English translations of the Hebrew text, we have a conventional way of presenting the Name that is unrecognized by most readers.
You wlll note that the English word "lord" appears twice in the verse above, yet it is printed two different ways. That is because the same English word is being used to translate two different Hebrew words. The second instance, "Lord," is a translation of the Hebrew word adonai, which was a title meaning "lord" or "master." The first instance, however, is a translation of the Hebrew name for God. The English word "lord" is still used, but the long-established convention has been to use all capital letters (LORD) to indicate that it is actually the name (rather than a title) that appears in the original Hebrew text.
As you read, watch for that textual clue, and you will discover how frequently the Name is appearing in the text. And with that information in mind, look again at the commandment about the Name: "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain" (Exodus 20:1 KJV).
In the weeks ahead, we will give more thought to the Name. For now, though, just keep a careful eye on the text. We want to begin to recognize the Name of the Lord whenever it is there.
Point of Reference
Here are a couple of excerpts from the Old Testament Law. They deserve a careful reading because of what they reveal about the Old Testament Law in particular and about how the people of God are called to live in general.
"Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:10 NIV)
"Do not curse the deaf or put a stum-bling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:14 NIV)
"Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt." (Leviticus 19:36 NIV)
The point that deserves some serious consideration is the assumed relation-ship between God and these prohibited behaviors. The insertion of the phrase "I am the LORD" or "I am the LORD your God" seems like a non sequitur. What does it have to do with picking up grapes, the treatment of the deaf, or the accuracy of one's scales? Yet in the Old Testament Law -- and, therefore, among the people of God -- these matters are intimately related.
One of the cultural developments that we have witnessed in the United States over the past generation is a growing focus on horizontal standards. That is to say, right and wrong are measured almost exclusively now by the impact on other human beings. If there is no victim -- no one hurt or offended -- then we are hard-pressed to call a thing wrong. An illustrative example of this ethic is contained in the phrase "con-senting adults." Behind that phrase is a conviction that if the people involved in a behavior are okay with it, then the behavior itself is okay.
The Old Testament Law, by contrast, is founded entirely on a vertical standard. Right and wrong are identified by what is pleasing and displeasing to God. A thing that offends a human being is not necessarily wrong; indeed, it may even be right, inasmuch as human beings are occasionally offended by things that please God. Conversely, a thing may offend no human being around, and yet the thing is still wrong if it displeases God.
As the people of God, we are obliged to discover what pleases and displeases Him, and then live accordingly. The norms and mores of a fallen world are an inadequate point of reference for the man or woman of God. That is why Scripture must become more and more our "rule of faith and conduct."