Would you pray with me?
Blessed God, who brought our ancestors out of bondage in the Exodus, we ask that you continue to comfort and guide your people out of oppression. God, we pray for the men, women and children around the world whose lives have been devastated by the social and political instability and violence that wracks their nations. From Ukraine and Russia to Rohingya, Somalia, the Democratic of Congo, Syria, Sudan, Hong Kong, China, Korea–––God, our list continues. Protect them, keeping open the lines of communication so that families remain connected.
Blessed God, we pray your covenant law over our uncertainty and unrest. We believe in your promise of comfort and peace, Leviticus 26: 6 -- 9. You are the Shepherd who watches over us––in cloud by day and light by night. You lead us beside quiet waters, make us lie down in green pastures. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, no one can make us afraid, Psalm 23. God, you gather the lambs in your arms and carry them close to your heart, Isaiah 40. You are our refuge. No matter where we walk, or forced to flee, we know that nothing––neither life nor death, angels nor demons, present nor future, height nor depth––can separate us from your love, Romans 8. Give us courage to walk with power, compassion and strength.
With so great a cloud of witnesses, we ask that for wisdom on how to be your hands and feet upon the earth. Thank you for making us holy through the blood of Jesus Christ, our atonement lamb. Teach me how to sacrifice for the protection, integrity and honour of our brothers and sisters around the world. Recommit our hearts and minds to you through this Holy Week of remembrance. In your resurrection we pray. Amen.
I will put my dwelling place among you, I walk walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with your heads held high.
------ Leviticus 26: 9.
This weekly review will feature a couple books from the Bible, beginning with Leviticus.
1. Leviticus, also known as the Third Book of Moses, is the 3rd book in the Torah, and the Old Testament. Scholars generally agree that it was written over a long period of time, finalised as our contemporary version during the Persian Period between 538---332 BC. In the book of Leviticus, God establishes the moral and purity laws that serve to set the nation of Israel apart from other nations. By his laws and decrees, God graciously provides an equitable way for people to live and abide in his holy presence. Leviticus highlights God's holiness by detailing the laws, statues and ordinances of a God-given sacrifice system which enabled the Israelites to worship and walk with the Lord.
Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: `Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.'
Holiness (absolute sinlessness) is required to remain in God's presence, since God Himself is holy. We know that is impossible for humans to attain holiness by their own strength; our tendency to sin is inherited from the fall of humanity in Genesis 3. Motivated by pure and unrestrained mercy, God incarnated Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, who, although He was truly human, was also completely God––born without the sin nature possessed by every other person who has ever lived. God's son Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross as a complete atonement for the sin of all humankind, from eternity past to eternity future. His death and resurrection on the cross demonstrates his power over death. From this moment, anyone who believes in the redemption that Jesus accomplished on the cross is welcomed into a covenant relationship with God. Jesus' perfect holiness is given to them through the grace of a triune God. They are invited to live eternally in God's presence.
Like crucifixion, the sacrifice system in Leviticus (pre the Messiah) is messy and cruel because sin is messy and cruel. Sin is serious and devastating and costly. When believers read the Laws dedicated in Leviticus, they often develop a deeper understanding of Christ and appreciate why his role as both Law-giver and Law-fulfiller is so monumental.
The physical interaction between God and lepers (through Christ in the New Testament) means so much more when we understand the divine Law's treatment of those with leprosy or disease. The fact that Jesus humbles himself to kneel in the dust and cast no stone means so much more when we understand the divine Laws around adultery. The tear in the temple curtain means so much more when we understand the heavy punishment that would have afflicted anyone who entered the Holy of Holies without priestly covering. It is Christ's holiness that covers us and makes us acceptable to enter.
One of the most compelling things I learned while reading Leviticus centres around the liver. The liver was one of the most prominent words in Leviticus. There were so many references to the liver. Many times God was commanding the Israelites to burn the liver on the altar as a sacrifice to the Lord God. What's curious about this is that the Canaanites and nearby nations used the liver of animals to fortell the future. Charlatans and fortune-tellers would "read" the liver like tea reads or tarot cards. By demanding the liver be placed on the altar as a sacrifice, God was calling the Israelites to choose Him as their fortune. This act of devotion, worship and sacrifice was meant to remind the Israelites that God alone knew their future.
2. Numbers is the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible, with a long and complex history. The version in our Bibles today may be a Priestly redaction of a Yahwistic source written in the early Persian period. Numbers details the Israel exodus, from oppression in Egypt through their journey to take possession of the land that God has promised their ancestors. The book reframes, reflects and often concludes themes that were introduced and examined in Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus. It also continues to demonstrate the importance of holiness, faithfulness and trust. Despite God's presence and his priests, Israel falters in their faith and the covenant land is left to wait for the new generation.
3. Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book in the Torah. Chapters 1---30 detail speeches delivered to the Israelites by Moses on the Plains of Moab shortly before they enter the Promised Land. The name 'Deuteronomy' may be translated in both Greek (deuteronomion) and Hebrew (Mishneh Torah) derivations as 'repetition of law.' Aptly so, Deuteronomy represents a reiteration of the Jewish laws that were established in the first four books of the Torah.
4. The book of Joshua comes sixth, but begins the Deuteronomistic history (which follows Israel from the conquest of Canaan to the Babylonian exile). Joshua, a man faithful to the guidance and Word of God, is appointed to lead the Israelites following the death of Moses. The book is known for this admonishment:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Be not afraid or dismayed: for I, the Lord your God, is with you wherever you go.
5. The book of Judges follows Joshua, and belongs to the Deuteronomic history, covering the conquest described in the Book of Joshua and the establishment of a kingdom in the Books of Samuel, during which time Biblical judges were appointed to serve as temporary leaders over the nation of Israel.
6. This weekly review will finish with the book of Ruth, which I read again in entirety yesterday morning. It is a comforting book, almost folklorish in its telling. The narrative is sorrowful, but it concludes with hope.
Where you go, I will go;
Where you stay, I will stay;
Your people will be my people;
Your God will be my God.
Where you die, I will die––there I will be buried.
When her husband and sons die, Naomi plans to return to her native Bethelehem and urges her daughters-in-law to return to their families in Moab. But Ruth refuses to leave Noami. Arriving in Bethlehem, Ruth gleans wheat from a neighboring harvest land, and later, meets a man who, enamored with her composure and elegance of grace, gives her freedom to glean safely in his fields. He offers her water from his own jar, and gives her bread dipped in wine vinegar. Over time, Ruth discovers that he is Naomi's kinsman. Courageous and humble in heart, the beautiful widow comes to the feet of this man, Boaz, and asks him to 'spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.' And so, Boaz redeems the widows by purchasing their lands for his estate. Like his grounds, so too, his inheritance grew, into the lineage of Christ.