Leviticus 27: Promises, Promises

Wow we are at the end of the Leviticus Bible Challenge!

In the twenty-seventh chapter God, most appropriately, ends his instructions to his people with a word about vows to him. Whether you call them vows or resolutions or determinations or promises, they are all in the same category and God has certain instructions for us about them which it is important that we understand.

This latter section of Leviticus is dealing with human behavior. The book began with instruction and revelation to us about our basic humanity, our basic human needs. Then it told us God’s provision to meet those needs. Finally it moved into this area of the behavior expected of us on the basis of the provision God has made. It is appropriate, therefore, that it should end by dealing with the promises that we make to God in response to what he has done for us.

These promises, as you well know from your own experience, are made in times of danger, or in moments of strong desire, or sometimes out of gratitude and thanksgiving as God has blessed our hearts. If you have ever said, “Lord, if you’ll just do such-and-such, then I’ll do such-and-such for you,” then you will be very interested in what this chapter has to say.

I must point out immediately that in all the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments alike, God never commands a vow. Vows are never mandatory, never obligatory, upon the people of God. You don’t have to promise God anything in order to get something from him. God is a Giver. He delights in giving; that is his nature. “Every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” James tells us (James 1:17 RSV). Because God is a God of love, he delights in giving. John Oxenham says,

Love ever lives
and ever stands with open hands
and while it lives, it gives
for this is love’s prerogative
to give and give and give.

God is always giving, and there is nothing that you need from God which, in order to obtain, you must promise him something in return. All this is voluntary on your part.

And yet it is significant that there is something innate in human beings which makes us want to vow, to promise new resolutions or determinations to God. So God recognizes that tendency and makes room for it, and he gives us instructions about it. You remember that when he left home Jacob made a vow in an attempt to bargain with God. There are records in the Scriptures of many others who made various vows before God. This is certainly something with which we all identify. And what the Scriptures everywhere also teach is that once you make a vow, God expects you to fulfill it. If you turn to the next book in the Bible, Numbers, and look at Chapter 30 you will see how clearly that is stated in the opening verses:

Moses said to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, “This is what the Lord has commanded. When a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:1-2 RSV)

He doesn’t have to make the vow. But once he makes it, God expects him to keep it. There are various passages which remind us of that fact. Proverbs says, “It is better never to vow, than to make a vow and not pay it.” So God does expect us to fulfill the promises we make to him during the course of our life.

There are several categories of vows listed in this chapter.

The first category is those vows made concerning persons, Verses 1-8:

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, When a man makes a special vow of persons to the LORD at your valuation, then your valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary.[That was a considerable amount, a very high valuation.] If the person is a female, your valuation shall be thirty shekels. If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, your valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. If the person is from a month old up to five years old, your valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver. And if the person is sixty years old and upward, then your valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. And if a man is too poor to pay your valuation, then he shall bring the person before the priest, and the priest shall value him; according to the ability of him who vowed the priest shall value him.” (Leviticus 27:1-8 RSV)

There are several items which require comment in that passage:

First of all, you will notice that the nature of this vow is that it was made about persons, either about the individual who made the vow himself, or often it was a vow made out of desire for the benefit of someone else a parent, a child, a servant, or a friend. As we all know, there are times when we become concerned about someone and tend to pray, “Lord, if you’ll just do such-and-such for this person, then I’ll do something for you. I’ll invest to an unusual degree in your work.” What it amounts to here is that in Israel they were saying to God, “I’ll support the work of the priesthood and give above and beyond what I ordinarily would give if you’ll just benefit or bless or help so-and-so.”

When a promise of this nature was made there was a scale of values predetermined by God which Moses was to transmit and from which he was not free to deviate in any degree. If the person in question were a certain age and sex then there was an amount set for him or her, and that had to be paid if the blessing was received. God gave careful instructions to his people regarding this kind of promise.

In both the Old and the New Testaments, there are clear statements that men and women are of equal value and standing as persons before God. As Paul says in Galatians, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female…” All distinctions, including sex, are wiped out when we are standing in the presence of God and our worth to him is being evaluated.

Rather, this is a reckoning of the opportunity for service before men. Differences of age and sex, in Israel, made for varying opportunities to serve and thus for different values. That is what is recognized here — the obligation of service which could be rendered to the priesthood to further its outreach and strengthen its ministry within the nation of Israel, on the basis of the person who received the benefit, who was blessed.

It is clear from Verse 8 that other people are involved: “And if a man is too poor to pay your valuation, then he shall bring the person [about whom he made this vow] before the priest, and the priest shall value him.”

Note that he was not to bring him to Moses, but to the priest. That indicates that there are two kinds of vows. You see, provision was made here in Verse 8 for inability to pay. Moses is always the representative of the throne, the government, the way of God, while the priest is always the representative of the grace and mercy of God, the tender character of his love.

If a man were bargaining with God on a legalistic basis: “I’ll do this for you, if you’ll do that for me,” then he had to pay the full price. There was no way that he could get out of it. Moses could not lessen or change the price in any way. God demanded full deliverance of what was promised.

On the spiritual level, of course, this applies to us. If we promise God certain things in moments of danger, or if we try to bargain with him, try to get him to work for us, God expects us to pay to the full exactly what we promise. But if a man recognized that he didn’t have what it took, that he was too poor to pay the price, he could still offer a promise to God out of thanksgiving and gratitude, but the priest, the representative of God’s grace, would enter the picture and, in a sense, intercede on his behalf and establish a valuation he could meet.

This is a beautiful picture of those vows and promises we make not to bargain with God but to express to him our thanksgiving for all that he has been to us. When our hearts are melted by grace and we stand awed in his presence and say, “Lord, here I am, take me,” or “Here are my children, Lord, take them and use them as you like,” these are vows made on a gracious basis, and God promises to meet any attendant need himself. What the people of God cannot gain by the Law they can have by grace and, as the New Testament puts it, “exceeding abundantly above all they could ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20 KJV). That is the way God always operates in grace.

The rest of the chapter is simply detailed instruction as to how these vows could be paid.

Verses 14-15 specify that houses could be dedicated to God in payment of a vow. Verses 16-25 provide for the dedication of land, in connection with the year of jubilee, when all land had to return to its original owner, regardless of who was using it at the time, because God held absolute title to the entire land. In Verses 26-34 certain things were excluded as payment of vows: For instance, the firstlings of animals could not be used to pay a vow because God had said, “Every firstborn person or animal that opens the womb shall be mine…” (Exodus 13:2). Therefore that could not be used to pay a vow because it already belonged to God. Then there were devoted things which could not be used, Verse 28:

“But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the LORD, or anything that he has, whether of man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the LORD.” (Leviticus 27:28 RSV)

In Israel it was possible to take a child or a servant or an animal and devote that person or animal for the entire span of his life to the service of God. Hannah did this with her son Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1-28). Even before he was born she promised him to God. And when her boy grew old enough she took him to the temple and gave him to God to be used in the service there. Samuel the prophet grew up in the temple as a devoted thing unto God.

This verse also helps to explain a puzzle in the book of Judges which many have wondered about. Remember the story of Jephthah, who made a rash vow. He went out to battle against the enemies of Israel and said to God, “If you’ll give me victory, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return I will offer as a burnt offering…” (Judges 11:30-31). To his horror, his only child, his daughter, came out to meet him. His heart sank, for he knew that he would be called upon to fulfill that vow. He explained it to her and she very bravely said, “Well, father, if you’ve made a vow to God then you can’t break it. And I am willing that you fulfill your vow. Only let me spend two months with my friends first…” (Judges 11:36-37). The account tells us that she did spend the time with her friends, going up and down the mountains of Israel. At the end of that period, the account says, “she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow,” (Judges 11:39 RSV). Many have recoiled at that, understandably, and asked themselves, “Did he actually offer her as a living sacrifice, as a burnt offering on the altar?” Some have tried to escape the reality of that by saying that he paid redemption money for her. But you notice that Verse 28 of Leviticus 27 says, “No devoted thing … shall be sold or redeemed.” It must be given to God. My personal opinion is that Jephthah did offer his daughter as a burnt offering. His was a very foolish vow, one that he had no business making in the first place. This represented a time of moral decline in the nation of Israel. The whole period of the Judges was such. But this illustrates the rigidity with which the law of vows was fulfilled within Israel and indicates how seriously they took the matter of devotion to God.

Finally, Verses 29-33, no condemned person could be used to pay a vow, because he belonged to God already. Nor could tithes be used to pay a vow, because they also belonged to the LORD already.

All the detail of this chapter, of course, is speaking to us. And we must ask the question, What do vows mean to us? What is the function of vows in our lives? For it is impossible not to make vows. Every time we deal with God we tend, in some sense, to make a vow or a promise. On one hand, the flesh within us wants to bargain with God. We have all felt this way. We have all wanted to say to God, whether we’ve actually said it or not, “Lord, I want this so badly. If you’ll just do this for me, I’ll do something for you.” We tend to come to God on that legalistic, bargaining basis. And when we come on that basis God says, “All right, whatever you say. But remember, you are going to have to fulfill it!”


If we come to God, and say, “Lord, you have done so tremendously much for me! My heart is so moved that I just want to promise you this, and this, out of my life. But I don’t know how to pay it. I know that I won’t be able to do that myself, and so I look to you, Lord, to help me fulfill it.” That kind of promise God loves, and he will pick us up and make the performance of that vow richer and fuller than we could ever have dreamed, fulfilling it “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20 KJV). You see, God uses our vows to stretch us, to bring us out.

Have you ever noticed how often our hymns reflect promises or vows we make as the people of God?


So what are vows? They are a way God has of drawing us along toward maturity and of claiming his rightful ownership of us.

If you read this passage through carefully you will see that in every case, whether it is persons or animals or houses or lands or whatever being pledged, ultimate title, absolute right, belongs to God. Ownership was vested in God. It is all his. We sing it sometimes in our offertory hymn:

We give Thee but Thine own,
Whate’er the gift may be:
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from Thee.

That is true. That is the meaning of the words carved in the wall behind this platform: “You are not your own; You are bought with a price,” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). If you belong to God then you are already his. And vows and promises are ways he has of fulfilling that fact and leading us into its realization. Sometimes we make rash promises, as Jephthah did, and give God things that we wouldn’t ordinarily, because we want something from him. And then he holds us to it, and leads us along. The young man I mentioned probably would never have gone to seminary if he had not made that vow in the heat of conflict in Vietnam. God used that vow to fulfill his purpose in that man’s life.

God also uses the promises we make when our hearts are moved and stirred to thanksgiving. We offer ourselves to him and he takes us at our word and claims us and thus establishes his right in our life.



In the closing pages of the book we are brought face to face with those moments when we want to say to God, “Lord, here is my life. Here I am; I give it to you. And here are my children; I give them to you. My friendships — whatever — Lord, here they are. I want you to have them, to possess them. And even though I struggle with you, please take them anyway, and help me to fulfill my promises to you in the day to day, moment by moment living of my life.” In such a moment you can simply stand quietly before God and say whatever you want to say to him about your life. He already owns it! What a joy it is to take that which is his inheritance in the saints — your life and mine — and return it to him and say, “Lord here is your inheritance: claim it for yourself.” You can read again those verses from Romans 12 while you say to him whatever he lays upon your heart:

I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable, and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 RSV)


Please email me and let me know how you fared throughout this challenge!  I would love to hear from you, your insight, your thoughts, your prayers!

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Leviticus 26: Either Or



Chapter 26 of Leviticus sets forth the blessings and curses that God warned his people Israel about. This is a particularly noteworthy chapter because it has been fulfilled in history. We can compare what God said would take place with what actually has happened. As we go through this chapter you will see what remarkable confirmation we have in history of all that God has said he would do with his people.

The chapter opens by repeating two of the ten commandments:

“You shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no graven image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land, to bow down to them; for I am the LORD your God. You shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 26:1-2 RSV)

In other words, here are restated the second commandment (“Thou shalt not make any graven images … nor bow down to them”) and the fourth commandment (“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”). The reason these two are repeated here at this point is that it is the violation of the second commandment which produces curses in a life and it is the observance of the fourth commandment which produces blessings.

Idolatry — having some other god besides God — is the great threat. If you think that idolatry not only consist of bowing down to actual images. Many of our idols are not graven images but nevertheless are gods before whom we worship — the god of materialism, the goddess of sex. The ancients had names for them. Venus was the goddess of sex and was worshipped in the form of an image. But they were worshipping sex just as Americans do today. There were other gods — the god of war, Thor, as the Scandinavians called him. We worship the god of war. We also worship various minor deities and gods — our children, our automobiles.  This idolatry is what produces cursings.

But the observance of the Sabbath is what produces blessings. As we have seen in this whole book of Leviticus, the Sabbath day, Saturday, is a shadow, a picture of the rest out of which God wants man to learn to operate. It is dependence upon the work of Another, and therefore it results in calmness, absence of stress and anxiety, freedom from turbulence and tumult within. It is rest in the work of God, in his ability to work through you. That is the sabbath, and that is what produces blessings.

Following these two commandments we have the listing of the cursings and the blessings, beginning with the blessings. From Verse 3 through Verse 13 there are six blessings promised.

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall last to the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last to the time for sowing; and you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land securely. And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will remove evil beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. And you shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand; and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. And I will have regard for you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and will confirm my covenant with you. And you shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. And I will make my abode among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; and I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.” (Leviticus 26:3-13 RSV)

God meant every word of his promises! When he asked them to observe his commandments he wasn’t referring to the ten commandments alone. He knew that fallen human nature, would never be able to keep them.  He meant not only the ten commandments but all the provisions for redemption which were provided with them — the offerings, the sacrifices, the cleansings, the healings, and all the other provisions which, in type, speak of Jesus Christ. In other words, “If you walk before me,” he said, “using the provision which I have made available to you to deal with the sin and rebellion of your heart, then these blessings will be yours.”

The blessings are six-fold. You can see as we go through this list that there is a counterpart for each of these in the spiritual life today. God meant this materially and physically for his people Israel, but it is also a picture of the spiritual blessings which are ours in our lives today, on the same condition. So this passage has direct application to us.

The first promise is fruitfulness. God said, “I’ll make you fruitful. Your land will bring forth its fruit.” Your life will be fruitful. It will be a blessing to others. You will have an effective impact upon others.

Second, there will be full supply: “Your threshing shall last to the time of vintage, and the vintage to the time of sowing; and you shall eat your bread to the full.” You will have all you need, every resource will be provided for you.

Third, you will have security: “I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid.” No enemy that will come against you shall be able to overwhelm you or take you captive. God will protect you. You will have peace in your land, or, in our terms, peace in your life. No enemy can overwhelm you, no threat can be too great for you, no attack can overthrow you; you shall be secure.

The fourth blessing is increase: “I will have regard for you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and will confirm my covenant with you.” In the spiritual application, your life will affect others. You will find the extent of your influence moving out, reaching out to larger dimensions.

And, fifth, you will have a divine sense of God’s presence, of fellowship with the Living God. “I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” You will have an intimate sense of communion with God.

All of this is guaranteed by the nature and character of God, the One who delivered Israel from the land of Egypt, the One who is able, sixth, to deliver and to dignify, to make people “walk erect,” as men and women ought to walk and to live. That is the kind of God he is and that is what he says he will do.

These blessings find their counterparts in our own lives in terms of the spiritual effectiveness and fruitfulness which God will produce if we lay hold of the provision that he has made for us in Jesus Christ, and if we deal honestly and openly with him. That is all God asks. He doesn’t ask us to be sinless; he asks us to be honest. He asks us not to kid ourselves, not to try to pretend, not to erect a facade, a wall that we hide behind, not to put on a mask which is not real, but to be honest and open and to avail ourselves of the resources that he has given in Jesus Christ.

Now, Israel did not keep these blessings. Israel chose otherwise. So the next section of the book deals with the cursings. And these cursings are what has occurred in Israel’s history. You will see that they fall into six definite stages, each one worse than the previous one, which God says will develop if the people turn against him, and refuse to hear his words and to obey, and won’t avail themselves of the provisions that he has made. Now hear these, beginning with Verse 14:

“But if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my ordinances, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, I will do this to you:” (Leviticus 26:14-16a RSV)

This too is God’s promise. These curses follow, and they too have spiritual counterparts. There are parallel punishments, or cursings, which we will experience in our lives, as the people of God, if we too refuse to walk in God’s ways and avail ourselves of his provision — if, in other words, we walk in the flesh instead of in the Spirit. And they are just as sure as the blessings would have been. Notice these six stages as we work through this passage.

The first is given in Verses 16-17:

“I will appoint over you sudden terror, consumption, and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it; I will set my face against you, and you shall be smitten before your enemies; those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you.” (Leviticus 26:16b-17 RSV)

There are two parts of this first mark of God’s disciplining hand:

First, disease would break out among the people. As you read the record of Israel for forty years in the wilderness, all the way from Egypt to the borders of the promised land, you find that they were not afflicted with disease except for special punishments of temporary disobedience on their part. God kept them from illness because he had promised them that, if they obeyed his commandments, the diseases of the Egyptians and the Canaanites would not come upon them. So when disease began to erupt among them it was a sign that they were turning from God’s word and from his will.

The counterpart is true with us. These diseases, as we have seen in this book of Leviticus, are pictures of moral blotches in our own life, of wrong attitudes — resentment, bitterness, malice, lovelessness, indifference. These are spiritual diseases which can afflict the believer. And when these begin to appear in your life, they are a sign that something is wrong, that there has been some disobedience, some failure to avail yourself of all that God has provided in Jesus Christ. So God has allowed the malady in order that you might turn again to him.

There was a second part of this first stage of discipline: conflict. “You shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.” There would be conflict with the tribes around Israel. This occurred throughout the history of this people, beginning with rather minor harassment but eventually escalating to horrendous proportions.

In the spiritual counterpart this too is true of us. Arguments arise and become conflicts, strife results in schism and separation, and factions break away. This is a sign among the people of God that they are beginning to turn from what God has provided, that they are not fully availing themselves of their possession and inheritance in Jesus Christ. And this is sent to turn them back.

But if it doesn’t, God moves to a second stage. He gives us that in Verses 18-20:

“And if in spite of this[which was given in order to get you to listen] you will not hearken to me, then I will chastise you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like brass; and your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.” (Leviticus 26:18-20 RSV)

The second stage consisted, first, of an immediate seven-fold increase of the first stage, and second, added to this would be drought. “I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like brass; and your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land will not yield its increase.” Crops would dry up and famine would come. This occurred in the history of Israel again and again.

The counterpart on the spiritual level is depression. Drought is barrenness, lack of life, a sense of futility, of the hopelessness of it all — depression, in other words. This is oftentimes a mark of someone who is failing, either through ignorance or willfulness, to understand and to avail himself of all that God has provided for us.

Then there comes a third stage, Verses 21-22:

“Then if you walk contrary to me, and will not hearken to me, I will bring more plagues upon you, sevenfold as many as your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number, so that your ways shall become desolate.” (Leviticus 26:21-22 RSV)

In the history of Israel, as drought came and their crops dried up, the wilderness areas of the land were also affected. And the wild animals, not having sufficient food, came into the villages and cities and actually attacked people right in the streets, and killed their children, just as God had said would happen.

Once again this is a picture of something in our own lives. The attack of wild beasts is a picture of that unprovoked attack which may come to an individual, some sudden threat to his well-being or even to his life which comes from an unexpected source. Other people oftentimes act like wild beasts who want to take away everything we possess and devour us. This again is often a mark of spiritual declension, as God indicates.

Then there comes yet a fourth stage, Verses 23-26:

“And if by this discipline you are not turned to me, but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will smite you sevenfold for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant; and if you gather within your cities I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and shall deliver your bread again by weight; and you shall eat, and not be satisfied.” (Leviticus 26:23-26 RSV)

In the fourth stage there is to be a sevenfold intensification of all the afflictions that have already been mentioned — disease and conflict and drought and wild beasts — and there also will be an invasion of the land. Enemies will be permitted to come in and take over. This will be accompanied by pestilence and widespread famine among the people, so that women will have to share ovens — ten women baking in one oven. And so scarce is the bread, so small the loaves, that when it is delivered people will eat them up and yet remain unsatisfied. This is a picture of famine throughout the land. You can read of the historical fulfillment of this in the records of the Kings and the Chronicles. All this actually befell this people as they persisted in their disobedience and in turning from the provision God had given.

Again in the spiritual life this has its counterparts of moral decline and of a lack of satisfaction in the things of God, a sense of restlessness and of famine for spiritual substance.

But then there comes a fifth stage, Verses 27-33:

“And if in spite of this you will not hearken to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and chastise you myself sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols; and my soul will abhor you. And I will lay your cities waste, and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing odors. And I will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be astonished at it. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you; and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.” (Leviticus 26:27-33)

You know that for thousands of years the Jewish people have wandered across the face of the earth as a desolate, scattered people. Cast out of their land, exiled among the nations, with no temple of their own, no central place of worship, they have been hounded and harassed from place to place wherever they have gone. Even before they were exiled these words were literally fulfilled. They actually ate their own children in the terrible famine during the siege of Jerusalem when the Roman general Titus surrounded the city in A.D. 70 and created such starvation within the walls that the inhabitants ended up eating the dead bodies of those who perished from day to day. Josephus gives a vivid account of this actual fulfillment in history. God did what he said he would do.

But remember that this also has its counterpart in the spiritual life. There is a fifth stage of spiritual decline which means the breakup of a family, the loss of sons and daughters, atrocities of various sorts, moral perversities, the overthrowing of that which you have depended upon, the idol you thought would sustain you, whatever it might be. The result is utter devastation and, ultimately, some form of exile from the presence and power of God.

But there is still a sixth stage, Verses 34-39:

“Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest which it had not in your sabbaths when you dwelt upon it.[From a previous study you remember how literally this was fulfilled. Israel was taken into captivity in Babylon for seventy years because they had failed to observe seventy sabbath years prior to that.] And as for those of you that are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; the sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And those of you that are left shall pine away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity; and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall pine away like them.” (Leviticus 26:34-39 RSV)

One of the strange mysteries of recent history is why the Jewish people in Europe, numbering eight million or more, would be so servile and submissive to the attacks upon them by the Nazis. Why didn’t they resist? Why didn’t they stand up and fight? The Jews themselves are troubled by this question. They have resolved that never again will they ever allow any such attack upon them without resistance. They themselves do not understand and cannot explain how they could submit so meekly to being lined up by the hundreds and thousands and herded into gas chambers and put to death without lifting a hand to resist. But God had said, “You shall be given faintness in your heart. You will not stand before your enemies. You will be afraid. You will flee when no one pursues, and a driven leaf will scare you — you will think someone is after you.” They would be characterized by faintness, by reduction in numbers, and by a terrible longing for the day when they would be delivered. All of this stands written in history, confirmed by the acts of men following the decrees of God.

Once again this has its counterpart in the spiritual life. There comes a time of utter moral collapse, utter decline, of alienation, and of being filled with restlessness and fear and trembling. All of this God has fulfilled in history and will fulfill in an individual life.

But now notice where all this is driving. The wonderful thing is that through it all God always has a redemptive, constructive goal toward which he is aiming, Verses 40-46:

“But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery which they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity; then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land[that is, I’ll remember to bring them back to it, after the land has its rest]. But the land shall be left by them, and enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them; and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my ordinances, and their soul abhorred my statutes. Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God; but I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”

These are the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD made between him and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai by Moses. (Leviticus 26:40-46 RSV)


The record of Israel, you see, is the proof that God means exactly what he says. And yet his purpose is that he will not destroy them utterly. He will not allow them to be wiped off the face of the earth but will accomplish his purpose and bring them back at last to the land.

Does it seem to you as though God is pictured here as cruel and heartless and demanding and stubborn because he afflicts people with this kind of trouble? If so, then you have read the passage all wrong. Because this is the story of the inflexibility of love, of the ruthlessness of grace. There is love behind the cursing as much as there is behind the blessing.

Notice what God is doing. From stage to stage he says, “Now I’ll do this much. And if they turn back, I won’t have to do more. But if they don’t, I’ll move to the next stage. Because I’m not going to give up. I’m going to see to it that they return eventually.” And the process moves from stage to stage until God inflexibly drives them to the place of utter despair, to the time when they will return. This is the way God works.

This is the law of the universe, the law of inevitable consequence, of the inflexible will of a Sovereign God who is determined to accomplish the redemption of his people but who nevertheless has bound himself never to violate their free will. This means that their will must be persuaded; it will never be coerced. And there is no greater persuasion than heartbreak and despair. Have you found that out?

C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures; he speaks to us in our work; but he shouts at us in our pains.” Sometimes God must almost break our hearts, sometimes he must actually break them, before we will take seriously what he has said to us and observe the provision he has made for us in Jesus Christ.


God is dealing like this with every one of us today. Behind what seem superficially to be cruel and hard and difficult circumstances is the relentless love of God who says, “I will never give you up. I’ll never let you go. I will never give up on you. I’ll never be easy on you until I get rid of your foolish attitude of rebellious self-sufficiency which is hurting you, destroying you, and making you less than what you want to be and what I want you to be.”

I’m grateful for a God who truly looks out for my well being!




Some information taken from Ray Steadman, Leviticus Living Wholey



Leviticus 25: True Basis of Social Concern



God gave most of the book of Leviticus to Moses as he stood in the entry door of the tabernacle. There the LORD unfolded the sacrifices and the ceremonies, the rituals and the cleansings — all of which speak of the work of Christ on our behalf. They have to do with redemption, with handling the problem of evil in the individual heart. But when God speaks about government he speaks from Sinai. The Ten Commandments were given from Sinai and this revelation of Chapter 25 was given at the same time. Therefore, God is speaking as the King of the nations. And it was in that character that our Lord entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday — the “triumphal entry.” He and his party took their way down the orchard-clad slopes of the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, and up into the city. He was riding on a donkey, and he came fulfilling the prediction of Zechariah the prophet:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9 RSV)

He had previously fulfilled the prophecy that a prophet greater than Moses was to come. All of his ministry up until then had been prophetic, piercing unto the heart of this nation, showing them what was needed, and turning them back to God. And in a few days he was to stand as the great high priest and offer himself as the Passover Lamb for the sins of the nation and of the world. So in our Lord’s ministry he fulfilled those three great, significant offices of Israel: prophet, priest, and king.

It is as King that God speaks to Israel here in Chapter 25 of Leviticus and gives to Moses the information and regulations concerning the sabbatical year and the year of jubilee. Israel was intended to have a king because it was a sample nation. We will never understand fully why God selected this people to be his chosen people in the unique way that the Scriptures set forth unless we recognize that they were to be a demonstration, a model nation, to teach the rest of the nations how God operates in the world, how he desires and intends to run every nation. This is why what was said to Israel regarding government is so significant. It is a representation of God’s relationship with the other nations of the world.

In the first seven verses you have the instructions concerning the sabbatical year:

The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “Say to the people of Israel, When you come into the land which I give you, the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruits; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land a sabbath to the LORD, you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. What grows of itself in your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather; it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired servant and the sojourner who lives with you; for your cattle also and for the beasts that are in your land all its yield shall be for food.” (Leviticus 25:1-7 RSV)

We are already familiar with the weekly sabbath, with the fact that God had marked out one day in seven to be observed by this people as a day of rest from labor.  This sabbath lies at the heart of everything God does, from creation on, because he is trying to drive home to human hearts an absolutely necessary truth, one which is fundamental to our humanity, and that is that we must operate out of rest.

Now we come to the sabbatical year. Not only was one day out of seven to be rested, but one year out of seven. Every seventh year Israel was to let the land rest for a year. They were not to sow any crops nor to reap anything. They were not even to prune the vineyards but were to let the trees and the vines grow without hindrance. They were even to eat nothing which grew of itself, but were to let the land lie entirely fallow. You recognize that this is a very important principle of horticulture. You can write the U.S. Department of Agriculture and they will send you pamphlets which urge you to allow your land to rest every now and then. The result will be, as this passage tells us in Verse 6, an increase of yield. You will get much more out of the land if you let it rest periodically, because it needs to rest.

Today we understand that this is a fundamental scientific fact, on the physical level, already anticipated here in this ancient book. But it is far more than that! Never restrict your interpretation of Scripture only to the level of the physical life. It is also to be applied to the spiritual realm. The sabbath is applicable, as God is teaching us here, beyond the life of the individual to society at large. What he is trying to drive home here is that if there is a recognition of, and dependence upon, God’s ability to work in social life, in interpersonal relationships, in government, a very important result will obtain which cannot be obtained in any other way. There will be fruitfulness in life.

We will see this developed further as we go into this passage, for that is the significance of the sabbatical year. With it is linked the year of jubilee, which follows immediately in the text, beginning with Verse 8:

“And you shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall send abroad the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall send abroad the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family. A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be to you; in it you shall neither sow, nor reap what grows of itself, nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee, it shall be holy to you, you shall eat what it yields out of the field.” (Leviticus 25:8-12 RSV)

Notice that the year of jubilee, which came every fiftieth year, was but the intensification of the sabbatical year. The sabbatical year was to be observed every seventh year. And when seven times seven had passed, forty-nine years, then the next year was declared the year of jubilee. This is very instructive because it indicates that whatever the sabbatical year stood for is to be worked out in principle and that the results will finally become fully manifest in the fiftieth year.

These numbers were chosen because they are symbolically significant. Seven is the number of perfection. So seven times seven is perfection fully manifested. In other words, God is saying that whatever the sabbath year stands for, if you allow it to run its full course, will manifest itself in a complete and open demonstration of something.

What is that something? It is stated in one word in this text:  Liberty. This is the way you free people from social problems, injustices, and inequities. It all works out at last in a year of liberty.

I wonder if you caught the important words in Verse 10. They are quoted in a very well-known place. “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants…” Do you know where? On the Liberty Bell, that great bell which stands for American independence. It was cracked, as you know, and now it hangs in Independence Hall, Philadelphia. Around the top of the bell are inscribed these words:  Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25:10b KJV). This is a wonderful manifestation of how much our forebears knew about the great principle which God is seeking to get across to men here in this teaching of the sabbatical year and the year of jubilee.

You see, rest must be at the heart not only of the individual but of society as well. There must be dependence upon the working of Another, upon the fact that God can do something in human events, that he knows how to work out relationships among the people. A recognition of that fact and an open door to allow him to do it will result finally in the working out of liberty. That is what this passage is saying to us!

By the way, two consecutive years were to be observed as sabbath years: the forty-ninth year would be a sabbatical year, and the fiftieth was a year of jubilee. So there would be two years without the planting of crops.   How were the people to eat during that time?

The year of jubilee was to be announced by trumpet. Trumpets always herald a new beginning. The first day of the seventh month was the feast of trumpets every year, and trumpets were sent out to announce the new year, a new beginning. Now in the fiftieth year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, was the great day of atonement, when the blood of a bull and a goat was offered in the holy of holies and God made atonement for all the people. On that day the trumpet went abroad in the announcement of liberty. This is God’s very graphic way of teaching us that all liberty arises out of redemption. It arises out of the work of God in human affairs — cleansing and changing, forgiving and healing and restoring. If liberty doesn’t come from that, it can never be achieved.

We all tend to think that liberty is doing what you want to do whenever you want to do it. But nothing could be worse. There is no greater form of slavery. You need have only a little experience of it to see how empty, how binding, how boring that kind of life is:

Liberty, God says, is being freed from inner bondage, inner shackles of guilt and fear and anxiety and hostility. And it begins with redemption, with the atoning work of Jesus Christ. It consists, you notice, of two wonderful elements. Liberty, God says, is for each person to regain his lost inheritance, and to have his broken relationships restored. It is to get back what God intended you to have, to return to your property, to be able to be and act as God intended men to be and act when he made them in the beginning, to gain back all that was lost in the fall of Adam. It is to have all the broken, fragmented relationships restored, have all the middle walls of partition which have separated men and kept them apart broken down, to have all the differences of skin color and culture and class evaporated, and to return to your family.  And it is to be a sabbath, a year of rest.

Verses 13-17 indicate more about this and are very significant:

“In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property. And if you sell to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. According to the number of years after the jubilee, you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years for crops he shall sell to you. If the years are many you shall increase the price, and if the years are few you shall diminish the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you. You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 25:13-17 RSV)

There is the meaning of the year of jubilee. It was to be the center of all commercial enterprise. Everything looked toward this liberation, this freeing of individuals. And according to the number of years left before the year of jubilee the price of land was established. A buyer paid a reduced price if the year of jubilee were near because in that year the land had to revert to its original owner, no matter to whom it belonged at the time. But if there were a long period ensuing, up to fifty years, a much heavier price was paid because, as God underscored in Verse 16, it was the number of crops which was being sold. “You are not buying the land,” he says, “you are buying the use of the land, that’s all.” God is trying to teach a great truth by this fact.

In Verses 18-22 you have the heart of this chapter. Here are gathered up the great principles involved in the year of jubilee, which is itself an intensification of the sabbath year. This is God’s effort to teach us that he is at work in government and society, as well as in an individual’s heart. We must make room for him and expect him to work there too, and if we do, it will make a fantastic difference!

“Therefore you shall do my statutes, and keep my ordinances and perform them; so you will dwell in the land securely. The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and d well in it securely. And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, so that it will bring forth fruit for three years. When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating old produce; until the ninth year, when its produce comes in, you shall eat the old.” (Leviticus 25:18-22 RSV)

Here’s the answer to the question people would normally raise: “Well, if we have to let the land lie absolutely fallow for a year and cannot reap any crops or harvest any grapes or anything, how are we going to eat?” And God says, “That’s exactly what I wanted you to ask, because I’m trying to impress a principle upon you:  It isn’t the land which supports you; it is I.  I will make the land produce enough for three years. Every seventh year I want you to experience the fact that I am able to take care of you despite the outward circumstances, that it is I upon whom you are dependent, not the land, not your own energy and labor, although that is part of the picture. But that is not where your well-being arises. It comes from me. Every sixth year I’ll increase the crops so that the seventh year you can eat of the sixth year’s crops, the eighth year, the year of jubilee, you can still eat from that crop, and the ninth year, while another harvest is maturing, you will still eat from the sixth year’s crops; thus you’ll have all you need to eat.”

So God makes a  three-fold promise: First, security:  “Keep my ordinances and perform them, so you will dwell in the land securely. The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell in it securely.” This forms a parenthesis. At the beginning and the end of this great promise he emphasizes that no one will attack you, no enemy will come against you, you’ll be safe and secure if you learn this principle of rest at work in government. Second, you will be able to produce the crop without struggle:  “The land will yield its fruit.” With relative ease you can grow this crop. Arduous toil and sweat and pain and trouble and tears won’t be necessary. The land will readily produce its crop. Third, there will be a sufficiency of supply:  “You will eat your fill.” All you can eat! Every seventh year, and every fiftieth year, you will have all you want, because God is at work.

Now, that is what God wants us to learn. But how sadly we have forgotten it! Once this American nation had strong glimpses of this truth. We even stamped it on our coins: “In God We Trust.” We wrote it on the Liberty Bell. But then we forgot it. We thought it all depended upon us. We no longer made any allowance for God to work. We failed to carry out the rest of the requirements of this chapter, as we will see, and our land began to fall apart — as any land does. Remember that Israel is a sample nation. It was given to us as an example of how God wants to act toward any nation. That is why these words are so important to us.

God will provide an abundance!

The sad thing is that Israel never experienced this. Never once did they ever have a sabbatical year! In all their history they never trusted God enough to try it out and see what he would do. And so they never saw God’s supply. They never learned that he would keep his word. And this is the reason why, after 490 years of living in the land, the nation had degenerated to become a moral cancer. So God allowed the Babylonians to sweep them off the land and remove them to captivity. Jeremiah was told that they would be captives in the land of Babylon for 70 years because that is the number of sabbatical years they had failed to observe. You see how this underscores the truth that God always gets his way, despite man’s rebellion. You can never cheat God. He had been counting up all the years Israel had forgotten. The end of the sixth year came and Israel didn’t have the faith to trust in God’s promise and so they planted their crop in the seventh year. And God let them go ahead. He doesn’t stop people if they insist on doing wrong. But he kept a record for 490 years, 70 of which were sabbatical years. At the end of that time he said, “Now we’ll give the land its rest, while you’re in captivity in Babylon.” And it did rest. Nobody used it. Nobody farmed it for 70 years because God wanted to impress this great truth upon his people.

Now the purpose of the jubilee year is given to us in three great principles, beginning with Verse 23:

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the country you possess, you shall grant a redemption of the land.” (Leviticus 25:23-24 RSV)

Here is the reason God has instituted the year of jubilee: It is, first of all, to teach this great fact:  The land is God’s. It doesn’t belong to anyone else. “The land shall never be sold in perpetuity. It cannot be possessed forever. It belongs to me.” This is still true, is it not? You and I know that. We don’t really own our land. In fact, if we don’t pay taxes on it we will lose the right to it that we do have. We don’t own it as individuals, the government owns it. But even the government doesn’t own it.


The second great principle, deriving from the first, is:  “You are strangers and sojourners with me.” That is, “This earth is not the end. The reason I want you to know that the land is not yours is that I want you to remember that this life is not all there is. You are only passing through, you are pilgrims, heading on to an infinitely vaster arena of life. What you are doing here is of great importance in connection with that, true, but this is not the end. This life is schooling you for the life which lies ahead, so don’t wrap yourself in the material things around you and live only for them. I want you to know that you are strangers and sojourners with me.”

And, finally, and even now this is a great and important, point, the third principle is:  “And in all the country you possess, you shall grant a redemption of the land.” In the ideal situation, with God living and ruling among his people, he intended for them to live in this way: every seventh year they would let the land rest, and every fiftieth year they would grant a jubilee, when everyone would return to their own land, when all personal property would be restored, when slaves would be set free, etc. And this is a very graphic representation of the fact that God knows that even in such a condition there would still be inequities and injustices. So he says that they must allow the right to recover from injury and damage and loss of personal property. This is an indispensable principle in government. Governments must face up to the fact that they have the responsibility to grant the right to recover from a low economic state.

As you examine the rest of this passage you can see that is dealing with the problem of economic distress, with poverty: Verse 25: “If your brother becomes poor…” Verse 35: “And if your brother becomes poor, and cannot maintain himself…” Verse 39: “And if your brother becomes poor beside you…” Verse 47: “If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor…”

What are you going to do? These are God’s instructions on how to deal with poverty.  But all the way through, this section is merely an amplification of the great statement in Verse 24: “And in all the country you possess, you shall grant a redemption of the land.” You must give an opportunity to recover from this situation. You must not merely shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, the poor are poor because they are too lazy to work,” or something like that. You’ve got to give them a chance to recover! You must not lock them into a condition which makes it impossible for them to recover. Recovery from poverty is a fundamental right which governments must learn to respect.


The passage goes on to outline specific circumstances: First, you must give a person the right to redeem his own land, Verses 25-34. If he can’t do that, listen to these words, Verses 35-38:

“And if your brother becomes poor, and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall maintain him; as a stranger and a sojourner he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or increase, but fear your God; that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. I am the LORD your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.” (Leviticus 25:35-38 RSV)

You who have wealth, who have been blessed, must not forget the poor. You must not leave them struggling, unable to do anything about it. Even though they are so reduced that you have to keep them for awhile, you must do so. You mustn’t just write them off. You can see that this economic concern is born from the recognition that God is at work in human hearts and lives and in human society.

The next division, Verses 39-46, takes up the case of slavery. No Israelite was to be a slave. They were permitted to make slaves of the people around them, because those people hadn’t yet discovered the principle which makes for liberty — atonement and redemption — and until a person learns that, there is no freedom from slavery. But when they did learn that and became part of Israel they were never to be made slaves. They could be servants but never slaves.

And, finally, Verses 47-55, there must be the right, even then, to redeem slaves, to buy a person back and restore him to his dignity as a human being. All this is God’s graphic way of teaching us that he can work in human hearts and human society. God has ways of changing people. And if we observe the fundamental principle of rest, of dependence on the activity of Another, and expect him to do it, then over a period of time it will work out to liberty.

What a commentary this is, and what a correction of the way we usually operate. We are always rushing around and putting Band-Aids on the cancerous sores of society — always trying to put out fires which breakout, without catching the arsonist. But God never does that. He strikes at the root of the problem. He says, “If you will deal with it at this level, then over a period of time it will gradually work out. In the meantime you must take care of those in need. But the result will be liberty, and men will be able to have their own property again. It will all come out into the year of jubilee.”

Now, that has application on the physical level and we must not deny it. And it has application on the spiritual level. It is clearly evident that as we recognize this tremendous principle of God at work in human lives, liberty is the result. History is full of illustrations of this fact:


So the final lesson of this chapter is summarized in this great statement:

“The life of the land is preserved in righteousness.”

God has a place in human history. God can work in your life as an individual and give you rest so that you do not operate out of anxiety and tension and hostility. And he can do the same in social situations. He can do it in a company, in a community, in a nation. To the extent that principle is recognized problems can be worked out without violence.





Leviticus 24: The Pattern of Man


This book of Leviticus, the close of which we are now rapidly approaching, is a revelation of basic humanity — our basic human needs and the basic proper behavior of man operating as God intended him to operate. It reveals what is possible to us through the Spirit of God.

In fact the whole Bible is about  how to understand man — what he is, and how he lives, how he thinks, and what God has done to meet his needs. And the key to the understanding of man is a building called “the tabernacle” because this building was built to represent man. All the functions which went on here are revelations of what is intended to go on within man, within our human spirit and soul and body. This building was reproduced later in the temple. That is why there is such tremendous emphasis upon the tabernacle and the temple throughout the Bible. It is to teach man truth about himself, because the key to the understanding of the tabernacle is that it was built according to the pattern of man.

The pattern for the tabernacle was part of the great revelation God gave Moses upon the mountain top when he was with him for forty days and forty nights as all Israel waited at the foot of the mountain.  God meticulously and carefully laid out for Moses the exact plan for constructing this building and for carrying on the functions within it. Moses was very obedient and fulfilled precisely what God had said.

The exact pattern is laid out in the book of Hebrews where we are told that the tabernacle was designed to be the house of God, and that we are that house. That is, man is the intended dwelling place of God, and the building was built to show us what man is like.

The tabernacle had three divisions, just as man has three divisions:

First there was the outer court which corresponds to the body of man, to which even the Gentiles could come. It is the body which puts us in touch with the material universe in which we live. Then the structure of the tabernacle itself had two divisions: There was the holy place, and, hidden behind a veil in a secret area, the holy of holies. This corresponds exactly to the divisions within us: There is the soul, the conscious life, the realm of ideas, of knowledge,  of emotion, of choices, of conscience, and of memory — all these functions take place in the soul. But there is also that mysterious realm hidden deep within each of us, a realm of mystery to most of us, where all the deep urges and fundamental drives and hungers of our life arise. This is the spirit, designed as God’s dwelling place, just as in the tabernacle the Shekinah glory, the light which represented God, dwelt in the holy of holies.

In the opening part of Chapter 24 we have a marvelous description of the functions which went on in the holy place of the tabernacle.  It deals with the furniture that was in this place which corresponds to the soul, or the conscious life, of a human being.

There were three pieces of furniture: The golden candelabra with its seven branches, of which we all have seen pictures and which is still such a fundamental symbol among the Jewish people. The solid gold table, upon which was to be displayed the twelve loaves of show bread that was the food of the priests; and The golden altar of incense, which stood right against the veil which separated the holy place from the holy of holies and where the fragrant frankincense was burned before God as an offering by fire.

Those pieces of furniture are a remarkably accurate picture of how the three major functions of our soul — the mind, the emotions, and the will — are intended to operate as the soul is filled with the Spirit of God.

The specific commands regarding the candelabra are first, Verses 1-4:

The LORD said to Moses, “Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil from beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning continually. Outside the veil of the testimony, in the tent of meeting, Aaron shall keep it in order from evening to morning before the Lord continually; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations. He shall keep the lamps in order upon the lampstand of pure gold before the LORD continually.” (Leviticus 24:1-4 RSV)

Pure olive oil brought by the people was to be the fuel which produced the light of the candelabra. It was to burn continuously and was never to go out. Especially was it to be burning at night. From evening to morning Aaron was especially responsible to keep the light going because then, of course, this was the sole illumination of the tabernacle. And the light was to be placed on the golden candlestick.

Light is continually a symbol of truth. And which of our human functions is designed to lay hold of truth? The mind! God has given us a mental faculty, a rational ability to think, to explore, to search out, to investigate, to study and correlate and relate one aspect of life to another. The whole functioning of the mind is designed to produce truth.

But notice that the light is produced by the oil, and oil is forever, in Scripture, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. So here is truth produced and made known by the Holy Spirit; in other words, truth revealed by God. That is to be the governing faculty in man. That is where we are to get our basic understanding of who we are, and where we are, of what life is all about, and what the world is here for, and how the universe functions. All this is to come from the mind illuminated by the Spirit!

The light is to be held up by the golden candlestick, and gold is always the symbol of Deity. So it is the divine life within us which sustains this light, shining in the darkness of the world’s night. All this is a marvelous picture of how believers are to function in the world. We are to start with the mind taught by God to see life as God sees it. Most of the problems which come into our lives originate because we don’t do this. The danger of having services on Sunday is that we all tend to come and sit and listen to truth from the Word of God which explains what life is like, how people are to live, what we are to do, and how we are to react to the situations which confront us, and we all pay attention and are helped and stirred and nod our heads in agreement, but on Monday morning we go back to our business, our shop, our kitchen, our homes and family relationships — the ordinary circumstances of life — and we forget all about it! We revert to natural thinking and start acting again like everybody else around us. ! But the whole purpose of these meetings is that we might be governed not by natural thinking but by a mind illuminated by the truth which God reveals about life — which is the way it really is.

It is so important  that we personally and individually expose our minds and thoughts to the revelation of God’s truth and consistently practice looking at life as he tells us it is, not as the world or our feelings say it is — and that we take his teaching seriously. To fail to do so is what gets us all confounded and confused.


The next piece of furniture brought before us is the table of show bread, Verses 5-9:

“And you shall take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes of it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. And you shall set them in two rows, six in a row, upon the table of pure gold. And you shall put pure frankincense with each row, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion to be offered by fire to the LORD. Every sabbath day Aaron shall set it in order before the LORD continually on behalf of the people of Israel as a covenant for ever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the offerings by fire to the LORD, a perpetual due.” (Leviticus 24:5-9 RSV)

On the table of show bread was spread every sabbath day a freshly baked series of twelve loaves of bread made of fine flour, and, as we are told elsewhere, without any leaven. These were to be displayed there for a week with frankincense spread on top of them. At the end of the week the frankincense was offered on the golden altar of incense and the bread was consumed by the priests as part of their diet.

The twelve loaves are a picture of the twelve tribes of Israel — in other words, of all the people of God. Fine flour, as we have seen before, is a picture of redeemed humanity, because it is fine flour, without any lumps or coarseness. This fine flour is without leaven, without sin, as is the new nature within us, the Spirit of God imparted to us, the life of Christ by which we live. And the unleavened fine flour is all mixed up together, is in communion, representing a sharing together. This is a picture of the realm of relationships with other believers which involves the whole range of emotions — joy, sorrow, tears, love, peace, grief, elation — all shared together. Bearing one another’s burdens, confessing our faults one to another, admonishing, rebuking, exhorting, restoring one another, ministering to each other with our spiritual gifts, being sensitive to one another’s needs, responding to the heartbreak or the rejoicing of others.  It reveals the need of the people of God to have fellowship with one another with God in their midst, not out of the flesh but in the Spirit.

The frankincense was burned on the altar of incense which was the third piece of furniture in the holy place. God always insisted that it be frankincense and no other kind.

Remember that the two older sons of Aaron got into trouble which cost them their lives because they burned another kind of incense before God. Why? Because frankincense yields its fragrance only when it is burned.

This is a picture of fragrance coming out of suffering. This represents the third activity of the human consciousness in which we all engage — the exercise of the will, the making of choices. So here is a picture of the obedient heart, the heart which responds to the truth perceived by the mind, illuminated by the Spirit, which shares in the emotions of a common life within the body of Christ, and thus decides to walk before God in obedience. That is a fragrance in the nostrils of God. Jesus’ life was a continual sweet smell before God because of his obedient spirit. He did what the Father said to do. And the will is the human faculty by which that ultimate choice is made.

So when these factors — the knowledge and understanding of the mind, and the feeling of the heart — gather together to be expressed in an action which is in line with what God has said, that is a fragrant life lifted up before God. That is a life which honors and glorifies God. It doesn’t make any difference what the action is. It might be lying flat on the back in a sickbed, or it may be intense activity. It isn’t the activity which is glorifying God; it is the character of the life which is behind it.

Do you remember that crucial moment of David’s life when he had fallen into terrible evil and had broken up a man’s marriage and then murdered the man in order to cover it up? When all this came home to his heart and he saw what he had done he cried out before God in the beautiful words of the fifty-first Psalm. He speaks of the forgiveness and the cleansing extended by God, and then he says,

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else I would give it; thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalms 51:16-17 KJV)

That is what honors God — a broken spirit and a contrite heart. That is a sweet-smelling fragrance in God’s sight.

The showbread  was to become the food of the priests. Priesthood, as you know, is always a picture of ministry and service by believers. So the interesting thing this suggests is that as we fellowship together and share our lives with one another, are open and transparent with each other and bear one another’s burdens, we are thus strengthened and motivated to minister to others. Out of the sharing of the bread, the eating of the bread of common life, comes the strength for ministry.

The closing part of the chapter is a picture of that which threatens this kind of life. An interesting story begins in Verse 10:

“Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel, and the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel quarreled in the camp, and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name,[the name of God] and cursed. And they brought him to Moses. His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. And they put him in custody, till the will of the LORD should be declared to them.” (Leviticus 24:10-12 RSV)

This portrays something which threatens and imperils the relationship which has just been described to us. It is vividly demonstrated in this story of a young man whom we would term a “half-breed,” half Egyptian and half-Israelite. There must have been hundreds of young men and women in the camp of Israel who had that background. This doesn’t mean there is anything inherently wrong with that. But this person is picked out and highlighted for us because his life typifies a spiritual conflict. In the Scriptures, Israel is a picture of the Spirit at work within us, of the new life, the redeemed life, while Egypt is always a picture of the world, of the old life. And here is someone who, in type, is trying to mix the two — trying to live halfway between. He pictures someone who is still trying to conduct his business affairs, perhaps, by the laws of Egypt, by the ways of the world, and is also trying to mix in the world view and outlook of God. And this always gets you into trouble.

This young man had gotten into a quarrel with somebody in the camp and, in the heat of anger and passion he blurted out what was deep down within his thoughts but which he had hidden before. There is a Latin phrase: In vino veritas, i.e., “In wine there is truth.” It is also true that in anger there is truth. When they are angry people will say something that they would never say otherwise. Usually it is something they would like to have said, but didn’t dare.

That is what happened here. This young man had been thinking what he said for quite a long time. Finally someone stirred him up — we don’t know what the quarrel was about — and he got mad. And he didn’t merely get angry at the man he was quarreling with; he cursed the Name. He didn’t say, “God damn you,” as we hear so often today; he said, “God be damned!” That represented the outlook of his heart, the settled conviction of his heart that it was all God’s fault and that he didn’t want anything to do with God.

So they brought him to Moses, and Moses said, “I don’t know how to handle this. Take him to God. Let’s let God decide what to do.” So we read,

And the LORD said to Moses, “Bring out of the camp him who cursed; and let all who heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And say to the people of Israel, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. He who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him; the sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:13-16 RSV)

There is the judgment of God in this case. He says this not because he has been offended by this man, not because he is vindictive and retaliates. God is not that kind of person. He is a patient, loving God who could in longsuffering have borne this affront for centuries, as he has our cursing and bitterness. But he prescribes immediate death because this sentence is designed to teach a truth. The truth is that a man who curses God, who rejects God, has denied himself the very basis of life. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,” Matthew 4:4). And if a professed believer denies God, he has denied the basis of his life, the only way he can live. So God makes it obvious, makes it clear. He says that the man has lost the right to live, has denied himself that right. And his life was taken away so that the truth might be vividly demonstrated to all.

Thus we know that this is what happens to us, spiritually. We don’t need to point the finger at this young man, do we? How often do we do this very thing! We get angry with God and we shake our fists at him! We say, “It’s your fault! Get lost, God, I don’t need you anymore.” And when we take that attitude, God says, our life is ended. Our spiritual life is stopped right there. We are not lost. This doesn’t mean that we have lost our salvation; it means that his supply of life to us to live by day by day is ended — until we see what is wrong — and his grace restores us. Then we can begin again.

There are other things listed here in the closing part of the chapter for which the penalty is the same, Verses 17-22:

“He who kills a man shall be put to death.[If you injure a neighbor or ruin his reputation you will find that the same thing happens to you. Spiritually you cannot live at that level.] He who kills a beast shall make it good, life for life. When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor, as it has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has disfigured a man, he shall be disfigured. He who kills a beast shall make it good; and he who kills a man shall be put to death. You shall have one law for the sojourner and for the native; for I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 24:17-22 RSV)

What does this mean? Well, it is simply the putting into practice, in a vivid and visible way, of what Jesus said later in the Gospels: “Judge not that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged, and with what measure you mete to others it shall be measured back to you again…” (Matthew 7:1). The way you treat another person is the way you are going to be treated. If you don’t like the way you are being treated, take a look at what you are doing to someone else. They are only giving you back what you are giving to them. It is strange — we all want to live by a double standard, don’t we? We all want to have people treat us right, but we reserve the right to treat them differently. We want to be able to be sharp and sarcastic to others, but we don’t think that they have the right to be sharp and sarcastic to us. We want to take advantage of somebody else by being lazy and letting them do the work and not taking our fair share of the load, but we don’t want them to do that to us.

But God says that we can’t live that way. The way you treat another is the way it is going to come back to you, so don’t complain. That is a basic law of life. The only way it can be conquered is by a change in you. When you change, then others will be changed by that. This is one of the wonderful discoveries we can make. For years we may struggle with a problem in our relationships to others, and we think, “If I could just get these people to change!” Then suddenly we discover that it was we who were causing the problem, and we change. And to our amazement the other people all change too!

“So Moses spoke to the people of Israel; and they brought him who had cursed out of the camp, and stoned him with stones. Thus the people of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Leviticus 24:23 RSV)

How accurate these Scriptures are! How they search us out and find us. And yet how marvelous are the possibilities when our mind is under the control of the Spirit and we look at every problem in life not according to the way we were taught in school nor the way our family has done it for centuries but the way the Word of God says it is, and when we relate to one another with openness and genuineness and thus our ministry is strengthened, and when we offer to God the fragrance of an obedient heart. That is life as God intended it to be lived!

This is life abundantly




Some information used from Ray Steadman’s, Leviticus Living Life Wholey

Leviticus 23: God’s Calendar



The chapter of Leviticus has a  list of the appointed feasts of Israel. These feasts were observed by the nation each year, year after year. There were seven of them, plus the weekly Sabbath. They were precisely spaced and dated because they represent God’s calendar, the program on which he operates, the timetable of events by which he is moving through history.

The feasts of Israel were not mere holidays to be observed on the nearest Monday in order to provide a long weekend. Each was a symbolic occasion or season designed to teach a truth which God wants to impart to his people. That is why they were spaced and timed and regulated, their observance specially appointed and carefully predicted.

The Chapter begins with a reference to the institution of the weekly Sabbath, Verses 1-3:

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, The appointed feasts of the LORD which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, my appointed feasts, are these. Six days shall work he done; but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings.” (Leviticus 23:1-3 RSV)

From Creation, God worked six days and then he rested on the seventh day. This was reinstated and renewed in the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai when God reminded his people that the sabbath was at the heart of all his work.

Contrary to believe,  Sunday is not the sabbath, and never was the sabbath! . The seventh day was Saturday. The first day was Sunday. And Saturday was to be observed as the sabbath, as it still is in Israel today.

This observance of a day of rest is a picture of something else that God wants, which is of great significance to him, and when the reality came the shadow was done away with.

In the book of Colossians the Apostle Paul specifically tells us that the observance of a day is one of those shadows which, for the believer, ended at the coming of Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). But then what is it that God is after? It does no good to do away with an observance if you don’t find what it is pointing toward and begin to fulfill that. For the reality of the sabbath has always continued. It is given to us, among many other places in Scripture, in HebrewsChapter 4, where the apostle reminds us that sabbath means “rest,” and that this is a reference to the secret of life. Humans were made to operate out of rest, not out of tension, not out of anxiety, out of pressure, not in a rat race where we are always hounded and harassed and driven and hassled. These are exactly the opposite of what God intended when he made man. We were to operate in activity which proceeds out of rest.

What is that rest? Again Hebrews 4 tells us. In Verse 10 it says, “He who has entered into rest has ceased from his own labors, as God did from his…” (Hebrews 4:10 KJV). That is, on the seventh day of creation, God ceased from all work. He who enters into rest has stopped his own work and is resting on the work of another. So its important to learn the principle of operating out of dependence upon God at work in you, don’t try to do it all yourself — don’t feel as if everything depends upon you! Learn to rest on what God is ready to do in you and through you and around you, and expect him to do it, then you are observing the sabbath as God intended it to be observed.

Rest is at the heart of everything that God does. All these feasts are a form of the sabbath and consist of one sabbath or of several. All this is to indicate that this is the greatest secret of humanity. The indispensable but largely unlearned secret of our humanity is to learn how to operate out of rest.

The first feast was the Passover. It came in the spring of the year. This was the beginning of the year as far as God’s program for his people was concerned. In Verses 4-5 we are told:

“These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening, is the LORD’s passover.” (Leviticus 23:4-5 RSV)

The details of this feast are given in other parts of Scripture. It was a reminder of that dramatic moment in Egypt when, because of Pharaoh’s relunctance, the angel of death was commanded to pass throughout the land of Egypt and kill the first-born son in every household. But God had made provision for his own people. If they would kill a lamb and put its blood over the doorposts the angel would see the blood and would pass over that house. So it was called the passover. Rest occurs when you trust that the work of Jesus Christ, our passover, is sufficient for you.

You remember how this was historically fulfilled. On the very evening of the Passover, Jesus ate the last Passover feast with his disciples. And, on the day when the rest of Israel was offering a lamb on the doorposts, the Lamb of God died upon a cross. He was crucified there in obedience to the command of the Roman governor and at the request of the Jewish officials who had cried out on behalf of the people, “Crucify him, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21, John 19:6 KJV). And that is the fundamental teaching of the gospel — that we are safe from the wrath of God under the blood of Christ.

Linked with the passover was the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It followed immediately, Verses 6-8:

“And on the fifteenth day of the same month[the next day] is the feast of unleavened bread to the LORD; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work[it is a sabbath]. But you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD seven days; on the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work.” (Leviticus 23:6-8 RSV)

Two Sabbaths were always involved, plus the weekly sabbath. It didn’t make any difference which days of the week they fell on; it was the day of the month which counted. It began on the fifteenth day, lasted seven days, then ended. This feast again looked back to Egypt, to the command God gave then that the Israelites clear all leaven from their houses. To this day, orthodox Jews meticulously do this in preparation for the passover season. (In fact, this is the origin of the custom of Spring cleaning.)

Leaven is yeast. It is a very apt symbol of that which in human lives tends to puff us up. As we have learned, yeast does that to  bread — it makes it swell.

Jesus often spoke of leaven. He said, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1), i.e., pretending.  Pretending we don’t have any problems when we do. Pretending we’re spiritual when we’re not. Pretending we’re joyful when we’re unhappy and filled with misery inside. Pretending we tell the truth when we don’t. That is hypocrisy…not  admitting that we need some help.

Jesus spoke of the leaven of the Sadducees, which was rationalism, the denial of the supernatural, the feeling that everything can be explained in terms of what you can see, taste, touch, smell, and feel, that there is no power beyond man and that man is sufficient to himself (Matthew 16:5-12).

Our Lord spoke of the leaven of the Herodians (Mark 8:14-21), who were materialists. They lived for pleasure, for comfort and luxury, and for status and prestige and the favor of people. They had their ear to the ground so as to be able to manipulate and maneuver politically and thus to advance themselves. Paul speaks of the leaven of sexual immorality in First Corinthians 5:

“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened[It is not really your true nature as a Christian to act that way]. For Christ, our paschal lamb[our passover] has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8 RSV)

That is what this feast is all about. And preceding it, that is the purpose of the Passover, God begins his work with the blood of the Lamb to protect us from his just wrath in order that we might learn to be freed from leaven.
The third feast soon followed, the Feast of the First Fruits, Verses 9-14:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, When you come into the land which I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest; and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, that you may find acceptance; on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD. And the cereal offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, to be offered by fire to the LORD, a pleasing odor; and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin. And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God. it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” (Leviticus 23:9-14 RSV)

In the land of Israel, which climatically is very much like parts of California, the barley was planted in the fall and came to harvest in the springtime.  The harvest was preceded by the Feast of First Fruits in which they took a sheaf of grain, cut it, and waved it before the LORD, offering the harvest to the LORD. With it came certain sacrifices, speaking again of rest in the blood and the work of Another. They were specifically warned not to eat of this grain in any form whatsoever until they had made this offering.

In First Corinthians 15, Paul tells us that, on the third day, when our Lord rose from the dead, he was the first fruits of God’s harvest (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). In other words, when God begins his work with men he does it with the death of another on our behalf, announces that the purpose of it is that he might free us from all kinds of leaven in our lives, and then declares that the outcome of it will be life out of death, a risen life. And our Lord was the first one to rise from the dead when he came out of the grave!

You notice that the first fruits were to be offered on the morrow after the sabbath. The sabbath is Saturday. That makes the morrow after it Sunday. So this is the Lord’s day — the day of resurrection. On the day of resurrection the Feast of First Fruits, the reminder of a new creation, a new life with new kinds of food, was given to us. And, historically, you recall, the Gospels say, “As it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, the disciples came to the tomb and found it empty…” (Matthew 28:1). Christ was risen from the dead, a risen Lord, imparting to us a new kind of life, a new creation. That is the Feast of First Fruits and that is the day for believers to celebrate.

The next feast is found in Verses 15-21:

“And you shall count from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven full weeks shall they be, counting fifty days to the morrow after the seventh sabbath; then you shall present a cereal offering of new grain to the LORD. You shall bring from your dwellings two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah; they shall be of fine flour, they shall be baked with leaven, as first fruits to the LORD.”[Then there follow animal and cereal offerings similar to those we have already examined earlier in Leviticus] (Leviticus 23:15-17 RSV)

This feast, because it came fifty days after the Feast of First Fruits, was called Pentecost. Pentecost means fiftieth. Notice that this too fell on the day after a sabbath, Sunday, further evidence that God has shifted the day of celebration for believers to the first day of the week.

You remember what happened on Pentecost. On that day as the disciples were gathered in the upper room the Holy Spirit suddenly came upon them in a new way. A new body was formed, the body of the church, made up no longer simply of Jews alone but, as Peter announced, of Jews and Gentiles — two loaves baked with leaven.

Leaven, as we have seen, is a picture of the working of evil in our lives. And when the Holy Spirit came, he came upon people just like you and me, people still struggling with leaven, this principle of self-sufficiency. And we can be filled with the Holy Spirit as they were filled on that day. He can live in us and work in us. So the church as it exists today is beautifully symbolized by these two loaves — Jews and Gentiles together — filled with the Spirit, and still possessing leaven within us. This was the beginning of the new work that God was going to do with his people.

The heart of this feast was these two loaves, baked with leaven. Baking is accomplished by heat, by fire. And in the Scriptures fire always symbolizes judgment. As the Holy Spirit took up residence in men and women still capable of sin, the leaven still there, this nevertheless was testimony that God would work in his people, would judge their leaven and bring it under control. They themselves would never in this life be an example of what Christianity is in its perfection — you can see that only in Christ. But nevertheless they would be the expression of God’s fellowship with humanity. Those two loaves have been at work all through the history of the world since then.

This Feast of Pentecost occurred around the middle of May and that from mid-May until the first of the seventh month, which would be about mid-September, there were no more feasts in Israel. A long period of time would go by before another feast — a long hot summer. During that time only one provision was made and that is given to us in Verse 22:

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:22 RSV)

The “stranger” is the non-Jew, the non-Israelite — in other words, the Gentile. That is, after the day of Pentecost there was to be for a long, indeterminate period of time an open door for the Gentiles to come in and feed in the richness of the fields of Israel. This is what has been happening in human history up to this point.

The next feast is the Feast of Trumpets which, as we will see, is yet to be fulfilled, Verses 23-25:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blasts of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no laborious work; and you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD.” (Leviticus 23:23-25 RSV)

The central manifestation of this feast was blasts of trumpets.

If you turn to Matthew 24, Jesus is describing how this age will end. There will be the rise of the antichrist, the division of the nations into warring camps, and great tribulation will spread abroad on earth, a time of terrible trouble. In Verses 29-31 he says,

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth[the tribes of Israel] will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:29-31 RSV)

That is the next event in God’s program with his people Israel. The Son of man will come, and the trumpet of God will herald the final gathering of Israel to the land. Much as we are interested in what is happening in Palestine now, the return of the Jews to their land, nevertheless this is not the final gathering. There is going to be another Dispersion, strangely enough. It will not last long, but Zechariah describes in detail how the city of Jerusalem shall again be taken captive and the people driven from it. It is only after they see returning the One whom they once rejected that they will be called back by the angels of God in the Feast of Trumpets, never to leave again, and God will take up his work with Israel once again.

This is to be followed by the great Day of Atonement, described in Verses 26-32 of Leviticus 23:

And the LORD said to Moses, “On the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present an offering by fire to the LORD. And you shall do no work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. For whoever is not afflicted on this same day shall be cut off from his people.”[And he goes on to declare it a solemn sabbath.](Leviticus 23:26-29)

Certain offerings were to be given in connection with this which are described in detail in Chapter 16. But the distinctive thing about this day is that it is to be a time of self judgment, of affliction of spirit, a time of looking at yourself and seeing the wasted years of your life, and of mourning, regretting those wasted opportunities. For Israel this is described in detail in Zechariah 12:

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadadrimmon on the plain of Megiddo.” (Zechariah 12:10-11 RSV)

That is when Israel shall regret their long centuries of unbelief. For the Christian this time of mourning, this review of the wasted eras of life, comes at the judgment seat of Christ, when we “receive the things done in the body, whether they be good or bad” 2 Corinthians 5:10), and we learn how much of our life was spent in the flesh, following after the leaven, and how much of it was spent in the Spirit, rejoicing in the work of Another on our behalf, depending upon him to produce gold, silver, and precious stones in our life.

And then, finally, comes the last of the feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles, or booths, Verses 33-36:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the feast of booths to the LORD. On the first day shall be a holy convocation, you shall do no laborious work. Seven days you shall present offerings by fire to the LORD; on the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the LORD; it is a solemn assembly; you shall do no laborious work.” (Leviticus 23:33-36)

Then a little later on in the chapter, Verses 40-43:

“And you shall take on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the LORD seven days in the year; it is a statute for ever throughout your generations, you shall keep it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days, all that are native in Israel shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:40-43 RSV)

That is a picture of what is frequently called the millennium, the time which follows Israel’s restoration to their LORD and God, when they return to a relationship to nature with the curse removed and God beautifully blesses the earth and the desert shall blossom like the rose. The secret of peace will be found and nations shall not make war any more, and rejoicing will be the whole experience of men on the earth. The secret of all that, as Paul tells us in Romans 11, is the nation Israel. They are still in the long hot summer right now, before the Feast of Trumpets restores them.

But, as we have seen all along in this book of Leviticus, all of this is now being fulfilled in the spiritual program of each believer in Jesus Christ. God is at work in your life to bring you along this pathway, just as he outlines it here, so that you shall discover and come at last to the place of joy.

God’s process with each of us leads from wrath and judgment and fear to the place where we rest at last in the blood of the passover lamb, Jesus Christ, shed on our behalf. It goes on through gradual separation from evil, with much tears and fainting, and yet in the power of a new life imparted by the Holy Spirit. It progresses to the healing of broken relationships and the gathering of believers together into one body, the breakingdown of middle walls of partition between us. It moves on through the restoration of the wasted years of our life unto, finally, the experience of radiant, unrestrained joy in what God himself is. That is God’s program.


That is what God is at work to do. The worst form of evil is self-righteousness. If we think we have something that God needs, and that we can serve him by our dedicated spirit, he will find some way to pull the rug out from under us and to bring us at last to the place where we stand before him without any merit of our own. And with joy filling our hearts we know that this is the way God intended men to live — to rest in the work of Another.

Well, that is Israel’s ecclesiastical year, as it has been called, “God’s program for his people” — whether his earthly people or those with the heavenly calling. This is the way God works. Where are you in God’s calendar? We can see where we are in history, but where are you?

Where are you in Gods Calendar?




Some information is taken from Ray Steadman, Leviticus Wholy Living

Leviticus 21-22: Free To Serve


In ‘the Gospel according to Leviticus,’ we come today to a section which is specifically addressed to priests, to Aaron the high priest and his sons.

But even though they were members of the family of Aaron they could serve as priests only if they met certain qualifications. So there is a difference between merely being a priest and serving as a priest. That is important and instructive to us because, as we have seen, this priesthood of the family of Aaron is a picture of the ministry that we have uniquely as believers in Jesus Christ. Every one of us who is born again, born into the family of our great high priest Jesus Christ, is by that fact inescapably a priest. But whether we can serve as a priest or not depends upon the qualifications in our life. Membership in the family is by birth; service in the family is by qualification.

That distinction was made regarding the sons of Aaron and it is true also of us. When you became a Christian by faith in Jesus Christ, you also became a priest, with great privileges and functions. But you cannot exercise that priesthood, and enjoy those privileges, and reap the benefit and excitement of the ministry, unless you fulfill certain qualifications which these chapters set before us. When the Old Testament pictures us here as priests, it is talking primarily about that aspect of our life which concerns ministry to others, our outreach — either to other Christians or to non-believers. We are all priests by virtue of being Christians, but how good a priest we are, how much we enjoy the ministry committed to us, and how effective we are in it, depends upon our qualifications.

The ministry of a priest is summarized up for us in Verse 6 of Chapter 21:

“They shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God; for they offer the offerings by fire to the LORD, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy.” (Leviticus 21:6 RSV)

Priests did two things: they offered the offerings, the sacrifices, and they offered the bread, the showbread, before God in the tabernacle.

As we learn from the New Testament, these Levitical practices are shadows, pictures, symbols, which speak of our own ministry: To offer the offerings is to deal with the effects of the death of Jesus. Those animal sacrifices represent the death of the Lord Jesus. Every lamb, every calf, every goat that was slain in the Old Testament was a picture of the work of Christ upon the cross in giving up his life on behalf of his own. And to offer these sacrifices was to apply this work, in type, to the individuals who brought them.

What does that mean to us? As believers in Jesus Christ, we must apply the work of Christ to people who are in desperate trouble around us — both other Christians and non-Christians as well. We are to do so by sharing the truth of the word of God with them!


The priests were also to offer bread. They themselves were to eat of the showbread, the loaves that were baked in the tabernacle, and they were to offer this before God along with the animal offerings. Bread speaks of strength and of life.


In order to exercise  priesthood, a priest must be holy. This is what God says: “They shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God; [then he says what it is they are to do]; therefore they shall be holy…” (Leviticus 21:6 RSV).  We are likely to think that being holy is to be long-faced and solemn and sour, but it isn’t that at all! Holiness means “wholeness.” It means to be healed.

How can you help someone unless you yourself have been helped? How can you encourage someone when your own heart is discouraged and defeated? How can you help somebody to cheer up, and be joyful and genuinely glad in the midst of pressure, unless you have learned how to be glad in the midst of pressure and struggle? How can you deliver somebody from a loathsome moral sickness if you are a victim of the same thing yourself? How can you help somebody who has a blemish in their spiritual life unless you have been delivered from that blemish yourself and thus know how to say the delivering word?

You must be set free first. You must have experienced the joy of God, the life of liberty in the spirit of God, in order to help. You must be whole in the area in which you are attempting to help. You may not be whole in every way, but you must be whole in that area where you are trying to help.

So these two entire chapters deal with this matter of the wholeness of priests, in order that they might have a part in the excitement of ministry. Although they are priests by birth they can exercise their ministry only by fulfillment of these qualifications. These passages set forth for us what wholeness consists of, and in what areas need we be free from that which defiles.

The first qualification is given in the first five verses of Chapter 21:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them that none of them shall defile himself for the dead among his people, except for his nearest of kin, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, or his virgin sister (who is near to him because she has had no husband; for her he may defile himself). He shall not defile himself as a husband among his people and so profane himself. They shall not make tonsures[abnormal cuttings of the hair] upon their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuttings in their flesh. They shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God…” (Leviticus 21:1-6a RSV)

The first limitation upon a priest was that he not defile himself with the dead. You remember that earlier in this book we saw that it was forbidden for any Israelite to touch a dead body. Or if for some reason he had to, as in the case of those who buried the dead or who accidentally touched a dead body, he was unclean until the evening and had to wash in recognition of the defilement that had come upon him. But for the priests, those who exercised ministry, there was no allowance for any occasion of touching a dead body — except for those near of kin. Not even for his own wife could a priest defile himself.

The touching of a dead body is a picture, the New Testament tells us, of any involvement with the flesh, with the fallen nature, the old life within us, or within others.

But the chief warning here is against being in contact with the flesh around us in the world, against adopting the principles, in other words, by which the world operates.try to do it from the standpoint of appealing to their pride in themselves, and so on, you will not set them free. What this Scripture says is that you won’t stop being a Christian if you get involved with that, but you will end your ministry. You can’t help people in the area of their desperate need, delivering them by the death of Christ, nor can you encourage and build them by the life of Jesus, if these defilements are present.

Notice that this thrust is carried to a deeper level in Verses 7-9:

“They shall not marry a harlot or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman who has been divorced from her husband; for the priest is holy to his God. You shall consecrate him, for he offers the bread of your God; he shall be holy to you, for I the LORD, who sanctify you, am holy. And the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by playing the harlot, profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.” (Leviticus 21:7-9 RSV)

Here is a prohibition against forming close alliances, marriages, with that which represents the flesh. Not only is a momentary contact with it forbidden but especially prohibited is any tie, any commitment to it on a long-term basis. This robs the priest of his right to minister. He can no longer in the power of God apply the death of Christ to deliver people nor can he enrich their lives with the food of God and with the fellowship of the son of God. In other words, this is a severe warning against the idea of picking up the processes and programs of the world and baptizing them, calling them Christian, and going on from there.


The next passage deals with the high priest, and here certain further restrictions are given. He is the example to all. As we look at this passage you will remember that our high priest is, of course, Jesus himself. How beautifully this passage describes the way he lived!

“The priest who is chief among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil is poured, and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not let the hair of his head hang loose, nor rend his clothes; he shall not go in to any dead body, nor defile himself, even for his father or for his mother; neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is upon him. I am the LORD. And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or one divorced, or a woman who has been defiled, or a harlot, these he shall not marry; but he shall take to wife a virgin of his own people, that he may not profane his children among his people; for I am the LORD who sanctify him.” (Leviticus 21:10-15 RSV)

He cannot defile himself in any way for the dead. That is, he has no contact whatsoever with the flesh. How true this was of the Lord Jesus! He was born without a sinful flesh, and he never in any way identified with it. Notice how this is symbolized. Here are the characteristics of the high priest.

First, he was to have no loose hair. We have seen in earlier studies that hair is always the picture of beauty. Jesus’ beauty was never in disarray. As you look at the record of our great high priest in the Gospels you can see how fully he met his. There was no lack of orderliness or of discipline in the beauty of his life, no looseness. There was never a time when he acted beyond what was required by the situation. He was never out of control, never exhibited any impatience of spirit, never any imbalance.

The high priest was never to tear his garments, for as you remember, garments are a picture of the character of an individual. “What you wear is what you are.”

The prohibition against defilement with the dead extended even to father or mother in the case of the high priest. In other words, he was not to defile himself even with those closest to him. This may touch upon our Lord’s frequently strange-sounding words to his mother, Mary. There were those occasions when she came to him and drew upon their natural human relationship, and you remember how he spoke in a way which disassociated himself from that. When she asked him to change the water into wine his answer was, “Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour has not yet come,” (John 2:4). He did the miracle she asked, but he made it very clear that it wasn’t because she was his mother that he did it; it was for another reason. And remember how he answered his human parents at the age of twelve: “Do you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). He did not permit any kind of natural relationship to intervene with his work or in any way hinder what he came to be and to do. There was no involvement with the flesh at all, either in himself or with others. His spotless, unsullied character is set forth here in Leviticus.

Finally, there was to be no blemish in his marriage. This is beautifully suggestive! The high priest was to marry only a virgin daughter of his people, and she was to be without any blemish at all. Does that not recall the words of Paul in Ephesians 5:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27 RSV)

“Well,” you say, “how can this be? We are part of the church, and we have all these blemishes and spots and wrinkles and everything. Just look at us!” Well, this is why the Lord has set aside, totally, everything which comes from the flesh. That is why in his relationship with us he will never accept or tolerate or put up with any evidences of the flesh, nor allow it to be honored or exalted or blessed in his presence. That is why he will not acknowledge any ministry which is based upon self-sufficiency, the feeling that “I’ve got what it takes,” or, “God ought to feel lucky that I’m on his side because I’ve got something that he needs.” He has set all that aside. He has already written off all the blemishes and wrinkles and spots. They are there in our experience, but he has dealt with them, taken care of them already, and so no action which arises from the flesh will ever have any standing in God’s sight. As Paul says in First Corinthians, “No flesh shall glory in his presence,” (1 Corinthians 1:29 KJV).

So if we operate in the flesh, in a spirit of ambition and desire to exalt ourselves, to be prominent in the eyes of others, it will never accomplish anything in God’s program. That is why God will never rest until we learn to draw from the strength of his life in us in order to serve him. Unless we do, he will never allow our ministry to have any spiritual effect at all. It may be impressive in the eyes of people, and you can make “a fair show in the flesh,” as Paul calls it (Galatians 6:12 KJV), so that even other Christians are fooled. But you will never deceive God one moment and there will be no power and no effect in your ministry.

In Verses 16 on to the end of the chapter you have the hereditary blemishes which disqualify a person for the priesthood. These are things which come to us through our family connections, which in that sense are unavoidable, but which nevertheless disqualify us until they are dealt with:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, None of your descendants throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God.[That is, there is no way by which you can encourage others in the strength and fellowship of Jesus Christ if one of these blemishes is there.] For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles; no man of the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the LORD’s offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. He may eat of the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, but he shall not come near the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the LORD who sanctify them.” So Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel. (Leviticus 21:16-24 RSV)

This is almost self-explanatory, isn’t it? Here were people who were members of the priestly family and as such they were to eat the bread of God. There is no limitation against that. They could feed upon it themselves. They could grow by its strength.

Interpreted to our level, we can take the life of Christ and draw upon it for our own spiritual nourishment no matter what our personal lives are like. We are not cast out of the family of God even though there are defects. But we can’t pass it to others if we have a blemish like one of these. We cannot minister until they are handled, taken care of.

In the case of the Israelites, they were set aside all their life long because of these blemishes. They may not even have been their own fault, but God said, “No one with a blemish can minister in my presence,” because that would have taught a false lesson about the God who is behind the priesthood. But the glorious thing is that in the application to our lives these blemishes can be healed, they can be cleansed! We don’t have to be forever set aside from ministering.

Here again we are dealing with a reason why the Christian life may seem boring to many. You may know that you are a priest, that you have the opportunity of ministering to others and helping them, but perhaps you can’t do it. Why? Well, it may be because there are blemishes in your life. Each of these blemishes has an antitype in the Christian economy:

Were some of these Israelite priests blind? Well, some of us are, too. We just don’t see things very clearly. Our spiritual eyes are blinded. Were some of them lame? Some of us are, too. We don’t walk very well. We limp and stagger and stumble and fumble and fall on our faces at times.Did they have deformed hands or feet? Well, such can be the case with us. Something in our work or walk may be faulty at times, perhaps because it has been in our family for several generations and we are afflicted with the same hereditary tendency. Are there spiritual hunchbacks in the church — men and women with warped or twisted spiritual mentality, spiritual views, or spiritual structure in their lives? Yes, there are those among us, and they have little ministry. There is not much that they can do, other than to feed upon the life of God themselves.

All these blemishes prevent ministry. They don’t stop us from feeding upon the life of Christ, but they prevent us from ministering effectively to others, and, though we may perform the outward form of ministry, God withholds the power. The New Testament teaches this too. Paul says that if we purge ourselves from that which is wrong we shall be a vessel unto honor, fit for the master’s use… (2 Timothy 2:21 KJV). He says that God is the one who determines energizings of ministry and that we are to work on that basis. And God knows our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4). He knows what limits us.


Chapter 22  once again stresses the truth about  uncleanness, it must be cleansed. Then in Verses 10-16 a restriction is placed upon strangers, foreigners. No one other than the children of Aaron, and especially no non-Israelite, could hold the priesthood. This, of course, is a picture for us that God is not interested in having those who are outside the family of God doing spiritual work for him. A non-Christian cannot do the work of God. No one who is not born again into the family of God can ever accomplish anything for God. It may appear that he is, in many ways, but, in the sight of God and at the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10), it will be revealed as nothing but wood, hay, and stubble instead of gold, silver, and precious jewels (1 Corinthians 3:12). You may offer your talents to Christ but he doesn’t use them for spiritual advance. He uses only spiritual gifts — which can be given only to Christians. Your talents may be channels for those gifts, but it is only the gifts that advance anyone spiritually.

And, finally, there is to be no blemish in the offerings that are given. They are to be perfect because they are a picture of the work of Jesus Christ. Our understanding and presentation of the death and of the effectiveness of the life of Jesus must be clear and uncomplicated, without distortion. We are to understand these facts very plainly and apply them correctly. The chapter concludes with these wonderful words, Verses 31-33:

“So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the LORD. And you shall not profane my holy name, but I will be hallowed among the people of Israel; I am the LORD who sanctify you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 22:31-33 RSV)

“I am the LORD,” he says, “who brought you out of bondage, out of slavery. I set you free. And I want to heal your life and bring you into a land of abundance and promise, of excitement and blessing and fruitfulness, with a sense of worth and power, and to be your God, to be available to you to teach you how to live as men were ordained to live in the beginning — in dominion over all the earth, over all the powers of darkness and evil that exist in the universe, and to walk as free people, healed and whole. That is why I speak to you this way,” the LORD says. “That is why at times I will not allow you to exercise ministry even though you want to, until you deal with the blemishes of your life. When they are healed, then your ministry can begin.”

When we submit to this, we discover that our priesthood begins to be rich and fulfilling and exciting. God begins to enlarge our borders. A sense of worthwhileness comes into our life — beyond anything that we ever dreamed. We discover that God is not so much interested in our activity as he is in our attitudes — our being rather than our doing — and that we can please God while we are doing anything from washing the dishes to building a business!

As we minister to others, may God help us build them up and strengthen them.




Leviticus 19-20: Power To Do


In Chapters 19 & 20, we have a series of instructions covering various situations and problems of daily life that were faced by the people of God in that day and, at one level or another, which we face in our own lives today.

God always links his own name with these instructions. For instance, look at Verses 1-4:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel, You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy. Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God. Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:1-4 RSV)

Then skip over to Verse 11:

“You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. And you shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:11-14 RSV)

Then look at the closing section of Chapter 20, beginning with the last part of Verse 24:

“I am the LORD your God, who have separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore make a distinction between the clean beast and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground teems, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me; for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” (Leviticus 20:24b-26 RSV)

Note how carefully God identifies himself with each one of these instructions. He signs his name, as it were, after each one. He gives us a practical admonition and then says, “I am the LORD your God.” The name he uses here is his covenant name: “I am Jehovah.” That is, “I am the Living One, the Eternal One, the Sufficient One. I am the God who is Enough.” That is what Jehovah means.

Two things are shown by this:   The first is authority, and the second is resource.

You see, the Israelites would read this, “I am the LORD your God” — as distinct from any other gods, the gods of other peoples around them. Remember that in Chapter 18 the LORD had said, “You shall not live as they do in Egypt,” and “You shall not live as they do in Canaan…” (Leviticus 18:3). That is, “The Egyptians and the Canaanites have their own ways of life, their own standards of living, but not you, because of the relationship you have with me: for I am the LORD your God.”

We must discover how to distinguish between right and wrong, truth and error, on the basis of what God says — if we are in relationship to him. There is a totally different standard for the people of God.

This is very practical, because God is reality. What God says and what he sees and how he looks at life is the way life is. If you look at it in some other way, then you are being unrealistic. You are out of step with reality and are trying to live according to an illusion, a fantasy, a figment of your imagination. Such ideas and standards may be widespread, as they were in Egypt and Canaan. There may be lies which are believed sincerely and devotedly by people around you and which govern their way of living. But God is saying, “Not for you. Not for my people. I am your God, and I am telling you the truth, the way life is, what will hurt you and what will not. So believe me, because I am the LORD your God.”

That is so important to understand these days! There has never been a time when proper standards of life are so challenged as they are today. A thousand voices are shouting at us, telling us conflicting ideas and differing philosophies. How are you to know which is right, which one to follow? Well, not by looking around you, by referring to the way others are thinking, or writing, or living in your vicinity, nor by espousing the general philosophy of the age. People are telling us today that there is no right and wrong, that it is all relative. Nothing is hurtful in itself; it is only the way you think that makes it so. You have to change your way of thinking. But you see how this passage cuts right across that. What God has said must be your authority. God is saying to these people of old, as he says to us today, “Look, I am the LORD your God, and I am telling you the truth. This is the way life is.” God himself must be your basic authority for life.


In this passage, God is helping his people, whom he loves, to see that he himself is the ultimate authority, that he is their God, and that he loves them and will tell them the truth about life — even if they don’t like it. That is why it is so dangerous to challenge the authority of Scripture. When you face the ultimate issues of the Bible, it is not just good advice being given to you; it is a revelation of the way life is, of the way the universe is run. The reason why I am a Christian is not simply that I prefer it, as opposed to some other philosophy or religion. It is because I am convinced that this is the only explanation of the universe, and of life, that makes sense. And this is what God is saying by linking his divine name with these commands: “Here is the truth. I am the LORD your God.”

But he is not only authority; he is also resource. This is the second reason why he gives his name right along with each command. He says, “Do this, or don’t do that: I am the LORD your God.” What does he mean? He means, “I am available to you. I am the strength by which you can do what I command. I never tell you to do something without making available to you the power to do it.”

Have you discovered what Paul discovered and recorded for us in Romans 7 — that you cannot do all the things you’d like to do and know you ought to do, that you want to but somehow cannot? Of course all of us have areas of life which we know are not right and which, when we see them, we can change. And we do change them, and that deceives us into thinking that we can change in all areas if only we want to badly enough. But if you think this then you are quite wrong, because there are areas of life that you cannot change by your own effort, no matter how hard you try. This is the way Paul puts it, from his own experience: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…” (Romans 7:18-20).


Have you ever had the experience of having someone in your life who sabotages your best intentions all the time? Somehow they irritate you. You can get along well with everybody else, but when you are with that person something they say or do just rubs you the wrong way and you get resentful or lose your temper. And you simply can’t seem to attain victory over the situation. Have you ever said to yourself, “Well, I’m going to handle this quietly and calmly now. I’m not going to let him get to me this time. I’m going to be calm and collected and keep my cool.” You get into the situation and for awhile it goes along well and you do keep cool. But then sooner or later, sure enough, they say something aggravating and you begin to simmer and burn. Soon you just can’t take it anymore and you let them have it! Then you are immediately remorseful. “Why did I do that again? I meant to handle it so differently.”  Well, that is what Paul is talking about.

And Paul says further, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it…” (Romans 7:18b RSV). If you feel that way, God understands that. It is the most common problem of life. What you are lacking is power, the power to respond. You must learn that there is another source of power, that you can reckon on “the God who is there,” the God who is available to you. And that is why God signs his name this way again and again. “Here is something to do, or not to do: I am the LORD your God — standing here, available to you, ready for you to draw upon my strength. When you start drawing on it you can do, or not do, what I command by the power of an available God, the God who is Enough. I am Jehovah.”

If you understand this process by which life is to be lived, then you no longer can say, “I can’t,” in any situation. This is why Paul could say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…” (Philippians 4:13). If you understand that process and you still say, “I can’t,” then “I can’t,” has become a disguise for “I won’t.” That is the problem — not “I can’t,” but, “I don’t want to!” And God never changes your will — you must do that. You have to choose to do what God wants. But the secret is to do it on the basis of the power he is ready to supply to you. You must do the choosing, but he will do the supplying. When you choose to act on that basis, then power to act flows to you and through you — immediately.

When we look at the two types of prohibitions given in these passages. Let’s look at the instructions themselves, or at certain of their characteristics. We can’t take the time to go over all of them, but will just take a few samples. They fall into two general classes:

First, there are certain acts and attitudes which are inherently wrong, and prohibitions against them are eternally binding upon the people of God. As you read through this passage you can see that there are some things which, no matter whether you are living under the provisions of the Old Testament or New Testament, are always wrong and always to be avoided, by means of the strength that God gives. Read Verses 15-18 in Chapter 19:

“You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.[That is always right, never passes away.] You shall not go up and down as a slanderer[talebearer] among your people[you shall not be the neighborhood gossip; that never changes], and you shall not stand forth against the life[literally, the blood] of your neighbor[i.e., you shall not seek to get rid of him by conjuring up some false story about him so that he gets run out of the neighborhood. What does that say about racial prejudice, among other things?]: I am the LORD. You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” (Leviticus 19:15-18 RSV)

Did you know that was in the Old Testament? You find those words quoted from the lips of Jesus in the New Testament, but here they are in the book of Leviticus, under the Law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD,” God said. These words never go out of date.

There are certain other prohibitions here which also are eternally binding, but the penalty for their violation is no longer in effect, because of the grace of God, revealed in Jesus Christ. For instance, Verses 12-16 in Chapter 20:

“If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed incest, their blood is upon them. If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.[These are always wrong, but here the penalty was death.] If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is wickedness; they shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you. If a man lies with a beast, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the beast. If a woman approaches any beast and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the beast; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.” (Leviticus 20:12-16 RSV)

That is an interesting paragraph, in view of the recent action of the California Supreme Court to abolish the death penalty. Here God insisted upon it, said that it was absolutely essential, because that was the only way of impressing upon these people the seriousness of these evils. They were commonly accepted by the people around them. Practically everyone among the Canaanites and the Egyptians was living like that. But God said, in effect, “You mustn’t do any of these things because they are very, very damaging. They will destroy you as individuals and as a people. Therefore, in order to show you how serious these are, you must put to death those who do them. That will shock people, awaken them to how damaging this kind of evil can be.”

These things are just as damaging today as they ever were. But the remedy, the degree of punishment, is no longer the same. God has come in, in Christ, and has graciously mitigated the penalty, and has provided the opportunity for repentance and change. We no longer need to require death for these offenses, but there is a purpose for the death penalty. Applied in the right circumstances it has very great validity. But here, though these deeds are as wrong as ever, the penalty is changed — and quite properly so. It is mitigated by grace.

The second general class of prohibitions in this passage regards certain symbolic practices and rituals and ceremonies. They no longer need to be observed, but the attitude which they illustrate never changes. So underlying each item in this category is an unchangeable truth. For instance, consider Verse 19 in Chapter 19:

“You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff.” (Leviticus 19:19 RSV)

Almost all garments today are made of mixed stuff, of blends of natural and synthetic fibers. A literal adherence to this stricture is no longer of any significance, because it is dealing with substances which never were inherently wrong. Whenever God employs things symbolically and says that something connected with them is wrong, they are no longer tended to be taken literally but are meant to illustrate attitudes of mind and heart which are dangerous. The Israelites had to obey these literally, because that is how they learned what these attitudes were. But as we study them now we need to understand that God is teaching in a graphic way here that there are certain unmixable principles which are unalterably opposed to one another and that we are not to try to put the two together.

As an example, a believer in Christ should not marry an unbeliever, the New Testament says. To do so is to mix two ways of life which are categorically separated and this only creates confusion and hardship and pressure and problems. Therefore it is very important that a believer not marry an unbeliever. This is an application of the teaching of this kind of truth in our present life.

Similar prohibitions are found in Chapter 19, Verses 26-28:

“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not practice augury or witchcraft. You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:26-28 RSV)

The Israelites were to observe all this very literally, because God was teaching an attitude of heart by these external restrictions. Some of these things are eternally wrong while others are wrong only symbolically.

First, they were not to eat flesh with blood in it, as we saw in our last study, because the blood is the life of the flesh, and the life belongs to God. What God wants his people to learn is that life can never be handled properly unless it is related to God. Everything in life must relate to God. That is the great truth illustrated here. The New Testament clearly tells us that these restrictions on food are shadows which have passed away. But the meaning abides.

The meaning of the rest of the section is given in the next sentence. “You shall not practice augury or witchcraft.” There is nothing symbolic about that. That is eternally wrong, because it exposes you to demonic powers which can influence your mind and, though you may be unwitting of what is happening, can gradually seize your personality and possess it. Therefore God warns against this.

The practices which follow were simply part of the pagan ceremonies which accompanied their witchcraft and augury. They cut their hair and beards in certain ways, and cut and tattooed their bodies. These things are not wrong in themselves today unless, of course, they are connected with practices which lead into pagan worship and control by demons. That is what God, in love, labors to prevent.

One other example of this sort of prohibition which is rather outstanding is found in the first five verses of Chapter 20:

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, Any man of the people of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, who gives any of his children to Molech shall be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. I myself will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name. And if the people of the land do at all hide their eyes from that man, when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, then I will set my face against that man and against his family, and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in playing the harlot after Molech.” (Leviticus 20:1-5 RSV)

Molech was a fertility god, represented by a great iron or stone statue which was heated until white-hot by a fire built within it. People would take their infants and lay them in the outstretched arms of this idol and stand by as the children screamed in agony, cremated alive as an offering to Molech. Why would parents do a thing like that? — because they believed that this would increase the yield of their crops, and therefore their own prosperity. God was not only intent upon ending this cruel practice, with its insane sacrifice of human life in this horrendous manner, but what he really wants to convey is the evil of the principle involved: parents sacrificing their children for their own benefit.

When you read this that way you can see that many parents are offering their children to Molech today. Lots of parents are sacrificing their children on the altar of their own ego, in order that they might have the pleasant things of life. They give up their responsibility to love their children, and to spend time with them and raise them. They shunt them off to baby sitters and boarding schools to be raised, so that they (the parents) might work longer and make more money so that they can enjoy a higher standard of living. And the children wind up terribly, grievously scarred by this neglect. How is that any different from offering your child to Molech? That is what God says is wrong — that you are willing to sacrifice your children on the alter of parental pride, and let them suffer in order that you might be more prosperous.

In these chapters there are two great revelations concerning God and man, and with these we close: The first is the revelation of the enormity of the evil of which man is capable. Consider again just Verse 14 of Chapter 19:

“You shall not curse the deaf nor put a stumbling block before the blind.” (Leviticus 19:14a RSV)

Why would anybody want to do that? But God does not issue these warnings unnecessarily. He knows the depravity of which the human heart is capable. And how many of us have felt impatient because somebody couldn’t quite hear us and so we have had to repeat our words in a louder voice? Soon we have found ourselves muttering against them under our breath. What is that but cursing the deaf? Who would put a stumbling block before a blind person? Well, it’s amazing what humans, even children, will do to just amuse themselves. None of us is guiltless of these sorts of evils. What does this reveal? It reveals what God seeks constantly to tell us that there isn’t one of these things of which the flesh in any one of us is not capable.

But, in contrast, look at the tender, loving concern of God for the weak, the poor, and the strangers. Read these words from Verses 9-10 of Chapter 19:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10 RSV)

That is, “Don’t greedily grab everything that you can lay your hands on and try to take it for yourself. Leave some for someone else. There are those who haven’t had your opportunities, and they need help, too.”

You can see how tenderly concerned God is for the poor.  Generosity is to be our mark.

Then look at Verses 32-33:

“You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.[Do not take advantage of him.] The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:32-34 RSV)

Do you see what a high standard is set for us? Let’s close with these words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in the sixth chapter of Luke. How instructive they are! This is God’s level of life. This is where Christians are to live:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you. For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.[You are no different from anybody else, if this is the height of your morality.] But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.[Therefore] Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-37 RSV)

The same standard of life is proclaimed in the Old Testament as in the New. God’s character is to be revealed through his children, by the power of an available God, ready to live through us to do these things. We can’t do them by ourselves. But God stands ready to do them in us, as we draw upon his grace and strength.

God is truly the rock on whom we can stake our trust! The concrete grounding!