SOAP Journal – 28 February 2017 (Leviticus 23:44)

So Moses declared to the sons of Israel the appointed times of the LORD.

Leviticus 23:44

While driving home one evening, I heard a pastor teaching on the festivals; the convocations that Israel was commanded to observe. The pastor — whose name escapes me — observed that the festivals parallel the work of Jesus Christ. The calendar begins with Passover which commemorates the blood of the lamb causing death to have no power over the Israelites in Egypt. Likewise, the blood of Jesus Christ causes death to have no power over the believer. The list goes on like that for a few festivals and the pastor in question suggested that a couple of the appointed times might deal with Jesus’ second coming, because they have no parallel at the moment.

When this morning’s verse says that Moses declared to the sons of Israel the appointed times of the LORD (emphasis added) it could also have been rendered the appointments of the LORD. Essentially, this is God’s Day Planner; His Outlook calendar; these are the times He sets aside to meet with a certain group of people, viz. the Israelites. Moses shared God’s calendar with the people and they are all required attendees to the meetings listed.

All good stuff, but what does it have to do with me?

First, if the pastor’s observations are valid — and there is no reason why they should not be — then God revealed His plan and in what order it was going to happen long before He brought it to pass. This is a reminder to me that God has revealed some things far in advance. His will for me is outlined in general terms throughout The Bible. I need not wonder what God’s general will is for my life. He has shown it to me in His Word.

Second, God is more than ready to share His appointment book with those who are His own. He is only too glad to spend time with me. The appointments that God put on the calendar were not for His benefit — He is always accessible to those who call on Him — but for the benefit of the Israelites. He set aside those meeting times because He knew that the hustle and bustle of life — particularly an agrarian life — was likely to result in always planning to spend time with God and never following through. It is interesting to me that the festivals require the males to show up. As I think about this and about the state of the church today, it occurs to me that God had to command the men to show up, but knew that the women would do so of their own volition. He had to tell the men to stop and take a rest and get some spiritual feeding, because they would likely forget to do so. The women, as is most definitely the case now, may have been the more spiritually-minded and been only too ready to head over to the temple and enjoy some time with God and His people.

I need to look into the Word of God for His appointments and for His will for me and I need to make time; specific meeting times when I spend that time communing with God. It is important enough that He put it on His calendar. I should make sure that it is on mine.

Thank You, Father, for loving me enough to make time for me. Thank You, also, for revealing Your plan in general terms so I can generally conduct myself in accordance with Your will, but must come to You for specifics.

SOAP Journal – 27 February 2017 (Leviticus 22:32-33)

“You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel; I am the LORD who sanctifies you, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, to be your God; I am the LORD.”

Leviticus 22:32-33

I went through a few chapters this morning before anything seemed to invite consideration. There were, of course, sections that are controversial, such as chapter 20 and all the judgments passed down on the various forms of sexual sin called out therein. But I feel that I must focus on this concept this morning: sanctification.

These two verses contain several bits of instruction which I would like to unpack.

God tells the Israelites — possibly the priests, specifically, in the context of the passage — that they shall not profane [His] holy name. God’s Name is to be kept sacred and sanctified. And it is not merely His Name in the sense of what the Israelites are to call Him, but His reputation. The Israelites are to guard God’s reputation through their actions. He expects them to obey His commands and thereby set themselves apart; sanctify themselves and to sanctify Him by extension. He states this explicitly, saying that He will be sanctified among the sons of Israel. There is no tacit command, no implicit requirement. This is right out in the open. The way to guard the holiness of God’s Name; God’s reputation is to sanctify Him myself.

God continues. He reminds the Israelites that He is the LORD Who sanctifies [them]. They are to sanctify Him, but this is in response to His sanctification of them. Their relationship with Him will be marked by action on His part and response on theirs. He sanctifies them and they, in response, sanctify Him in their midst. He gives more context than that, though, as He reminds them that He brought [them] out from the land of Egypt, to be [their] God. He came and got them.They were not looking for Him.

All of this is a parallel to the life of the New Testament (NT) believer. We were not, as a rule, looking for God when we met Him. He came to find us and call us into relationship with Himself. He set us apart. He saved us. In response to this, He wants us to treat Him as holy; unique among all relationships in our lives. And this is echoed in so many of the instructions to NT believers. For example, God calls me, as a husband and father, to love God first and best and most. And He tells me that doing so; that loving Him first and best works itself out in loving everyone else in my life better and more fully than I otherwise could. He acts. I respond. The pattern repeats like a dance.

And it is that dance metaphor that I catch on this morning. I used to go dancing in ballrooms and learned that two things are necessary for good dancing to happen: a strong lead and a good follow. Two leads will battle for guidance of the dance. Two follows will go nowhere at all. A weak lead and a good follow may manage to not be terrible, but will not experience the best dancing. A strong lead and a bad follow will move around the floor, but with less grace and beauty than could have been achieved. A strong lead and a good follow is glorious. The lead nudges and the follow moves in that direction. The lead pulls and the follow is drawn in. Having seen and experienced the combination of strong lead and good follow, I know that the best dancing happens under those circumstances. Likewise, the best walk with God happens when God is the lead (not me combating Him for the lead) and I am a good follow. Under those circumstances, my walk with God feels effortless and looks, to all the world, as holiness should.

This morning’s verses remind me that my walk with God has much in common with dance and that I sanctify Him best when I follow His lead. He sanctifies me so I respond by sanctifying Him. He draws me out of bondage to sin and I respond by living in that freedom and following Him to still greater liberty.

Father, please teach me to be a good follow in our dance. I would flow across the floor of life like those who have moved me in their dance. May my walk with You be as beautiful and as joyous and as moving as those dances, Please make me a follow worthy of Your lead.

SOAP Journal – 24 February 2017 (Leviticus 19:1-2)

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.’”

Leviticus 19:1-2

This idea; this statement that the Israelites shall be holy because God is holy is reiterated several times in Leviticus. It is also quoted in the New Testament. But it was not until this morning that the phrasing used really caught my attention.

I have a friend whose occupation involves interpreting and applying laws. He is neither lawyer nor judge, but the language of the law is a thing which he sometimes points out in his own writings. He sometimes points out that the shall in legal language is a legal imperative and means that the action MUST be performed. But I also noticed something else: God is not commanding that the Israelites DO anything, but that they be something. God says You shall be holy (emphasis added). Every legal document I can recall ever reading — and I have read a few — inserts an action verb in that sentence slot, but God inserts only the linking verb.

What further catches my attention is the words that follow God’s pronouncement that the Israelites shall be holy, which is that their holiness is because He; God is holy. He says for I the LORD Your God am holy. This is the reason for the imperative. But it occurred to me this morning that the reason that the Israelites will be holy is because God is holy. The legal imperative is a good place to begin understanding this verse — it is situated in the midst of The Law — but the language seems to indicate a cause-effect relationship. The cause is God’s holiness and the effect is the Israelites’ holiness. They must be different not because of anything about them but because of the character of He Who is in their midst. God is holy and anyone and anything that is long in His presence becomes holy.

Moreover, the idea of holiness is often misunderstood. To be holy is to be set apart for a particular purpose. In the case of the Israelites, God set them apart to be His chosen people. More than this, He chose them to receive the tabernacle with all its rich symbolism and the sacrifices that foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice. He chose them and set them apart; made them unique, because He is unique.

Where all of this leaves me is understanding the concept of being holy because God is holy as more of a promise and less of a command. Because God is holy, the Israelites shall be holy. Because everything that belongs to God — me included — is His and therefore set apart for His especial use, everything that is God’s is holy by definition. That means the Israelites. That means me and every other believer who has given themselves to God. We are, each of us, holy because we belong to God.

Father, thank You for wanting me and wanting me so much as to pay a price beyond reckoning. Thank You that it is You Who makes me holy, not any effort of my own.

SOAP Journal – 23 February 2017 (Leviticus 18:2-4)

“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the LORD your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to walk in them; I am the LORD your God.’”

Leviticus 18:2-4

Leviticus 18 is a chapter prohibiting all manner of sexual behavior. These behaviors include such common sense prohibitions as not having sex with one’s sibling (v 9) as well as contentious prohibitions, such as the prohibition against homosexual activity (v 22). The way that society is going, I imagine that it is only a matter of time before society at large thinks it closed-minded of The Bible and those who take The Bible literally to prohibit sex with one’s siblings or with animals (also prohibited in this chapter).

Looking at these prohibitions, it seems to me that they are all reasonable. The prohibitions against sex with a near relative (vv 6-18) are just good sense as any offspring from those pairings would be very likely to have genetic deformities. As for no sex during a woman’s period (v 19), that was just good hygiene at the time.

I am not going to address every prohibition in this chapter, even though they do sort nicely into categories, but am focused instead on how God began these prohibitions. He starts by saying I am the LORD your God. If I begin from this premise, then I agree that He has every right to dictate to me how I am and am not permitted to use my body. He is, after all, its designer and manufacturer. Who better to instruct me in proper operation? But more, the statement is that He is my God, not simply God. This is personal. I am not merely admitting that He exists or that He is the designer and maker of the human body and has every right to mandate proper use of the thing. I am saying that He is MY God and that personalization of things means that I choose to submit to what He instructs. I do not grudgingly accept that He has a right to direct me, but I willingly accept His commands because He is MY God.

And His command is given context. He does not say that these things are not done. Far from it. He tells the Israelites that these behaviors are performed by the Egyptians and the Canaanites. God says that you shall not walk in their statutes. The Israelites were not to do the same things as the people out of whose midst God had brought them or the same things as those God had promised to drive out before them. Instead, He says You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to walk in them.

This context tells me a few things. It tells me that the sexual behaviors prohibited in this chapter were taking place in ancient Egypt and Canaan. These behaviors are not new, nor is social acceptance of them. It tells me that nations who do not adhere to God’s Law are very likely to normalize these behaviors to the point that they become codified in the law of the land.

And all of this comes down to a principle: Those who are God’s must live differently. The Israelites were told not to do what is done in the land of Egypt … or in the land of Canaan. They were told to walk in … [God’s] judgments and … statutes. This would set them apart; make them obviously different than the people living around them. If your neighbor is swapping spouses with your other neighbor while you and your spouse are monogamous, it makes a pretty clear distinction.

And, because I know that ideas like this radical notion that sexual activity should still be governed by the Law and not, say tattoos or mixed fabric garments, I resort to Acts 15:28-29. In those verses, the apostles had discussed the matter and prayed about things and concluded that only certain aspects of The Law really needed to be observed by non-Jewish believers. And fornication — a Greek word (πορνεία porneía) that was a catch-all for any aberrant sexual behavior — was on the short list. Even in the First Century, the apostles were not worried about whether believers had tats or wore cotton-poly blend.

The point of this is that those who are God’s must live differently. If I am to claim to belong to God, then that should impact the way that I live. If I do all the same things as those who are not God’s, then what purpose does belonging to God serve? Do I belong to Him at all? My life; my conduct must be changed if I really believe that the LORD is my God. If He is MY God and MY LORD, then that must manifest in my life and my behavior. If it does not, then I must examine myself, to see whether or not I am truly His.

Thank You, Father, for this reminder that my life must be different. You do not charge the world around me to obey Your statutes, only those who call You their God. Please remind me of that any time I find myself tempted to want to force those who do not claim You as their God to obey You. You do not force it and I should not try to either. I should do as my God does and love. Please change me from the inside out so that the change within manifests as a life lived differently.

SOAP Journal – 22 February 2017 (Leviticus 17:11)

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.

Leviticus 17:11

Leviticus 17 is a chapter all about the blood of animals. The Israelites were commanded not to eat any meat with the blood still in it, but to drain the blood out of the meat and to bring their sacrifices to the temple. Multiple reasons are given for these commands.

First, God wants the people to bring their sacrifices because He wants them to be faithful to Him. He is not telling them to be vegetarian or any such thing. He is saying that they should bring their sacrifices to the tabernacle so they can make peace offerings to Him and the whole exercise can be one of increasing fellowship and improving relationship with Him.

Second, God points out that the life of the thing is in its blood. There are some ancient cultures that believed in consuming various internal organs or drinking the blood of an animal in order to take on one or more of its attributes. God says that the life of the animal is in its blood and the blood. He then explains that it is the life itself that makes atonement.

Both of these reasons point forward to Jesus.

The prohibition against any surrogates for the sacrifices that would generate fellowship and communion with God was a reminder that God establishes the way we come to Him. We cannot create our own way and expect it to be effective, since God has not sanctioned that way. When Jesus spoke with His disciples, He said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He is the only Way that God accepts and no other may be employed.

The statement about the life being in the blood points forward to the perfect life that would be lived by Jesus and that very same perfection would be poured out at the cross, just as the blood of the sacrifices was poured out at the foot of the altar. The priest was to sprinkle the blood on the horns of the altar and Christ, in His crucifixion, applied His own blood to the four points of the cross. My High Priest applying His own sinless life blood to the four corners of the altar on which He was sacrificed to cleanse me from my sin.

But that idea of the life being in the blood goes a step further, as Jesus told His disciples that the cup passed around at the Lord’s Supper, a.k.a. Communion, was a symbolic stand-in for His blood in which He was making a new covenant. He instructed His disciples to drink the cup in remembrance of Him until He returned. Believers are to drink in the life of Christ, to take in that life and make it part and parcel of who we are.

Is the life of Christ a part of me? Is it impacting the life I live? The life is in the blood and I am reminded of the blood every time I come to The Lord’s Table. Do I live out what Christ puts in? If no, then I need to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. If yes, then I should stay the course and grow in that.

Father, thank You for the blood of Christ; the sinless life that was given for me. Thank You that this law regarding blood points forward to a still better sacrifice and a still more innocent and perfect life that would be laid down for the sins of the world. Please work that life into me and teach me to live it out.

SOAP Journal – 21 February 2017 (Leviticus 16:8-10)

Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat.

Leviticus 16:8-10

Leviticus 16 describes the annual atonement that had to be made for the high priest and for the Israelites as a whole. The offerings are straightforward — a bull for the high priest’s sin offering and a goat for the congregation — but there is this idea of the scapegoat added into the mix. And I love the picture presented by that goat.

One goat was for the LORD, that is to say that the goat was offered as a sin offering. The other goat was for the scapegoat. The scapegoat was presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it. The sins of the people were confessed over the head of this goat, same as the sin offering, but this goat was then led off into the wilderness.

I love the picture this paints. On the one hand, there is the sacrifice reminding the people that iniquity — both intentional and unintentional wrongdoing — must be paid for in blood. That goat must die and its blood be sprinkled around in specific parts of the tabernacle. Every sacrifice that sprinkled the blood hither and yon in the tabernacle was a stark reminder of the cost of my wrongdoing. And the blood spattered on every article used in worship was a reminder of what it cost to restore fellowship with God when we break it by sinning.

Then there is a second goat. The priest would go through the whole litany of wrongs the congregation had committed and confess them over the head of this goat, then another man would lead that goat way off into no man’s land and let it go. And a goat was an ideal choice for this sort of thing. Goats are pretty self-sufficient, so the animal had good odds of survival. The picture here is one of forgiveness. Where the first goat reminded me of what it cost to forgive my sin, the second goat reminds me of where my sin is. And the answer to that is: Who knows? Once that goat is released, it is gone and it will never be seen again. Likewise my sins, once forgiven, are forgotten. Never to be brought up by God again. The psalmist goes so far as to say that God removes my sin as far as east is from west (Psalm 103:12).

These goats gave a more clear picture of forgiveness. Yes, the price of forgiveness was life; blood spilled. That forgiveness, once secured, removed my sins to a place that no one knows. The picture is both of how God forgives and how I should forgive.

For me, as a believer, the blood was already spilled at the cross. The price has been paid and the sin paid for. Now it remains for me, when I sin, to confess my sins to God and He will send them off into a place where they will never be seen or heard from again. Now it remains for me, when I am sinned against, to confess that sin over the head of the scapegoat and send it off into the wilderness, whence I can never bring it back. Sin, once forgiven, is to be remembered no more.

Thank You, Father, that You do not remember my sins. It is not as though You had forgotten them, but that You send them away into a place where they cannot trouble me any more. Please cultivate in me a heart that forgives as You do.

SOAP Journal – 17 February 2017 (Leviticus 15:31)

“Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.”

Leviticus 15:31

Leviticus 15 is all about uncleanness from emissions and it seems to be focusing in on emissions that occur below the waistline. The chapter includes instruction about an emission generally (vv 1-15), seminal emission (vv 16-18), menstrual emission (vv 19-24), and something similar to but not the same as menses (vv 25-30). And I thought that “having the talk” was going to be difficult for me.

The instructions given make a degree of sense. Do not touch anything that may have come in contact with the emission. Rational enough, seeing how non-porous personal hygiene items were not really a thing yet. If you did happen to come in contact with anything that had been touched by the region from which the emission came, you had to wash up and consider yourself on quarantine for the rest of the day. It is interesting to note that the discharges not specifically linked to sexual reproduction — that is, the emissions that are neither seminal nor menstrual — require a small sacrifice of purification eight days after the discharge has stopped. The ones linked to reproduction just require bathing. This implies a difference between these emissions. I will not speculate on the ramifications or implications of such a difference, but I find that I want to dive right into that.

God wraps this set of instructions up with the statement that is this morning’s verse. These things are done to keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness. The idea, as stated later in the verse, is that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling [God’s] tabernacle that is among them. Everything the person with an emission touched was made unclean, so the entire tabernacle was at risk. This could mean broken fellowship with God for all of the Israelites for an extended period of time while everything that was rendered unclean by a touch was replaced — new items made and consecrated.

There are two things that seem applicable to me as I come away from this chapter.

First, the instruction about seminal emissions is a bit on the nose for a man. There is an implication about it that I find interesting. One translation of this passage renders the emission as a nocturnal emission, implying that the emission is a result of dreams. I cannot, as an elder saint once said, stop birds flying around my head, but I can stop them building a nest in my hair. What he was on about is that I cannot control what thoughts pop into my mind or what dreams come while I sleep, but I can control what things I dwell on and ponder throughout the day. The washing after an emission is, I think, a reminder that it is not what goes into a person that makes us unclean, but what comes from us. It is not the thoughts that pop into my mind and immediately cause a reaction in my body that make me unclean — those can be as easily washed off as they are forgotten, but the thoughts that I might continue to hold in mind that would lead to my bathing being of no effect.

Second, the point of this is not to chastise me or guilt me or any other such thing, but to keep God’s dwelling holy. The only attribute of God that I see repeated three times in The Bible is that He is holy. I was once told that threefold repetition of something was an idiom in ancient Hebrew for the superlative; as in good, better, best. God’s holiness is something that I, as His child, must look to preserve. And He wants me to be a part of that.

Thank You, Father, that You are concerned about my cleanness. Thank You also that You give me a chance to be a part of preserving Your holiness as perceived among people.