The Book of Leviticus - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
Leviticus was the hand-book of the priests. It contains the laws governing the whole system of worship. In Exodus we have the record of the words God spake to Moses from the Mount. They are the fundamental words of moral order. In Leviticus we have words God spake to Moses from the midst of the Tabernacle. They are the words of His administration of the affairs of His people in holiness and in grace. Throughout, God is seen as the God of all perfection, making it possible for imperfect man to draw nigh to Himself through sacrifice. The sacrifices and offerings were all to be provided by the worshippers, but they were to be the symbols of an Offering and Sacrifice which the worshippers could not provide, but which would be provided by God. Because they were thus to symbolize perfection, they must be, so far as man could make sure of it, perfect in themselves. That is the significance of this phrase "without blemish." Nothing offered to God must be imperfect. The principle abides, even though we are looking back to the one perfect Offering, rather than onward in expectation of its coming. Our only right to offer anything to God, in any form, is created by the one Offering through which we are sanctified. Every offering is a symbol still of the One. Therefore only of the best we have, have we any right to offer to Him. He is worthy to receive the most precious, and we do wrong to the perfection of His Sacrifice when we give to Him in kind, or in effort, that which is second-rate or imperfect. Our best is but poor, but that which we do give, must be our best.
No meal offering which ye shall offer unto the Lord, shall be made with leaven.
As the burnt offering was to be "without blemish" so the meal offering was to be without leaven. This meal offering was the work of men's hands, of the fruits of the ground, the result of cultivation, manufacture, and preparation; and it was the symbol of service offered. Therefore it was not to be mixed with leaven. Why not? Because leaven in its very nature is corruption, and its influence is corrupting. Whenever it is introduced, it sets up the work of disintegration and break-up. Nothing of that kind must be permitted in the symbol of service, because God demands a perfect service as well as a perfect offering. Not only the gift, but also the deed must be without corruption. The application of the principle to ourselves is found when we turn to the New Testament, and find what leaven symbolizes for us. Our Lord warned His disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 16:6). The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy; that is, of ritualism without spiritual and moral content. The leaven of the Sadducees was rationalism; that is, Herodianism or wordliness; the elimination of the supernatural. Paul speaks of the leaven of "malice and wickedness," as the opposite of "sincerity and truth." These then are the corrupting influences which are not to be mixed with our service. In all the work we do for God, there is to be an absence of hypocrisy, of materialism, of the spirit which is contrary to love and truth.
An offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord.
These words, "of a sweet savour," are used with reference to the first three offerings, the Burnt Offering, the Meal Offering, the Peace Offering. They are not used of the Sin Offering or of the Trespass Offering. Every one of these offerings was made by fire. In the case of the first three the fire brings out the savour; in that of the last two it destroys. The suggestiveness of all this, it is 'impossible to escape. Fire is pre-eminently a symbol of God, and of certain facts about His character and activities. Invariably it speaks of some aspect or activity of His holiness. It is a symbol of what He is as the Holy One, in that only things which are in conformity with that nature can live in His presence. It is therefore a symbol of His wrath as He consumes that which is contrary to His nature. It is also a symbol of cleansing in that He purifies from all alloy those things which do conform to His character. Therefore, the offerings which represented sin and trespass, the fire destroyed; but those which represented devotion, service, fellowship, it affected so as to bring out the savour pleasing to God. The God of holiness is a God of fire, and He is to man what man is in regard to Himself. If man be in rebellion, a sinner persisting in his sin, the fire destroys him. If he be yielded, the fire brings out the beauty of character. Christ knew the fire bringing out sweet savour in His absolute perfections; He knew it as consuming, as He represented the sinner, and was made sin.
If anyone shall sin unwittingly.
These words recognize an aspect of sin which we are at least in danger of thinking of lightly. There is a great tendency to imagine that sin is only in the will. There is a sense in which this is true. Guilt never attaches to sin until it is an act of the will. But imperfection and pollution exclude from God, even though there be no responsibility for them. God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil." This aspect of sin demands cleansing, while wilful sin needs forgiveness. I need not ask the forgiveness of God for sins which I have committed unwittingly, for pollution for which I have no responsibility. But I do need cleansing from them also. I need that "sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord." This is what was suggested by the sin-offering, the dealing with sin which sets the soul free from its pollution and paralysis. The trespass-offering suggested the dealing with sin which makes it possible for God to forgive the soul the wrong of wilful disobedience. Nothing is more clearly stamped upon these pages of Leviticus than the fact that sin must not be lightly treated. Jehovah is the God of holiness, and can make no terms with sin. But He is also the God of grace, Who provides a plenteous and perfect redemption for the sinner. All this is most perfectly emphasized in the fact that this great system was done away because it made nothing perfect. It revealed a need and promised deliverance, but nothing more. In Christ the promise was fulfilled and the need met.
If his means suffice not for a lamb.
A great principle of the method of God with man in grace is revealed in these words. The appointed offering was "a lamb or a goat." But it might be that some man would not be able to provide one - his means might not suffice for it. Then was he to be excluded from the benefit of the priest and the altar? By no means. Let him bring "two turtle doves or two young pigeons." Or if he could not provide these, then let him bring "the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour." The right of access was not created by the intrinsic value of the guilt-offering, but by a gift of such relation to a man's means, as should show his appreciation of the principle upon which it was possible for him to be received and forgiven. This negative word necessarily has a positive value. If a man's means sufficed for the appointed lamb or a goat, and he brought two turtle doves or pigeons, or a tenth part of an ephah of fine flour, such action would show that he had no adequate sense, either of his own sin, or of the Divine grace. Is there not some light here on the whole question of "the means of grace"? The supreme thing is grace. The means may vary. Nevertheless, in every case they must be an adequate representation of the soul's apprehension of grace. Where they are so, grace comes through them, whether ornate or simple. Where they are not so, they are never its channels.
Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out. - Leo. 6:13
A reference ahead to the account of the consecration of Aaron and his first exercise of the priestly office will show that this fire was originally supernatural (9:24). It came out from before Jehovah. This was the fire which was to be kept burning, by being constantly provided with fuel. Thus, the fire was from God, but it was maintained by man. The responsibility for the carrying out of this instruction rested upon the priests. A glance back at a previous note (3:5) will remind us that fire was the symbol of the holiness of God in different activities, making possible life in His presence, consuming all contrary to Himself in nature, and so purifying all like Himself from alloy. Here then we are reminded of the necessity for the perpetual maintenance of the action of that holiness. It comes from God. Man has no holiness other than the holiness he receives from Him. But in order that its flame may burn continually, and its heat accomplish the Divine purpose, the fire must be fed. That demands ceaseless vigilance. The unworthy things must be handed over for destruction. The things of worth in service and fellowship must be yielded up to the fire for purification. Neither day nor hour nor minute passes which has no need of this cleansing fire. We may be comforted by the certainty that, as we bring the fuel, the fire will continue to burn, accomplishing all its purposes, whether of destruction or purifying.
With cakes of leavened bread.
We noted that no leaven was to be mixed in the Meal Offering, because leaven is in itself corrupting, and is perpetually the symbol of corruption. This makes us pause when we find that leaven was now commanded to be mixed with the Peace Offering. In order to understand.it, let the reader note carefully that in the previous verse (I2) the worshipper is commanded to offer with the Peace Offering unleavened cakes, and unleavened wafers. Then also leavened cakes. Surely the suggestion is quite patent. The Peace Offering is supremely the symbol of communion based on reconciliation. It is the offering which symbolizes two sides to a great transaction; one of those is that of God, the other is that of man. God and man are at peace. The Godward side can only be symbolized by that which is unleavened, free from all evil, separated from everything that tends to corruption. On the other hand, there remains in man much of imperfection. This is symbolized by the leavened cakes. Our unworthiness in and of ourselves abides. In our thanksgiving and our praise there is no room for boastfulness. Of this we need to be constantly reminded. The truth is brought out in the lines of a great hymn of worship:-
- Unworthy is thanksgiving,
A service stained with sin,
Except as He is living,
Our Priest, to bear it in.
Aaron and his sons did all the things which the Lord commanded.
These concluding words of a chapter make us look back over it. It is the account of the consecration of Aaron and his sons; that is, of the High Priest and the priests. Let us remind ourselves of the sequence of ceremonies. First Aaron and his sons were washed. Then the High Priest was robed in his garments of beauty and glory. This was followed by his anointing with the holy oil. After that his sons were robed. Before there could be exercise of their priestly function, two offerings were sacrificed to Jehovah; first, the sin offering for pollution; and then, the burnt offering as a sign of complete dedication. Then on the right ear and right thumb, and great toe of right foot, of Aaron and each of his sons, blood was put; the symbol of cleansing of sin, in order to the fulfilment of priestly functions. Next the wave-offering signified the rights and privileges of the priests, all offered to God. Again they were anointed with blood and oil. Their sustenance was provided, and they were completely separated to God and His service. Every detail was suggestive. Into the spiritual significance the reader will enter. We desire only to stress the teaching that the way of entrance to service in holy things is the way of obedience to the Divine ordinance. Nothing must be omitted which Jehovah commands. His priests must be washed, robed, anointed, sustained, separated, and all in His way, or they cannot exercise their functions in His service. To neglect anything, is to invalidate ministry.
Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out, and blessed the people.
Thus when all things were done in accordance with the Divine plan, Moses and Aaron had access to the Tent of Meeting, and by that access were enabled to pass out and bless the people. In the Chaldee Version of the Pentateuch the words of the blessing are thus reported: "May the Word of Jehovah accept your sacrifice with favour, and remit and pardon your sins." Whether these were the actual words or no, the truth remains that these men pronounced a blessing upon the people which was of Divine authority. The principle is abiding. The servants of God, whether prophets or priests, have no power to bless men save as they receive it in direct communion with God. Before we can go out and bless the people, we must go in to the Place of Meeting with God. This is so self-evident that it seems hardly necessary to state it. Yet we are perpetually in danger of allowing our very eagerness to serve men, to interfere with our communion with God. To do so, is to fail disastrously. It is only as we serve in the Holy Place, in worship, in silence, in reception from God, that we are able to serve in the camp in work, in speech, in giving to men. Forgetfulness of this is the secret of much futility in Christian work, of much fussiness, of much feverishness. It is the souls who are strengthened, enlightened, quieted in the Tent of Meeting, that pass out to the places and ways of men, carrying blessings with them.
This was, quite simply, fire which Nadab and Abihu kindled themselves. Everything else seems to have been in order. They were duly appointed priests, being sons of Aaron. They employed the proper censers. They put incense on them. And finally they offered before Jehovah. The one failure was that they touched that incense with fire they had kindled rather than with the fire from the altar which had been kindled directly by the Lord (see 9:24). Apparently it was an unimportant matter; at least, the fact that they did it, proves that they considered it to be so. That it was not unimportant, is proved by the further fact that "there came forth fire from before Jehovah, and devoured them." That sacred fire, kept perpetually burning, was the one central symbol of the holiness of God, and any offering unsanctified thereby was polluted. The lesson is evident. The fire in which all our service must be rendered is that of the Spirit of God, Who is the Spirit of Holiness. To seek to make our work effectual and acceptable by any agent other than the Holy Spirit, is to burn "strange fire." The energy of the flesh, and the cleverness of the mind, unbaptized in the Holy Spirit, are polluted; and however pleasing the results may be to human minds and hearts, such forces are ineffectual in the service of God, and unacceptable to Him. To offer "strange fire" - is a deadly business. We may be in true orders, doing God-appointed work, but if we attempt these things in any energy other than that of the Holy Spirit, we are in danger of being cast away.
To make a difference between the unclean and the clean.
These words refer to the food of the people of God. Here we come to the laws which touch the ordinary and everyday life of the people. Those already enunciated have had to do with worship, the whole subject of the people's approach to God. The people for whom such rights and privileges are created are never away, either from God's thought and will for them, or from their obligations to Him. He is interested in every detail of their lives. He issues His commands as to what they may eat, and what they may not eat. They are not permitted to choose for themselves in the matter of that food which is to sustain their physical strength. There is no doubt at all that these regulations were all fundamentally sanitary. They were by no means capricious. We may not be able to discover the scientific reasons for the classification. Moreover, they may have been regulated largely by the climate, and the particular period in which men were then living. Possibly, therefore, some of them may not apply to those living in other lands and in other times. All that being granted, the permanent value of these enactments consists in their revelation of the fact of the Divine interest in, and care for, all these details. If today we are not to be governed by the actual rules of this Hebrew law, the principle involved in it finds expression for us in the words of Paul: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10: 31). To eat or drink anything which harms the body, which is the instrument of the spirit, is not to glorify God. Therefore into this whole question of food, the fact of our relationship with God enters, and each is called upon to act for himself or herself accordingly.
The priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.
This is a brief chapter in our Bibles, as it was a brief section in the Hebrew laws. It is none the less one full of suggestiveness. It is the law of Motherhood, and it fences it round in the most sacred way, physically and spiritually. On the purely physical side it will bear close and reverent consideration, providing as it did for the perfect repose of the new mother; and it has been suggested that in the difference of time in the case of male and female children, it had an important bearing on the regulation of the sexes. On the spiritual side, its requirements are very full of importance. Motherhood is one of the most sacred and beautiful things in the whole realm of human experience. This needs no argument. But motherhood is exercised in a race which is defiled. When the great singer of Israel, in his penitential psalm, said: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psa. 31:5), he was casting no reflection upon his own mother, but rather stating a racial fact, from which no human being escapes. Here then is the value of this law. God provided that Motherhood should be sanctified by sacrifice. To us, Motherhood has been for ever made holy by the Seed of the woman, through Whom woman is saved in child-bearing. It is always a sad thing, to say nothing stronger, when mothers forget to remember this, and to recognize it in the sacred service of the sanctuary.
The priest shall look.
Even until today leprosy is so dire a disease that it completely baffles the skill of the physician. Much may be done to alleviate the distress which it causes, but there is no cure for it. In countries where sanitary laws obtain, it is almost eliminated, but that is done by removing causes, not by curing those suffering from it. In Eastern countries, and under the conditions obtaining in many of them, it is still prevalent. In these laws it is dealt with at great length comparatively, and that undoubtedly because of its dire nature. We cannot wonder that it became, and still continues to be, the very symbol of sin. It is a disease in the blood itself, which is the life; its manifestations are most terrible and loathsome; and - as we have said - it is incurable. In these two chapters we have the laws for dealing with it; and in the brief words, "The priest shall look," we have revealed the utmost that could be done for those suffering from it. The whole fact may thus be stated, that the only thing that the priest could do, was to discover whether or no the disease was actual leprosy. If it were not, then there might be a period of separation, and presently a restoration to the community. If it were leprosy, nothing could be done other than to separate the sufferer completely from others. In the light of these considerations, we remember that there came in the fullness of time One Who could not only look at, but touch the leper - One Who could cure. That is also the story of His dealing with sin.
He shall break down the house.
That is, the house affected by leprosy. There was a time when it was suggested that this law was due to superstition. Modern science has proved its beneficence. A house may be infected with many forms of disease. This now needs no argument. All our present methods of dealing with disease from the standpoint of the welfare of the community are based upon it. It is made a criminal offence today not to notify cases of certain diseases. This attitude is entirely warranted by this law. A house which is likely to communicate disease must either be cleansed completely or destroyed. No man has any property rights which are superior to the rights of the health of the community. What we really need today, is a more drastic application of the principle. When we turn to the spiritual suggestiveness, we at once realize its importance. In the letter of Jude, the principle suddenly flames out in his words: "Hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (verse 23). Whatever in our life has been associated with and contaminated by the leprosy of past sin, it is good to destroy without compromise or pity. How often where this is not done, even those who have known personal deliverance have been infected anew! Old haunts, old associations, should be left, abandoned, without compromise, or else the last state may be worse than the first.
Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness.
This chapter contains the laws governing the whole experience of issues from the flesh as they are involved in uncleanness. It is a strange and solemn chapter in which, once again, as in the one dealing with the subject of motherhood and child-hood (12), there is brought before the mind, with dread and forceful solemnity, the fact of the defilement of the race. A simple and yet careful consideration of these requirements will serve to remind us that the procreative powers of humanity are all under the curse, as the result of race-pollution. Whether the exercise of such powers be natural or unnatural, within the restraint of law or beyond such restraint, they are tainted with the same virus of sin in the sight of a God of absolute holiness. Therefore for these people of God who were to be preserved from all contamination physically with other races, in connection with the activity of these powers, stringent laws were enacted for cleansing. The chapter, therefore, has a solemn message to all of us concerning the fact of the pollution of human nature at its fountain-head, and the consequent perpetual necessity for cleansing. This view of human nature is not flattering, and the human mind is often in rebellion against it. To deny it, is to deny a fact which is constantly proven true in human experience. We should, therefore, sedulously observe the spiritual significance, and apply it resolutely in the physical realm. For us the way of perpetual cleansing is provided in Christ.
To make atonement for the children of Israel because of all their sins once in the year.
This chapter contains the instructions which were given concerning the observance of the Day of Atonement. This was in many ways the greatest day in the religious year of the Hebrew people, for this was the most important religious rite in the whole economy. In this rite provision was made for dealing with the whole question of sin, known and unknown. We noticed in an earlier note, when dealing with the difference between the sin-offering and the trespass-offering (chapter 4), that the element of accountability was conditioned in knowledge, but that sin, in the sight of God, is sin, even though committed in ignorance. All sin, therefore, was dealt with on the day. Every arrangement was intended to impress upon the mind the solemnity of the approach of the soul to God, and to stress the truth that the sinner has no right of access save that which is provided for him through sacrifice. As these arrangements are pondered, one can easily realize that their necessary imperfection could not produce anything like perfect rest in the conscience. Indeed, the more sensitive the spirit, the more that imperfection would be realized. For us there is no waiting for an annual day of atonement. We need not wait, with sin undealt-with for an hour. Our Priest abides in the holiest, and we have access there through Him at all times. This should not make us less reverent in our coming, but more so. The cleansed conscience is never rude, irreverent. It is ever subdued, chastened, sensitive. It rejoices in freedom, but never loses the sense of debt.
And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the he-goats. - Lev. 17:7
This is a startling interpolation. It occurs in the midst of instructions concerning sacrifices. It is first provided that all sacrifices must be brought to the door of the Tent of Meeting. There must be no other place of worship through sacrifice. This provision recognized the fact of the unification of the nation around the Divine Presence ; reminding the people that there could be no access to God on the part of any person in self-willed isolation; and so made difficult, if not impossible, the worship of false gods. It was in this connection that these words were uttered. The Authorized. Version reads: "They shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils." Perhaps that was too strong a rendering. The Hebrew word literally is "hairy-ones." In Isa. 13:21 and 34:14 it is rendered "satyr" in the Authorized Version, and "wild-goats" in the American Standard Version. The satyr was an imaginary being, half-goat, half-man, of demon nature. In Egypt the goat-man, Pan, was worshipped. It would seem as though this word recognized the fact that these people had in Egypt probably worshipped that false god. It is but a reference, and we may not dogmatize as to the actual meaning. The one truth of value for us is that when man worships God in the right way, according to the Divine provision and law, all false worship becomes unnecessary and impossible. To be deflected from the true method, even of the worship of God, is ever to be in danger of turning to other gods.
After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do.
The particular application of these words was to all the corrupt social practices of Egypt and Canaan, those very practices which had resulted in a corrupt and degenerate race; so corrupt and degenerate that it was necessary, in the interest of the human race, that they should be swept out. All that promiscuous intercourse between the sexes which inevitably tends to disease and degeneracy, was contrary to the mind of God, because destructive of humanity. Therefore, His people were safeguarded against those things by this general command, and by detailed particularity of statement. In the interests of the health and strength of national life these enactments are still of force. To break them, is to bring about inevitable deterioration and ultimate destruction. The principle involved in the words has much wider application. The people of God are called upon to conform in all the ways and habits of life, not to the customs of the world, but to the mind and will of God as made known in His law. The full force of the principle is found in Paul's injunction: "Be not fashioned according to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2). It is a requirement of which we need to remind ourselves constantly. It is so easy to be lured from our loyalty by the customs of the men and women by whom we are surrounded. Such requirement is not capricious. It is based upon God's loving purpose for His own, and His determination to preserve them from all destructive practices.
Thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field.
This is a remarkable chapter. It consists largely of the repetition of laws already given, with one reiterated emphasis, namely, that of the fact that JEHOVAH was the God of His people. It opens with a general call to holiness, based upon its ultimate reason: "Ye shall be holy, for I Jehovah your God am holy." This is the ultimate reason for holiness. The holiness of Jehovah must be exemplified in His people. This formula, "I am Jehovah," is repeated in this one chapter no less than fourteen times. Every commandment here repeated is set in relation to this fact. In the words we are specially noting, there is a gleam of light, full of beauty. In the reaping of their harvests they were forbidden to reap the corners of the fields. These were to be left for the poor and the stranger, and this because "I am Jehovah your God." An essential quality of the holiness of God is His beneficence, His tender concern for the needy. The people who are called to exemplify His holiness, are to observe that fact. The exactitude and thoroughness in dealing with one's own harvests, which leaves no room for those who are in need, is strictly forbidden. Happy indeed are those who in all their business enterprises retain a consciousness of human need, and such consideration for it as will make them leave something which of strict justice belongs to themselves, that this need may be ministered to. This is holiness according to the Divine standard, which ever has this element of compassion.
That the land, whither I bring you to dwell therein, vomit you not out.
This is an arresting word. The whole Biblical revelation insists upon the close relationship between the earth and man. At the beginning it is written, in view of man's sin: "Cursed is the ground for thy sake" (Gen. 3:17). In the Roman letter, Paul declares, again as the consequence of human sin, that: "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Rom. 8:22). The prophets repeatedly emphasized the truth that the earth becomes polluted by man's pollution. The measure in which the land is dealt with by corrupt man, is the measure in which it becomes barren, and at last refuses to support man. In that sense it vomits him out. The very land referred to in this word of the law of God, stands today at the centre of the earth, a standing witness to the truth. There it has been for ages, fruitless and barren, and yet naturally there is no land more fertile. Men corrupted it, and it vomited them out. When presently the people of God are finally restored to their land in faith and loyalty, it will become again the garden of the Lord, full of fruit and full of beauty. Again the principle is of the widest application. Whatever the territory man reigns over, it is affected by his character. If he be polluted and corrupt, then all that is under his sway becomes polluted and corrupt, and so fails to supply him with the very things he seeks therefrom; it vomits him out, and that by the desolation which he has himself produced. Thus has God conditioned His whole creation within laws which ever operate with Himself and His holiness and against evil.
No man of the seed of Aaron the priest, that hath a blemish, shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord.
In this chapter the subject is that of the behaviour and condition of life, necessary in the case of the priests. The absolute necessity for their strictest separation from all possibility of defilement is carefully set forth. They stood in a place of special nearness to God as the Divinely-appointed mediators of the people; therefore they must of all men manifest, in all the externals of life and conduct, the necessity for that holiness without which no man may see the Lord. They were strictly forbidden to defile themselves by contact with the dead in any form. The only exceptions permitted were in the cases of those who were their next of kin. Even these exceptions were not made for the High Priest. He must never touch a dead person, even though it were father or mother. Moreover, his family must be most strictly guarded. This was revealed in the one flaming declaration that if the daughter of a priest defiled herself, she profaned her father, and was to be burned with fire. Finally, in the words we have selected, it was provided that no cripple of any sort should exercise the priestly office. Approach to God necessitated perfection, and so far as it was possible to emphasize this by the external symbols, it was done in the case of the priests. There followed a recognition of the fact that blame may not attach to a man in the matter of physical defect. Therefore he was permitted to eat the bread of God, but not to offer it. All this should at least emphasize for us the truth that we ought to seek that those who minister in holy things should be of the strongest rather than the weakest.
Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, that they separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel. - Leo. 22:2
In this chapter we have the further enforcement and wider application of the necessity for the complete separation of the priests from all defilement. They were to abstain from the exercise of their office, to "separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel," under certain conditions which were described. If from natural cause, or from disease, or from contact with defiling things, the priest were for the time defiled, he was to abstain from his service, until such time as he had been actually and ceremonially cleansed. Not only must he himself be free from blemish and defilement, he was charged to see to it that all he offered was of the same character. And yet further, he was not to extend any hospitality to those who were unclean, or strangers to the covenant, of the things which appertained to the house of his God. These stringent instructions close with a reaffirmation of the reason which had been given in other connections: "I will be hallowed among the children of Israel" … "I am Jehovah." These people were constantly reminded that the deepest purpose of their existence was that of their call to manifest the things of God. Thus, such requirements under the Hebrew economy, have a very direct bearing upon the Christian Church. All the degradation existing among the nations is due to the false ideas of God which characterize their life and worship. To know the true God, is life for the nations, as surely as for individuals.
The set feasts of the Lord.
This is a wonderful chapter, as it shows how the whole year, that is, the passing of time, was for this people marked by great religious festivals, which were at once national signs and symbols of the relation of the people to God, and means of keeping ever before them the real secrets of strength. Eight set feasts are named. The first was the Sabbath. It was to be a perpetually recurring feast every seventh day, thus persistently reminding them of these relationships between God and the national life. Then seven were established which created the calendar. First came Passover, which merged into Unleavened Bread. With these the year commenced, reminding them of their redemption from slavery and their separation to God. Then came the Feast of First-fruits, and seven weeks later the Feast of Pentecost, reminding them of their dependence upon God for sustenance, and of their responsibility to Him for the culture of the land. The seventh month was most sacred of all, for therein three connected Feasts were observed, those of Trumpets, of Atonement, of Tabernacles. The Trumpets called them to cease from servile work in order to worship. Atonement reminded them of the way of access to God by sacrifices and the putting away of sin. Tabernacles was the feast of joy in which they remembered their deliverance, His guidance of them, and His law for them. Thus by these set feasts the year was made sacred, and their symbolism emphasized the sanctity of the secular in the Kingdom of God.
Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for the homeborn.
This is an interesting chapter, in that it seems to break in on the continuity of the Book. In the first section some laws are repeated. Then follows a fragment of history. It is the story of a blasphemer upon whom punishment fell. This man was the son of an Egyptian father and an Israelitish mother. Seeing that he was not of pure Hebrew blood, the people were not sure as to how to deal with him when he committed the heinous offence of blaspheming the Name. It was under these circumstances that the principle was laid down that there should be one manner of law for the stranger and for the home-born. It was a principle of justice and of mercy. Its first emphasis is upon the fact that those who enter the Kingdom of God, and enjoy its privileges, must be governed by its laws. No man within that Kingdom can claim the rights of other citizenship as giving him freedom to break its laws. To enter that Kingdom is to renounce all other lordships, and to accept its laws. The principle has another value, in that it protects the stranger from the possible injustice of the home-born. Those, who for any reason have birth-rights in the Kingdom of God, are not permitted to impose upon the strangers who desire to enter any other obligations than such as are binding upon themselves. Today there are no "home-born" members of that Kingdom. All are "strangers," who enter by a New Birth. Yet the principle needs remembering, for it is not always easy for those who have had the privileges of the Kingdom longest, to be just and impartial to those newly entering.
It shall be a jubilee unto you.
The provision for the year of jubilee was a method by which the people were perpetually reminded that all human inter-relations were dependent upon the deeper things of Divine authority and possession. The first part of this chapter gives the law of the land-sabbath. Every seventh year the land was to have rest from cultivation. Thus the Divine ownership was recognized, as men were forbidden to treat the land as their absolute property. There is no doubt that this requirement, in common with all others, was based upon the true method of dealing with the land. Every fiftieth year was one in which all sorts of human arrangements were interfered with. In that year, men dispossessed through adversity were restored to possession. In that year the slave was to be set free, and all men released from toil. The laws for this year were clearly set out, as they affected the land, dwelling-houses, and persons. They should be carefully pondered, for in them the foundations of the social order were firmly laid. By them we see how all human inter-relationships, both as to property and person, are conditioned by the fact that the fundamental ownership, both of property and persons, is that of God. The only right a man has in land is that of his own labour therein. The liberation of the slave proved that no one human being can have the right to possess, absolutely and finally, any other human being. The master has only a right in the work of his slave. The readjustment of the year of jubilee re-called men to the realization of the sovereignty of Jehovah, and of the limitations within which they lived.
Because they walked contrary unto Me, I also walked contrary unto them.
In this chapter two gracious promises and solemn warnings are set forth. It opens with the reiteration of fundamental laws. There is to be no idolatry. There must be a constant observance of the Sabbath. The reverence of the Sanctuary must be maintained. Then follow the promises showing that conditions of well-being are entirely dependent upon obedience to the government of God. In like manner the warnings show that disobedience will always be followed by calamity. It is most suggestive to notice how, even in the giving of the Law, the declension and wandering of the people were known to the King, and yet, notwithstanding this fact, that these promises of final restoration were made. Thus human responsibility was solemnly enforced; and yet the whole chapter cannot be read without the conviction being created that the love of God will prove finally victorious over all failure. The words we stress reveal the law of the soul's relation to God perpetually. God is faithful and unchangeable. We may change our experience of His government by a change of attitude toward it. If we walk with Him, He walks with us, and all His infinite resources of wisdom and power and love are at our disposal. If we change our course, and walk contrary to Him, He pursues His way of wisdom, love, and power, but His goings are against us, and we experience the contradiction of His opposition. He remaineth faithful. He cannot deny Himself. Therefore we know His government as strength, helping or opposing, according to whether we walk with Him or contrary to Him.
None devoted, which shall be devoted of men, shall be ransomed.
This last chapter has to do with vows. A vow is a promise made voluntarily to God. It is an undertaking to do something which is not commanded, that is, something in some way beyond the requirements of the actual law. That is not to say that a vow is wrong. It is by no means so. It expresses devotion to the service of God, in a degree beyond that which is demanded in the terms of the Divine statutes. It is not necessary that such vows should be made; but if they are made, they must be religiously observed. The careful reader of this chapter will note a distinction between things "sanctified" and things "devoted." Throughout, the word sanctify is used in the simplest sense of setting apart; while the word devoted is used in reference to complete and final giving. The things sanctified by vow, that is, set apart to Divine uses, may be redeemed by the payment of their full value and something beyond. The things devoted, that is, once completely given, cannot be redeemed. All this has much to say to us. Our devotion to our Lord should be complete, because for that He asks. We need add no vow of extra devotion, because we have no extras to offer. Then let us ever remember that we cannot ransom ourselves from our bondage to Him. There is no sin more despicable than that of taking back anything given. Children in their play all recognize this. Let us live by the truth, in its application to our devotion to our Lord.