Show Others Grace
Explore the Bible Series
May 30, 2010
Background Passage: Leviticus 23:1-27:34
Lesson Passage: Leviticus 25:1-22, 35-38
Liturgy- this is a word one does not often hear among Baptists; indeed, this term may conjure very negative images in the minds of those accustomed to Baptist life. I grew up in a Baptist nuclear family, but I have many relatives who are Roman Catholic. Though my immediate family did not observe liturgy, I was aware of the rhythm of liturgical life because of the practice of some of my loved ones. The non-liturgical approach to worship seems comfortable to me, but, in recent years, I have learned much from those who mark the patterns of the liturgical year.
Some years ago I came across a book entitled Traditions of the Ancients: Vintage Faith Practices for the 21st Century, by Marcia Ford (Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2006). Please consider reading this important work. Ford, after her conversion in 1972, settled into a pattern of worship, but, in time, she became curious about the spiritual practices of previous generations of Christians. Her questions apparently did not endear her to church leaders, but she began to read church history in search of clues about the ebb and flow of the spiritual life. While Ford’s quest uncovered some mistakes made by God’s people, she also discovered the wisdom of the ancients. I particularly enjoyed reading Ford’s chapters entitled:
“Praying the Scriptures”
“The Christian Year”
Our liturgical friends often justify their worship by appealing to the spiritual practices, prescribed by God, in the Old Testament. The Book of Leviticus outlines the contours of the Hebrew religious calendar, a cycle of ceremonies, commemorations, and feasts designed to quicken the memories of God’s dealings with his ancient people. Sure, liturgical worship may degenerate into mindless, heartless ritual observance, but “free” worship may deteriorate in similar ways. The issue, it seems to me, is not so much a matter of liturgy (or not), but a matter of the proper engagement of the heart in the worship of God.
In addition to the liturgical themes of this lesson, out material also lends a great deal of insight into the treatment of the poor and the believer’s relationship with the environment. Some conservative Christians may label me a liberal (and I probably must admit some guilt here), but I have never understood why concern for the poor and the earth were a “liberal” issues. Frankly, political conservatives have co-opted the consciences of people who believe the Bible. Call me what you will, but the Bible evidences a profound, fundamental concern for these two issues, and I won’t apologize for taking a “liberal” stand.
I. The Jewish Liturgy (23:1-25:55)
A. The Sabbath (23:1-3): These verses honor the tradition mentioned in the creation story of Genesis 2:1-3). The Jews marked the Sabbath from sundown on Friday to dusk on Saturday, and the Law demanded the Hebrews to devote the day to worship and rest. This precept presupposed the importance of daily labor, for six days; then, a day of rest punctuated the weekly routine of God’s people. The day belonged, in a unique way, to God; however, the New Testament makes clear that the Sabbath, properly observed, benefitted mankind as well (See Mark 2:23-27). According to Number 15:32-36, failure to observe the Sabbath was punishable by death. While, of course, I would not advocate capital punishment for Sabbath breaking, contemporary American Christianity has largely abandoned the Sabbath principle, in my judgment, at her own detriment.
B. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (23:4-8): This commemoration marked the Passover and Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage, and, in its original form, included two elements: Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Passover called to remembrance the last plague visited upon Egypt. The Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrated the first seven days of the Exodus.
C. The Feast of First Fruits (23:9-14): This festival was also closely associated with Passover, and it celebrated the first grain harvest of the agricultural year. Apparently, the Hebrews did not observe this feast until after the conquest of Canaan, after Israel began to practice agriculture in their new homeland.
D. The Feast of Weeks (23:15-22): This celebration occurred fifty days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and was also called Pentecost. It continued the thanksgiving celebration for the grain harvest. As with all the celebrations of Israel, this feast centered attention on the needs of the poor (See v. 22). Notice that the Law included both ceremonial and civil precepts to provide for the needs of the poor. By way of illustration, the story of Ruth is largely based on the practice of gleaning from the crops of wealthy landowners. Those who owned the means of production, under the Law, had social and moral obligations to the needy.
E. The Feast of Trumpets (23:23-25): Rosh Hashanah marked the beginning of the civil year in the Jewish calendar, and it served as a very important preparation for the Day of Atonement.
F. The Day of Atonement (23:26-32): see comments on Leviticus 16:1-34
G. The Feast of Booths (23:33-44): This celebration marked the second grain harvest and commemorated Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness. The festival is more fully described in Numbers 29:12-38. Worshippers were required to live in special “booths” made from palm fronds to remind the Jews of their years of wandering in the desert.
H. Miscellaneous directions concerning the Golden Lampstand, the Shewbread, and the punishment for blasphemy (24:1-23): The first portion of this chapter rehearses directions concerning the oil for the Lampstand and bread for the Table of Shewbread; then, the chapter turns attention to the transgression of an unnamed man, the son of an Egyptian father and a woman of Dan. The text does not reveal the exact nature of this man’s blasphemy, but the Lord decreed the execution of the blasphemer.
II. Final Instructions for Israel (25:1-27:34)
A. The blessings of obedience and punishments for disobedience (26:1-46)
1. The sabbatical year for the land (25:1-7): Every seventh year the Hebrews were to let the land rest. Note the language. The farmers were to plow under any residual crops that grew in the fields. Modern agricultural science, of course, knows the wisdom of crop rotation and allowing land to “rest”, but the ancient Hebrews practiced this agricultural technique millennia before the common modern practice.
2. The Year of Jubilee (25:8-34): Every seventh sabbatical year the land was to revert to the original landowners. This law, it seems, safeguarded the sacredness of God’s gift of the Land of Canaan and protected the poor who may have “sold” their land to relieve their destitution. Notice that the means of production, therefore, could never fall permanently into the hands of a few wealthy landowners.
3. Protection of the poor (25:35-55): The ancient world had little regard for the poor, but God required that Israel take heed to the needs of the destitute. Wealthy people could not demand interest on loans made to their countrymen, and, if the poor person fell into servitude, kinsmen were expected to redeem their brothers. Notice the balance between civil and personal responsibilities imposed on Israel, in regard to the treatment of the indigent.
4. Blessings and Penalties regarding God’s precepts (26:1-46): God promised Moses that obedience would bring prosperity and fruitfulness to Israel; however, disobedience would result in six catastrophic consequences: fear of their enemies (vv. 16-17), drought (vv 18-20), terror of wild animals (vv. 21-23), disease (vv. 23-26), break down of moral decency (vv. 27-31), and exile (vv. 32-39). This section concludes with a promise concerning the preservation of a remnant, preservation grounded in the Abrahamic Covenant.
B. Laws concerning vows (27:1-34): This section outlines guidelines concerning vows made to the Lord. Israelites could consecrate themselves or their belongings to God, and this chapter outlines the procedures for such dedications.