Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Two Turtledoves: Leviticus 5

On the second day of Christmas

My true love gave to me

Two Turtledoves

And a partridge in a pear tree.

If you’re wondering why I’m quoting Christmas songs in September, it’s because two turtledoves are part of what we see in Leviticus 5 (link). The book of Leviticus is continuing with instructions about the Law/Holiness Code for the Nation of Israel. We’ve seen some of the offerings described, and eventually Leviticus will get into the specifics of how the people were expected to live.

The starting point, though, are the consequences for when the people fail to live up to the Laws that they have not even heard yet. This is not unlike perusing the Internal Revenue Code and starting with the penalties, because the rest of it is simply impenetrable. You know that something bad will happen if you do this wrong, but you do not yet know what is wrong and what is right.

Now, when we get into the Holiness Code section of Leviticus, it’s less confusing than the Internal Revenue Code. God’s Law was not, after all, written by committee and approved by politicians. The penalties can be severe, but your everyday Israelite was not going to blunder into an error about their actions: clarity matches the brevity. Which is a lesson I have yet to learn.

In those pages of moral, civil, and religious laws, we see a great deal about the holiness and righteousness of the Almighty God. The section that precedes it, though, shows us the compassion of the same God.

How so?

Take a look at Leviticus 5:11. In the midst of all the laws about the required sacrifices for sins and guilt, there is this brief addendum. For those who are without the means to bring an ox, sheep, or other herd-type animal, two turtledoves are to be brought instead.

Why did this matter then?

These are wild birds that were in abundance in the time of Israel. I am uncertain about the availability of a turtledove on the streets of Tel Aviv today, but the average family of Ai or Hebron then would have likely been very tired of cleaning up the turtledove evidences at the time. Being wild and abundant, anyone could have all the turtledoves they wanted. It just took effort. A little skill and training, and one could snare a bird or two in the course of a few days. (Note that some translations render this bird as a pigeon. That shows the commonality of the bird. Oh, and keep your city clean. Eat a pigeon.)

The people did not have to remain distanced from worship because of poverty. They were able to replace that which they could not afford with something that would either be sold much cheaper or which they could obtain on their own. The compassion of God was that He does not restrict access to those who can afford to come. He accepts all those who will put forth the effort to come before Him.

Why does this matter now?

This is always an important question when looking at the Old Testament Law. After all, as Christians we hold that Jesus fulfilled the Law and we are not bound to follow the sacrifices listed within it. There are differences of opinion regarding other parts of the Law, but this much is clear: if one does not think that Jesus going to the cross for your sins satisfied the sin/guilt offerings for you, then you are outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity. We may disagree about how that exactly explains out, but that is of lesser importance: how He did it is less important than that He did so.

How it matters now is this: God still is the compassionate, merciful God He was then. After all, God does not change. The same God who made the necessary provision for the poor to come before Him in those times still makes provision for the poor now.

How so?

First, He provided for all, because all are spiritually poor. Actually, spiritually bankrupt and so underwater we make Enron look like a good investment now. In this, none of us have anything to offer God to buy His favor. Our sins are enough to condemn us for eternity. No amount of personal sacrifice is enough to fix that. Yet Jesus went to the Cross to satisfy our debt instead of us doing so. The redeemed are redeemed not because they had enough but because Christ is enough.

Are you trying to pay off what you lack the means to pay for?

Second, He provided for all, because we all are spiritually alone. So He gave us each other to have fellowship, encouragement, and growth from. Typically, we call that gathering of people a church. There are other things bound up in being a church, but one of the purposes is God’s provision for those who are spiritually alone, which all of His followers are as the world does not fit anymore.

And the price to attend church? Paid by the blood of Christ at the Cross. If they charge admission, then it’s not a church. End of story.

What do we do?

Don’t avoid joining with your local body of believers in Christ because you’re poor and lonely. If you are a believer, then that’s the place you ought to be. We miss out on God’s provision for our needs by not taking the provision He has made.

Don’t reject Christ because you think you have nothing to offer. The truth is, no one who comes to Jesus thinking they have something to give, unless it’s a wrecked sin-soaked life, comes with the wrong mind. We all came knowing we had nothing.

The other point applies from the inside: God made it possible for anyone to participate in worship. Be careful that, as a church, you do not make it harder than He did. If someone is too poor to participate in your church, then they are not the ones with the problems. And a side note: this includes building your worship service such that full participation only works for people with smartphones or other gadgetry. Honestly—you’ll take a tweeted question but not a live one? How dare you reject those who cannot afford (or understand) the technology.

Today’s not-so-nerdy note: Some of the other things we have attached to the concept of church take financial/material resources to operate. That is why we view one part of Christian discipleship as learning to give generously in obedience to Scripture. Even so, for some monetary giving just is not happening. I see Scripture as being clear that the efforts and hearts of people are more important than their bank accounts. Someone may be willing and able to give of their time but have little to no income to give from. Let them give as they are led and blessed. Perhaps someone is blessed with time and wishes to do. LET IT HAPPEN. Do not refuse the gifts of the growing heart.

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