Leviticus is fast nearing its end, but there are some hurdles to clear as we wrap this up. Leviticus 24 continues the overall theme of the third book of Moses: how to live all of life in obedient worship of the One True God.
Leviticus 24 gives us a paired set of worship instructions. Opening with the directions on the weekly bread to be placed in the sanctuary area and connecting that with the oil that is to be kept burning in the area, Moses speaks to the idea of a sacred space for the Israelites. The idea of “sacred space” is not exclusive to the Judaic heritage of Leviticus, nor only to the Christian ethos that develops from it. In reality, nearly every religion has a component that suggests designating areas that are places for worship. Even atheists have places that they gather to remind and reinforce their beliefs.
It is of value, perhaps more so now than ever before. Consider how much life encroaches on every square inch of us these days. There’s mail stacked here, the phone is ringing over there, and the noise of music, TV, games, and so forth just piles up. Marking out a spot on the map that is intentionally set aside for worship is a way of maintaining sanity. It is a place where we can pull back into amidst chaos and mayhem. A place to be reminded of the provider of the basic needs of life, light and food being two of them.
However, one cannot stop at Sabbath set-asides and sanctuary spaces. To do so is to fail to incorporate all of the testimony and command of Scripture. In the same area that we have the commands regarding light and Sabbaths and bread, we also have the reminder of the justice statutes of the time. These rules are often considered old-fashioned and heavy-handed, yet that heritage is due more to the breach than to the observance.
Considering the classic of “an eye for an eye” one must consider that this is as much a limitation as it is a command. One cannot take a life for an eye—only as much harm as we done may be reflected in the punishment. Further, the idea here was not that individuals would go about blinding one another but that these were guidelines for the judicial system. Much more should be said about seeing a justice system that follows the guidelines of Leviticus: restorative to the wronged, punitive to the transgressor, and equally applied to all strata of society. If taken together, this would have been a deterrent in many ways to further crime—allowing the religion of the Israelites to work on the hearts of people to be more like God while the law constrained their actions from harming their neighbors.
Yet the final component above, the equal application of law to all strata of society, is the one that is crucial in the concept of worship. Participating in injustice, depriving people of proper treatment under the law and their Creator-endowed rights, is certainly out for the people of God. You cannot oppress your fellow human beings Monday-Friday and go worship on Sunday. Contrary to any historic or artistic depictions of the great dictators of the world also going to church on Sundays, it just does not work.
The people of God, however, cannot sit idly by Monday-Saturday and then show up in church on Sunday to pray for good things to happen. The Levitical Law commanded that the people set up the societal structures that made justice happen. This is part of being able to worship with the redeemed in our sacred spaces: a commitment to justice in all of life.
One must remember that this is justice based on God’s standard, God’s Word—not human ideas or the winds of politics. Still, that commitment has often lacked in our lives as followers of Christ, at least historically. We need to address this, but address it starting from the text and working out, not starting with the polls and twisting the text to get tehre.
Holistic worship is not merely worship that involves all the voices in the room or all the ages in the building. It’s worship that reflects throughout all of our lives. It starts in our sacred spaces, but it refuses to stay there.
Today’s Nerd Note: A couple of things:
1. Did you see what Leviticus 24:7 puts on the bread that is sitting on a gold table? Frankincense. Gold, frankincense, and the priest’s anointing oil has myrrh in it. (Exodus 30:23) All of these, together with bread? John 6:48, anyone? While I do not think that Moses would have seen Jesus looking at the table in the first place, if we do not see Jesus looking back at the table, our glasses are perhaps a little dirty.
2. The middle story of Leviticus 24 is somewhat peculiar. You have two men in a fight. One of them blasphemes God. He is then detained, the Law consulted, God Himself is consulted, and then the man is executed.
The story, though, gives us more info: the fight is between a man who is 100% Israelite and a man who is 50/50 Egyptian and Israelite. Well, biologically, but his father was the Egyptian, meaning he would have been counted as an Egyptian. His father would have done his teaching, and his knowledge of Israel’s God would have been slimmer than the other man’s knowledge.
The law calls for his execution just the same. Why? Because the law applies to all who are in/among the people of Israel. They are not to be harsher with outsiders, nor to be more lenient. The Law is what it is, and if you are going to live and share the blessings of the covenant, then the rules apply as well.
Now, how exactly does one live that principle into the modern era? That is more delicate: we ought not execute people over religion or even religious offenses. Nor should we use the civil authority to enforce religious conformity or preference. There remain implications, and those should be considered and defined as we go forward into a future that will not be religiously supportive.