16: The Judgments of Leviticus
Priests / Casual Blasphemy
the general purpose of the Law of Moses
we come to Leviticus and we find a book full of ceremonial law, we
might be surprised to find two judgments in the midst of the Law.
It is important to understand the significance of the Law, not only
to understand its purpose but also to see the background to the two
judgments we will consider in this chapter.
should also remind ourselves that undergirding everything else was
God's desire to make Himself known to the rest of the world through
Israel. The Law was an instrument not only to order Israel's individual
and community lives, but also to reveal God's design for living to
the rest of the world.
Law was God's design blueprint for Israel, how He wanted them to live
in peace and harmony. Part of the Law was to do with setting up and
maintaining the priesthood and this accompanied the ceremonial law
Law of the Priesthood
importance of their activity was that the priests were to act as God's
intermediaries and in the way they did it, remind Israel of God's
holiness, His uniqueness. Much of the Law in respect of the priest,
how they should dress and how they should act, pointed to their relationship
with God and His holiness. Now, hopefully you will remember that in
an earlier chapter we considered the subject of God's holiness which
essentially was about how He was unique, perfect in every way, including
morally. ‘Wrong' was anything that went contrary to God's own character
and against how God had designed us to work best. For these reasons
the priests had to show themselves different as God was different.
That is crucial to understand when we look at the first of the two
judgments covered in this chapter.
of the ceremonial law administered by the priests was to act as a
reminder to Israel that they were different as a people in relationship
with this holy God. Part of it also provided for them when they got
it wrong and sinned. The objective of these elements of the Law were
always to draw the people back into a right relationship with the
Lord. In other words it was God's way of protecting or saving Israel
from judgment when they sinned. When they became aware that they had
sinned, IF they repented, there was a procedure of offering a sacrifice
that was to put them right again with God.
people can see little point in the sacrificial law but it provided
a way for the conscience of the sinner to be put at rest. If they
realised they had sinned and wanted to come back to God, the way was
quite simple: they had to offer a sacrifice. Once they had done that
they were forgiven and could continue as a member of this race without
fear of judgment on their sin.
ceremonial law of sacrifice shows us a God, therefore, who understands
the frailty of mankind and provides a practical way for them to return
to Him after they have sinned, for their conscience to be put at rest
and their relationship with Him restored. That was what this part
of the law was all about.
law of the priesthood emphasised God's uniqueness, His holiness and
perfection and the law of sacrifices helped the Israelite when they
failed to live up to that holiness. The objective therefore of these
aspects of the Law were to reveal God's holiness (uniqueness) and
The Sin and the Judgment
are two sins in Leviticus which brought judgment and they were both
in respect of behaviour that was casual and disregarded the two facets
of the Law that we considered above. The first was by two of Aaron's
sons who were priests but who treated the law of the priesthood casually.
Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in
them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before
the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the
presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
so we have, very simply and directly in the record, the death of two
of Aaron's sons. Fire comes from heaven and kills them both. It is
that simple. To understand it, we need to pick up and reflect on the
things we mentioned above and how they impact on the glory of the
Lord which we have considered before.
examine the facts of their backgrounds first.
point of the judgment
bear in mind all we have said previously about Israel – and its leaders
– representing God to the whole world and revealing Him to them, and
again we come to a corrective judgment that not only punishes the
godless sinner but sends a clear message to the rest of Israel and,
indeed, the rest of the world who might hear about it: you are dealing
with The One and Only God who is holy, utterly different from any
man-made ideas about deities. He has established the world and knows
how He has designed it to work best, and all of His laws given through
Moses reflect that and show them a better way to live than that which
they see in their neighbours. When it comes to the priesthood and
the ceremonial laws, they are all designed to reveal this ‘otherness',
to deal with this casual, self-centred and godless behaviour would
open the way for a casual, half-hearted approach to God and the start
of a downward spiral in their relationship with the Lord. As it was,
history shows that Israel had a terrible record in respect of their
obedience / disobedience in respect of the Lord but they could never
say that the Lord did not warn them and do everything possible to
clarify their role as conveyor of the news about the One Creator God
who is Lord of all.
the LORD said to Moses: "Take the blasphemer outside the camp.
All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the
entire assembly is to stone him.
our ‘superior' position in the twenty-first century (as we so often
see it) the laws of Moses requiring the death penalty seem particularly
harsh, especially as we have done away with the death penalty, but
here we have this instance in Leviticus where specific lawbreaking
resulted in death by stoning. Let's look at the details.
Name of the Lord
the Ten Commandments we find, “You
shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD
will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
(Ex 20:7) As we read through the Pentateuch one thing you notice is
that there is a focus on God's name, e.g. “Sacrifice
as the Passover to the LORD your God an animal from your flock or
herd at the place the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his Name
….. You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the LORD your
God gives you except in the place he will choose as a dwelling
for his Name.” (Deut 16:2,5,5)
name of course, which is what the capital letters spelling LORD in
your Old Testament refer to, comes from Exodus 3:14 “God
said to Moses I AM WHO I AM” or “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE”
but then carries on “This is what
you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.' "
and you will find a note saying, “The Hebrew for LORD
sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM
in verse 14.”
name of God who has simply described Himself as, "the
God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God
of Jacob." (Ex 3:6) is “the I AM”. Wherever He appears
in time-space history He is “I AM” or, to put it another way, ‘the
Eternal One'. He is always ‘I AM' and in that He is unique, there
is no other like Him. Now remember what we have said a number of times
about Israel 's role in revealing the Lord, especially in that study
on The Glory of God, and therefore any descriptions of God and, even
more, any names given to Him, are vitally important.
and again in the laws, the big issue is the name of the Lord, a name
which must be represented accurately, a name that must not be associated
in any way with the gods or idols of the world, hence, “Do
not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you
must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” (Lev
His name is the vital link to all the laws of Moses; they mean nothing
without being linked to who He is. For instance the Ten Commandments
start with, “I am the LORD (the I
AM) your God, who brought you out of Egypt , out of the land of slavery.”
have encountered Him in this most incredible of experiences and all
His instructions to them (the laws) are to be seen in that context.
He, the lawgiver, is the one who has delivered them from slavery and
shown Himself to be the all-powerful Lord. Likewise later on we find
this same thing reiterated: “Keep
my commands and follow them. I am the LORD. Do not profane my holy
name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am
the LORD, who makes you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be
your God. I am the LORD." (Lev 22:31-33)
when the priesthood ministers they are to be representatives of this
holy One who is unique: “Priests
must not shave their heads or shave off the edges of their beards
or cut their bodies. They must be holy to their God and must not
profane the name of their God. Because they present the offerings
made to the LORD by fire, the food of their God, they are to be holy.”
wonder, as we saw in the previous study that Aaron's two sons ended
up dying. Thus likewise we find, “Do
not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your
God. I am the LORD.” (Lev 19:12)
finally brings us to this historical incident where, in the heat of
a fight and argument, one of the combatants we might say, ‘looses
his cool' or ‘blows his top' and in so doing abuses the name of God.
Now in the twenty-first century we have so much blasphemy or negative
use of God's name on films and on TV that, sadly, we have almost grown
accustomed to it, but that merely says something about how low we
period of time we are considering is Israel in embryonic stage
and therefore it is vital that they do not cross any wrong boundaries
and therefore must portray God exactly as He is, the unique One, the
holy One, the One who is like no other and against whom no other can
be compared, the Creator of all things who is perfect. In conveying
this, ‘the Name' was all important.
Nature of the Judgment
this was not a judgment of God sovereignly (i.e. by God's hand) but
was an execution to be carried out by the people in the most gruesome
of manners. Each person was to take a pile of stones and throw them
at the man who will appear first bloody, then tottering, then falling
but still moving until those closest aim for his head and there is
no doubt left, he is dead.
one thing I know about that is that many of you are going to have
bad dreams for a long time. There will be an awful sense of quietness
around the community: “We have decimated this man's body; we have
taken his life.” But there's also something else I know about it,
and that is that every one involved in it will go away saying to themselves,
“I will never do that again, we must never let that happen again,
we must ensure these laws are never again broken,” and they will become
the most law-abiding people on earth, holding firmly to these rules
that we have described as God's laws to comply with how He has designed
us to work best.
Failure of Understanding
have so blurred the boundaries today between what is right and what
is wrong that these things no doubt shock us, but they were so effective
that it was only the passing of time blurring memories or another
generation coming along for whom it was no longer vivid, who no longer
had the shocking memories, that permitted any further breakdown of
the law. (We might further suggest that if Israel were time transported
into our modern age they would be horrified by the number of violent
crimes and murders that are found, especially in our cities).
was a community that had entered into a covenant with God – obedience
will bring blessing, disobedience will bring curse – and who thus
should have been portraying the wonderful possibilities of a glorious
relationship with Him to the world.
to uphold these things at this stage would have undermined the whole
basis of the Law of Moses and Israel would have slipped (even faster)
into becoming the same as pagan nations with their terrible practices.
Each of these incidents acts as a brake on that happening and allows
more time for Israel to reveal the glory of the Lord to the world.
Terrible certainly, but tragically necessary.
we have seen in this chapter:
The Primary Objective behind the nation of Israel
- For Israel to reveal the Lord to
the rest of the world.
- To reveal His character
- To reveal His ways
That Outworking in the Law
- The priesthood was to represent
God as holy
- The sacrifices provided a way for
repentant people to return to God
The Two Sins provoking judgment
- Disregard for the Law and the priesthood
and God's name
- Disregard for God's name
Consequences of no action being taken
- God would be seen as casual, indifferent
and not holy
- The priesthood would fall into disrepute
- God's name would be derided and
any view of Him reduced
The Different Judgments imposed
- Fire destroyed the priests
- Only God could touch the priests
- Execution by stoning
- The people had to take responsibility
for the community
Poor Twentieth Century Attitudes & Consequences
- God is derided as the church's voice
- As a result laws are made contrary
to God's design
- The death sentence is considered
too harsh and the value of life thus demeaned
- Lawlessness prevails with large
numbers of murders & acts of violence resulting
- Blasphemy is seen as mere words
of little consequence
- God's name and authority is thus
demeaned & diminished even more
- Without realising it modern Western
nations are under God's judgment
- Seen in an increasing breakdown
in society and standards.