WORSHIP AS COMMITMENT Leviticus 23–27
“Follow My decrees and be careful to obey My laws, and you will live safely in the land” (Lev. 25:18).Believers demonstrate commitment to the Lord by the decisions they make. These last chapters of Leviticus survey a number of decisions the Israelites would face when they entered the Promised Land, and reflect choices you and I face today.
Commitment to the Lord was to be expressed by setting aside time to worship (23:1–44), by daily and crisis obedience (24:1–23), by demonstrating concern for the land (25:1–7) and compassion for the poor (vv. 8–55). To encourage commitment, God rewarded obedience (26:1–13) and punished disobedience (vv. 14–46). Beyond this, each person could voluntarily dedicate himself and his possessions to the Lord (27:1–34).
Understanding the Text
“The appointed feasts of the Lord” Lev. 23:1–44. Six annual festivals were to be kept by the Israelites. No work was to be done on any of these days. They were to be dedicated to worship and celebration. The religious holidays were vivid reminders of the nature of Israel’s relationship with the Lord. Several of them reenacted experiences Israel had with the Lord. These were intended to affirm each new generation’s identity as a people redeemed, guided, protected, and provided for by the Lord. No wonder that most of the feasts were occasions for joy and rejoicing. Israel’s religious calendar set a pattern we Christians follow. At Christmas we remember the incarnation of the Son of God. On Good Friday we meditate on Christ’s death for us. Each Easter we rejoice in His resurrection, which guarantees our own. We can choose to focus on the spiritual meaning of our holidays, and so make them times of celebration and spiritual renewal. “The Israelites did as the Lord commanded Moses” Lev. 24:1–23. This chapter describes two situations in which our commitment to God is to be expressed as obedience. Verses 1–9 emphasize “continually,” a “lasting ordinance,” and “regularly.” They speak of repeated patterns in each believer’s life. We are to make sure that the ordinary things in our daily lives are in harmony with God’s will. Verses 10–23 describe a crisis. A young man of mixed parentage “blasphemed the name of the Lord with a curse.” The implication is that he used God’s name in a magical incantation intended to harm an enemy (cf. v. 10). Here was a situation very out of the ordinary! So the people wisely sought a ruling from God. When the ruling was given, the people obeyed and stoned the blasphemer to death. When we face a crisis situation, we too need to wait until the will of the Lord is made clear, and then act on it. Both habitual obedience to God’s known will and seeking God’s direction in crisis are ways we demonstrate a commitment to obedience that God welcomes as acceptable worship. “The land itself must observe a Sabbath” Lev. 25:1–7. In Eden God had told Adam to “work it [the Garden] and take care of it.” Now the Israelites are told to rest the land every seventh year, and not plant any crops. The principle is clear. Human beings are still responsible for earth’s ecology. Acid rain isn’t just a political football bounced between Canada and the U.S. It’s a reflection of man’s unwillingness to live responsibly in the world God has committed to his care. ISRAEL’S RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS
“If you follow My decrees” Lev. 26:1–46. It’s so easy to misunderstand. We often think of punishment as a penalty, when it is really encouragement. This chapter reminds Israel that God uses two means to encourage obedience. The first means is reward (vv. 1–13). God promises to bless Israel if they follow His decrees “and are careful to obey My commands.” Each blessing should make us thankful, and motivate us to keep walking in God’s ways. The second means is punishment (vv. 14–46). Punishment would follow “if you will not listen to Me and carry out all these commands.” Yet even punishment is intended to encourage rather than create despair. How? First, punishment serves as a reminder that God remains involved in His people’s lives even when we sin! If we did evil and prospered, we’d have proof that God has deserted us! Second, punishment shows that God is faithful to His word. The Lord promised to discipline Israel when they disobeyed. He would surely keep His word and bless them if they turned back to Him. Third, punishment makes people aware of their need for God. Only people aware of a need for the Lord are likely to turn to Him. You and I need to see those infrequent times when God punishes us as encouragement. As Proverbs 3:11–12 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in.” “A special vow” Lev. 27:1–34. The Law set a minimum amount that the Israelites were to contribute to support ministers (vv. 30–33). But each individual had the privilege of making a special vow to the Lord. The person making a vow might give anything he possessed-himself, one of his family, an animal, his house, his family land, or a field he had purchased. In effect, the person making the vow paid the value of the dedicated thing into the tabernacle or temple treasury. Why then doesn’t the chapter simply speak of giving various amounts of money rather than specify persons, animals, houses, and land? To teach us that everything important to us—every relationship and every possession—is to be held in trust and, when required, made available to the Lord. Money is impersonal. Only when it represents something that is near and dear to us does a gift we give to God have significance to us—or to Him.
This Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:8–55)
It was to be a year for rejoicing, the Year of Jubilee. It was to be a year when every poor family won the lottery, and every rich man rejoiced for him. When Israel entered Palestine, each family was to be given its own land to cultivate. That land, and the crops it produced, was to support the family and be the source of its wealth. God said that such land must not “be sold permanently.” No family was to be thrust into poverty; each was to have and keep its own capital. But what would happen if a family did have reverses and became poor? First, others who could were to help out, by lending money without interest or selling food at no profit (vv. 35–37). Second, if desperate, a man might sell the right to harvest crops the family land would produce, but not sell the land itself (vv. 13–29). Third, if destitute, a person might even sell himself, but such a person could not be treated as a slave (vv. 39–53). But, when the 50th year came, the Year of Jubilee, everything was to be set right. Any debt the poor owed was canceled. Any land the family had sold was reclaimed. And anyone who lived in servitude was freed. No wonder “jubilee” has come to mean “jubilation,” and “rejoicing.” God truly does care about the poor. Through these unusual provisions of Old Testament Law, God showed His people how they could express concern for the poor too. Yet the Year of Jubilee that we read of here was never celebrated in Israel. Not once. When each 50th year came, the rich tightened their grip on their wealth. And the poor continued in their poverty. God’s people had the opportunity to fulfill a dream. But again and again they turned away. Today, when we read the ageless code that so beautifully displays God’s concern for the poor and the oppressed, we too are called to dream of a just and moral society. A community of faith in which people have priority, and concern for those less fortunate is a mark of the godly.
What elements in this chapter’s plan for dealing with poverty can Christians adopt today?