Fox Byte 5775 #24: Vayikra (He called)
A standard feature of civilization is the rules of the house, the guidelines by which a person can be welcomed into and remain peacefully within someone’s home. At the most basic level these are rules children learn from their parents at the earliest age. Parents explain proper behavior and children grow up doing what they have said, or suffering the consequences if they disobey. As adults the children pass on these rules to their children so they may act properly when visiting Grandma and Grandpa. This maintains peace in the family, not only ensuring respect for the elders, but establishing and reinforcing a foundation for loving relationships.
If this is so, then how should we approach The Cat in the Hat? Since its publication in 1957 by Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), The Cat in the Hat has become one of the world’s most popular and successful children’s books. Geisel wrote it as an attempt to find an easier way for children to learn to read, but his creation has become much more than that; the Cat is now a cultural icon. The book has everything that would appeal to children: an engaging story told in simple, silly rhyme, colorful illustrations, and an outrageous degree of irreverence for the house rules. The story opens with a rainy day in a normal house, where a Boy and his sister Sally are left at home with nothing to do while their Mother is out. Suddenly their quiet boredom is interrupted by the entrance of the Cat who promises, “Lots of good fun that is funny”. He then proceeds to violate every rule of the house by using everything he sees – including the pet Fish in its bowl – as a plaything. Just when we think it can get no worse, the Cat introduces his friends Thing 1 and Thing 2. The three anarchic intruders accelerate the mayhem, and in a very short time everything that is sacred, including Mother’s new gown and her bedroom furniture, have suffered violence. At the height of the disaster, the Fish alerts the children to the approach of their Mother and urges them to do something to stop the destruction. The Boy jumps into action, grabbing a large net with which he captures the Things and orders the Cat to pack them up and take them away.
With the intruders gone, the children and the Fish contemplate how to clean up the enormous mess. To their surprise, the Cat returns with a machine that puts everything back in order just in time. Thus The Cat in the Hat ends on a good note, with the house rules mended. Yet that is not the end of the lesson. While Dr. Seuss may not have intended it, his story resembles the tale of another Son concerned about violation of the house rules established by His Parent:
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.” (Matthew 21:12-13 NASB)
When Yeshua removed the money changers and business owners from the Temple, He was seeking to restore order in accordance with the House Rules YHVH established centuries earlier. In fact, the Lord established those rules at the very beginning, when He explained to our first ancestors the parameters of their relationship with Him. Later, when His people became a nation, the Lord taught our ancestors through Moses quite a bit more about His rules. That, in fact, is the purpose of Torah, to help us understand Who our God is, who we are, and how He would have us live in relationship with Him and one another. The Prophets and Apostles, and Messiah Yeshua Himself, drew from the lessons of Moses in explaining and demonstrating what the Father meant.
This is all well and good when it comes to God’s commandments regarding how to treat our neighbors. It is easy to see how those apply throughout human history in every time and every culture, and in particular how they apply to believers in Yeshua. These things, after all, constitute justice, mercy, and faithfulness, the things Yeshua described as the “weightier matters of the Law” (Matthew 23:23). But what about the things some have described as the “Ceremonial Law”? What are we to do about the sacrificial form of worship described in Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-6:7)? There is no Tabernacle now, nor is there a Temple of God in Jerusalem, nor is there a Levitical Priesthood to administer Temple worship. All of those things disappeared nearly 2,000 years ago, within a generation after Yeshua’s death and resurrection. Thus some might conclude that this “Ceremonial Law” would no longer be part of God’s House Rules. Except, perhaps, for one phrase in the instructions: “It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations.” (Leviticus 3:17)
In context, this verse refers to the fat and the blood of the Peace Offering, or Shelem (Strongs H8002, שֶׁלֶם; plural Shlamim). Strong’s Concordance defines Shelem as a “peace offering, requital, sacrifice for alliance or friendship; voluntary sacrifice of thanks”. In his video teaching on Vayikra, Rabbi David Fohrman of AlephBeta Academy explains that the Shelem is one of three types of sacrifices, or offerings (korban, קָרְבָּן; Strongs H7133) covered in these opening chapter of Leviticus:
They are the Olah, the Shlamim and the Chatat. Olah [Strongs H5930, עֹלָה], sometimes translated as a burnt offering, but not a great translation; it really means an offering that’s offered up. It’s described that way because all of its meat is consumed upon the altar, it’s entirely offered up to G-d. The Shlamim which really means a peace offering or maybe a wholeness offering, because Shalom sometimes means wholeness . . . is shared, the meat is eaten, some of it is eaten by the Kohanim, the priests in the Temple, and some of it is eaten by the people who bring the offering, the owners of the offering itself. Some of it is offered up on the altar. Then there’s the Chatat [Strongs H2403, חַטָּאָת] – the sin offering. When you transgress something in the Torah inadvertently and it’s a sin that’s a significant enough thing, then the sin offering is brought. Some of it is offered on the altar but the rest of it is eaten exclusively by the Kohanim, not by the owners.
This simple explanation of the three offerings speaks to a depth of understanding far beyond the usual Christian perception that every sacrifice in the Temple had something to do with sin. In truth, there is but one sacrifice for willful, disobedient sin: the Atoning Sacrifice made by Messiah Yeshua Himself as the Passover Lamb of God (Genesis 22:7-8; John 1:29-31; I Corinthians 5:6-8; Isaiah 53:1-12, Matthew 1:19-23; I John 3:4-6; I Peter 1:17-19, Revelation 5:1-14). In accordance with the pattern established in YHVH’s Feasts, Yeshua our Passover Lamb shed His blood on Passover to cover our sins so that when He comes as Judge and Ruler over the nations of this earth at the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) we shall not have our names removed from His Book of Life and thus may remain in His Presence (Daniel 12:1; Exodus 32:32-35; Luke 10:20; Revelation 3:1-5, 13:1-8, 17:8, 20:11-15, 21:1-27). A critical point not often grasped is this: the sacrifice of Messiah on the cross opens the Way into the Presence of God so we can have fellowship with Him as He always intended.
The sacrificial worship system is the Father’s House Rules, how His people enter formally into His Presence in ways that instruct us about the fellowship He has with us inside our hearts. The structure of the Tabernacle, and later of the Temple, provides one aspect of that instruction. The three offerings of Vayikra provide another. For example, if we make a mistake through ignorance or some other reason and transgress the will of Holy God as expressed in His commandments, then the Chatat offering serves as our acknowledgement of error and desire to return into fellowship both with the Lord and with anyone we may have wronged (Leviticus 6:1-7). This principle goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, when our first father and mother chose to transgress the things of Holy God by taking that one item which He had reserved for Himself. Had they acknowledged their wrongdoing, He would have explained the way to come back into fellowship, most likely requiring something on their part to remind them of their error. That is how our parents dealt with us as children. If we broke their rules, they would not remove us from their presence, but would explain our error to us and discipline us as necessary, perhaps with a spanking, with additional chores, or with a requirement to apologize to our siblings or whomever we had wronged. By enforcing their rules, our parents enforced their authority, and we acknowledged that authority by respecting it. In the same way, the Chatat provides a means of demonstrating our respect to our Heavenly Father. We have taken something from Him through our error, and we give something back to Him as something of restitution. That is why only the priests eat the Chatat.
The Shlamim are different. These offerings of peace symbolize the loving relationship between us and our Creator. That is why everyone has part of the sacrifice: the priests and the one bringing the offering eat the meat, and the rest of the animal is consumed in the fire of the altar (Leviticus 3:1-17). It is in this context that we have the instruction of a perpetual statute: the fat of the animal belongs to God alone, so we may not eat it. Nor may we eat the blood, for the life of the animal is in the blood, and that, too, ultimately belongs to the Lord.
Then there is the Olah, the offering consumed entirely on the Altar. This is the kind of offering the Lord specified to be provided twice daily as a sign of God’s Presence with His people (Exodus 29:38-46; Numbers 28:1-8; Leviticus 6:8-13). The Olah speaks to a part of our relationship with YHVH which goes beyond respect and love; it is nothing less than Awe at His eternal greatness. When we contemplate the Lord, and especially when we consider that He gave of Himself to take away our sin and bring us into His Presence, we are consumed entirely with wonder and awe, just as the Burnt Offering is consumed entirely by the flames of the Altar. Yet we cannot even begin to enter that place of Awe until we first enter and understand the place of Respect and of Love. That requires something else: a new heart ready to receive the instruction of the Lord, and a new spirit ready to exist and act on that instruction. That is precisely what David our king meant when he addressed the Lord in his great psalm of contrition. After confessing and repenting of his dreadful sins in the matter of Bathsheba, he said this:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering [Olah]. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. By Your favor do good to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering [Olah] and whole burnt offering; then young bulls will be offered on Your altar. (Psalm 51:10-19 NASB, emphasis added)
How is it that David says YHVH does not delight in sacrifices and burnt offerings, but then ends his psalm saying He will delight in such things? The secret is in the way they are offered. David knew that if he had gone to the Altar with a thousand offerings, they would have made no difference whatsoever in his standing with the Lord. That is why he decided first to offer his own heart. Once that was right before the Lord, then the offerings would be acceptable. That in fact, was exactly what the Son of David meant in His instructions about personal relationships:
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:23-24 NASB)
Did Yeshua say anything about not going to the Altar to bring an animal for sacrificial offering? No, but He did say much about the way in which we are to approach the Altar. He had good reason to do so; in His Millennial Kingdom He will be the One officiating the Altar Service:
It shall be the prince’s part to provide the burnt offerings [Olah], the grain offerings and the drink offerings, at the feasts, on the new moons and on the sabbaths, at all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel; he shall provide the sin offering [Chatat], the grain offering, the burnt offering [Olah] and the peace offerings [Shlamim], to make atonement for the house of Israel. (Ezekiel 45:17 NASB, emphasis added)
This is something we have rarely considered over the last 20 centuries. Here is something else we have rarely considered: the Lord God Himself has deprived us of the joy of the Temple service for that whole time. That was Messiah’s point in driving out the moneychangers; it was His way of saying, “If you cannot respect this House and its Rules, then obviously you do not respect the Lord of the House. Get out!”
And they got out, temporarily on that day, but permanently a few years later when the Romans destroyed the Temple as a direct result of the people’s disregard of God’s instructions. And thus Judah has been in exile and desolate ever since. But then, so has Ephraim, and for much longer. We of Northern Israel rejected YHVH long before He rejected us. We chose to go our own way, to break off relations with the son of David, and to establish our own forms of worship to gods of our own definition whom we worshipped along with YHVH. Long before He spoke His sentence of judgment against our brethren of Judah, the Lord spoke judgment against our ancestors:
For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols. Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness in the last days. (Hosea 3:4-6 NASB)
Prophecy students have rightly pointed out the significance of the Abomination of Desolation (Matthew 24:15-16; Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11), the great sign of the end of this age when Antimessiah shuts down the Altar service in the rebuilt Temple. In truth, the Abomination of Desolation happened long, long ago, when Ephraim and then Judah were cut off from the Temple. Our Father did just what any good parent would have done: send the offending children away from the place of privilege and honor until they learn to behave properly. Of course, right behavior depends on a right heart, and that ultimately is the Father’s goal. These centuries of wandering outside the Land promised to our foreparents are for the purpose of getting our hearts right before the Lord. The redeeming power of Yeshua’s Blood and the transformative power of His Holy Spirit teach us to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. When we have that lesson etched indelibly on our hearts, then we can expect Him to do as He said through Isaiah:
“Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant, O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me. I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” Shout for joy, O heavens, for the Lord has done it! Shout joyfully, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into a shout of joy, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it; for the Lord has redeemed Jacob and in Israel He shows forth His glory. (Isaiah 44:21-23 NASB)