Fox Byte 5775 #26: Shmini (Eighth)
The problem with great satire is that it can be so irreverent. Then again, that is the strength of satire: using humor and ridicule to point out something (usually a shortcoming, hypocrisy, or vice) often overlooked in the routine of living. Satire can be cruel, and thus must be used with great caution. If employed properly, it moves the audience to laugh loudly in genuine humor at their own or their society’s expense, and plants seeds for reflection that hopefully will bloom into motivation for positive change.
Or perhaps not. Sometimes humor exists only for humor. That is one way to consider the works of Douglas Adams, the late English author best known for his satirical science fiction works, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It is quite possible that Adams and I could have been good friends, although our worldviews would have generated a continuous wrestling match between us. To the end of his life he remained utterly convinced in the nonexistence of a Creator, even as I am utterly convinced that there is no god but YHVH. And yet I can appreciate his masterful use of the English language, his clever story lines, and his penetrating wit, all of which he employed to point out things worthy of our consideration. Here is one example from the first Hitchhiker’s Guide novel:
The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?.
This is Adams at his best, using seemingly trivial questions with simple answers to provoke a deeper level of inquiry on the very nature and meaning of human existence. Perhaps he would be surprised to learn that the Lord God does the very same thing. The small, simple, seemingly insignificant things are what He uses to test our hearts, to discipline us, and to mature us so we can exercise greater responsibility, and all the time He magnifies His glory through us and through these processes. Thus, when it comes to distinctions between believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the differences usually are much smaller than we may think. Consider, for example, the attitudes of believers in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) regarding the Law, or Torah, of God. To define this difference, we can use the same pattern Douglas Adams used by asking three simple questions:
When are we to worship God?
How are we to worship God?
What does God say is food?
Answers to each of these questions appear in Leviticus 9:1-11:47, the Torah portion known as Shmini (Eighth). This is the Eighth Day of the month of Nisan, the first month of the second year of the Exodus. Less than one week later our Israelite ancestors would be celebrating their first Passover since leaving Egypt. For the previous seven days, Aaron and his four sons had been secluded in the Tabernacle, undergoing the purification process required for their role as priests of the Most High God. On that day they were to present their final sacrificial offerings marking the conclusion of their sanctification so that they could dedicate the Tabernacle and institute the daily offerings. Interestingly enough, this occurred six days before the Passover, the very same time that Yeshua returned to the suburbs of Jerusalem in preparation for His triumphant entry into the city on the 10th of Nisan as God’s Passover Lamb (John 12:1-19).
All of this addresses the question of when we are to worship God. He has established set times that He would like His people to approach Him, and they are no mystery. They are the weekly Sabbath (Shabbat) and the seven Moedim, the Appointed Times, or Feasts of the Lord. He began declaring these Moedim from the first week of Creation, when He placed the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens for signs and seasons (Moedim), and when He sanctified the Seventh Day (Shabbat) on which He rested (Genesis 1:14-18, 2:1-3). The instructions the Lord gave Moses in the book of Exodus explain more about how and when God wants His people to observe these appointed times. In Leviticus 23, Moses will present a summary of them all.
To this day Messianic and Hebrew Roots believers in Messiah Yeshua, as well as non-Messianic Jews, observe the Shabbat and the Moedim in the understanding that YHVH intended His people to observe them forever. Christians for the most part do not observe these days, worshipping instead on Sunday and on different feast days, the chief being Christmas and Easter. They do so in the belief that God permitted the changing of the designated days of worship. In this is a source of great disagreement, even division, between the Messianic and non-Messianic parts of the Body of Messiah. It is a seemingly small thing, but it makes a tremendous difference. The days we regard as holy are the days that establish our calendar and around which we order our lives.
And thus we get to the second question: How are we to worship God? There were several reasons Aaron and his sons were secluded for seven days before they could start their priestly work. Not the least of these is that they and the people of Israel had to have a powerful reminder that the service of Holy God is serious business. Since the rebellion of our first ancestors in the Garden of Eden, the world has been corrupt with sin and filthy with its by-products. It is not a fit place for the Most High to set His foot. That is why YHVH has labored these past millennia to redeem this world and the people in it, working through a particular family to build a nation that would produce an Anointed One (Messiah) to take away the sin, and a kingdom of priests (Israel) that could walk through the earth and draw all people to salvation. The alternative is utter destruction, for God cannot remain in a place corrupt with sin (Genesis 6:1-8; Deuteronomy 23:14; Isaiah 59:1-2; Habakkuk 1:13; I John 3:4-10).
A major reason for the sacrificial system of worship in the Tabernacle and the Temple is to teach God’s people about His holy nature and how He would like us to approach Him. Coming into the Presence of the Almighty is no casual thing. It requires a degree of seriousness and preparation. That does not mean the Lord God excludes fun and celebration, for He does indeed enjoy these things, but it does mean that we must keep in mind Who He Is and who we are in relation to Him. That is why He had to make a point on that great day of dedicating the priests and the Tabernacle when Aaron’s oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, made a fatal error of judgment. The Scripture tells us that they brought “strange fire” before the Lord, and that He executed them on the spot (Leviticus 10:1-3). What did they do wrong? Perhaps they brought the wrong kind of incense in their firepans, or perhaps they brought it at the wrong time, or perhaps they were not authorized to burn incense before the Lord. Whatever the reason, their uncle Moses had to caution their father, their brothers, and the elders of Israel who witnessed the event by explaining the word of the Lord:
By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored. (Leviticus 10:3 NASB)
Perhaps this seems a harsh thing done by the God of the Old Testament, but something which the loving, gracious God of the New Testament would never do. Or perhaps not. Holy God is always Holy, and from time to time He must remind His people of that fact by making examples of those who disregard His instructions. That was why Uzzah lost his life. He was the priest who touched the Ark of the Covenant to steady it when the oxen pulling the cart on which it was carried stumbled (II Samuel 6:1-11). Of course, it was King David and the priests who had made the mistake of transporting the Ark in the wrong way, and it is likely that Uzzah’s death preserved the lives of many other people. Then there were Ananias and Sapphira, saints of God who thought they could gain honor in the eyes of their brethren by offering what they claimed was the full price of land they sold, but keeping back part of the price for their own purposes. As we learn from Scripture, they lied to the Holy Spirit, and thus sealed their death warrants (Acts 5:1-11). Since this happened after Yeshua’s death and resurrection, and after the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Body of Messiah’s followers at the Feast (Moed) of Pentecost (Shavuot), then the lesson to us in this day should be quite clear: the holiness of God does not change, nor do the consequences of disregarding His holiness. This is a lesson observant Jews have known for millennia, a lesson which Messianic and Hebrew Roots believers are learning, and which dedicated Christ followers among the various Christian traditions have sought to keep in their minds and hearts. While we may disagree on many other things, this awe and respect of the Holiness of God, and the awareness of having been made holy as His people, is something that should bring us together in a true holy communion.
But what of this third question: What does God say is food? How could that possibly enter into this discussion? Oddly enough, God Himself introduced it immediately after the deaths of Nadab and Abihu. The commandments regarding clean and unclean foods appear in Leviticus 11 as the first instructions given to the people of Israel after that tragedy. These laws are actually rather straightforward and easy to understand”
Land Animals: Anything that has a cloven hoof and chews the cud is food.
Water Creatures: Anything that has both fins and scales is food.
Creatures that Fly: Scavengers and predators are not food.
Insects: If they have wings, four feet, and jointed legs so they can jump, then they are food.
Anything that does not fit these categories is not food, and in fact is abomination (detestable, unclean thing) to the Lord, according to Scripture. Where confusion comes is in the fact that various Jewish sects over the centuries have expanded on these specifications, creating doctrines and traditions that obscure the commandments themselves and tie people down under burdensome regulations. According to the Gospel accounts, Yeshua preached against these burdensome man-made regulations, not against the original commandments of God (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23).
What we eat seems to be such a small thing, and yet, as with the holy days we observe, it is everything. Certainly it was everything for Adam and Eve; the only prohibitive commandment they were required to observe was the one about what God had designated as food (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7). Disobedience to that one seemingly insignificant commandment cost our ancestors their place in the paradise of God, opened the way for corruption and death to enter them and the entire world in which they lived, and compelled Holy God to institute a plan of redemption that cost Him the life and dignity of His Own Son (Philippians 2:1-11). We talk about Adam and Eve in condescending ways, noting that they had all manner of good things to eat from every other tree on the planet, but in their envy and disobedience they had to take the fruit of that one tree God had reserved for Himself and eat it. How is that different today? If the Word of God stands forever, if the Scripture cannot be broken, and if the Law (Torah) of God will be in existence until heaven and earth pass away, then why are we not content to eat the many good things God has designated as food, including beef, lamb, salmon, tuna, chicken, and turkey, choosing instead to eat those things He has set aside for other purposes?
Is it truly an impossible burden to abide by these specific commandments of the Lord, or is it liberating to live within the boundaries He has established? These are questions each believer in Messiah must ask for themselves, seeking answers not merely in tradition and habit, but in the Scripture as explained by the Holy Spirit. If I may be honest, it would seem to me that most Christians have never thought about this question, and thus have never had reason to investigate it for themselves, particularly when it concerns the commandments about food. This, too, should not be cause of division among God’s people, but should be a motivation for Spirit-led inquiry and dialogue in the expectation that the Lord will explain what He wants His people to know.
By way of conclusion, consider what the Apostle Peter said on this matter:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (I Peter 1:13-16 NASB, emphasis added)
This is the same Peter who received that vision of the sheet with all manner of unclean animals, along with the instruction to kill and eat (Acts 10:9-16), an event taken in some Christian circles to mean that the “Old Testament” laws of food no longer apply to followers of Jesus. And yet in his letter Peter admonishes believers to be holy just like Holy God. How are we to know what “holy” means”? What are the standards of holiness? Oddly enough, that phrase “be holy, for I am holy” appears three times in Scripture. One of those is in Leviticus 19:1-4, when YHVH commanded our Israelite ancestors to reverence their fathers and mothers, keep His Sabbaths, and refrain from idolatry. The other two references are in Leviticus 11:44-45, which says:
For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44-45 NASB, emphasis added)
What are we to make of this? Nothing, and everything. Nothing in the sense that these differences over the calendar, the manner of worship, and the things designated as food should not be causes for breaking fellowship among people who are truly disciples of Messiah Yeshua. And everything in the sense that our deeper fellowship, and our more effective and devoted service to the Lord God, depend on our following His instructions for living righteous lives. If we are genuine in our quest to learn His definitions of righteousness and in yielding to His Holy Spirit to write these standards on our hearts so we may adjust our daily walk accordingly, then we will indeed become the pure and spotless Bride to be presented to our Messiah at the consummation of the ages.
He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. (Luke 16:10 NASB)