A Little More Theological Doodling

Yesterday I did a little thinking out loud about the references in Leviticus 11-27 regarding the God’s call for his people to be holy. It seems to me to be pretty obvious that God expected his people, the nation of Israel, to be a peculiar, a holy people. I am also equally convinced that God fully expects his “New Testament” people to be equally holy, peculiar. But let me doodle just a little more.

If I may participate in a little speculation, it would not be far wrong to suggest that many people in today’s culture reject the claims of Christianity because, in their mind, so much of the Bible (even the New Testament) is focused on negativity – you can’t do this, you will go to hell if you do that. I would also suggest that most of the things that are prohibited are things that this culture really wants to participate in, such as having absolute autonomy over their sexual nature. Of course, there are a lot of other prohibitions in the Bible, but it seems like the only ones that really provoke people are the ones that regulate with whom and how one might exercise his or her sexual nature.

As I view this phenomenon, I would suggest that this reaction is not against the Bible, but rather a humanistic understanding of what an idol is.

You see, an idol has to be placated. You have to sacrifice to a god in order to implore him or her for a good result, or to alleviate one or more of his more obvious personal animosities. You could never really be on good terms with a god – you were always on the ragged edge of angering him or her, or at the very least, failing to perform some checklist with 100% accuracy. So, you sacrificed in the hopes that your actions and incantations were perfect so that your crops would produce, or that your cows would bear healthy young, or that the rains would come in season. If you messed up, you sacrificed to placate the god’s irascible anger.

Let us then return to Leviticus 11-27 and discover why God called his people to a living holiness –

For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (11:45)

Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you. (20:8)

But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. (20:24)

You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. (20:26)

So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the LORD. And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the LORD who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD. (22:31-33)

And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (26:12-13)

“I delivered you from slavery. I have sanctified you. I have separated you from the other peoples of the earth to be my special possession. I will walk among you (have a personal relationship with you). I have broken the bars of your slavery and have made you walk erect.”

Doesn’t sound like an angry, vicious, temperamental god to me. It sounds to me like a loving, benevolent God who acts in grace first and only demands obedience later. It sounds to me like a father who wants what is best for his children, but knowing that children will often act to their own harm, sets beneficial limits to their behavior to protect them. It sounds to me like the kind of God that most people would love to get to know, if they could push past their own understanding of slavish obedience to a malevolent, capricious god.

Now, if that is the picture that God gave us of himself in the Old Testament, under the Old Law, and limited by a national allegiance, how much more should we view God as a loving, gracious, benevolent father who, more than anything, desires a close personal relationship with his redeemed people  under the shadow of the cross?

The more I read the Old Testament, the more I am convinced that we have seriously misjudged its message and significance for Christians. I think it is no small wonder that perhaps one of the most understudied books in the New Testament is the book of Hebrews, the one book that quotes from the Old Testament most frequently. Yes, it teaches us the Old Law (the national law) has been superseded, but it does so in such a way as to magnify the message of grace and redemption as foreseen in the Old Law.

Hmm. Perhaps some more doodling in this subject would be appropriate.

Those Mysterious “Rolling” Sins [Uncertain Inferences Series]

When we examine inferences made from Scripture, whether ours or those of others, we can note that some are sound and legitimate, some are kind of squishy, although not necessarily wrong or dangerous, and some are just flat out wrong. When we make inaccurate inferences it is either due to simple ignorance (we are not aware of other passages that bear on the subject we are discussing, or we misinterpret the verses we use to defend our inference) or due to a blatant disregard for opposing Scriptures in an effort to make our inference unassailable, or “necessary.” The results can be anything from amusing to dangerous. Regardless, an incorrect inference is incorrect, and I do not believe anyone wants to promote falsehood.

One common inference is based on Hebrews 10:4, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” From this verse, taken by itself and entirely out of context, it would appear that no one was ever forgiven of their sins by the sacrifice of any animal. Now, this misunderstanding could be rectified if 10:4 was read in the context of 9:13-14, and 9:22. But the idea that the sins of the Israelites were not forgiven until the death of Christ became an entrenched teaching – and to explain it the idea of the sins of the Israelites being “rolled forward” was promoted. [cue the theme to “Rawhide” here, “Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’, keep those doggies rollin’, rawhide!] First let’s examine the teaching of the forgiveness of the sins of the Israelites under the Mosaic covenant:

The priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven.

Thus the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin, and he shall be forgiven.

Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf, and you shall be forgiven.

Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have committed, and you shall be forgiven.

You shall confess the sin that you have committed . . . and the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for your sin.

Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have committed, and you shall be forgiven.

Thus the priest shall make atonement . . . and you shall be forgiven.

The priest shall make atonement on your behalf with the ram of the guilt offering, and you shall be forgiven.

You shall repay the principal amount and shall add one-fifth to it . . . The priest shall make atonement on your behalf before the LORD, and you shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and incur guilt thereby.

(Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:5-6, 10, 13, 16, 18; 6:5-7, NRSV; See also the chapter on the Day of Atonement, chapter 16)

Color me silly here, but I just do not understand how anyone can read these passages and come up with the conclusion that the sins of the Israelites were not forgiven at the time that they went to the priest, confessed their sins, and provided the appropriate sin offering. These passages are in perfect agreement with Hebrews 9:13-14.

Now, let’s examine the passages that teach that the sins of the Israelites were “rolled forward.”

[ . . . ]

That was fun, wasn’t it?

You see, someone, or a bunch of someones, wanted to emphasize the importance of the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. Who would want to minimize it? So, taking Hebrews 10:4 as their proof-text, they had to “explain” how the sins of the Israelites could be forgiven by Jesus. This person, or persons, came up with the idea that these sins were “rolled forward” to the day of the crucifixion. There is no passage that teaches such an idea, and even Hebrews 10:4 does not teach such an idea. Never-the-less, the belief has become as undeniable for some people as the nose on their face.

I do not believe there is any profound ethic or behavior that would result from a misunderstanding of Hebrews 10:4. But the inference that the Israelites were NOT forgiven, when God repeatedly and emphatically told them that they WOULD BE forgiven, is to twist, and even deny, Scripture. If you were able to ask a faithful Israelite who was leaving their sacrifice if they had been forgiven of their sins, they would have looked at you as if you were crazy. Of course they had been forgiven. They had been promised the forgiveness of their sin, they believed in the promise of God, they had obediently followed the command of God – why would they think they had been denied that which was promised?

Let’s be blunt here. The idea that what was effective for the Israelites is somehow effective for us is just plain falsehood. The author of the book of Hebrews makes that point in a number of ways. Christ’s sacrifice is superior to the Mosaic sacrifices as the sun is superior to my little flashlight. The Mosaic code provided for the temporary, (the Hebrew writer called it “fleshly” forgiveness), while Jesus provided for “once-for-all” (forgiveness of the conscience) forgiveness. The two are profoundly different in the mind of the author of the letter to the Hebrews, and we should not try to put them back together.

The idea that the sins of the Israelites were “rolled forward” is certainly a possible deduction from Hebrews 10:4; it has been taught and defended with the greatest of fervor. But, is it a correct inference or deduction? I do not believe it is, and I am convinced that the book of Leviticus and even Hebrews 9:13, 14, and 22 all teach quite clearly that while the forgiveness under the Mosaic system was temporary, and therefore imperfect, it was none-the-less effective for that covenant.

I am profoundly thankful that we have the covenant established by Christ and sealed with his sacrifice on the cross to trust for our salvation. As the writer to the Hebrew Christians encouraged, let us not trivialize nor forsake that great sacrifice!