Leviticus 07 – God’s Constant Desire for Communion

“‘These are the regulations for the guilt offering, which is most holy: The guilt offering is to be slaughtered in the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered, and its blood is to be splashed against the sides of the altar. All its fat shall be offered: the fat tail and the fat that covers the internal organs, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the long lobe of the liver, which is to be removed with the kidneys. The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering presented to the Lord. It is a guilt offering. Any male in a priest’s family may eat it, but it must be eaten in the sanctuary area; it is most holy. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Forbidden Fat, Forbidden Blood

Let’s start with a word about the latter half of the chapter, where the blood and fat of the animal are yet again expressly forbidden. Actually, it’s not much of a word, but more of a pointing you in a direction of where I and others have talked at more length about this specific restriction. First, the work of Mary Douglas informed most of my thinking of fat as a metaphorical covering: a protective barrier between mundane humanity and the dangerously powerful divinity of God. You would not want to consume something with that much symbolism, that much power, but rather, dedicate it to God. You can read more about that in my post on Leviticus 03. As to the special sanctity of blood, I wrote about that while discussing Romans 03, and have to once more give a shout-out to Almost Heretical for informing these ideas.

7:1 “which is most holy”

I want to spend today talking about the first part of the chapter, specifically verses 7:1 and 7:15, because they truly emphasize God’s desire to be reconciled to us and in communion with us.

7:1 reads “These are the regulations for the guilt offering, which is most holy:” (emphasis my own). Let’s refresh our memories: The guilt offering is made after someone intentionally commits a sin or a crime. This is slightly different than the sin offering, which seems to apply mostly when someone sins unintentionally. There is some mention of unintentional sins in stipulations regarding the guilt offering, but by and large it applies to: restoring property that has been stolen or extorted (see 6:4-5), breaking faith with a community member (6:1-3), or providing restitution for holy articles that have somehow been carelessly treated (5:16).

The guilt offering is being made by someone who has committed the gravest of errors: an intentional sin against God, and now is looking to make right. Whoever is offering a guilt offering has broken a divine covenant, violated a divine agreement, and, quite likely, is in danger of execution: Nadab and Abihu presented the wrong fire to God (in violation of their contracts as priests) and were literally burned to death, as just one example of such violations from here in Leviticus.

But look what we are told: this offering, the offering that restores said sinner to God, that restores them to life, is the most holy offering. The thanksgiving and fellowship offerings, that thank God for Xyr gifts to us, are not the most holy. The sin offering, which is, in comparison to the guilt offering, just a little expression of mea culpa, is not the most holy. No, the offering that restores a sinner to God is the most holy. Of course it is nice to be thanked for your gifts, or apologized to if someone steps on your toe, but what is really soul-healing is to have someone who has wronged you offer a heartfelt apology (and restitution). And we see that reflected in the fact that the guilt offering is the most holy of all the offerings. God leaves that doorway to forgiveness open for us, even here in the book of rules that modern Christians like to deride so often. The guilt offering is the most holy, because it restores our communion with God.

7:15 “leave none of it till morning”

7:15 falls in the Fellowship Offering Recap section. It reads, “The meat of his fellowship offering of thanksgiving must be eaten on the day it is offered; he must leave none of it till morning.” Now, certainly this is partially a practical consideration: in an era without refrigeration, meat only lasts so long. But I’m here to tell you, it can last til morning. Maybe I’m a lazy housewife, but I often leave a chili or roast on the stove overnight and just reheat it at lunch the next day. No one has gotten food poisoning yet. So that practical consideration only goes so far.

I think it again shows God’s eagerness to be in communion with us. When you are presented with a gift, who wants to wait to open it? Waiting to open your gift is the hardest part of Christmas as little kid, right? Well, God, being in charge, can say “no waiting on these thank you gifts, we’re going to enjoy them right now!” When we come bearing gifts and thanks to God, God receives them graciously and effusively, because God enjoys being in communion with Xyr creation.

God delights in you

“The Church,” however you conceive that to be historically or institutionally, has done a good job of making people feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness. The Church as done a good job of hiding God’s joy in us and God’s desire to be with us. The church would often have you believing that you are scum, and nothing you could do would bring pleasure to God, that we can only bring God anger and sorrow and then repent in whatever pathetic way possible in the hopes that we won’t be thrown into hell. I will agree with them on one thing: that our actions can bring God sorrow, and probably anger, too. When we turn against each other, when we abuse God’s creation, even when we fail to take joy in what is given to us (take a look at Ecclesiastes to see how God wants us to be joyful) – that is an affront to God.

But I hope that these two verses discussed today help highlight exactly how much God loves us, and loves being with us. When we recognize the error of our ways and turn to God (and whomever else necessary) and say sorry, and work to do better, we are restored in God’s eyes, and God is delighted. When we say “thank you” for the gifts God has given us, God is there to hear it, and is delighted.

One last thing I want to point out: there are no stipulations on who can bring a guilt offering. You do not have to be white, rich, straight, employed, sober, college-educated, skinny, and with all your shit together. No matter what anyone else tells you, you are not an irredeemable sinner. You may perhaps need to make a proverbial guilt offering or two…or maybe you just need to say thank you more. Or maybe you’ve already done all of that. (Or maybe those things need to be said and done to you by some offending party.) Whatever the case, God loves you, and loves when you turn to Xyr. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. One more time, in case it wasn’t clear: God loves you. Thanks be to God.

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Leviticus 01 – God Loves a Barbeque

The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Read the rest of the chapter, here)

The book everyone loves to hate.

Let’s spend a little time with the book everybody loves to hate, Leviticus. About the only thing “in style” about Leviticus right now is spending time refuting it. Two of the six clobber passages (passages used to denounce homosexuality) are found in Leviticus. Almost any compilation of “weirdest rules” or “strangest passages” in the Bible samples heavily from Leviticus.

There’s a pervasive need of modern readers to patronize Leviticus. We’ve all seemed to develop a sense of superiority sitting here looking at it, almost four centuries after it was written. Sometimes, that sense of superiority is factually based in the cumulative knowledge that time has brought, but other times I think it’s just a bit haughty of us.

If we take the time to research Leviticus it not only brings the past – in this case, the time of Moses, to life – but also presents us with (you guessed it) even more examples of God’s unending love for us. A book of rules – very specific rules, at that – seems a strange place to look for boundless love. But I’m happy to report I’ve found a lot of it, and I’m excited to share that with you here. Some of the more perplexing verses can be understood in context: obsessive directives about skin diseases and mold make more sense when you remember that this is a time before bleach and antibiotics. But more than anything it is a book about care: God caring for Xyr people, and those people caring for each other and God in return. It is a book of joyous communion.

God loves a barbeque.

And bless my southern little heart, what is a more joyous communion than a barbeque? If you come away from Leviticus learning one thing, let it be this: that God loves a barbeque. The phrase “aroma pleasing to the Lord,” in reference to the animal sacrifices made on the altar, is mentioned three times in this opening chapter alone. I cannot stress enough: God opened this book of rules with a cooking lesson. How to present the meat, butcher the meat, and prepare the meat is all detailed, similar to how a pit master might do. Come to think of it, another name for the first few chapter of Leviticus could be “this is how we eat together.”

I realize that whole last paragraph might come off as a little trite. But really, these opening chapters are a codified invitation to sit at the Lord’s table. And God makes it available to all: If you can bring a bull, definitely bring a bull. Can’t afford that? No worries, bring a ram, or even a bird. Can’t bring any meat? How about a grain offering? God wants us, all of us, with them. Because what is a barbeque without lots of people?

Practical concerns surrounding sacrificial butchery.

I’m also enjoying these opening chapters because, for those of you that don’t know, I am a farmer in my other life. I have herded cows, castrated pigs, and eviscerated chickens. I have carved a pig head, among other things, and make stock from chicken feet. So reading some of the practical instructions surrounding animal sacrifice is particularly amusing. Today’s winning line is verse 1:16, “He is to remove the crop with its contents and throw it to the east side of the altar, where the ashes are.”

First off, the word translated as “contents” is uncertain, according to my NIV study notes. Some translate it as “crop and feathers.” I don’t need to be a Hebrew or religious scholar to tell you that word means “anything you wouldn’t want to eat on the bird.” Having removed thousands of them myself, I can tell you that crops – the “holding stomach,” if you will, on birds, is stinky. As are their intestines and feathers. You do not want any of that burning on your holy altar – it would not be an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Imagine diarrhea and burnt hair, and that’s probably a pretty close approximation of what burning bird offal smells like.)

I also like that it is further explicitly stated that said gross stuff be thrown away on the east side of the Altar. There are detailed descriptions of how the Tabernacle should be constructed (we’ll get to them when we read Exodus), and my study Bible has a handy little drawing of how the Tabernacle was set up. Sure enough, the east side of the Altar is the farthest side from the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant rested. Basically, God is like “keep that nasty stuff over there.” I’ve smelled a gut bucket full of the offal of 100-plus birds. It is not conducive to communing with the Lord.

Alright enough about bird guts, for now. But be prepared: we’re going to talk more about animal entrails in the not too distant future. My writer’s block seems to have cleared, Leviticus is thoroughly enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to sharing chapter two with you all next week. Remember that you are always welcome at God’s barbeque, for God loves us all.

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Psalm 22 – COVID and the Coming School Year

11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;
    strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
    open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    you lay me in the dust of death. (Read the rest of the chapter, here)

The coming school year

Indulge me, if you will, in a moment of self pity. I got word from our school-board the other day that we as parents have two choices: Half-time instruction in-school, with children alternating weeks they are in-classroom and receiving at-home instruction, or opting for full-time at-home instruction. I am extremely concerned about the recent COVID spikes in states that attempted re-openings, and am scared to death of what schools across the nation opening in a few weeks is going to do to these numbers, so I opted for the latter.

Let me be clear, I think the school board made the best decision they could: no one is going to be happy with any decision they make, but this is probably the closest they’ll get to “getting it right” in an impossible situation. I also am deeply grateful to the teachers who are essentially going to have to come up with two lesson plans – one for in-school and one for remote teaching. But essentially, I just signed on to a full year of being little M’s teacher and therapist, in addition to her mother and advocate. I have never been someone who wanted to homeschool. It has never been remotely tempting. Yet here I am, doing it. I’ll be working with her teachers, but she’s a special-needs kindergartner, so let’s be honest here: self-directed study is not going to happen. I’m staring a new full-time job in the face come August 10.

Yes, I’m grateful I have the option to do this with and for my child. Yes, I will relish the time we get to spend together. Yes, I love being a part of her progress as she learns and grows. I am grateful. I really am. But I’m also so very tired. I’m tired of limiting her opportunities for social development because of a global pandemic. I’m tired of being afraid to go to the river with the girls too late in the day because there will be too many people there. I’m saddened that my youngest is now afraid of people walking by us when we walk the dogs, because I’ve tried to explain we need to be friends from afar for now. I hate having to explain to my girls for the millionth time that we can’t do a car-ride to their grandmas and grandpas, who they haven’t seen, outside of Facetime, in months. But more than anything I’m so, so worried about how many families might lose children come fall, reopening schools, and COVID spikes. So even though I’m tired, we will stay home: for our health and theirs.

The Psalm

Psalm 22 is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are the words Jesus cries out on the cross. Other parts allude to Jesus as well: “a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet” (v. 16), “they divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (v. 18). It is a lament, an anguished cry of a psalm, which is why I chose it for this week’s reading. “Why, Lord?” it asks. Also, “where are you, Lord?” Those two questions have been my heart’s cries for weeks now. I am sad, I am tired, my efforts feel futile.

Yet here I am, “declaring your name to my brothers,” as v. 22 puts it. Even as tired as I am, I cannot resist the gravity of God’s pull. I saw something on Instagram today that said “God is the God of your valleys as well as your mountains.” It’s comforting, in a small way, to know that God loves us even when we aren’t feeling our best selves, perhaps even when we are feeling a little sorry for ourselves, or shaky in our beliefs. And for that, I will continue to sing Xyr praises even while asking “why?” and “where?”

I find it comforting, too, that this psalm has already been fulfilled, not only through Jesus, but through the declaration at the very end: “Posterity will serve Xyr, future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim Xyr righteousness, to a people yet unborn — for Xe has done it.” It is estimated that the final compilation of the psalms was in the third century B.C., which means many of these psalms had been sung for a long time before. Millennia of generations have sung these psalms, and the goodness of God has carried us here, in that tide. It may not always seem good, but something about that longevity gives me hope, and gives me perspective. My tired is real, but it is temporary. Even if it lasts the rest of my life (and I hope it doesn’t, and I don’t believe God wants that for any of Xyr children), it is still temporary. I may wallow around in my valley of self pity for a bit, but God is there with me. And when I’m ready to climb back to the mountaintop, God will walk with me then, too.

If you are learning from what you read here, please follow the blog so you don’t miss what’s next.  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  Please also consider supporting the blog through Patreon or Venmo.  Thank you!