What we are reading this week (beginning Thursday, July 15, 2021):
• Leviticus 16-22
• Jeremiah 40-46
• Acts 17-23
• Psalms 106-112
Notes on Leviticus
Details regarding The Day of Atonement are described in chapter 16. The high priest was to wash his body and wear linen (the lightest of clothing) before entering the holy of holies. The significance of this is that God does not want dirty, stinking flesh in his presence.
The incense that the high priest was to take into the holy of holies was intended to create a lot of smoke. For above the mercy seat (the top cover of the Ark of the Covenant), between the wings of the golden cherubim, God would meet face to face with the priest. The smoke was to protect the high priest to keep from seeing God too clearly, else he die (16.13).
This is the only Jewish festival of the seven that involves fasting instead of feasting. Today, of course, the day is called Yom Kippur, and is celebrated in September or October.
The area of sexuality is so critical to the human spirit and our relationship to God, the Law spells it out about as clear as possible, chapter 18 being one of those places. Every sexual combination of one human with another person (or entity) is ruled out specifically except for man/woman in the context of marriage. Even though we don’t put people to death for violations to these laws (this ultimate response was specifically directed to the Israelite community), we can at least learn that the Lord disapproves of all variations. This has not changed.
The reason this is so important is that the sexual relationship is powerful, and the context of marriage is to give us a living representation of the relationship between the Lord and the Church. In Ephesians 5, Paul gives guidelines for marriage, then says, “But I’m talking about Christ and the church.” Distortions of the sexual act distort our picture of God and his love and relationship toward us. This is why there is such a powerful move by the forces of evil against the traditional family.
I taught school for three years in a community where there is virtually no tradition family to be found anywhere. Every sexual expression is legitimate. There is no expectation, even in the churches there, of the traditional nuclear family emerging in the community. The end result is that this has become (arguably) the most dangerous neighborhood in America. The children are very angry, and many are extremely confused and angry because their sense of identity is so messed up, and feel that no one at all cares if they live or die (and in many cases, sadly, they are correct). There is virtually no awareness of the Lord and his love for them. And it’s hard to find a starting point if they have no sense of family, other than an alternately defined one, and these always comes up short. Their sense of normal is completely inverted, and the results of this are awful.
The simply family model ushers a child into a mode of preparation to understand the love of God.
In 19.15, we are reminded that partiality toward the poor is wrong. Of course, the poor and their plight are extremely important to the Lord, and many commands and laws are directed to helping them. Great consequences are threatened if they are ignored or maltreated. But here we also see that it is wrong to show partiality toward them, as well as doing so to “the great.”
Two verses later (17), we are again reminded that the Old Testament Law was designed to be followed with the heart, not just cold action: “Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart.”
In 21.21, priests with defects are forbidden to come near the worship service. This is not a rejection of a person, but an illustration of the holiness of God.
Slaves in the Hebrew community were not in the mode of the normal view we have in America, after our blighted past. In 22.11, we see that a slave in a priest’s home had privileges that, in some cases, his own married daughter would not have.
Notes on Jeremiah
The people ask the prophet for the Lord’s direction, promising that NO MATTER WHAT IT IS, they will obey (42.5-6). Jeremiah tells them exactly what it is: his message is to stay put and wait for the Babylonians (42.10-12). If they go to Egypt, he warns them, they will be doomed (17).
So they all rose up and accused Jeremiah of lying and promptly disobeyed (43.1-7). Why then did they even ask?
In chapter 45 we find a brief, but encouraging message to Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, who has faithfully written down all of Jeremiah’s words, for them and for us. “Should you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them… wherever you go I will let you escape with your life, “ God assures him.
The long prophecies immediately begin, and they are directed at the other nations, and will continue into next week: 46 to Egypt; 47 to Philistia; 48 to Moab; 49 to Ammon, Edom, Syria, Kedar and Hazor; and we will see tomorrow that chapter 50 is directed at Babylon.
Notes on Acts
Bi-vocational ministers are often called “tentmakers.” This comes from 18.3, as Paul continued (at least for a while) to self-support through “secular” employment.
In 18.10, Jesus appears to Paul and encourages him on, telling him that “I have many people in this city.” Paul had apparently only recently arrived to evangelize. There are faithful people of God embedded in many places that we may not be aware of.
In chapter 19, a riot erupts in Ephesus because of the message of the gospel. It is actually threatening commerce (19.23-27a). The gospel does that: it creates financial problems when redeemed people change their ways.
Jesus promised us that since they hated him, they would hate us as well. We should not be surprised or angry when the society turns on us and hates us for following the Lord. He said we should expect this. It affirms that we are doing our job!
Along with that thought, Paul claimed in 20.26-7 that he was innocent of the blood all of them— because he faithfully proclaimed the word. If we do not proclaim the word, then we will be held accountable. This is a sobering thought!
The oft-quoted words of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” are only found here in chapter 20, and not anywhere in the gospels.
The prophet Agabus gave a prophecy of what would happen to Paul if he were to go to Jerusalem (21.11). Everyone thought that was a warning to not go to Jerusalem. But Paul said that was only confirmation of what God had already told him. He was going to Jerusalem, ready to not only suffer, but to die (13). Prophecies are not simply to be used to avoid danger! We need wisdom on how to deal with what God tells us
Notice the contrast between Jesus and Paul when facing their accusers. Jesus was silent, and the accusers around him imploded on themselves (Mark 14.56, Matthew 27.19–24).
Paul, on the other hand, made a lot of statements to the authorities on his own behalf (see 22.25, 23.1, 6–8, 24.10–21, 25.8, 26.2–23). I especially like the part where his is in front of the Sanhedrin, made up of Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were the group that worked on maintaining and following the Law of Moses (Old Testament) and trying to look like holy people. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the political muscle of the Jews. They held control over the priesthood but were basically agnostics who sucked up to Rome. The two groups had very little in common, and hated each other.
Acts 23.6–8: Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees, and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)
I’m sure Paul enjoyed this scenario quite a bit, in spite of the danger he was facing at the time.
Jesus makes a few really interesting cameos throughout Acts (see, e.g, 23.11). In Acts 22.21–23, notice just how explosive the issue of reaching out to Gentiles was. This is the culture that all of the disciples came out of, and why it was difficult for them to truly get a handle on evangelism that spread beyond their Jewish bubble.
Notes on Psalms
107.2: “Let the redeemed to the Lord tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.”
108.13 is a verse of victory: “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.”