Introduction - why ancient Jews introduced children to Leviticus first
Did you know that Leviticus is the very first book that Jews had their young children study?1 I think adults are much more intimidated by this book than children are. Even though children can say "Ewwww!" when they read about blood, cutting apart animals, leaking body fluids, where to go to the bathroom, etc., they are still curious about it. And it is a very visual book. It is filled with pictures of sin, and of Jesus, and of holiness. And I'll give you five reasons of why this is a book for children, and not just for a 63-year-old pastor.
I went to a modern apostate Jewish website to see what lame reason they would give for why this had always been the first book Jews would introduce to children. A lot of Jews think, "This book is so irrelevant. We have no temple. Why are we still having our kids read this book?" And because they reject the Jesus pictured in this book, they get this first reason wrong. One rabbi said, "Children are pure; therefore let them study laws of purity."2 No, no, no, no. It's actually the exact reverse - children sin from the womb and keep getting more sophisticated in their sinning unless they are shown step-by-step how to get right with God. And parents used Leviticus as a picture book to take their kids step by step through God's view of sin, step-by-step through the Gospel process of heart cleansing, and step-by-step through the laws of restitution. It is a book that teaches children (as well as 63 year old pastors) how to be holy.
Second, Leviticus gives almost half of the 613 commandments that Jews had counted in the Old Testament. Almost half! Now granted, it is a mixture of ceremonial and moral laws, but once you show them what the ceremonial laws mean, the lights come on and they will begin to at least feel the structure of life that God gave to bring comfort and security.
Third, this book teaches children to respect authorities that God has placed in their lives. That doesn't come automatically, and children need to be taught to respect authority. Leviticus 19:32 says, "You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am Yehowah." And other sections of the book show children how to honor church officers and officers of the civil realm. We live in a culture that has lost all reverence for authority. Leviticus can help to restore that. It needs to be taught, and taught very early.
Fourth, this book taught children the rituals of worship that they would be going through for the rest of their lives. Granted, we don't have the rituals associated with the sacrifices. But it teaches us that ritual is good. Initially some of those rituals would not be understood, but they would go through the motions of the sacrifices and cleansing rituals and when to stand and when to kneel in worship just as our youngest children learn to go through the rituals of standing, kneeling, singing, listening, etc even if they don't immediately understand these things. Our God is a God of ritual, and rituals permeated the lives of children and taught them the most important things of life by osmis - just by being in the environment. It's a great way of learning that children's church completely undermines.
And finally, this book grounded children in the Gospel in a very concrete way that they could not forget. Every day they were surrounded by symbols that reminded them that they were sinners in need of a Savior who could apply His grace to their lives. Now, we have a hard time identifying with these symbols because we are not under the ceremonial law and so we don't see these things continually before our eyes. But for children in the Old Covenant these things would eventually become second nature. They lived and breathed these Gospel rituals.
Summary word: holiness
Now, if we wanted to summarize Leviticus in one word, it would be the word "holiness" or "holy" - the Hebrew word Kadosh. In the New King James, the root word is only translated as holiness or holy 78 times, but the Hebrew word appears 304 times in Leviticus. Sometimes it is translated as holiness, sometimes as sanctified, or consecrated, or dedicated, or separated. But it is the same Hebrew word. The concept of holiness permeates this book as it either describes the transcendent holiness and separateness of God or His call for us to be holy and separated to Him. It is hard to read the book of Leviticus without realizing that our God is holy and we are not nearly holy enough. I think you can get at least that much.
Key verse: Leviticus 19:2
The key verse of the book is Leviticus 19:2, which says, "Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I Yehowah your God am holy." And of course, that phrase is repeated several times in this book, so you could have several key verses. For example, Leviticus 20:7-8 expands on the theme verse by saying,
7 Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am Yehowah your God. 8 And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them: I am Yehowah who sanctifies you.
Even though there are a lot of activities in this book that are related to this theme of holiness, Leviticus does not describe a situation where we are trying hard through ritual to please God or earn His favor. All of the strange rituals of this book were designed to teach the Israelites to put their faith in God since God alone could make them holy.
One other introductory matter that I wanted to address is the relationship of this book to Exodus. I'm not a huge fan of Chuck Swindoll, but in a recent short blog I think he hit the nail on the head when he described the significance of Leviticus coming after Exodus. He said,
Now that Israel had been redeemed by God [that's the book of Exodus], they were to be purified into a people worthy of their God [that's the book of Leviticus]. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” says Leviticus 19:2. In Leviticus we learn that God loves to be approached, but we must do so on His terms.3
I especially like that last statement: "In Leviticus we learn that God loves to be approached, but we must do so on His terms." And as we approach God, we realize His holiness is so beyond ours that it makes us both fear God and want to be like God. Gazing on His holiness can be unnerving and discomforting, but it also makes us admire Him.
When I was in Bible School in the late 70's up in Canada I began to love the book of Leviticus. I spent a lot of time in it in my devotions one semester. And I remember part way through the semester that I was on my knees reading Leviticus and worshiping the God of holiness that this book was introducing. And suddenly, God manifested His very presence in my dorm room so powerfully that I was overwhelmed by His unapproachable holiness. I have had had times before that where God had poured out wave upon wave of His love into my heart - so much so that I thought I would die and enjoy dying in His love. It was an indescribably experience of His love. But this was different. Though I never doubted God's love, the sense of His holiness was so overwhelming that I literally backed out of my dorm room and into the hallway still on my knees. And afterwards I was kicking myself for leaving God's presence. There was something about His holiness that drew me like a magnet and there was something about that same presence that made me feel like I could not continue in His presence. It was a strange mix of wanting to be more like Him and realizing that I was not like Him. That was what immersing myself in Leviticus had produced in my heart. I tell you that story so that hopefully you will try to connect with this book.
The outline of the book in pictorial form
Let me make a couple of comments on the first chart on the back side of your sheet. It has often been said that it took only one day to get Israel out of Egypt, but it took forty years to get Egypt out of Israel. And this book shows that without the continual cleansing and empowering of His grace, even Christians cannot successfully get rid of Egypt from their heart, soul, mind, and action. And if you look at the underlined words in that chart you can see that this book claims every part of our personality, our families, churches, and land for God. Even the state has to swallow its pride and follow God's gracious laws rather than making their own.
In looking at that same chart, you may wonder why little children would have to study the duties of the priesthood if that child is never going to become a priest. But there were two good reasons that they did so. First, it helped the children to appreciate all the sacrifices that those priests made for God and on their behalf. But beyond that, this book called upon every man, woman, and child to aspire to be a kingdom of priests who draw others to the Lord and a kingdom of kings who take dominion in life. Those priests were models for a royal priesthood of all believers. Though we cannot perform sacrifices and do not have a tabernacle, we can point people to the final sacrifice (Jesus) and to the heavenly tabernacle.
The Open Bible correctly states,
In Exodus, Israel is redeemed and established as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation; and in Leviticus, Israel is taught how to fulfill their priestly call. They have been led out from the land of bondage in Exodus and into the sanctuary of God in Leviticus. They move from redemption to service, from deliverance to dedication.4
If you look at the top part of the outline chart again you will see that the first half of the book deals with the basis of fellowship with God (chapters 1-16) and the second half deals with the way of life before God as kings and priests (chapters 17-27). And I want to emphasize that these laws assume that you are already part of the people of God; you've already gone through the redemption of Exodus. The laws of Leviticus are not so much about how to get saved as they are designed to help God's people draw closer and closer to the God of all holiness.
Survey of the book
This is even true of the five sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7. These are described quite well by the "Five Offerings" graphic on the front of your outline as well as in the second chart on the backside. The first three offerings were sweet savor sacrifices that showed God's people lovingly consecrating themselves to the Lord. All three are voluntary expressions of love by people who are already saved. And I will try to distinguish them for you. We are going to spend the rest of the sermon doing an overview of the book and mixing Christology in with that overview. I think it will be a more efficient way of handling the book.
Laws of devotion and reconciliation to God
How people must approach God
The burnt offering (1:1-17)
The burnt offering of chapter 1 represents entire consecration of a person who is already saved. "Lord, just as this bull that I have given to you is entirely burned on this altar, I too give myself as a living sacrifice to you - total consecration; I hold nothing back." Of course, we can only do that through the Jesus that all sacrifices prefigure. When pointing to Jesus it shows that Jesus entirely consecrated Himself to the Father as a burnt offering out of love for the Father and love for us. So Ephesians 5:2 says, "And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma." That's the burnt offering. In response, Romans 12:1 calls upon us to offer up every aspect of our lives to the Lord as a burnt offering. We are not our own; we belong to Him.
And by the way, this burnt offering was an expression of at least three of the five languages of love to God. First, if you look at the fourth column over, labeled "Our work," you will see that preparing for this offering involved a lot of work - probably over an hour of service. If you have ever skinned, cut up, washed, and prepared an animal, you can see that the language of love called "service" is definitely involved. But that time would give the worshiper plenty of quality time with the Lord both before and during the sacrifice. Third, there was gift-giving. This worshiper gave the animal as a gift to the Lord and gave the skin as a gift to the priests. And Romans 12:1 and many other Scriptures say that there are ways that we can offer our lives as a sacrifice to God, acceptable through Jesus.
The grain offering (2:1-16)
The next offering was the grain offering. Where the first one was consecration of the person, this one is a consecration of all that the person owns and of all of his dominion. Because there was no blood involved in this offering, it was always connected with another blood-based offering for the simple reason that nothing we give to God has merit apart from the blood of Jesus. And so, in the graphic by Campbell on the first side of the sheet you will see that there is a chain linking this offering to the other two voluntary offerings. There had to be a blood sacrifice connected with it.
But think of the love languages displayed in this gift as well. Scholars point out that the gift of finely ground flour would have been expensive at the time of Moses for three reasons: First, they were wandering in the wilderness and did not grow grain. This was either saved from long ago or bartered for with traders from other countries. Second, scholars point out that when grinding of grain was achieved by rubbing wheat or barley between two stones, it took a long time to even make coarse flour, and took much longer to turn coarse flour into fine flour fit for a king. There was service involved. Third, salt, olive oil, and frankincense were hard to come by. So it was expensive. Fourth, this was something prepared by the person himself. The flour itself was not simply bought at the store. It involved the person's time, labor, thought, and care to provide this gift for God.
When you are teaching your children to give above and beyond the tithe, it is much better to have the children earn what they are giving rather than giving them a dollar and then having them place that dollar thoughtlessly into the offering plate with no sacrifice or cost to them. Even though we are not under the law, it shows us that we should express our love to God with all five languages. When it costs us quality time, thought, labor, and money, it is a fabulous gift. It was a kind of thanksgiving offering that told God in effect, "Thank you for blessing me with so me with so many things in life. I give you back some of the best of what you have given me as a thank offering." This was not a mandated offering; it was a voluntary offering. On the sale of our home, even though there wasn't profit to tithe on once you subtracted the enormous amount we put into improvements, we gave God a hefty thank offering as a statement that we love Him and acknowledge that the sale of the house was a miracle from His hands. That's the spirit of what a grain offering is about. It is "All that I own is consecrated to you. And this offering symbolizes that fact."
The peace offering (3:1-17)
The third offering (which is in chapter 3) is the peace offering. It was the only one that was eaten by both the priest and the worshiper together. 1 Corinthians 10 connects the Lord's Table of the New Covenant with both the Passover meal and with all the peace offerings. And the vast majority of Paul's examples of Old Testament meals that have an exact correspondence to the Lord's Supper come from the various types of peace offerings listed in Leviticus 3. For example, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 compares the Lord's Table to the peace offering that came a few days after the first Passover. Verses 5-7 compare the Lord's Table to the peace offerings in Exodus 32:5-6. Verse 8 compares the Lord's Table to the peace offerings in Numbers 25-26. Verse 9 compares the Lord's Table to the peace offerings implied in Numbers 16:1-49. Verse 18 compares the Lord's Table to the peace offerings eaten in the temple in the first century. I think you get the point - there is a correspondence to the Lord's Table. 1 Corinthians 10 says that they ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink that we do.
So that being the case, let me make two applications from these peace offerings to the Lord's Table. First, I think it is clear from the chapters where the peace offerings are discussed in Leviticus (chapters 3,4,7,9,10,17,19,22, and 23) that only those whom the Levites could determine were believers were allowed to eat this communion meal. Now, I respect those who hold to the paedocommunion view. I used to hold to that myself in the late 70’s and early 80’s. But let me give just a few of the indicators that this was credo communion. 1) First, it was called a "free will offering" (19:5; 22:21,29) and each one was supposed to participate in it "of his own free will" (19:5; 22:19,29) - not somebody else’s free will, but of his own free will. Babies can't do that. And other descriptions of this sacrifice and fellowship meal that followed it make it clear that it was a 2) conscious gift to God that 3) was voluntary, and 4) those who ate of it were held accountable for any violations of the law and 5) were not to eat unworthily (for example, 19:8). In fact, most commentaries speak of the first three offerings as being the voluntary offerings. A baby would not qualify. A baby's participation would be involuntary and would violate the spirit of the peace offering. Sixth, notice in verse 2 that the offerer had to lay his hands upon the animal, symbolizing an active acknowledgment of sin and transfer of sin to the animal. This is why 2 Chronicles 30 is not giving something new when it speaks of "offering peace offerings and making confession to the LORD God of their fathers" (2 Chron. 30:22). Do you see how those two are linked together? "offering peace offerings and making confession to the LORD God of their fathers" Repentance of sin was a prerequisite to partaking worthily, and 2 Chronicles 30:18-19 shows that "everyone" who partook was expected to prepare his heart to seek God, and those who did not were smitten with sickness. The vast majority of Old Testament sacramental meals that apostle Paul compares to the Lord's Table in 1 Corinthians 10-11 refer to these peace offerings that show an active credo element. And Paul gives example after example of people partaking of the peace offerings unworthily and suffering God's judgments.
I hope to write a book on this that demonstrates the balance of young credo communion. Today we have admitted a very young child - much younger than most Reformed churches are willing to admit, but we have done so after examination and determination that this child can participate with the minimal qualifications that the bible sets forth. The Jews taught their children the book of Leviticus quite young. Why? Because they wanted their children to participate in the Lord's Table as soon as they were able to understand. That's why in Nehemiah 8:2-3 it clarifies which "little ones" partook of that festival - not all of them. Twice it says "those who could hear with understanding." So parents have a responsibility to teach their children the basics of sin, Gospel, Jesus, imputation of sins to Jesus and imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us. I have written extensively against those who put obstacles in the way of children participating in the meals, but I have not yet written a defense of the credo part of our young credo position. But it is a very defensible position, and these peace offerings would be a small part of that argument.
Here is my second general equity application of these peace offerings: Against those who participate in communion without being members of churches and without being under the authority of elders, I would point out that the peace offerings were always eaten before the tabernacle (v. 2,8,13 and many other verses in Leviticus) and under the oversight of the Levites who were from their synagogues (chapter 7; Deut. 12:18; 14:29, and many other verses). 2 Chronicles 31:14 speaks of Levites who had authority "over the freewill offerings to God, to distribute the offerings of the LORD and the most holy things." Only the Levites could distribute what was eaten. And it wasn't just for the peace offerings; it was for the Passover too. Before the tabernacle was set up, Exodus 12:21 says that the Passover Lamb was under the authority of the elders. Later, Scripture says that the Levites "had charge of the slaughter of the Passover Lambs" (2 Chron. 30:7) "and divided them quickly among all the lay people" (2 Chronicles 35:13). So all the Old Covenant meals were clearly connected to the authority of the church. In my notes on the web I will have a lot more proofs that I have collected on this second application.5 But at least this introduces you to our church’s position.
So those are two of the general equity applications that the New Testament itself makes of the peace offerings in chapter 3.
The sin offering (4:1-5:3)
But let's move on to the next offering. The sin offering (in chapters 4-5) indicates that fellowship can be broken for Christians, and they may need to rededicate their lives to God. So the sin offering of chapter 4 is when we have fallen into sins against God or our neighbor and want to be restored. Is there a place for rededicating your life to the Lord? Yes, and these offerings show that place. And when children would feel guilt and want to be restored, the parents would take them to this chapter and show them how to get restored. And by the way, for people who didn't have much money, you could catch your own dove or pigeon and use that instead of the more expensive sacrifices. God accommodated poor and the rich, the young and the old.
Again, it points to Jesus being the basis for even forgiveness of the sins that we commit long after we are saved. We always look to Jesus for forgiveness, and 2 Corinthians 5:21 and 1 Peter 2:24 speaks of Jesus being our sin offering.6
The trespass offering (5:14-6:7)
Where sin offering looks to forgiveness, trespass offering serves the function of restitution. Because of the blood sacrifice we know that even restitution needs to be made worthy by what Jesus has done for us and in us.7 But restitution still needed to be made by the Israelites by giving the value stolen plus one fifth. Forgiveness does not nullify restitution. Too many parents neglect the restitution side of maintaining fellowship.
So even the five offerings can teach us much about our duty to God even though we are not under the ceremonial law and are not allowed to sacrifice animals. The general equity principles continue, but Jesus is the final sacrifice.
How priests must properly administer the offerings (6:8-7:36)
I'm going to skip over the laws related to the priests, other than to reaffirm what I said earlier, that the offerings were under the jurisdiction of the priests and Levites. So the further instructions on the five offerings in chapter 6:8 through chapter 7:36 are not a mere repetition of exactly the same thing. Where the previous section gave instructions to the lay people on their responsibilities with regard to each offering, this section teaches the priests what their responsibilities were. They had to oversee the offerings and make sure that the lay people engaged in them properly. So the children learned that the covenant has human officers who are representatives for God. It's an important lesson.
The burnt offering (6:8-13)
The grain offering (6:14-23)
The trespass offering (7:1-10)
The peace offering (7:11-36)
Laws for the priests (8:1-10:20)
In chapter 8 we see a description of the ordination of the priests. They could not take this office to themselves. And that chapter is full of wonderful typology pointing to Jesus. We won't have time to get into it that chapter or chapter 9. Hebrews picks up on some of those things.
The seriousness of failing to minister properly (10:1-20)
But chapter 10 highlights God's displeasure with even the slightest deviation from His instructions for worship. In fact, most books that deal with the regulative principle of worship spend a fair bit of time in chapter 10. Let's start at chapter 9 and read verses 23-24. These verses show that God does not accept man-made religion. Every detail of the tabernacle was revealed from heaven, and even the fire that was on the altar was started with fire from heaven. It says,
3 And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of meeting, and came out and blessed the people. Then the glory of Yehowah appeared to all the people, 24 and fire came out from before Yehowah and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
Once God lit the fire, they were never to let that fire go out. All other fires were lit from the altar to symbolize the fact that all worship must be lit by heaven's grace or it is unacceptable. It is the Spirit alone that enables our worship to get past the ceiling. Now let's move to chapter 10 and show how the sons of Aaron messed up that symbolism.
Lev. 10:1 Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before Yehowah, which He had not commanded them. 2 So fire went out from Yehowah and devoured them, and they died before Yehowah. 3 And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what Yehowah spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.’ ” So Aaron held his peace.
These two priests must have figured that fire was fire and it would be more convenient to light the incense with their own fire. But it spoiled the symbolism.
And deeper than that is the general principle that we can only worship God in the specific ways that He has commanded us to do so in any given age. We cannot add to His instructions or take away from them. In the time of the Reformation of Scotland, John Knox correctly stated about this verse,
All worshipping, honoring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without His own express commandment, is idolatry.8
Having given that background, let me give you four things from this passage that should continue to guide all worship. These are the general equity applications.
First, God is jealous over worship, and the intensity of His jealous can be seen by the intensity of this event. He doesn't take an uncaring attitude towards how we worship. He regulates our worship.
Second, when we come to worship God the focus should be on God and what Godwants, not on man and what man wants. Seeker sensitive worship turns that principle completely upside down.
Third, this passage shows that God does not give you a pass simply because you are sincere. Sincerity doesn't justify disobedience. Nadab and Abihu were no doubt very sincere in what they were doing. But they were still wrong - in this case, dead wrong.
Fourth, no man stands above the law. It doesn't matter how talented, popular, or prominent an officer may be, his violations of God's laws on worship are not given a free pass by God, and should not be given a pass by man. Though Aaron felt bad about what God had done to his sons, he knew God was just. Kellogg says, "The tenderest natural affections must be silent when God smites sin..." Too many people tolerate disobedience to God by officers because loyalty to them runs deeper than loyalty to God's law.
Laws of purity for the people (11-15)
In the next section (chapters 11-15) God surrounded Israel with moral and ceremonial laws that would remind them of how important it is to remain separate from sin, from the devil, and from the world. These were laws of purity.
Food laws (11:1-47)
The food laws reminded Israel that God had separated them from the world and made them a special people. Every time they ate differently from the pagans it reminded them that they were a different and peculiar people. Were those food laws also good for their health? I believe so, but that was not the main reason God gave them. Since they were not mandated for Gentiles, they were clearly not moral laws. They were reminders of their need for separation.
Childbirth laws (12:1-8)
The childbirth laws are the same. They showed sensitivity to women, and science is now showing problems that can arise when sexual intercourse is resumed too quickly after childbirth - including developing allergies to sperm. Men, if you don't want your wife to become allergic to you, pay attention. I go into that in my conception control book.9
But entirely apart from health concerns, chapter 12 symbolizes the fact that children are not innocent. They are conceived in sin and born in sin and need a savior. Circumcision of male children pointed to the future male Jesus being cut off on behalf of our children, and the water baptism applied to the male and the female babies symbolized the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. The peace offerings that were once again offered in connection with child birth showed thankfulness to God for a safe delivery. And so the Anglican Book of Common Prayer has a wonderful prayer of thanksgiving of a woman after childbirth. It is applying the general equity of this passage even though the sacrifices have passed away. We need to be thankful to God after a safe childbirth.
Leprosy laws (13:1-14:57)
The leprosy laws of chapters 12-14 do give principles of quarantine for certain diseases. And there are hygiene issues that are involved.
But primarily, these onerous laws were symbols of sin. I've often threatened to preach a sermon on the subject of leprosy of the scalp. Well finally, here is my chance. Look at chapter 13, beginning to read at verse 40.
Lev. 13:40 “As for the man whose hair has fallen from his head, he is bald, but he is clean. 41 He whose hair has fallen from his forehead, he is bald on the forehead, but he is clean. 42 And if there is on the bald head or bald forehead a reddish-white sore, it is leprosy breaking out on his bald head or his bald forehead. 43 Then the priest shall examine it; and indeed if the swelling of the sore is reddish-white on his bald head or on his bald forehead, as the appearance of leprosy on the skin of the body, 44 he is a leprous man. He is unclean. The priest shall surely pronounce him unclean; his sore is on his head. 45 “Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
Let me share eleven things that these leprosy laws continue to teach us about sin.
First, many Scriptures liken our sin nature to leprosy.10
Second, just as leprosy grows, our sin nature does not remain static - it gets worse and worse. As leprosy gets worse and worse, you lose all feeling in your fingers, feet, and actually, in your entire body. And in the same way, sin unchecked gets worse and worse and people lose all feeling of guilt and eventually become hardened and ugly in their sin. So Total Depravity does not mean that we couldn't get worse. It simply means that the totality of our being is affected and infected with sin, and unless checked, it will grow.
Third, this leprosy symbolized the fact that sin can spread to others. If God's grace is not brought to bear upon a person within a household, the whole household can be negatively infected with the sin, just as they would be by leprosy. Within a church, if there is no discipline excising rebellion, it infects others in the church. It spreads.
Fourth, serious sin should be confessed seriously and not swept under the carpet. Nice churches want to treat sin nicely rather than treating sin seriously. In these chapters the priest certainly treated the leprosy seriously as did the individual.
Fifth, in verse 45 the leper lets people know that he is unclean; that he is a leper. He has a public responsibility to say so. In the same way, sin that affects the public should be publicly confessed as sin.
Sixth, up until recently, there was no cure for leprosy except for divine healing. In the same way, self-reform cannot change our sin nature. Only God's grace can wash us as clean as Namaan was washed in the Jordan River.
Seventh, leprosy is no respecter of persons. It can affect kings like Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:21) or servants like Gehazi (2 Kings 5:27). It can affect men like Azariah (2 Kings 15:5) and women like Miriam (Numb. 12:1-10). It affected Jews like Simon (Mark 14:3) and Gentiles like Naaman (2 Kings 5:8-14). And the comparison to sin is obvious.
Eighth, just as there were classifications of leprosy that the priests had to be able to detect, Jesus knows every kind of sin in our lives.
Ninth, they would tear down a leprous house, burn leprous garments, and cast leprous stones outside the camp. In the same way, Jude says that we should hate even the garment defiled by the flesh.
Tenth, leprosy separated people from their loved ones just as sin does.
Eleventh, just as those who were cleansed from leprosy by God were baptized in chapter 14 and admitted back into the community, those who are cleansed from sin are baptized and admitted to the church. And by the way, this is what baptism for the dead means in 1 Corinthians 15:29. The leper was considered dead and was outside the camp and those who have been saved from death to life are likewise baptised.
And this kind of application could be made of every ceremonial thing in this book. It is not irrelevant. It continues to teach us.
Bodily discharge laws (15:1-33)
I'm sure you were hoping that I would preach on all the bodily discharge laws in chapter 15. And if I was preaching through Leviticus, I would. Even blowing your nose would make you unclean. But as several commentaries point out, while sin taints every aspect of our lives (even the most pure aspects), grace (which is pictured in the cleansings) purifies absolutely every area of our lives. So, just as one example, Kellogg says about semen, "The fountain of life in man is defiled." But what does Hebrews say is cleansed by Christ - everything; even the fountain of life, so that Hebrews 13 says the marriage bed is pure and undefiled. That's the power of grace.
If you were curious about the menstruation laws, I was going to quote from Kellogg's commentary something that I found very encouraging, but it will take too long this morning, so I will put those notes up on the web.11
Laws of national atonement (16:1-17:16)
National cleansing (16:1-34)
The next section presents the laws related to national atonement. They illustrate that Christ's atonement is not just for individuals. It also redeems entire nations; it is corporate. I was going to give you an exposition of the two goats, but I've decided to relegate those to my footnotes. But Seventh Day Adventists are absolutely wrong - both goats point to Jesus, and they blaspheme when they say the scape goat is Satan.12
Location of sacrifices (17:1-9)
Related to the nation is the location of the sacrifices. It couldn't be in any place that they wished. It had to be at the tabernacle.
Laws related to blood that apply to Jew and Gentile (17:10-16)
And the laws related to blood in Leviticus 17 were upheld by the church council in Acts 15.13 No blood eating for Jew or Gentile. That had been true long before Israel and long after Israel. There is not a single verse in the entire Bible that allows Gentiles to eat any blood. Leviticus 17:10 says, "And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people." Verses 12-14 say much the same. It's not just a Jewish thing. Genesis 9 commands these blood laws for Gentiles as did Acts 15. So brothers and sisters, no blood sausage.
Sanctifying the people (18-20)
Next, in chapters 18-20 come a long list of laws that were designed to sanctify every facet of life to the Lord. There is no individualism in this book. God's law and God's grace applies to absolutely everything - to clothing, houses, bodies, sex, food, families, tribes, church, and nation.
And in chapter 18 we see laws that are designed to protect marriage and family. Again, these laws were not restricted to Israel as so-called gay evangelicals claim. We saw in a detailed analysis of this passage in my Acts series,14 that the Church Council in Acts 15 applied these marriage laws to Gentiles, just as these chapters themselves also apply them to Gentiles. Canaan not only tolerated incest, homosexuality, bestiality, and the other abominations listed in this chapter, it's laws and literature promoted it and celebrated it, just like America has recently been doing. Any culture that comes to the stage where it calls these abominations good and seeks to erase the traditional family will end up under God's severe rod - guaranteed. Verses 26-29 say,
26 You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you 27 (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), 28 lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
Morecraft writes about this passage,
In Canaan, the ancient people were completely submerged in depravity -- and proud of it. Homosexuality was so prevalent that it was even made a religious rite. For this, God sentenced the Canaanites to death. Israel's failure to execute the sentence ultimately became its own judgment.
Sodomy promotes idolatry, false gods, increases perversions and rots the soul of the nation. Thus, God in His patience, gives time for cleansing and rewards those kings (leaders) who rid their land of the abomination. "Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord... he took away the sodomites out of the land" (1 Kings 15:11,12)15
Chapter 19 gives even broader applications of His law and grace to culture as a whole. And lest you think that the general equity no longer applies, this is the chapter that the New Testament quotes when it says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." That command is repeated twice - in verse 18 and verse 34. And the chapter shows you how to love your neighbor as yourself. In verses 35-36 it tells you to have just weights and measures and to be fair in your financial dealings with others. Don't rip people off simply because they are ignorant.
State intervention into previous two spheres (20)
Chapter 20 authorizes the state to intervene and punish certain offenses in the previous sections. Verses 2 and following say that abortionists should be put to death. The Bible clearly calls the state to implement the death penalty for abortionists and the parents who have aborted their babies.
And interestingly, Jesus quotes verse 9 (the most controversial of these laws) in Mark 7:10 and says that children should be put to death by the state if they persist in cursing their parents. The Pharisees were hypocrites because they didn't have the courage to enforce that law, but Jesus said that they should have. They were state magistrates; they should have. It's the church's role to apply grace to those who have committed capital crimes, and it is the state's role to inflict judgment. But this chapter also says that fathers who commit incest with their daughters are worthy of death.
Is every law in chapter 20 a moral law? It depends on who you talk to. Rushdoony thought so, others do not. But whichever side you stand on, there are some things that the state may enforce, whereas the vast majority of sins the state may not punish. It illustrates that there is a difference between sin and crime. Not all sins are to be classified as crimes. And those who rail against the Bible for being too tough need to realize that the Bible keeps the state out of our lives far more than modern civics does. I haven't calculated it exactly, but it wouldn't be surprised if the Bible would have the modern state get rid of 99% of its laws.
Sanctifying the priesthood (21-22)
I'll skip over most of chapters 21-22, which lay down laws for the priesthood. There are general equity applications that the apostle Paul makes to the church (such as the importance of good salaries for a pastor) as well as symbolic teaching concerning the Gospel, but let's move on to the next section.
Sanctifying worship (23-24)
Chapters 23-24 deal with sanctifying worship. There are seven feasts of Israel in chapter 23, and all of them have been placed into the category of the optional by the New Testament. Colossians tells us that we are not longer bound by Jewish feast days; not even by the Jewish Sabbath.
But there is plenty of general equity application that can be made by way of general principles. For example, though we don't have to keep the Jewish Sabbath, the New Testament gives us a Christian Sabbath day. Well, if you are to treat it like a Sabbath, where do you learn how to keep the Sabbath? Well, Jesus upheld the Old Testament Sabbath practices that brought joy and blessing and condemned the Pharisee's legalistic ways.
Likewise, though we no longer need to keep the other six festivals in this chapter, who would not like the kinds of vacations and conference outings that these festivals speak to? Is the New Testament less generous on days off from work than the Old Testament? I don't think so. Jesus called His disciples to come aside for a while and rest and refresh themselves. The apostle Paul looked forward to vacation on Pentecost. Vacations are lawful. Going to conferences and eating some of your second tithe or rejoicing tithe is lawful. It's not mandated, but it is lawful. And I would say that the Old Covenant calls New Covenant believers to have at least this much relaxation and family together as they had. Obviously not all can afford seven vacations, but even the poorest of them went to at least 1-3, depending on if they were female or male.
But each of these feasts also pointed to the work of Jesus. I've given much more detail of the feasts and their meaning in your outline, and don't have time to comment on them today. But if you dig into those seven festivals as I have done in other series, you will see the Gospel and kingdom fully displayed. They are marvelous symbols.16
For a non-graphical version of the chart, see https://kaysercommentary.com/Resources/Feasts%20of%20Israel.md
Elements of worship (24:1-9)
The first part of chapter 24 reiterated the elements of worship.
Sanctifying God's name (24:10-23)
The second part of chapter 24 reiterates through a public execution of a blasphemer the importance of reverencing God's name. Though the highest penalty of death is not always required for taking God's name in vain, there were circumstances where it was justly imposed. Interestingly, most states in America treated blasphemy as a crime as late as the early 1900's. We've come a long way, but it isn't a long way in the right direction. And that passage should put a little bit of the fear of God into those of you who use God's name flippantly. It shows the seriousness with which God takes blasphemy.
Sanctifying the land (25)
Chapter 25 is chock full of principles related to the importance of land and private property. Ironically, Ronald Sider, the so-called Christian socialist, claims that this chapter teaches government ownership of all land and redistribution of all wealth to everyone. It is a patently ridiculous interpretation and I am going include in my online notes nine ways in which this chapter destroys socialism and shows an extremely limited view of civil government.17 As Rushdoony points out, with the exception of a few capital penalties and the enforcement of contracts, the civil government was almost non-existent in an Israelite citizen's day-to-day affairs. It was very limited government.
Blessings and curses (26)
So how would morality be enforced if you don't have a massive state to do the enforcement? Chapter 26 tells you how - trust God. It is a chapter that promises providential blessings from God's hand when citizens and civil governments quit trying to act like god. And it promises incrementally increasing cursings when citizens and governments prefer slavery to a Pharaoh over liberty. It takes faith to believe chapter 26. It calls us to trust God, not the state. Biblical civics takes an enormous amount of trust in God's providence.
But of course, it is not a blind faith. Studies of the last 2000 years of history in the west have shown that these curses and blessings do indeed rest on any nation (believing or unbelieving) in proportion to how carefully they follow God's laws or abandon them. In fact, Mises.org has quite a few fascinating studies that go back several thousand years in China to show exactly these kinds of disasters being inflicted upon China when their society became more statist and centralized and these kinds of blessings resting on China when their country approximated the economic policies of Austrian Economics - the economic system closest to Biblical liberty. They are fascinating studies. They illustrate that God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, that will he also reap.
Even the valuation of broken vows or kept vows that are listed in the last chapter presuppose voluntarism. There is no state to enforce those vows. They presuppose a moral character in the citizens that makes them want to keep their word, and when they have broken a vow, to ask the priest how they can honor God in their economic dealings. Yes, the state can enforce broken contracts if (and only if) the victim takes the other party to court. But these last chapters presuppose maximum liberty.
If our nation would follow the moral laws of Leviticus in the power of the Gospel of grace pictured by the ceremonial laws, we would once again be a blessed nation indeed. But the first five books of the Bible show that we should not just want to Make America Great Again (MAGA) by simply reversing massive statism to some of America's earlier medium statism. We will truly be greater than America has ever been and freer than America has ever been before if every facet of society, including the civil government, is consistently transformed by the law and gospel of Leviticus. May it be so Lord Jesus. Amen.
“The book of Leviticus was the first book studied by a Jewish child; yet is often among the last books of the Bible to be studied by a Christian.” F. Duane Lindsey, "Leviticus," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1985), 163. ↩
Commentary on Leviticus, Rabbah 7:3 at https://www.sefaria.org/Vayikra_Rabbah.7.3?lang=bi ↩
The Open Bible, Expanded Edition (Nasvhille: Thomas Nelson, 1983), p. 96. ↩
The exclusive jurisdiction of the elders over the sacraments can be seen from numerous angles, but here is a start:
- The Scripture is clear that not all who profess to be believers have the “right to eat” from the Lord’s Table (Heb. 13:10). Certainly those who have been barred by the elders may not. Note that this “altar” (θυσιαστήριον) and the officers who serve at it are connected to church elders in 1 Cor. 9:13-14; 10:17-18; Rev. 6:9; 8:3-5; 9:13; 14:18. Note the use of θυσιαστήριον in connection with elders throughout.
- The fact that in the Old Testament, it was the “elders” (Ex. 12:21) and Levites who “had charge of the slaughter of the Passover lambs…” (2 Chron. 30:17) and who “roasted the Passover offering with fire according to the ordinance… and divided them [the sacramental elements] quickly among all the lay people” (2 Chron. 35:13; etc.). Likewise, in the New Testament the “keys of the kingdom” (that open and close access to the church via baptism and communion) were given to the church officers (Matt. 16:19; cf Luke 22:15-30; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). Thus it is not surprising that the overwhelming evidence is that the distribution of the Lord’s Table was connected to church officers (Gen. 14:18; Ex. 12:21-24; Lev. 23:10-11,14,20; Numb 3:8-13; 18:7,8; Deut. 12:18; 18:5-8; 2 Chron. 29:34; 30:15-17,21-22; 31:14,15,16,19; 35:10-15; Neh. 13:13; Matt. 16:19; cf Luke 22:15-30; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 11:23-26) and lay people were cut off from the congregation if they had the sacrament on their own (Deut. 12:14,17-19,26-28; 14:23; 15:20; 16:2,15,16) or if they ate unworthily (Ex. 12:19; Lev. 7:20,21,25). The following Scriptures show the authority that officers have over the Lord’s Table: “Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them: ‘Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb [etc.],,, And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance…” (Ex. 12:21-24 – note that the “you” throughout refers to the elders.); “So the service was prepared, and the priests stood in their places, and the Levites in their divisions… they slaughtered the Passover offerings… they roasted the Passover offerings with fire according to the ordinance; but the other holy offerings they boiled in pots, in caldrons, and in pans, and divided them quickly among all the lay people…” (2 Chron. 35:10,11,13); “Therefore you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything at the altar…” (Numb. 18:7); “…I Myself have also given you charge of My heave offerings, all the holy gifts of the children of Israel…” (Numb. 18:8); “…therefore the Levites had the charge of the slaughter of the Passover lambs for everyone …” (2 Chron. 30:17); “…Levites who keep charge of the tabernacle of the LORD.” (Numb. 31:30); “…Levite…to distribute the offerings of the LORD and the most holy things.” (2 Chron. 31:14); “…the priests, to distribute…” (2 Chron. 31:15; cf. 31:19); “…they were considered faithful, and their task was to distribute to their brethren.” (Neh. 13:13); “I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:29-30); “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today – every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes – …you may not eat within your gates…But you must eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God chooses…Take heed to yourself that you do not forsake the Levite…” (Deut. 12:17-19); “Therefore you shall sacrifice the Passover to the LORD your God, from the flock and the herd, in the place where the LORD chooses to put His name… You may not sacrifice the Passover within any of your gates which the LORD your God gives you; but at the places where the LORD your God chooses to make His name…” (Deut. 16:2,5-6); “For the LORD your God has chosen him [the Levite] out of all your tribes to stand to minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons forever.” (Deut. 18:5); “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom…” (Matt 16:19); “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right [ἐξουσίαν, or authority] to eat.” (Heb. 13:10)
- Is it legitimate to connect Levitical jurisdiction over the Lord’s Table with elder jurisdiction over the Lord’s Table in the New Testament? Yes. The Old Testament prophetically describes the New Testament church as having "priests and Levites" (Isaiah 66:21; Jer. 33:18,21,22; Ezek. 45:5; 48:11,12,13,22). It is clear that these priests and Levites are not literally from the tribe of Levi since it was prophesied that they would be priests and Levites taken from the Gentiles (Is. 66:20-21). This unusual temple with its unusual prince and unusual priests and Levites is described in Ezekiel 40-48. These prophecies clearly show that though there is not a continuity of heredity, there is a continuity of the essential meaning of the offices. This makes sense since Christ established the church as the remnant of Israel (Luke 22:24-30), the bride bears the names of the twelve sons of Israel (Rev. 21:9-12), the church is called "the Israel of God" (Gal 6:16), the Gentiles are grafted into Israel when they are saved (Eph. 2:12-13,19-22; Rom. 11:17-24), the Old Testament people of God are described as being part of the "church" (Heb 12:22-23; Acts 7:38 in KJV), and we are said to have joined that "church" (Heb. 12:22-23).
- Though the church is composed of “families” (Acts 3:25; cf. Acts 10:47-48; 11:14; 16:32-33; 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16), admission of any member of a family to the Lord’s Table and barring such persons from the Lord’s Table is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the elders (Gen. 14:18; Numb 3:8-13; Deut. 12:18; 2 Chron. 30:21-22; 2 Chron. 31:14,15,16,19; 35:10-15; Neh. 13:13; Matt. 16:19; cf Luke 22:15-30; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). Since even “little children” received the sacraments from their hands (Deut. 31:12; 2 Chron. 31:16,18; Neh. 8:2; etc), logic dictates the conclusion that such children are under the authority and discipline of the elders. They are certainly under the formative discipline of preaching: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.” (1 John 2:1); “I write to you, little children…” (1 John 2:12,13); “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:8; cf. 2:18,28; 3:7; 4:4; 5:21). But it is also clear that a young “child … shall be cut off [excommunicated] from his people” if “he has broken My covenant” (Gen. 17:14). This last text is a case of discipline without full process. Full process is not needed when the reason for being cut off is undisputed
When 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us," a better translation is "to be a sin offering for us." Just as Hebrew chatat can be translated as sin or sin offering, the Greek hamartia serves the same dual meaning in the Septuagint. Jesus didn't literally become sinful. He became the sin offering that all the sins were laid upon. ↩
In Psalm 69:4 Jesus prophetically says that even though He had stolen nothing, He still must restore it. Jesus as our substitute enables us to be cleared in God's eyes. Why? Because He was the one that enabled restitution to God. ↩
Quoted by Joe Morecraft in his unpublished study on Leviticus. ↩
One of many is Isaiah 64:6, which says, "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." ↩
I'll read a little bit from Kellogg on the menstruation laws because those seem pretty tough. And the apostle Peter says that no one could perfectly keep all of the ceremonial laws. They were designed to show that we can't be pure on our own. But they are also designed to show that what we can't do, God can do through grace. But lest you feel too sorry for the women in the Old Testament who weren't liberated from those ceremonial laws, let me read from Kellogg's commentary. He says,
The laws concerning the menstrual period on first inspection seem very harsh to the modern mind. At face value they seem to consign every adult woman in Israel to a state of untouchability for one week a month. But as has been pointed out, it is probably a fairly recent phenomenon for women to suffer a menstrual period once a month between adolescence and the menopause. This is not because female physiology has changed, but because of the different social habits of modern Western society. In ancient Israel three factors would combine to make menstruation very much rarer, at least among married women. These were early marriage, probably soon after puberty, and late weaning (perhaps at the age of two or three years), and the desire for large families (Ps. 127:4–5). The only women likely to be much affected by the law of Lev. 15:19–24 would be unmarried teenage girls. Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), 223–224.
You may be surprised that I have placed the Day of Atonement in that category, but several scholars have done so. Verse 34 says, "This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.” And he did as the LORD commanded Moses." I won't deal with all the marvelous details of this chapter that Hebrews interprets, but let me focus on the much misunderstood symbolism of the two goats. Chapter 16, beginning to read at verse 5:
5 And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering. 6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 He shall take the two goats and present them before Yehowah at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 8 Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for Yehowah and the other lot for the scapegoat. 9 And Aaron shall bring the goat on which Yehowah's lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. 10 But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before Yehowah, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.
Skipping over some verses that give further details, let's pick up at verse 20:
Lev. 16:20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. 21 Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.
Let me first show how the Seventh Day Adventists and other cults are absolutely wrong when they make Jesus the slain goat and Satan the goat who bears away the sins of God's people. That interpretation is blasphemy.
First, both goats are said to be a sin-offering in verse 5. Sin offerings always point to Jesus. Both goats point to Jesus.
Secondly, both goats were dedicated to Yehowah in verse 7. I don't think Satan is dedicated to Yehowah.
Third, since the scape goat completely removes Israel's sins and transgressions according to verse 21, it would once again militate against this being Satan.
Fourth, the name of the scape goat, Azazel, means "total destruction" and refers to the total extermination of Israel's sins in God's sight. Satan has no power to do that; Jesus does.
Fifth, the first goat was killed, and speaks to Christ's substitutionary atonement. The second goat shows the effect of the first sacrifice, that Christ bears our sins away never to be seen again. That's exactly what John 1:29 says that Jesus did. And Hebrews 10:4 and following say the same thing - Jesus alone can bear away the sins of His people. As Psalm 103:12 words it, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."
Sixth, this ritual and all the other rituals of this day show us how hateful sin is to God.
Seventh, this day spoke of the absolutely necessity for atonement, something that Jesus alone would be able to achieve. These rituals were simply pointing symbolically to Jesus, the coming Messiah. But since it was an atonement for the nation as a whole it shows that Christ's atonement is more than simply individual salvation. His goal is to save entire nations. ↩
Joe Morecraft, unpublished Bible studies on Leviticus, p. 96. ↩
Let me give a one or two sentence summary of each one: The Sabbath points to Jesus as the one who enables us to have spiritual rest. We rest from trusting our own works and depend entirely upon the work of Christ for us.
We dealt with the Passover lamb last week, and saw that it foreshadowed the death of Jesus as our substitute on Nisan 14.
Unleavened bread was a symbol of Jesus burying our sins when He was buried. And thus 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 can say that having died with Jesus, we are called to get rid of the leaven of sin and to lead a life of holiness.
Firstfruits points to Christ's resurrection from the dead. When Jesus finished the work of redemption by rising, He calls us to set aside the first day of the week as a Sabbath.
Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, foreshadowed Jesus pouring out the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.
And the last three festivals foreshadowed the ending of the Old Covenant and the temple in AD 70 and the extension of the kingdom to the Gentiles throughout the world. ↩
First, was there a return of the land without compensation as Ronald Sider claims? In his heretical book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Sider says, "Every 50 years, God said, all land was returned to the original owners - without compensation!" and "at the heart of God's call for Jubilee is a divine demand for regular, fundamental redistribution of the means for producing wealth." (p. 223) "God therefore gave his people a law which would equalize land ownership every fifty years." (p. 88).
But Leviticus 25:14-17 makes clear that compensation to the original land owner had already been achieved at the time of the original lease/loan (i.e. he got the money), and compensation to the present buyer/leasor was being achieved by his earnings on his investment (i.e. he got the crops)! It was a contractual win-win lease of land for profit. It was the very opposite of the socialism Sider calls for.
Second, was there a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor once every 50 years as Ronald sider claims? Absolutely no. Sider calls the Jubilee a "massive economic sharing among the people of God" (p. 129). But in Israel, people who didn't own land previously didn't get any land in Jubilee. And besides, according to Christian socialists, far more than just land was involved in the Jubilee. As an example of what the Jubilee might demand today, Sider says that "all Christians worldwide would pool all their stocks, bonds, and income producing property and businesses and redistribute them equally . . . There would undoubtedly be a certain amount of confusion and disruption. But then good things are seldom easy." (p. 93) As can be seen, Sider does not limit application to the land. But nothing in the Jubilee provisions indicates a redistribution of wealth, only a return of the land. If Mr. Seller leased his land to Mr. Buyer for $100,000 for a forty year period prior to Jubilee, there was no provision for him to return any portion of that payment on Jubilee. Likewise, if Mr. Buyer netted $703,000 in profits over those forty years (I arbitrarily picked 5% annually compounding growth as a figure), there was no provision for his handing over all the extra money that he had made on the leased land. Only the land returned.
Furthermore, since there was only so much land to go around, more and more Israelites had to become city dwellers and earn their livelihood in other ways than farming. This meant that the return of the land to the original owner did not benefit the landless poor in the least. It only protected the poor who were fortunate enough to have land. If a rich landowner was foolish enough to sell his land, he (and perhaps more importantly, his children) were protected from having the land permanently removed from the family because the Jubilee law was designed to keep property in the family lines. In complete contrast to this, Sider advocates confiscation of property from the rich (pp. 145,160,218)! Sider's view misses the whole spirit and intent of the original Jubilee which was intended to preserve capital, not to redistribute it!
Third, does God's ownership of the land (as stated in verse 23 and in Psalm 24:1) mandate socialism? All expositors would agree that God had the right to mandate Jubilee restrictions based upon his ownership of the land. Man is merely a steward of what God has given. But Christian socialists often seem to argue that God's ownership of the land is incompatible with private ownership, and perfectly compatible with government ownership! That's ridiculous. A literal reading of this chapter shows that ownership of land was protected, not destroyed by the Jubilee. The point of this legislation was to prevent one generation from permanently disinheriting future generations of land assets, and preventing one generation from permanently indebting or enslaving their children. Verse 23 says, "The land shall not be sold permanently." But the ability to sell and lease land is antithetical to socialism. It implies the continuing validity of the eighth and tenth commandments. "Thou shalt not steal" declares ownership (otherwise it isn't stealing) and stewardship (otherwise God couldn't give commands concerning property). "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house . . . nor anything that is thy neighbor's" implies the same concept of ownership and stewardship. Christian socialists scoff at Old Testament law, but praise the Jubilee principle. What they fail to appreciate is that the Jubilee principle presupposes the law, and stands in opposition to the pragmatism, envy, idealism and other factors that drive socialists.
Fourth, the Jubilee principle kept land from leaving the original family for more than 49 years even if compensation is made. Socialism takes land (with or without compensation) from the original owners forever.
Fifth, the Jubilee land tenure system kept those outside of a particular tribe from becoming permanent owners. This had the effect of restricting intermarriage of the tribes (Numb. 36). Socialism neither restricts intermarriage nor protects land ownership.
Sixth, the Jubilee laws also prohibited consolidation of rural land by the Levites or king thus keeping the country politically and economically decentralized. Socialism (whether Christian socialism or secular socialism) moves toward centralization by its very nature. Consolidation of all land by the state is the eventual goal; the very opposite of the Jubilee!
Seventh, the Jubilee laws also kept Gentile alien residents from becoming landowners unless they embraced Judaism and became Jews. This protected the integrity of Israel by limiting the economic influence of pagans to the status of leaseholders. Sider's socialism subjects Christians to the socialistic planning of pagans. Again, its the very opposite of what Jubilee intended.
Eighth, far from erasing inequality (as Ronald Sider thinks), the Jubilee presupposes inequality of fact, while enforcing equality before the law. Example: Why are such socialists embarrassed by the slavery code in Leviticus 25? Rather than outlawing slavery, it regulated it. Nor did Jubilee outlaw the need to lease/sell land, or the need to sell one's future labor (indentured servitude), it merely put an absolute cap upon the length of such leases and of such servitude.
Thus the Jubilee did not presuppose equality of riches (as Luke 10:7 and 1 Tim. 5:18 make clear), but equality before the law (Ex. 23). If inequality is unjust, then God must be the source of all injustice since He guarantees inequities of fact based upon His national curses and blessings in Deuteronomy 28. "The poor you will always have with you."
Ninth, Ronald Sider wants civil interventionism rather than contract law whereas this entire chapter presupposes contract law. Sider approved of Chilean President Salvador Allende expropriating copper mines owned by U.S. companies on the basis that the high profits earned went to investors rather than feeding millions of starving children (p. 161). In stark contrast to Sider's vision of the ideal implementation of the Jubilee principle, the government is absent from the discussion of Jubilee in Leviticus 25. It’s not there. The only involvement that the government had was the same as for other legal contracts. Obviously such contracts may be subject to interpretation by the courts as new circumstances unforeseen arise (such as are illustrated in Numbers 36), but it is obvious that the government's role was minimal. ↩