Day 34: Leviticus 5 through 7

It might be helpful, as you listen to these instructions today, to separate the sacrifices into at least three branches. One branch contains sacrifices that were designed to acknowledge Israel’s relationship with the LORD. Sacrifices of thanks, whether they were for specific events, or given out of simple gratitude, fall into this branch. Other sacrifices were required to recover purity, or cleanness, when someone did something or touched something that was unclean.

A third branch of sacrifices is the one of those required to atone for specific sins, whether against God, against others, or against society in general. This branch provides another insight into God’s character: that sin against another person, or against civil society, was a sin against God. Atonement was necessary whether these sins were intentional or not.

We begin our reading with this branch of sacrifices in Leviticus 5. Listen for God’s interest, both in justice and in Israel’s holiness. Listen, also, for the additional step of confession, because this is the first time we’ve heard this idea in the Bible. This is another one where you’ll be hearing more.

At the beginning of chapter 6, we see another new idea for Leviticus: restitution. The sacrificial laws acknowledge both the divine and human victims of sin. It is not sufficient to rob, swindle, or oppress your neighbor, and then offer a sacrifice to make it go away. Here, the order of response might be important: restitution is offered before the sacrifice is. You might hear about this again.

The LORD then turns His attention to how the priests should manage the altars and sacrifices. The maintenance of the fires, the consumption of the sacrificial food, the treatment of meat and fat, and the disposal of waste are all important to God.

Listen, also, to how holiness and unholiness are transferred between person and object. This theme of being holy or unholy, clean or unclean, connect to Israel’s status as set-apart from the nations, and to the priests’ unique status as set-apart from the people. It will become even more pronounced as laws for everyday living are introduced.

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:29: By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.

Leviticus 5 through 7. Now let’s read it!

Day 33: Leviticus 3 and 4

Today, we reenter the world of sacrifices with a few reminders about this ancient system of worship.

First, for Israel, making sacrifices is about relationship maintenance. It isn’t about impressing God or achieving salvation. The grace of God had already been given by selecting Israel, out of all nations, as the LORD’s very own. Sacrifices were Israel’s way of maintaining its thanks and humility before the God who rescued it out of Egypt and made it a nation.

Following on that theme, these sacrifices were not performed because the LORD required food. This is unique. In the ancient Middle East gods were capable of controlling human armies, the weather, and your fate, but they could not feed themselves. This gave the humans some degree of power and manipulation over the gods.

Listen for how the LORD – Israel’s God – refutes this system, including who gets to eat the offerings after they’re cooked. Gifts are offered to Him, waved before Him, placed before Him, and even smelled by Him, but never consumed by Him. The LORD requires nothing from Israel. For this God, acts of grace always flow in one direction.

So it’s with this in mind that we once again reenter this world. Listen in Leviticus 3 and 4 as the following instructions and themes recur: how the blood is sprinkled on the sides of the altar; how sacrifices are a pleasing aroma to the LORD; even how the fat is treated for different sacrifices. Much is conjectured about the pragmatic purpose behind these specific instructions, but at their core this is about practicing obedience to a Holy God.

In chapter 4, we begin to see sacrifices that atone for specific sins. Notice that even unintentional violations require sacrifice. Listen for how the priests’ sin brings guilt, not only on themselves, but on the nation. Hear words like “atonement” and “forgiven” used regularly for the first time. You’ll be seeing these again.

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:29: By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.

Leviticus chapters 3 and 4. Now let’s read it!

Day 32: Leviticus 1 and 2

If you hear the word “Levi” in the title of this book, then you know what the book will be about. Aaron, the High Priest, and his sons, all of the tribe of Levi, were ordained by God to serve as His priests on behalf of the children of Israel. This book is about their work, and their work is to help the people of God maintain their relationship with God.

As we read the extensive legal code here, remember that this is part of an overall narrative that begins with a promise to Abraham and leads to the fulfillment of that promise. The law doesn’t stand on its own, only within a covenant that God has made with Israel. Ground all of this in light of the very beginning of His word to them: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Likewise, remember the promised end: “Before all your people I will do marvels…all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

Remember, also, that salvation is not achieved by keeping this law. The Law is God’s instruction to Israel on how to maintain their part of the covenant, or how they can be faithful to Him as He remains faithful to them. Israel is constantly reminded that it is “Holy,” or set apart, and adherence to the law is about maintaining a set-apart life.

There is little introduction here, except that Moses is called before the LORD to receive instructions. The very first commands have to do with burnt offerings. These offerings are to be the very best of the very best, whether bulls from the herd or sheep or goats from the flock.

Listen to how there is no distance between the person giving the offering and the animal that is given in his place. The same is true of the grain offerings; they require time and effort to offer. Sacrifices aren’t dropped off at the door for others to manage.

As we enter the reading I encourage you to just listen. The details reveal something about God and His expectations of His people.

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:29: By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.

Leviticus chapters 1 and 2. Now let’s read it!

Day 31: Exodus 39 and 40

As we come to the end of the book of Exodus, I want to recount the journey thus far. The story begins with a Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph,” and enslaved the children of Israel. Their continued prosperity only angers the Egyptians further, and Pharaoh’s solution is to order the execution of every new male Israelite child.

Moses is rescued from this, grows up in Pharaoh’s court, is forced to flee, and then is commissioned by the LORD to return and lead Israel out of slavery. The LORD reveals himself through signs and plagues, and though the power of the LORD overwhelms Pharaoh’s land, Pharaoh is unable to concede. The final tragic sign is a response to Egypt’s attempt to eradicate Israel years before.

The LORD then goes before the children of Israel, parting the sea, providing food and water, and leading them to the Mount of Horeb, or Sinai. Here His glory descends over the mountain, Moses ascends, and a covenant is offered, which is affirmed by the Israelites. As you will see many times in the future, Israel’s faithfulness falters, they are called to repentance, and the LORD restores them.

At the beginning of this story, the LORD introduced himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He then claimed all of Israel as His own, rescued them, and commanded them to trust Him, and to worship Him alone.

We now reenter the account of the construction of the tabernacle, where God will meet with His people. Chapter 39 records the creation of the priestly garments, according to the design we read in chapter 28. Still yourself here as the same details are recounted: the gold rings, the lace of blue, the bell and pomegranate, the signet engraved with “Holy to the LORD.”

All is brought to Moses for review, and he “saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, so they had done it. Then Moses blessed them.”

We close with a look at the dedication of this tabernacle. Exactly one year has passed since the night in Egypt that for Israel had marked the beginning of days. The cloud had once covered the mountain, but now it descends over the tabernacle… “in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.”

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:29: By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.

Exodus chapters 39 and 40. Now let’s read it!

Day 30: Exodus 37 and 38

Our reading today covers the building of the various components that would form the tabernacle: Ark of the Covenant, table, lamp-stand, and altar. Since this passage contains no narrative except for a record of the construction, I want to help you to visualize what they’re building.

First, a cubit is a unit of measurement that’s about 1 ½ feet long. The tabernacle itself was 30 cubits by 10 cubits, or 45 feet long by 15 feet wide. It housed the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant and Mercy Seat would rest. As this place was filled with the presence of the LORD, only the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies to represent the people before God.

In the Holy Place stood the Altar of Incense, the Table of Shewbread, and the Candlestick, which were to be continually tended to by the priests.

Surrounding this tabernacle was a courtyard, measuring 150 feet long by 75 feet wide. The court was bounded on each side by curtains that were 7 ½ feet tall, with an entry point at the east end. This court was the only area that non-priests could enter, and it contained the large Altar and Bronze Washbasin.

The differences between this design and contemporary temples and shrines couldn’t be more striking. First, there is no idol of Yahweh, only an Ark of Remembrance that reminds Israel of their covenant with Him. Second, this Ark is mobile, always in the center of the community, wherever that community goes. When it was time to move, the LORD’s glory would lift, and every part of the tabernacle would be taken down and transported.

Third, the Ark is surrounded by two shrouds. The altar is in the outer court, two stations away. The statement couldn’t be more clear: since the LORD fills the whole earth, He doesn’t need any help seeing the offerings made to Him, nor does He need to partake in them. He requires no dwelling place, but has chosen to dwell. He demands sacrifice, but has no need to be fed. The design of this tabernacle itself is a statement about the nature and character of God.

One last time, our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:24-25: By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Exodus chapters 37 and 38. Now let’s read it!

Day 29: Exodus 34 through 36

Exodus 34 through 36

Our reading today begins with episodes of renewed hope.  First, the LORD calls Moses back up Mount Sinai.  Imagine yourself standing on the mountain as the cloud descends and the voice of the LORD crashes through.  Moses begs the LORD to restore Israel, and the LORD responds with a renewed covenant.

The purpose of this trip is for the LORD to inscribe His law on a new set of tablets.  You’ll remember that Moses had destroyed the first set when he saw Israel worshipping the Golden Calf.  These Tablets of Testimony seem to be the thread through this whole account.  The author relates that God tells Moses to “cut two tablets of stone,” Moses took them with him up the mountain, he wrote on them what the LORD had told him; and then they were in Moses’ hands when he returned.  Obviously, making sure that Israel had a permanent record of His commands was a high priority for the LORD.

Once Moses has reinforced, again, the Sabbath regulations with the Israelites, they get to work on building the tabernacle.  This begins with a record of how joyfully the people responded to the call for donations.

As you read about this outpouring, remember the last night in Egypt, when “The Egyptians were urgent…to send them out of the land…The people of Israel did as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing.  And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked.  Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

Once the building materials are in hand, Bezalel and Oholiab oversee the work and teach the others how the craft is to be done.  The building account reveals the same painstaking detail that was employed in relating the instructions.  I’ll remind you, again, that if God stands behind the Bible, and if the Bible goes to such great detail describing the design and construction of His worship space, then there might be something to learn about Him through this.

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:24-25: By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Exodus chapters 34 through 36.  Now let’s read it!

Day 28: Exodus 31 through 33

Exodus 31 through 33

The final instructions regarding the tabernacle and worship have to do with two special men: Bezalel and Oholiab.  The LORD states that He has filled Bezalel “with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge of all craftsmanship,” and to all able men He has given the ability to “make all that I have commanded you.”

The LORD closes all of these instructions with one final reminder: “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths.”  Pay attention to the special role that the Sabbath plays in remembering what the LORD has done and reminding the people of Israel of who, or whose, they are.

A sharp transition is about to occur, so let’s prepare.  Moses has been on the mountain for some weeks, alone, and listening to the elaborate instructions the LORD has given regarding the tabernacle, priests, and sacrifices.  He’s been reminded often, including at the very end of his talk with the LORD, of the special relationship the LORD has with Israel.  His last memory of the Israelites is when they promised to “obey all that the LORD has said.”

The LORD warns him, however, that not all is well in camp.  The action around the golden calf incident is quick and emotional, so I won’t spoil too much.  See how Moses begs for mercy by calling on the LORD’s reputation and promises.   Picture Joshua coming to Moses as he descends the mountain, trying to figure out what’s going on below.  Watch Moses deal first with the idol, and then with Aaron, who should have been in charge.  Listen for echoes of Adam and Eve as Aaron tries to avoid the blame.

Following this, The LORD commands his people to continue their journey toward Canaan.  Moses is hesitant.  His encounters with the LORD have been at this mountain, so he asks for reassurance that the LORD will go with him.

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:24-25: By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Exodus chapters 31 through 33.  Now let’s read it!

Day 27: Exodus 29 and 30

Exodus 29 and 30.

Once the tabernacle and priestly garments have been designed it’s time to ordain the priests themselves.  Chapter 29 follows the same pattern of the other instructions we’ve seen: precise details, woven tightly together with warnings about God’s power and holiness, and the significance of priestly duties.

There’s an important sequence here: Moses, the prophet of the LORD, is in charge of ordaining Aaron, the priest before the LORD.  This charge includes placing the priestly garments on Aaron, followed by a series of sacrifices and rituals that will confirm Aaron and his sons as set apart for the priesthood.

Within this ceremony, pay attention to the significance of blood, of aroma, of fat and of leaven.  Listen to how Aaron and his sons are to identify with the animal being sacrificed.  Notice how the parts of each animal are to be treated, and to the duties the priests are commissioned to perform each day.  Following this are instructions for the construction and function of the altar of incense, basin for foot washing, and utensils.

Mixed in here are instructions for what the LORD calls a “ransom” payment due from each adult.   This collection would be used to fund the tabernacle in perpetuity, but is radically different from the freewill offering asked for to build it.  It’s a sobering reminder of what is required to be the sacred people of a Holy God.

And don’t fail to miss the persistent affirmation of the covenant: “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.  And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them.  I am the LORD their God.”

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:24-25: By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Exodus chapters 29 and 30.  Now let’s read it!

Day 26: Exodus 26 through 28

Exodus 26 through 28

We continue today with details of the tabernacle that Israel is to build.  This tabernacle will fulfill a number of purposes: it is the place in Israel’s camp where the LORD’s presence will dwell, and where the people will come to affirm their commitment to the LORD.

The design itself is representative of the LORD’s nature and expectations.  It is both exquisite and simple.  It is to be portable, yet made of the finest materials.  It is not a representation of God – like a graven image or statue would be – but its space will be filled with His Holiness.

In a world where gods were local and limited, and whose shrines reflected these limits, this tabernacle – like this God – is unlike any structure in Israel’s experience.

I’ll draw your attention again to the precision of these instructions: how the curtains are to be coupled together; the number of clasps that would suspend them; the types of wood and metals and precious stones to be used; even the directions the walls should face.  I encourage you to sketch out a diagram of this for yourself.

In chapter 28 Moses is commanded to “speak to all the skillful, whom [the LORD has] filled with a spirit of skill, to make garments for the priests.  Aaron’s family will be ordained to serve in the priesthood, and Aaron will be elevated to serve as High Priest, to represent Israel before the LORD.

These garments are not only to be made “for glory and for beauty,” but also to indicate the practical significance of Aaron’s role.  His clothing represented the unique status of Israel before the LORD, both His claim on them and their required faithfulness toward Him.  Listen for how often the ideas of guilt, beauty, glory, and even death reappear.

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:24-25: By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

Exodus chapters 26 through 28.  Now let’s read it!

Day 25: Exodus 23 through 25

Exodus 23 through 25

We pick up in the middle of God’s covenant with Israel that began all the way back in chapter 20.  As you read today, remember that this all started with the words, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me…”

These are the founding documents of a new nation, much like a constitution, but with one glaring difference: this covenant is not negotiated and codified by man.  The LORD is the conquering King, not a negotiating partner; and the children of Israel are the LORD’s subjects, not His fellow citizens.

Chapter 23 continues commands on what justice should look like in their nation.  Listen, again, for commands that get repeated or restated.  Then comes statutes guiding how to set things aside – including Sabbath, festival, and sacrifice – as devoted to the LORD.

The final section of this covenant is the LORD’s great promise: He is giving them the land of Canaan.  This generation will see the fulfillment of the promise that they’d heard about from long ago.

All that’s left is for Israel to ratify the agreement, and that’s what happens in chapter 24.  It says that when Moses read to them the covenant, all the people affirmed that “All the LORD has said we will do, and we will be obedient.”  Listen for that promise to be tested in the centuries, years, and even days to come.

Listen also for the many references to the LORD’s terrifying power, which sets up the final section of Exodus: the instructions and building of the tabernacle.  This is the place in which the LORD’s glory will rest and where Israel will hear God’s voice and present their offerings to Him.

A word of encouragement: reading these blueprints might seem tedious.  Again, take as much care in listening to these details as the author takes in transmitting them.  There is a design, both for construction and for worship, being laid out here.  Think about what the Israelites are learning about their God through this.

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:24-25: By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 

Exodus chapters 23 through 25.  Now let’s read it!