Why Rules? Story of the Book # 2

July 12, 2015

Rules, anyone here into rules? You know laws, decrees,
regulations, whatever it is that you
want to call them.  If you are here’s the
good news the book of Leviticus is full of rules,
aren’t you lucky?  As a matter of fact
rules is just about all Leviticus is about. 
There is really no story to it,
no characters, no plot; just rules, page after page of rules.
There are rules about what you can do and what you can’t do, when you can do it and when you can’t do it.  What you can wear and what you can’t wear, what you can eat and what you can’t eat.  They just seem to go on and on and on.
Last week we took a whirlwind tour through the Bible, over
the next ten weeks we are going to spend a little time in each section.  And so here we are, at the beginning, which
seems like a great place to start.  As a
matter of fact the bible starts with those three words: In the beginning.
This first section of the bible includes five books and
because of that is referred to as the Pentateuch, which in Greek simply means
“Five Scrolls”.  Those scrolls or books
as we now call them include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and
Deuteronomy
And these are the books that really establish
the foundation for the entire bible.  A
foundation that Jesus built on in the gospels.
And because it is the foundation of the bible the Pentateuch
contains many of the stories that we learned in Sunday School, in particular
the book of Genesis.  It is here we find
the story of creation and of the first couple, Adam and Eve.  We discover that they were placed in a
perfect garden with freedom to do anything and everything except one thing, and
that of course is what they did.  And
their disobedience set the entire human race on a path of rebellion.  We read about the first murder which involved
their children. 
It’s in Genesis that we read the story of Noah and the ark,
Abraham and Sarah and how in their old age God promised to establish a great
kingdom, and He did through their son Isaac.  Kind of an interesting tangent here.  When God told Abraham and Sarah His plans
Sarah was understandably doubtful, after all they had tried all their married
lives to have children, so she decided to help and had Abraham sleep with her
maid, who became pregnant with a boy called Ishmael and this is what the Bible
predicted about Ishmael Genesis 16:12 This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild
donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against
him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”

Later Sarah and Abraham had a son named Isaac who would
eventually have a son named Jacob who would eventually be called Israel. And
the descendants of Israel are the people we call the Jews.  We know that. 
It was from Jacob’s descendants that a young lady named Mary was born,
who would go on to be the mother of Jesus. 
That was the promise made to Sarah and Abraham. 
The promise she didn’t believe.  And you are thinking so what?    Remember Ishmael?  Well his descendants lived in that same area
and more than 2,500 years after his birth a descendent of Ishmael’s was born,
and his parents named him Mohammed, and almost 1,500 years after that another
descendent of Ishmael’s was born and his name was Osama Bin Laden and the rest
as they say is history.  How would the
history of the Middle East be different if 4,000 years ago Sarah had of simply
believed the promise of God?  But I
digress.
Genesis also contains the story of Joseph and his coat of
many colours, how he ended up in Egypt, became second in command to the Pharaoh
and eventually was followed by his entire family.  The book of Genesis ends with these words Genesis 50:26  So
Joseph died at the age of 110. The Egyptians embalmed him, and his body was placed
in a coffin in Egypt.
And the story picks up in Exodus
1:6-8
 In time, Joseph and all of his
brothers died, ending that entire generation.  But their descendants, the
Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so
greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land.  Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing
about Joseph or what he had done.
Well, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy tell us the
story of how the Israelites would eventually leave Egypt and return to Canaan. 
You’ve seen enough movies to know the basic parts of the
story.  The Pharaoh who knew nothing
about Joseph felt threatened by his descendants, dozens had become hundreds who
had become thousands and then tens of thousands and eventually more than a
million.  And so he had the Israelites
enslaved and implemented a plan that would eventually destroy the
Israelites.   Part of that plan was
killing the new born boys. 
One child was hidden by his mother in a floating basket at
the edge of the river where he was discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter.  The little boy was rescued and raised and
educated in the palace of the King.  He
was Moses.  If you fast forward through
the story you discover that when Moses became an adult he saw an Egyptian Guard
beating a slave and in a fit of anger he killed the guard and then fearing for
his life he fled from Egypt and began a new life in a place called Midian, where
he lived until God spoke to him from a burning bush and called him to lead the
Israelites out of slavery to freedom. 
Cool and it was Moses who tradition tells us wrote the five books of the
Pentateuch.  And much of the four books
following Genesis are wrapped up in narrative of that escape, or the Exodus.  But that’s not where we are landing
today.  Because most of you know that
story, if only from the Disney movie, Prince of Egypt. 
Instead this morning we are going to park in the book of
Leviticus.  A book that is usually
skimmed over or simply ignored. Why is it treated that way?  Because most folks who know even a little bit
about the bible understand that the book of Leviticus is about rules, and you
don’t want anything to do with it cause you don’t like rules. 
Maybe you’re like Katherine Hepburn
who said “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the
fun” Or maybe you’re like Princess Diana who said “I don’t go by the rule book… I lead from the heart, not the
head.” I wonder if Di’s parents ever told her not to get into a car if
the driver had been drinking, that was a rule we had for our kids. 
Or maybe it’s just natural when someone says “don’t” that
you say “Oh yes I will.”  (Video Clip
from Lion King Starts at 29:10 finishes at 35:33). 
You see rules aren’t just implemented to annoy us or to make
life less fun, they are often put
into place to protect.  Either to protect
us or to protect others.  Simba and Naula
thought the rule about going into the elephant burial ground was kind of dumb, but they not only put themselves in danger they put Zazu in danger
as well
And there are rules in all aspects of our life. 
There are rules that apply in our families.  Curfews. 
Don’t smack your sister.  Don’t
smack your brother. 
There are rules in school: 
Do your homework, no smoking in the halls.
Rules at Work.  Don’t
steal the paper clips, don’t shoot the other employees. 
How about Social Rules? 
 A very important rule this time
of the year is “Don’t pee in the pool” that was certainly a rule when we had a pool.
And there are rules for society,
some are rules about big things.  Don’t
blow up airplanes, others are minor
“don’t throw litter out your car window.”
The book of Leviticus is the third book in the Bible and is
probably one of the most neglected books in the Bible as well.  If you’ve read it at all you’ve probably just
scanned through it and didn’t really spend a lot of time getting the feel for
it.  And there’s a couple of reasons for
that.  The first is that the book seems
so strange to our culture. 
It talks about selecting and killing live animals for
sacrifices, that just seems wrong.  It
tells us how the Priests should dress and behave what they ought to do and what
they ought not to do.
It contains a whole list of prohibitions that we don’t
consider to be all that relevant to life in this new Millennium which is in
reality thirty five hundred years removed from when the book was written.  So we start to read it and we think, yeah
whatever.
And it breaks the flow of the story.  Genesis takes us through a multitude of the
bible stories we are familiar with and ends with Jacob’s family in Egypt, the
book of Exodus picks the story up four hundred years later and chronicles the
escape of the Israelites from Egypt and then just leaves them in the middle of
the desert building the tabernacle which was like a portable church. And then
bang Leviticus is dropped into the mix and we get this whole list of rules and
regulations which takes us through into the book of Numbers to chapter 10 where
the narrative is picked up again. And it’s just way too easy to go from Exodus
40 to Numbers 10 and skip everything in between.
But if God had wanted us to skip it He wouldn’t have put it
there in the first place.
So let’s not look at it as an interruption instead let’s
look at it as a continuation.  Exodus
ends with instructions for the Israelites on where to worship God, the tabernacle and Leviticus begins with
instructions for the Israelites on how to worship God in the tabernacle.
The Hebrew title for the book is Vayyikra and it literally
means “He Called” and it is the opening phrase of the book.  In Leviticus 1:1-2
 The LORD called to Moses from the Tabernacle
and said to him,  “Give the following instructions to the people of
Israel. . .  
Tradition tells us that the book was written by Moses around
1440 BC.  Why was it written, well some have called it the Handbook of the Priests
and that is an apt title. However we can sum what Leviticus is about this way: Right
worship, right living with
instructions on becoming holy and staying holy. 
We can actually divide the book into five sections.  1)
Dedication or the Offerings
 and this
encompasses chapters 1-7, it deals
with the various offerings which is the worship as well as instructions
pertaining to those who make the offerings,
or the worshipper.  2) Mediation or the Priests and this is found in chapters 8 to 10
and deals with the priest, who they
are, what they do and how they do
it.
3) Separation or the
People
This section which takes in chapters 11 to 22 tells the people what
is clean and what is unclean. What foods they shouldn’t eat, what deeds they shouldn’t do and how they should
behave toward God and toward one another. 
It is summed up in the scripture that was read earlier this morning Leviticus 18:1-5  Then the LORD said to Moses,  “Give the
following instructions to the people of Israel. I am the LORD your God.  So do not act like
the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan,
where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life.  You must
obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the LORD your God.  If you obey my
decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the LORD.
God is saying “You are different than other people, so act like it.” 
Perhaps that is the same message that needs to be told to Christians in
2015 “You are different than other people,
so act like it.” 
The next section is 4)
Consecration or the Feasts
and in verses 22 to 24 we discover the Feasts
that the Israelites were supposed to observe. 
Some you might be familiar with like the Passover,
Pentecost or the Day of Atonement,
they are still talked about today.  As
well this section deals with the consecration of the Oil and Shew bread which
was used for temple worship.
And then finally the last section 5) Ratification or the Signs is found in chapters 25 to 27.  This is interesting in that it deals with a
number of different items.  It talks
about letting fields lie fallow for a year every seven years, it’s a Sabbath for the land.  And it deals with the Year of Jubilee, we just celebrated that with Queen Elizabeth but
this is different.  Listen to what the
book says Leviticus 25:8-10  “In addition, you must count off seven
Sabbath years, seven sets of seven years, adding up to forty-nine years in all.
 Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn
loud and long throughout the land.  Set this year apart as holy, a time to
proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a
jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to
your ancestors and return to your own clan.”
And neat things happened during the year of the Jubilee, remember property in the Promised Land was to be
given to specific tribes, so if that
land was sold at any time then every fifty years it was returned to the
original owners.  If an Israelite became
bankrupt and had to sell himself and his family into slavery on the Year of
Jubilee they would be set free.
If you were to go to Philadelphia
and see the Liberty Bell and read the
inscription you would discover it is from this particular portion of the book
of Leviticus. “Proclaim Liberty throughout all
the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” Leviticus 25:10
Within this section there are all kinds of regulations to
keep the system from being abused.  For
example if you were to sell your property the year after a Jubilee year you
would receive more for it then if you sold it the year before a Jubilee year, that makes sense. 
As well this section contains regulations concerning vows as well as the
reward for obedience and the punishment for disobedience.
But the question remains: why?  Why are there rules?  Cause,
that’s why.  Why are there rules
today?  Same reason to protect you and to
protect others.  That is why you aren’t
supposed to drive when you’ve been drinking,
why you aren’t supposed to eat raw hamburger and why you aren’t supposed to
sleep with everyone you meet.
Within God’s law there are laws that are laid down for
people’s Physical Good:  For example Leviticus
11:7
 The pig has evenly split hooves
but does not chew the cud, so it is unclean.  
They were also told they couldn’t eat other animals or
reptiles or fish, because most of those critters were yucky, the technical term was unclean but it means the
same thing.  3500 years ago it was
difficult to cook pork the right way to kill the parasites that live in it, we know today that there are certain time of the
year that you can eat shell fish and certain times that you can’t.  We can read about it in the paper or hear on
the radio but then, it was just
safer to say “Don’t eat this stuff.” 
Other rules are set down for our Social Good: Leviticus 20:10  “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife,
both the man and the woman who have committed adultery must be put to death.”
Don’t know if that was a deterrent but it certainly cut down
on repeat offenders.  Leviticus 19:11  “Do
not steal. “Do not deceive or cheat one another.”
It is rules that keep society from disintegrating.  They keep family together they protect us
from each other. It was Edmund Burke who said “When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that
moment, we have no compass to govern
us, nor can we know distinctly to
what port to steer.” 
Other rules are for our Emotional
Good
: Exodus 20:17  “You must not covet
your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female
servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”

There are issues like covetness,
hatred and lack of forgiveness that will destroy us inside if we allow them
to.  And so there are rules that deal
with these issues.

There are also rules and regulations that are there for our Spiritual Good:  There are rules against worshipping idols
Leviticus 26:1  “Do not make idols or set up carved images, or sacred
pillars, or sculptured stones in your land so you may worship them. I am the LORD your God.
There are rules against worshipping other gods Exodus 34:14  You
must worship no other gods, for the LORD,
whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with
you.

This particular section even deals with how much we are supposed to give God
Leviticus 27:30  “One
tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from
the trees, belongs to the LORD and
must be set apart to him as holy.”

To be truthful we don’t know why God required some things, maybe for the same reason that we sometime require
things as parents and so we have the Just
Because Rules
: Leviticus 19:19  “You must obey all my decrees. “Do not
mate two different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two different
kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread.
How come?  Just
because.  There is a lesson there that is
lost on us but it wasn’t lost on the Israelites.  Parents are fond of quoting Leviticus 19:28  “Do
not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am
the LORD.
But then they forget Leviticus
19:27
 “Do not trim off the hair on
your temples or trim your beards.”
Some rules cross over into several areas, Leviticus 18 deals
almost exclusively with sexual issues, things which we would say are governed
for social good.  Without  regulations concerning marriage etc. the
family unit begins to fail and we are starting to discover the results of that
in Canada
today.  However they also fall in the
emotional good category as can be attested by the devastation that is felt when
you discover your spouse has been cheating on you,
or even the damage done to yourself when you break your wedding vows.
You understand that you will pay, Proverbs 6:27  Can a man scoop a
flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire?
By the way that verse deals specifically with the
consequences of adultery, check it
out for yourself.  But the rules
governing sexual conduct are also there for our physical good, the physical
consequences or promiscuity cannot be ignored, whether it unwanted pregnancies
or sexual transmitted disease there are a many things that could be eliminated
by following the rules. 
So where does that leave us today?   When Christ came and offered himself up as a
sin offering for each of us he made many of the laws in Leviticus concerning
offerings and the priesthood irrelevant. 
But there are rules that govern our personal behaviour that still stand
and I don’t think I need to tell you which are which,
I think you can figure that out on your own. 
And to quote many a wise man, “If all else fails read the
instruction book.”  So where are you
at?