Bible Overview

This session was taught at the Christ Church Manchester School of Theology on Saturday 25th April 2020. The CCM School of Theology was set up to serve local churches in Manchester and beyond.

Topic: Leviticus to Deuteronomy

In this session, we look at the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Speaker: Matt Fell

Matt is the director of Relational Mission’s year team programme and he is currently writing a PhD in Theology.

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NOTES

 

Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy

Discipleship in the wilderness

Aim: to help us open these wonderful books and hear what the Lord is saying through them.

In these books of scripture, the Spirit sets out the gospel, instructs us for holy living, and paints a glorious picture of God’s kingdom.

Q. What has been your experience of reading these books?

Reading the Old Testament law – the ‘Torah’ – as a Christian:

‘You have been saved from the law’ is a common phrase that one might hear in grace-centred churches like ours. Indeed the Apostle Paul tells the believers in Rome that they “are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive…”.(7:6) So having been released from the law of the Old Covenant, the Torah, why should we Christians go back and read it devotionally? Understandably, many Christians don’t. And most of us who do tend to see it as a burdensome task to wade through the pages of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

We need to catch the nuances of the New Testament apostolic understanding of the Torah:
❖ “The law was our παιδαγωγὸς [paidagōgos, lit. tutor] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” – Galatians 3:24
❖ “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” – Galatians 3:19

❖ “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” – Romans 7:7

❖ “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth- you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?” – Romans 2:17-21

The Law was given for three reasons:

1. To instruct God’s people to wait for the true offspring of Abraham to come and bring about God’s promises to Israel and the world;
2. To teach God’s people that they are sinful;
3. To show the nations – through Israel’s culture and religion – that the one true God loves his creation and is working to redeem it

And so, the Torah is good! Not only because of the role it played in the past, but also because it teaches Christians today and equips us for service. Some examples for us to follow:
➢ Jesus

➢ The Apostles

➢ Throughout church history

Nevertheless, these are difficult books to read
➢ They come from a very different cultural epoch to our own
➢ They raise challenging ethical questions (exclusion of unclean / immoral individuals; the destruction of pagan cities including women and children, patriarchy etc.)
➢ The life of faith and worship they describe is not the life we are to live out as Christians (see book of Hebrews!)

We all need help to read these texts. We need to be discipled by preachers and teachers who have journeyed for a while with the Israelites in the wilderness and returned with insight and revelation.

Whenever we read the Bible we want to read it with our……

1) Mind on the Story.

Understanding how the passage fits into the overall story.

  • What is happening?
  • Where are we in the big story?
  • Who are the major players?
  • How is the story being told? (narrative, peom, metaphor)
  • What do we learn about God and his purposes?
  • What would it feel like to be in this scene or receive this teaching?
  • What were the consequences of this passage for those involved?

2) Eyes of Faith

How the passage relates to Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit to Christians and the Mission of the Church.

  • How do the events, people, rituals or commandments of the passage find their fulfilment in Jesus life, death and resurrection?
  • How does this passage show us our need for salvation?
  • Does this passage hint at or teach us about the Christian life in the Spirit?
  • Can we learn anything about the mission of the church from this passage?

3) Hearts ful of Hope.

How the passage points us towards the fulfilment of God’s Kingdom on Earth and the resurrection of the dead.

  • What about our broken world does this passage show?
  • How does this passage promise healing and restoration?
  • Are there particular hints or promises relating to the resurrection and the restoration of all creation?

4) Desire to Love

How the Passage teaches us to live loving God and loving our neighbour.

  • Does this passage teach us how to worshi and obey God?
  • Does it teach us how God wants us to relate to other people?
  • What positive examples does the passage give us for Christian living?

Leviticus

Hebrew in) וַיִּ קְ רָ א) ‘vayikrá‘
Literally ‘and he called’ in English

Q: how does Leviticus fit into the biblical story?

The Lord’s provides three ways for Israel are to live in His holy presence –rituals; the priesthood; and purity laws. Leviticus is divided into seven sections, and each of the three ways of approaching God are described in two sections of the book:

 

Leviticus 1-7

Describes the sacrificial offerings

  • Chapter 1: Burnt offering (giving all of myself)
  • Chapter 2: the Grain offering (giving the best of the earth)
  • Chapter 3: the Peace offering
    (enjoying communion with God)
  • Chapter 4-5: the Sin offering (for unintentional sins)
  • Chapter 5-6: the Guilt offering
  • Chapter 6-7: offerings for the Priests

Rituals

Leviticus 23-27

Describes festivals and customs

  • Chapter 23: the Sabbath & major festivals
  • Chapter 24: the tabernacle furnishing
  • Chapter 25: the Sabbath Year & Year of Jubilee
  • Chapter 25:23+: social welfare
  • Chapter 26: promise of blessings for obedience
    & punishment for disobedience
  • Chapter 27: laws about vows

Leviticus 8-10

Describes the Priesthood

  • Chapter 8: the consecration of Aaron & his sons
  • Chapter 9: Aaron’s offering accepted
  • Chapter 10: the death of Nadab & Abihu for offering inappropriate worship

Priesthood

Leviticus 21-22

Describes the higher standards
the priests are to live by

  • Chapter 21-22: Holiness standards for the Priests
    & details of acceptable / unacceptable offerings

Leviticus 11-15

Describes what is clean and unclean

  • Chapter 11: clean & unclean animals
  • Chapter 12: Purification after childbirth
  • Chapter 13-14: laws about Leprosy
  • Chapters 14:33+: ritually unclean houses
  • Chapter 15: bodily uncleanliness

Purity Laws

Leviticus 18-20

Describes holy ethical living

  • Chapter 18: Unlawful sexual relations
  • Chapter 19: commandments for holy community (love your neighbour as you love yourself)
  • Chapter 20: punishments for child sacrifice
    & sexual immorality

Leviticus 16-17

  • Chapter 16 describes the Day of Atonement. This was the centre piece of Israelite religion where the whole company of Israel was made ‘at-one’ with God by the death of two goats – the first goat was sacrificed in the tabernacle and it’s blood was poured out onto the Ark of the Covenant, this was for the propitiation of God’s judgement against sin; the second goat was exiled into the wilderness so as to expiate (take away) Israel’s sin.
  • Chapter 17 describes the essential instructions regarding sacrifice (where they are to lawfully take place; the significance of blood – the life of an animal is in its blood)

Numbers

Hebrew in) בְּ מִ דְּ בַּ ר) ‘Bamiḏbar‘
Literally ‘In the Wilderness’ in English.

Q: how does Numbers fit into the biblical story?

The book of Number’s can be structured around three geographical regions and the travel between them.

• Chapters 1-10: the wilderness of Sinai
• Chapters 10-12: Israel sets off from Sinai
• Chapter 13-19: Israel travels through the wilderness of Paran
• Chapters 20-21: Israel moves between Edom, Negeb, and Bashan
• Chapters 22-36 take place in the wilderness of Moab

Try reading the following passages with your….

Mind on the Story

Eyes of Faith

Heart full of Hope

Desire to love

Numbers 5:1-4
Cast a leper from the camp

Numbers 6:22-27
Aaron’s blessing

Numbers 11:16-25
Moses and The Spirit

Numbers 21:4-9
The plague of serpents

 

Deuteronomy

Literally ‘Second Law’ in English.

Q: How does Deuteronomy fit into the biblical story?

There are three main sections to Moses’s speech:

Chapter 1-11

Chapters 12-26

Chapters 27-33

Try reading the following passages with your….

Mind on the Story

Eyes of Faith

Heart full of Hope

Desire to love

Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Testing in the wilderness

Deuteronomy 10:12-22
Circumcise your hearts

Deuteronomy 17:14-20
A good King

Deuteronomy 21:15-23

Righteous / cursed sons

 

Violence in Deuteronomy and the Torah:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser . . . .”
– Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Throughout Deuteronomy – and the Torah generally – there is strong emphasis on how Israel are to particularly look after the widow, the orphan and the sojourner – the foreigner – amongst their ranks.
Deuteronomy 10:18 says this of the LORD: “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

At the same time, there is also a strong insistence that Israel are not to associate with the neighbouring pagan nations and Moses also gives instructions for when Israel go to war. Deuteronomy 7:2 says “When the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.” These often startle Christian readers as extremely violent – no survivors, not even woman and children. Secular critiques of the Bible often point to these passages as indicative of the evil of religion.

This is a big question we need to take time to wrestle with and search the scripture over.

The following truths help us to understand these troubling texts:

➢ These passages are primarily about Israel keep themselves separate from idolatry
– the violence called for is Israel’s violence against temptation and has parallels in the New Testament (Romans 8 speaks of us needing to put to death the deeds of the flesh)

➢ These nations are wicked – Deuteronomy mentions that they practice the sacrifice of children!

➢ The big story of the Old Testament helpfully frames these passages. If we look back to Genesis 15, God tells Abraham that will not give him the land at that time because ‘the iniquity of the
nations living there is ‘not yet complete’. This implies that these nations have not wholly hardened themselves to God – whatever that may or may not imply for their salvation. If we look forward to the book of Joshua, we see that at least one person from amongst these nations – Rahab (a prostitute!) – puts their faith in the God of Israel and is spared and joins Israel as a ‘sojourner’. However, Rahab’s conversion – like all true conversions to faith in the living God – requires her to die in order to be born again.

➢ Not all violence is evil. Whilst God laments the violence that defaces creation; he also violently opposes the causes of violence. And so according to scripture violence can be redemptive: Christ suffers violence in order to bring peace. Christians are to put to death their sinful flesh by the Spirit in order to live. I think this makes sense. Even the most strident secular pacifist struggles to say that the violent overthrow of Nazi Germany and the liberation of the concentration camps was a bad thing.

➢ Christians can consider all this because in Christ God takes violence onto himself and suffers the execution of the godless rebel. This then gives us confidence that when God orders Israel to slaughter their enemies we can trust that even in that scenario of God-forsakenness, God can and just might be working his mercies even to his enemies!

 

 

 

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