Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Answers to those Great OT Questions

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine
claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

Essentially He is wrong. Equality and diversity legislation can be applied to the Rabbinical laws of the Bible in the same way we apply them to modern employment legislation. This is because the Bible provides the framework for the kind of laws we enjoy today that protect the rights of people in the workplace. In ancient times there were no such laws enshrined or encoded so the Israelites were the first.

If you beat your slave to point where he or she received a permanent injury you were required to free that slave and provide financial support. So we had a industrial injury compensation package. Just like today people would sell them selves into slavery, or get a job in a cubicle to pay a debt. They were in bondage to their debt. However we have backslided from sound Biblical teaching because we hold people in bondage for life, no respite, even if people engaged in irresponsible lending. So now we witness a debt crisis and crippling addictions to credit where the poor get poorer and loan sharks enjoy varying degrees of legitimacy. For the Hebrews no such irresponsible banking practices for every 7 years would be the ‘Year of Jubillee’ when debts were cancelled and slaves were released. The point is that your friend is offering you bad advice. In the ancient near east the slave was not on the bottom rung of the social ladder. It was the intinerant labourer who had to survive day by day to feed his family. The slave could enjoy positions of comfort, education and privilege, take Joseph for example. Please take note that it would be most unfair of you to accept Mexicans into bondage but refused Canadians, Canadians have as much right to lift themselves up by their bootstraps as Mexicans.

2. I would like to sell my friend into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

Is your friend on the bottom wrung of the social and economic ladder? Is she heavily in debt from buying stuff she doesn't need, with money she doesn't have, to impress people she doesn't like? Is she nevertheless keen to now make a better life for herself? Fortunately, as we established in the previous question, there are provisions in place to ensure she is treated well whilst in bondage. In fact there is an exceptionally high standard required for the treatment of women in that they are to be treated, amongst other things, by their masters as daughters. A fair price will be dependent on the talents and skills she is offering. Moreover, there is a reasonable chance, if they get along, that a master may invite her to be his wife, all things are possible. Unlike in the race based slavery, of the modern era, there is no stigma in marrying a slave.

I have in the past sold my wife into bondage, or wage slavery, and her price has tended to reflect her level of responsibility. In Biblical times it was not unusual for slaves to have positions of senior responsibility in a household or if you take Joseph’s situation to be commander of a nation’s army. The point is that you need to take care when selling your friend lest you don’t get her full value so it would be useful to seek the services of an employment agency (modern day slave trader).

It would be worth counseling your friend to work well. The Bible says; Slaves obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye service, as people pleasers, but as servants of Christ , doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Ephesians 6:5-8. She should remember that we worship a God who came off His throne and humbled himself to the point of washing the feet of His disciples, even the one He knew would betray him for 30 pieces of silver. He worked as a construction worker, in the sun, and learned a trade with his step-ad. That’s a degree of humility with wow factor to be the Lord over all creation and come into human history to swing a hammer! With a heart for Jesus I am sure your friend will be a great slave, succeed and go from strength to strength.

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how
do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Okay, another great question. The answer is straightforward in so far as under the old Abrahamic Covenant there was a need to obey a whole series of laws, which included these about women who had, if we are to adopt the popular vernacular, “the plumber in”. However, Jesus being the “Lamb of God” and the final sacrifice, established a the New Covenant, meaning no longer are we bound by those laws established under the sacrificial covenant system, which were bound up with the need for the shedding of blood to pay the price for sin. Answer is; you are now allowed to have contact with women who are in full menstrual flow.

Now your question can by unpacked further because it raises the issue of dirty tampons and their relationship to our efforts to be moral upright kind hearted, good, compassionate people; good spouses and generous neighbours. Religions will tell you that if you behave in a certain way, follow their code, then god will love you and you will be allowed into heaven. The idea is, follow their theory, philosophy, or doctrine and you will work your way to some form of paradise either in this life, or the next, or if you are a Buddhist you’ll keep going around until you get dizzy I suppose. If you're a Muslim you'll end up with seven virgins, though I do wonder if anyone ever asked the virgins what they think of this deal.

Of course people who follow the rules to reach some form of nirvana get awfully disenchanted when their life becomes a trial, they fall ill, their spouse cheats on them or the world deals them a general bitch slap. Either that or they do really well and become pious and ‘holier than thou’, when they see that their life is blessed above all those rotten sinners around them. That’s called pride and to a loving God, who loves all His children equally, and knows them as His image bearers with equal dignity, value and worth, this is a terrible sin when one person sets him or herself up as better than another. It is snobbery and Jesus hates snobbery. We’re talking about a God who came into history as a blue collar worker and hung out with prostitutes and social outcasts, he’s hardly going to reward those who consider themselves above others.

You see the issue is that we are all sinners, we have all broken God’s laws, it’s in our nature, He’s perfect, we are not. To live in His presence we have to be forgiven, have our bodies and souls washed of all that scum. That’s why the Bible teaches us that all our good works are like dung, and that to God our deeds are no better than filthy sanitary towels, or dirty tampons. He is perfect love, all seeing, Lord over all time and creation, perfect. However, He loves us as a father to the degree that He sent His son, Jesus, to live a perfect life, the life we couldn’t live, sinless, though he faced all the temptations we do and more. His son came to die the death we should, pay the price we owe. Then follows the ultimate miracle of showing His power over creation by rising to a new life, conquering death, sin and hell in order that we can live through Him, in Him, imputed with His righteousness. Therefore we can live in awe, humility and joy knowing that the price has been paid and we get to live a new life, free from the bonds of sin, in a personal loving relationship with Him beginning today and lasting for all eternity, which you need to know is a long time!

With love


4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors.
They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

This is the thing about neighbours they can be so tiresome and difficult to like. Are they tree hugging, sandal wearing hipsters who consider themselves redeemed by recycling? Are they highly spiritual vegetarians who are tuned into their environment and believe the world is ‘one’? These folk may well consider any animal sacred, which is really tiresome when you are simply eager to enjoy all the gifts that the created order offers. They find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that God made cattle out of tasty steak!

The good news is that the sacrificial system, foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah, and was used by the Hebrews to atone for sins under the Abrahamic covenant. The promise to Abraham was that God’s people would reach all nations and be as numerous as the stars. The Jews expected the Christ to come in glory to destroy all their enemies, they hadn’t anticipated Him coming in humility, to love all nations, tribes, people groups, sexualities, ethnicities and cultures. However, He did and in light of their disappointment the religious men, with their big hats and gowns, ensured His brutal torture and execution. Isn’t that typical of religious folk to be so self righteous that they murder God!

In light of this historical event you are no longer bound by the sacrificial system and smiting is best left to due judicial process under legitimate governmental authorities. Now that the love of Jesus is freely available you can love your neighbours with patience kindness and generosity, loving them because you were first loved. And if they are vegetarians invite them over for a ‘nut cutlet’ or ‘vegetable lasagne’, as Paul said in the New Testement, to the Jews I am a Jew and to the gentiles a gentile, and you could include to the vegetarians vegetarian. Do what it takes to love people gently, in truth and causing them not to stumble, be frustrated or generally nauseated by the smell of roasting Bull. You never know, once they learn that they have dominion over all the creatures of the earth and sea, that it is all a gift from a loving creator God, to be stewarded well and enjoyed they may come to enjoy a tasty succulent slice of beef the way God intended!

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated
to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

I advise you to ask the police and be sure to take your toothbrush with you because I think they may invite you to stay for a while. Unless of course you live, as so many do around the globe, in the shadow of corruption, then with some cash you may ask for your neighbour’s death in consideration of his misdemeanor. That was the exact approach of the Sadducees and Pharisees who sponsored the arrest, torture and execution of Jesus. They used their religious influence to have an innocent man murdered for blasphemy. Next time you meet a religious professional you can ask, “wasn’t it your team that murdered God?”

The point about Sabbath is that it is not a legal obligation to be followed with religious dogma. You see religious people make rules about the rules so Jewish law, for example, about how many steps you could walk from your home on the Sabbath. Jesus made it plain, when His disciples picked some heads of grain on the Sabbath and were accused of working, that the religious rules were ridiculous.

Sabbath is a gift, we don’t have to Sabbath, we get to Sabbath. The best approach with your neighbour is to invite him to share in your rest. Think ahead, plan a party or an afternoon BBQ around when he would be available and make that Sabbath. It can be on any day of the week, the point is take the opportunity to spend time with loved ones, have community with neighbours and celebrate the gifts we have. It’ll be easier on your conscience than having him murdered.

You may wish to talk with your neighbour about Sabbath being one of those peculiarities of a loving father as a God, as opposed to the capricious false gods of worldly religions like Allah. You see, from a moralist viewpoint, most of the ten commandments make a lot of sense. Don’t have any other gods, or murder, steal, envy, lie, commit adultery, and so forth but then unexpectedly comes take a day off! That’s out of rhythm with the rest of the commandments and provides a clue that these aren’t the rules of man seeking to control and manipulate but commands that are born out of love, compassion and generosity. I (God) took a day off and despite the fact that by your rebellion you displayed no love for me I’ll go on loving you and let you enjoy my rest. How cool is that?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than
homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

Abomination is an effective word, hard to listen to and descriptive. Think about the abominable snowman, something that is outside of the natural order, something to be feared. Creating a law that forbids the eating of shellfish for the tribe of Israel makes sense. Shellfish harbour the kind of diseases that mankind is susceptible to, so in a era without refrigeration calling them abominable is probably appropriate language to deter people from eating something that could threaten their very existence. However, as we’ve established, Jesus came to fulfill the laws of the old covenant. So for practical reasons, the introduction of refrigeration and theological reasons, God revealing to Peter that it is permissible to eat any of the foods he created, you can enjoy a fish pie at your leisure.

The straight answer to your question is no, there are not degrees of abomination. God is perfect and all have, that is everyone, from Mother Theresa, through Ghandi, to despots like Mau, all have fallen short of His standard. That’s why the Jesus the Messiah had to come, because we could not redeem ourselves, we are sinful by nature and choice. We needed a mediator, an intercessor, who would pay the price for our sins, take the judgment we deserved. Sin is an abomination to a loving, just God. Without confession, repentance and restitution there is no justice. And the amazing thing is that He does forgive us, restore us and renew us if we simply turn to Him. However, we want to justice for others and mercy for ourselves without accepting His authority, grace and mercy. So shame on any man that would see Jesus Christ’s limp, beaten, bloody body on the Cross, paying the price for his sins and not get on his knees in adoration and worship. Shame on any man that would see the historical evidence of Jesus’s life, person, works, sacrifice, death, and resurrection and the life of the church from its establishment at Pentecost through to this day and reject His love. The question is not, how could a loving God send anyone to Hell, the question is how could a loving and just God possibly allow anyone into heaven? And to answer that question you have to look to the cross.

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading
glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

I really don’t know the answer. As it happens G I have poor eyesight which is why I wear either glasses or contact lenses so the question is personal?

I think we can be helped by considering the Scottish Reformation. This reached a critical stage in 1538 when the covenanters published their charter declaring a church in Scotland independent from Rome. You can see an original copy in St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh. Jo and I were in the Scottish capital this week enjoying the Edinburgh festival. While St Giles was under the Church of Rome’s leadership it had 41 alters to various saints. These were removed because John Knox and other leaders of the reformation recognized that there is one mediator between God and man and that’s the Messiah Jesus Christ.

Alters were used under the old Abrahamic covenant to slaughter unblemished lambs to pay for the peoples’ sins but now Jesus, the lamb of God, has paid the penalty for our sin at the Cross. Jesus said, “come to me all who are weary and in need”. We all have the opportunity to go to him whether we are suffering physical or spiritual impediments, including the blind, weak, lost, disabled, physically and mentally impaired, ‘everyone’.

The point is that we should not get to concerned about the eyesight standards stipulated for the early Christians, the Israelites, living under the sacrificial system. This is great news for all of us and probably the kind of news that the likes of Charles the 1st wanted to suppress. Under his jurisdiction in the mid 1600s horrific persecution of thousands of Scottish Christians took place. Men were burned at the stake or shot for preaching from the Bible, people suffered, as they suffer today, getting the truth out to the people. We see it across the world, from the supposed developed western democracies to China, people being persecuted for telling the truth about Jesus, who he was and what he did.

Hopefully you have had a chance to see the photos from Edinburgh where Jo and me had the privilege of seeing the Soweto Gospel Choir. These are fine people and when I think of apartheid I think of these people trusting in God, knowing that they are enjoying liberation from the weight of their sinful natures, looking to Jesus’ for inspiration and leadership, knowing they can forgive injustices because they have first been forgiven. There have always been those who preach a false Gospel of Jesus, who would take Holy Scripture and use it to oppress, manipulate and rule. Jesus poured out His life for all of us, because He is a father and loves you as a father loves his children. Please take comfort from the truth that we are more wicked then we know and more loved than we could possibly imagine.

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

They should die as Bishop John Hooper died when he was burned at the stake in 1655 for refusing to recant his rejection of Papal authority confident that he would be with Jesus on the other side of the grave. They should die like the men and women of Edinburgh who were to be killed 100 years later for their faith, rejoicing that Jesus had conquered death.

Don’t get the wrong impression, these are not people with a primitive belief system facing death for a cause. They are educated, have read philosophy, listened to other perspectives, and are familiar with all kinds of clever arguments that say Jesus was not God entered into human history.

That’s what so intriguing about Christians throughout history, there behaviour seems to the atheist to be so pointless. From the early church, men who were devout Jews, who had followed the law, had no doubt about the conscience eternal torments of Hell, turned from their religion knowing they risked rejection, torture and death. The men of the Protestant reformation, who so easily could have followed papal authority died professing their faith in Jesus and the truth of His word. What is the rational for educated men and women to believe Jesus Christ physically rose from death, unless it’s true?

To answer you question directly, your male friends should die believing what is true and rejecting lies. With that they can be confident that despite living imperfect lives, despite regularly breaking promises to God, in a way that they wouldn't dare with their friends, they can enjoy being with their creator God for eternity. The creator of all things who loves colour, music, good meat, wines and architecture, will wipe every tear from their eye, take away the suffering, hurt and pain and restore them with a new body free from the infirmities caused by sin.

Jesus, that hard working carpenter, who worked in the sun with his dad, became a traveling preacher bringing good news to the poor, is either who he said he was or a cruel hoaxer. Given that life is at best fragile, lies are beguiling, and sin is attractive I commend your friends approach their considerations with as much urgency as they can muster, eternity is a long time.

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

Do you mean rugby football, American football or association football? If rugby football then the answer would unequivocally be no. There is intimate physical contact in rugby and the wearing of gloves takes away the important sense of touch when getting up close and personal in the scrummage. Association Football or ‘soccer’ involves less hugging, at least until someone scores. Soccer is very much a game for the streets, something that can easily be played in an alley or field. Considering Jesus came from a small rural village in Galilee of maybe 150 people, with large families and narrow streets, there’s every chance he would have played a game, not dissimilar to football. When growing up there would have been plenty of other young men his age keen to have a break from the rigours of life. We don’t know much from the Bible of his early life but we do know that in those days a young man joined the family business. Jesus’ dad was a construction worker, so he would have swung a hammer all day, just an ordinary blue collar worker learning his trade. I don’t get the rather effeminate figure popular in so much Roman Catholic art, with hair product in his long hair and flowing robes. Jesus would need to have worn practical clothes for working on roofs and in a carpenters shop, his hair would have been cut to a practical length, and he would have been tanned from working out in the scorching middle eastern sun. The real Jesus was a tough, lean, strong man, with calluses on his hands from swinging a hammer. He had a great sense of humour and he lived with his mum, step-dad and brothers, growing in stature and learning as witnessed by the teachers and leaders of the day. This normal life had one distinct difference from our lives G - Jesus never sinned. If he had played football, living in an obedient Jewish home under the old covenant, he would not have worn gloves. Perhaps not wearing gloves he may have learned a painful lesson while keeping goal providing further motivation for him to fulfill the law through his death, burial and resurrection.

As a result we live under the New Covenant with Jesus as the life and the resurrection, giving us all the freedom, including those who may wish to play American Football, to wear gloves! So the good news is that pig skin will not make you unclean because the blood of Jesus is available to wash you clean of the stench of sin. We are no longer bound by rules and laws in order to merit our salvation, we have been given salvation at the cross through Him willingly laying down his life for us. That’s the thing about Christianity, we have nothing to do to earn forgiveness, it’s a gift for anyone who asks. Go in peace to have a blessed day my brother.

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14) I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.

I can help so thank you for asking. It really will be no bother getting the whole town together. Populations of small towns in Biblical times were a fraction of the size they are today and people would regularly gather anyway for community events. Something like a public execution for these kinds of transgressions would be a relatively rare event, so they would draw a large crowd. The thing is, the Israelites were a troublesome, disobedient and grumbling nation who really struggled to keep the law. That’s why they were given the law to show that they could not keep it and desperately needed a messiah to fulfill the law, redeem them and make them a great nation, as promised to Abraham.

Obeying law to earn salvation just results in religious people trying to impose rules over rules to explain the rules. So your uncle and aunt had the Sadducees as the very learned men with voluntary assistance from the Pharisees helping to enforce rules that were in many cases unenforceable. This led to varying degrees of compromise, and abuse, but isn’t that the way with the law and why there are so many rich lawyers? This led to the most monumental abuse of the law when we murdered God! God came into human history, in humility, to live a perfect life, in the person of Jesus and we accused him of blasphemy because we didn’t like the fact he hung out with prostitutes, drunkards, thieves and outcasts. Your uncle is not exceptional. In today’s society we have laws against lying, cheating, stealing, murder and breaching the peace that, despite a range of penalties from the mild to severe, we flagrantly ignore. It simply goes to show that you can provide information about the penalties of a chosen action but you cannot achieve transformation without a new heart, a change of mindset, or in scriptural terms, being born again. A Christian who has a new heart, has new desires, purposes and appetites, he doesn’t have to obey the Commandments He gets to obey them.

The love of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, through the person of Jesus Christ is freely available to anyone, regardless of gender, religion, sexuality, ethnicity, race, language, colour, creed or tribe. That’s the good news, that’s the difference between Christianity and all other religions, it’s not what you do to merit your sanctification, it’s what has already been done. It’s not an idea, scientific theory, philosophy or new trendy therapy programme. It’s the love poured out from your creator, in whose image and likeness you were made, the father to the fatherless, dispossessed, lonely, abandoned, and abused. A love that knows no boundaries to the extent of dying for you, not because you are deserving but because you were already loved in a way that a Father should love his children, in a way a husband should love his wife, in a way that a neighbour should love his neighbour, stranger, widow, orphan and prisoners.

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