Leviticus 17:1-9 ~ 20161009 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
10/09 Leviticus 17; Location for Worship; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20161009_leviticus-17_1-9.mp3
We are in Leviticus 17, a chapter that deals with the handling of blood. To step back and look at where we are in the big picture of Leviticus, we see:
The remainder of the book tells us how forgiven people ought to live in response to the forgiveness they have been given.
In chapter 17, we see the location of sacrifice and the careful handling of the blood. If we outline this chapter we see something like this:
The first half of the chapter deals with the legitimate location of sacrifices. The second half of the chapter deals with consumption of non-sacrificial animals. The center section deals with the proper handling of blood, with verse 11 as the centerpiece of this chapter, giving us a pivotal statement about the role of blood in atonement.
We will take the first section today, then next week we will work through the central section of this chapter.
The Location of Sacrifice
One question many have had about this passage is: Does this prohibit slaughter of any animals for food outside of the tabernacle? The first 4 verses use the general word for kill, which could include simple butchering for meat. If this is the case, then this passage would require all meat to be offered as a sacrifice first at the tabernacle. But Deuteronomy 12 specifically says that the Israelites may kill and eat animals in their own towns away from the sanctuary. Those that believe this includes all meat see this as a temporary requirement for Israel camped around the central tabernacle, and they see Deuteronomy preparing for a different setting, when Israel will be scattered across the land that they are going in to possess. But this overlooks the fact that verse 7 says “This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.” And if this were a requirement that all animals that are killed for food must first be offered as a sacrifice, there is no instruction on what to do with blemished animals, for only unblemished animals may be offered in sacrifice to the LORD. Deuteronomy 12 states what is left unsaid in this chapter, that domestic animals may be killed for food away from the sanctuary. This chapter is focused on animals killed as sacrifices.
This first section deals with the location of sacrifices, but more importantly it confronts to whom the sacrifices are offered, and confronts our tendency toward idolatry. The goal of this section, stated in verse 5, is
All sacrifices are to be sacrifices to the LORD, brought to the LORD's one specified place of sacrifice. This is primarily an issue of who is to be worshiped. The altar is here called 'the altar of YHWH.' This is a unique designation of the bronze altar of burnt offering. It emphasizes that every sacrifice is to be brought to the one true God. The tabernacle is called the tent of meeting, because the focus is on meeting with God.
Verses 5 and 6 specifically deal with the peace offering of chapter 3, the offering where the fat was burned on the altar to the LORD, and the worshiper ate some of the sacrificed animal in communion with God. Verses 8-9 extend the issue to include burnt offerings or any of the other kinds of sacrifices. They are all to be offered exclusively to God at the one place he has established in the specific way that he has proscribed.
This is an issue of the first commandment.
In the context of Israel camped around the tabernacle, this mean that sacrifice was to be offered nowhere else but the tabernacle, officiated by the priests in the way proscribed by the LORD. Deuteronomy chapter 12 is the counterpart to Leviticus 17, giving instructions more specifically in the context of the occupation of the promised land, that sacrifice is then to be offered nowhere else but the one place that the LORD chooses to make his name dwell, the temple in Jerusalem. The Israelites were instructed to tear down all high places and altars that the pagans used and not follow their idolatrous practices. God demands exclusive worship. He is the God who triumphed over the gods of the Egyptians and set his people free to worship him. This is the God who would be victorious over the gods of the Canaanite people who occupied the promised land.
We might think that it would go without saying that the LORD is the only one to be worshiped. But our tendency to idolatry runs deep. Verse 7 says:
Notice, this was not written to warn against an obscure possibility; this is written to confront a practice that was already going on, a practice that was incompatible with the worship of the one true God, a practice that was considered covenant breaking adultery. The people were sacrificing in the wilderness to goat demons. We find this almost unbelievable. How could the people of Israel, who had witnessed the ten plagues, who had walked through the Red Sea on dry land, who had seen the LORD destroy their enemies, who had seen the lightning and felt the thunder at Mount Sinai, who had seen the glory cloud come down and inhabit the sanctuary, how could these people sacrifice to goat demons in the wilderness? How could they!
But how can we, we who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we who have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus, we who have knelt at the foot of the cross and seen the divine Word made flesh, Love incarnate, die for our sins, how can we go after money and pleasure and power and position and praise and security and family and food and possessions and comfort and ease? How is it that we so frequently fail to acknowledge God as God or give him thanks? 'Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; Take my heart Lord, take and seal it, seal it to thy courts above.' We have wicked idolatrous, adulterous hearts.
This is why this issue is so serious, and carries such a severe penalty.
God considers idolatry as serious as murder. He will have a people with hearts single toward him, with affections alone for him. He is a jealous God.
God knew the hearts of his people. In Deuteronomy 31,
God knew the idolatrous inclination of the hearts of his people, so he warned them.
Our tendency is to forget God. To fail to give him thanks and praise. To follow other things. To fix our affections on other things.
Idolatry in the New Testament
We tend to think that this issue of idolatry is remote and removed from us. We are not polytheistic. We do not bow down to idols. That this is still an issue for the New Testament believer is clear from Paul's teaching to the church in Corinth. In chapter 10 he warns us:
We would certainly agree that most of the things he mentions here are relevant temptations today. Anyone here struggle with grumbling? He goes on.
The main issue Paul deals with in this chapter is idolatry. An idol is what we value, what we treasure, what we trust, what we hope in, what we work for, what we focus on, what we put time and energy into. Colossians 3 gives us insight into our idolatrous nature.
Covetousness, putting our hope in something we don't have to fulfill a longing in us, is idolatry. Paul tells us that this is earthly and we are to put it to death. That is one side of his instruction – kill idolatry, kill evil desire, kill covetousness. The other side of his instruction comes first, and it is positive. He says
Seek what is above. Set your minds on things above. Fix your eyes, fix your hopes, fix your heart on what is above. Notice, this comes first, and makes the second command so much easier. If our hearts and our hopes are attached to God and his glory, it is easier to crucify our covetousness. It is still painful, it is still a fight, but it is easier. It is much easier to let go of something when you have something more solid, more substantial, more satisfying to hold on to. Put to death that which is earthly, because you have been resurrected to a heavenly reality.
Jesus and the Location for Worship
Leviticus 17 restricts all sacrifice to one central worship location to prevent the people from continuing to follow after false gods.
In John 4 Jesus was asked a question about the location of worship.
The woman from Samaria asked Jesus about the proper place of worship. Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem? Which place is the right place to worship? Place matters. Leviticus tells us to bring our sacrifices to the altar of YWHW. Which is the true altar? Who is right? The Samaritans or the Jews? This is a Leviticus 17 question.
This is a staggering answer! Which altar is the true altar? Which place is the right place? No. Neither. “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mk.11:17). The house was condemned. “There will not be left here one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mk.13:2). The glory presence had left. Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. Where then? Where is the place to worship?
God is Spirit, true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Jesus is decentralizing the worship of YHWH. It is no longer about a location, no longer about an altar, because God is not confined to a location. The shadow is being replaced by the reality. God is spirit. He will be worshiped in spirit and truth. Where?
We are the temple of the living God. God's temple is wherever you are. So glorify God in your body. Worship him in spirit and in truth. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. You are God's temple. God's Spirit dwells in you. Wherever you are, at all times, truly worship him. Honor him. Give him thanks. Fix your attention on Jesus.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org