Laws of Moses – Special Feasts

I was reading a book set in the Middle Ages recently.  I actually quit reading it because I had so much trouble keeping track of the characters – there were too many name changes, official and unofficial titles, nicknames, and unclear pronoun references!

Sometimes the holidays and celebrations established in the Laws of Moses feel similar – a little hard for us to keep track of.  See if this helps:

There are Five Feasts established in the Law of Moses:

1. Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread – Passover memorializes the freeing of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt and recalls the night that death passed over the land and killed the firstborn of all but the Israelites.  Passover is a meal with lamb representing the lamb that was slain and whose blood was put on the door frames; unleavened bread representing purity and recalling the night of their flight; and bitter herbs representing the horrors of bondage.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread is the week after Passover.  This is a “pilgrim” feast which required all males to travel to a designated spot to offer sacrifices.  It normally occurred in March-April. (Ex 23,34; Deut 16, Num 9,28; Lev 23)

2. Feast of Weeks (or Harvest or Firstfruits, later Pentecost) – originally called the Festival of Weeks, it falls at the time of the wheat harvest in Israel and came to be called the Harvest Feast instead.  It was to be 50 days after the Feast of the Unleavened Bread and eventually came to be called Pentecost (meaning 50)!  This too was a pilgrim feast that required freewill offerings from the grain harvest, in proportion to the blessings the Lord had given you that year. It normally occurred in May-June.  (Deut 16; Lev 23; Num 28)

3. Feast of Trumpets (later Rosh Hashanah) – This is a minor feast, an occassion for the blowing of the trumpets.  It was celebrated on the first day of the seventh month on the religious calendar, which happened to be New Years on the civilian calendar and is currently celebrated as Rosh Hashanah in September-October. (Num 29, Lev 23)

4. Day of Atonement (later Yom Kippur) – The great significance of the Day of Atonement lies in the confession of sins and the purification of the people.  The high priest laid his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessed all the wickedness and rebellion of the people over it.  Bearing the sins of the people, the goat was sent out into the desert.  It is the only day when the Israelites were commanded to fast.  It normally occurred in September-October. (Lev 16, 23)

5. Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths or Ingathering) – Following the Day of Atonement there was the Feast of Tabernacles.  It was a week-long remembrance of Israel’s years of wandering in the desert as punishment for rebellion and the sin of disbelief.  For one week they were to live in booths made of tree branches and rejoice that they were no longer wandering in the desert.  It fell during a period of harvest or ingathering and was a joyful celebration of the Lord’s goodness, a reminder of all the blessings the Lord had given them.    It normally occurred in September-October. (Lev 23, Num 29, Deut 16)

So… Five Feasts – all occasions for remembering and celebrating the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness to His people, in spite of their sin and rebellion.  There were other feasts and festivals added to the Jewish calendar later, but these are the feasts from the Laws of Moses.

“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” – Deut 7:9

* This format of the Law of Moses is found in The Daily Bible (Chronological) by Harvest House Publishers, commentary by F. LaGard Smith.  I am so glad that someone grouped all the laws together and made sense of them for me!!

Laws of Moses – No Other Gods

BJ First Commandment“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.” – Deut. 5:6-7

We know this verse as the FIRST commandment.  It is the cornerstone of all the commandments.  The SECOND is like it.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” – Deut. 5:8-9

Got that?  We are to worship only the LORD, nothing else.  All our allegiance is to Him.

There is a whole collection of laws related to this command.  They could be grouped into the following categories:

A. Laws Against Idolatry and Paganism.

Don’t make other gods (out of any material you can imagine), don’t sacrifice to other gods, don’t swear by other gods, and don’t sacrifice your children to other gods.  Do not tolerate anyone among you who worships other gods and, in fact, you (nation of Israel) must completely destroy any city that worships other gods.  You also cannot worship the LORD wherever and however you choose – there is a specific way to worship Him, and a specific place (the tabernacle, and later the temple in Jerusalem).  (ref. Lev 19-20,26, Deut 12-14,17)

B. Laws Against False Spiritualists

Do not practice witchcraft, divination, sorcery, consult mediums or the dead, or cast spells – all such people must be put to death.  Do not listen to those who tell the future, interpret dreams, claim to be prophets, or lead you to serve another God.  Test the prophets and have no fear of them.  (ref. Deut 18, Lev 20)

C. Laws Regarding Blasphemy

Do not take the name of the LORD in vain, do not misuse the name of the LORD.   (ref. Deut 5, Lev 24) Did you recognize the third commandment?

D. Laws Requiring Dedications

In order to instill a proper sense of priorities and gratitude, God required that the first and best of everything be dedicated to the LORD.  The Law of Moses required dedication of the firstborn son, all firstborn male animals, and the first crops/grain/fruit.  The son can be redeemed and may return to the family, but the other dedications are used to support the work of the priests and Levites and to care for those with special needs. (ref. Ex 22,23,34, Deut 15)

E. Laws Requiring Tithing (ref. Deut 14,18)

F. Law of the Sabbath

The sabbath rest is noted twelve times in the giving of the laws and it is to serve as a day or remembrance and corporate worship and assembly.  It was the fourth commandment and symbolizes the day God rested after creation. (ref. Deut 5, Ex 31, Lev 19,23, Num 15)

Whew.  So what can we learn from this group of laws?

The LORD our God wants to be respected and honored – in our worship, our words, our labors and income, our children and all we own.  He does not tolerate the worship of anyone or anything else.

“You shall have no other gods.”

* This format of the Law of Moses is found in The Daily Bible (Chronological) by Harvest House Publishers, commentary by F. LaGard Smith.  I am so glad that someone grouped all the laws together and made sense of them for me!!

** Graphic from series, “What if God had texted Moses?” http://bjdhorehartford.blogspot.com/2011/05/if-god-had-texted-moses.html

The Laws of Moses

Leviticus.  Sigh.  Leviticus is usually the point at which my Read Through The Bible plan comes to a screeching halt.law

Then I skip over most of Deuteronomy and start again in Joshua.  Let’s go conquer Jericho!

Offerings, feasts, clean and unclean animals and other things, sacrifices, altars, washing bowls, incense, and blood poured out and sprinkled on all kinds of things.  Really?  Who wants to read the Laws of Moses?  The whole system certainly seems confusing.  Complicated.  And extremely exact.  There is only one right way to keep the Law, and if you screwed it up you were guilty of trespass – ignorance was no excuse.

Well, by golly, it’s been at least five years since I read the Laws of Moses.  How about you?  I am determined to get through them… and not only that, but to make some sense of them.  As I read along, I would like to share with you the big pieces of the puzzle – the broader framework that the Laws of Moses hang on.  I hope you’ll find the Big Picture helpful.

The explicit purpose for each law or statute is rarely given.  However, most of the laws are designed with fundamental principles in mind:

The Laws of Moses were designed to teach the Israelites:

1. To honor and respect God above all else,

2.  To honor and respect people and their property, and

3. How to be holy and aware of their separateness (from the nations around them) as a God’s specially chosen people.

The Laws of Moses provided a national framework for what was right and wrong.  As Moses told the people, “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing what is right in his own eyes!” – Deut. 12:8

The laws must also be viewed in the context of the life and times in which the Israelites were living.  They were surrounded by death, wicked kings, and nations that practiced child sacrifice.  Keeping that in mind, we realize that the Laws of Moses impose an incredibly high standard of ethical conduct on the nation.  We also find that the laws are unique (for that era) in teaching the value of a human life, the importance of due process, and the necessity of judicial fairness/equal justice.

Indeed, the laws were established for the good of the people.  (Why do laws not always feel like they are for our own good?!)

As Moses said, “Now, Israel, what does the Lord require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statues which I am commanding you today for your good.” – Deut. 10:12-13

We also know from reading Romans that it is the Law that makes people aware of what is sin (3:20), even though our conscience often makes this clear to us anyway (2:14-15).  We also know that no one was ever justified before God by keeping the Law (3:20, 3:28, 4:13) and only Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law.  And we know that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away the guilt and sins of the people (Hebrews 9:9-10 and 10:1-4,11) and that we are cleansed only in the blood of Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrifice.

So just remember that the Laws of Moses were a framework of right and wrong, were designed to teach important principles, and were for the good of the people.  I am so glad that Jesus Christ came as our perfect high priest and instituted a time of reformation (Hebrews 9:10-11) so that we are not bound by the Laws of Moses!

However, we’re still going to read them – because we can learn from them!

Here is an excellent commentary on the purpose of the law:  http://agapegeek.com/2010/05/14/understanding-the-bible-definition-and-purpose-of-the-law-of-moses-pt-1/

Are You Ready?

Every morning I holler and wait on my daughter, who is never ready when it’s time to go.  Regardless of whether she got out of bed 5 minutes ago or an hour ago, she’s just not ready.  She brushes her hair, puts on her earrings, ties her shoes, and eats breakfast in the car…  She comes when I call, but she’s not ready.  It feels like I spend half the day waiting on that girl to get ready.

When God called to Moses in Exodus 3:4 Moses said “Here I am” and he was ready.  Even after 40 years of tending sheep in the wilderness, Moses had not lost his readiness.

Oswald Chambers wrote about this last week (4/18).  “When God speaks, many of us are like people in a fog, and we give no answer. Moses’ reply to God revealed that he knew where he was and that he was ready. Readiness means having a right relationship to God and having the knowledge of where we are. We are so busy telling God where we would like to go.”

That’s me, always telling God where I’d like to go, what I’d like to do.  It’s hard to listen to Him when I’m always talking!

“Yet the man or woman who is ready for God and His work is the one who receives the prize when the summons comes. We wait with the idea that some great opportunity or something sensational will be coming our way, and when it does come we are quick to cry out, “Here I am.”

That’s me again, I’m looking to do something big, important for God.  Let’s go storm the castle!

“Whenever we sense that Jesus Christ is rising up to take authority over some great task, we are there, but we are not ready for some obscure duty.  Readiness for God means that we are prepared to do the smallest thing or the largest thing— it makes no difference.”

Obscure duty, small things.  Hmm.  Not so glamorous.  Be he who is faithful in the small things, will be given even greater responsibility.  The small things do matter, I just don’t like the fact that they are obscure.  Not noticed.  But still important.

“It means we have no choice in what we want to do, but that whatever God’s plans may be, we are there and ready. Be ready for the sudden surprise visits of God. A ready person never needs to get ready— he is ready. Think of the time we waste trying to get ready once God has called!”

Oh Lord Jesus, help me to BE ready to do WHATEVER you call me to do.

* My Utmost for His Highest, free online at http://utmost.org

 

The Restless on Sabbatical

I can’t sit still. I have always been that way. I am busy, I am Tigger, I am always working on something, I am the original hyperactive child. Fidget, fidget, fidget.

Restless – I am restless. The heading in my commentary for James 5:7-12 is “Reminders to the Restless”. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient, strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

I do well under pressure, when I am busy. I have been reflecting on coming out of a busy season of ministry – when so much was required of me, when I met the Lord at 5 am every morning because there were so many things to pray about and seek guidance on, when it was “game on” all the time.

When I left Stuttgart, the Lord impressed upon me that the next thing was a Sabbatical Season. Sabbatical meaning rest, quietness, study. I needed it, but I didn’t like it. The Lord gave me four clear priorities for my sabbatical season:

1. NO new projects (oh, how hard that would be!),
2. Support and encourage my husband in this time of transition,
3. Support and encourage my kids in this time of transition, and
4. Work hard at getting back into good physical shape.

So here I am – I’m dying for a project like some people are dying for a drink… But I am on sabbatical. I am trying to be appreciative of my period of resting, but I just find it difficult. (But I do like having time for sports!) I am still meeting with the Lord, and He still speaks to me (usually it’s “Be patient, child.”), and I am loving reading and playing with my kids.

I like the farmer image in James 5:8 – he is waiting for precious produce, something valuable, that will only come in due time. I cannot, and should not, hurry it along. (This is much better than the “Moses tending sheep” image I have stuck in my head – Moses was out there 40 years! Plus, thanks to West Africa, I know a lot about sheep and there’s nothing good that comes out of that…)

Pray for me and my sabbatical – that I wouldn’t run ahead of God, nor waste my free time.

Also, when I started this blog I promised myself that I would only write when God laid something on my heart… that I wouldn’t post every week just to hear myself talk. (There’s plenty of that around!) So don’t worry if I don’t write… I am resting.

What Defines You?

Today’s guest blog is written by Jimmie Davis, girls’ minister and author.  She’s also one of the most humble women of God you’ll ever meet. http://blogs.lifeway.com/blog/girlsministry/

While I was at LifeWay for a conference two years ago, Pam Gibbs handed me the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton, and told me it was a “must read” for anyone in ministry. I read a few chapters and it was extremely convicting, so I politely put it away not to pick it up again until a few months ago. Since that time, the Lord has used this book to remind me that who I am personally is intricately interwoven into my ministry with teenage girls, but my ministry does not define me.

In the book, Ruth uses the life of Moses as a prime example. She points out that growing up Moses didn’t really know if he was an Egyptian or a Hebrew. He didn’t really know who his mama was and certainly was confused at the deep compassion he felt for the injustices shown to the Hebrew people even though he was raised as an Egyptian, the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’ built-up anger over his life’s circumstances came out when he saw an Egyptian being cruel to a Hebrew and his rage turned into murder. Moses fled to the desert and had to spend forty years in solitude with God to let the dust settle so he could clearly see and settle his identity crisis. Finally when Moses had spent enough time in silence, God called and he was ready to listen. Moses’ personality, his handicap, his upbringing, his heritage, and his very own story equipped him to go and face Pharaoh, lead the Hebrew children out of bondage, survive in the dessert for forty more years, and fulfill God’s plan for his life.

I’m not saying you have to spend forty years in silence; what person can do that, really? However, I have learned that spending time in solitude before God will allow the dust to settle and you will be able to see who you are and hear God’s call of leadership. In times of solitude, God will remind you that you are not defined by your ministry, but you are defined by His presence in your life. Solitude in the presence of God on your leadership journey will keep you close to Him and that is completely satisfying.

The book also points out that God led Moses to the top of Mount Nebo and showed him the Promised Land. God told him that he could see it, but he would never go there. No argument, no response; Moses was completely satisfied. Barton says, “He no longer needed a role, a task, or responsibility to define him. For him, the presence of God was his promised land.”

This is a painful reality in ministry. We might have a great vision for girls’ ministry and serve long and hard, but for some reason God removes us from our place of service. Like Moses, maybe someone else will come in and take your vision to a new and different level. When the presence of God defines you, there will be no argument, no response; you will be completely at peace with whatever circumstance comes your way. I encourage you to seek Him in solitude today—for that is the place where the peace comes.