Holy, or an Eye for an Eye

Me, me, me, me ,me. That seems to be the prayer life that I have: my worries, my concerns, my needs, my desires, my wants. I give thanks, I praise, I repent, I petition for others as well as myself, and all of that is good, and as it should be. But then I read a passage like the one in Leviticus 24 about the holiness of God and I am startled by the sheer number of ‘I’s” in my prayers as reflected in the previous sentence. The passage I am referring to is really the entire chapter itself which starts out innocuously enough with yet another set of instructions for the people of Israel, these concerning the Lamp that was to be lit and the bread for the Table; both of which were to be a continual duty of the Israelites in the tabernacle. After these instructions comes a narrative about a man who fought with another Israelite and blasphemed the Name of God. The account details how the people brought the man to Moses who then issued the decree from God that the man was to be stoned, which in the course of events, he was. In this narrative is the famous and oft repeated “eye for an eye” rule of justice. It is God’s voice who gives this direction, this rule for dealing with sin in the camp of Israel. In Leviticus we have plenty of examples of what the consequences are for various sins as well as the offerings necessary for the atonement of each and which types of sins are the ones where only death will cleanse the camp. A careful read of this book will give the reader a sense that the holiness of God is something that God demanded be revered and protected by the people. One gets the definite sense that it is that holiness among the people that God was deigning to incorporate through the myriad rules and statutes that He commanded. You see the layers of separation between sin and God in the way the priesthood was set up, the design of the tabernacle, and the various types of offerings commanded for each type and level of transgression. You see that the people of Israel, with God at their center were to be set apart from any other people on the earth and that they were to reflect, if not embody, the holy perfection of their Creator. This passage struck me as a concise depiction of that overarching plan of God for Israel. And it shows that the point of our relationship with God is not merely self-centered and focused on ‘me’; even if my focus includes the petition for and consideration of others in my sphere. The point of our relationship, as clearly summed up in chapter 24 of Leviticus is to see God as holy and to understand just how holy He really is. The chapter begins with the expectation that the lamp will be continually lit, that its light will be kept burning continually before the veil covering the Ark of the Covenant. It tells how the showbread should be arranged on the table in the tabernacle, again regularly, as a sign of people’s covenant with God. These two details of the tabernacle ritual show that God expected the people to honor their covenant with Him daily and to use these ceremonial practices to remind them of their relationship to Him. These two items sat in the tabernacle outside the Most Holy place where the ark was kept. It was on the ark that the presence of God rested. It was at this point that the Almighty came to earth and lived with men. This Most Holy place was in the center of the camp of Israel, separated from them by the adjacent Holy place of the tabernacle, by the curtain that surrounded the tabernacle courtyard, by the high priest and his priests, and by the many rituals for atoning for unintentional and intentional sin. Understanding this regard for the Holiness of God,

and the need for all of these layers of separation in order for God to ‘tabernacle’ among the people without His holiness consuming them in their sin is important for what follows. The account of the woman of Israel and her son is placed in this chapter as a practical illustration of the reality of living with the holiness of God. It shows that the ceremony and the ritual were put in place not to appease a selfish God but to protect the people from His grandeur. It is impossible for Him to experience un-holiness in His presence for His very being burns up anything that is not pure. If He were to live among them it had to be understood that there were very real conditions that had to be met. This man, not a full Israelite because his father was Egyptian, argued with a ‘man of Israel’ and in the course of their argument blasphemed the Name of God. Blasphemy is to speak against God, against His person, against His nature, to use language that is in opposition to His holiness. It might be vain language such as cursing, or it might be outright opposition and defiance, but it is met with definite consequence. The one thing that God expected of His people was that they remember His holiness and to revere Him. He states in Leviticus 10:3, “Among those who are near Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.” God said this when Nadab and Abihu were destroyed for presuming to offer ‘fire’ to the Lord. This blasphemer was condemned to death by stoning in order for that reverence to be preserved. God used that occasion to explain for us His reasoning behind such drastic measures. In the passage following, vs. 17-22, God expounds the rule for us. The ‘eye for an eye’ rule states that for every offense an equal consequence must be meted out. An injury done to one is met with a like injury to the other. A broken bone, a knocked out tooth, a dead animal; all are met with a like punishment for the offender. A death caused by a member of the congregation has to result in the offender’s own death in order for order to be restored and for the holiness of the camp to be preserved. The nations that lived in the land before the Israelites arrived were being rooted out before them by God because they had failed to live according to righteousness. They were idolaters and murderers, fornicators and wicked. Their sin polluted not only themselves but the land itself. Leviticus 18:24-25 reads, “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” At this time in history the way for the people to remain pure and to live with God in their midst was for sin to be rooted out from among them methodically and definitively. This exposition on an ‘eye for an eye’ shows us something else as well. It shows us that blasphemy is equivalent to ‘killing’ God. God’s very own explanation of His punishment of this son of an Israelite woman is that like has to meet with like: tooth for tooth, bone for bone, life for life. Therefore the consequence for blaspheming the Name of God had to be death. This shows us that in regards to the holiness of God we are to think very seriously about our actions, our words, our very thoughts about Him and our relationship to Him. His holiness is utmost because it is His very self; it is what by nature He is. There can be no other consequence for the blaspheming of His Name other than the destruction of the blasphemer. And so, You, You, You, You, You. This is a more appropriate refrain to keep running through our prayer life. It is a more appropriate thought to keep in one’s mind and heart as we work our way through our life with Him. If we deign to call ourselves by the Name of God, if we dare to assume the Name Christian then we must also recognize the duty to

assume the reverence for the Name itself. Plenty of men are recorded in scripture as dying for forgetting this important fact of life with God. Men have been burned up, swallowed by the earth, and killed in plagues that ravaged the entire congregation. Even in the New Testament we read of two who sought to deceive God with their offering to His church and they were felled right in the midst of the fellowship. Our relationship to God two thousand years from the working of our salvation on the cross is no different than it was for the people six thousand years ago(or so) as they approached the Promised Land. God is still Holy. He still demands us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48) and we still have a duty to revere His Name with our words, our thoughts, and our actions. Amen?

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