Leviticus and Numbers: the Qualitative and Quantitative Love of God

cross-106416_960_720Would you believe Leviticus and Numbers are two of my favorite books in the Bible?  I know…they can seem complex, redundant, and even weird.  But I hope to help you see that they are truly incredible expressions of God’s love.  If that isn’t clear and convincing, it’s probably because Satan, the world, and our flesh daily try to redefine real love.

Yes, a major part of love certainly involves good feelings.  And love includes attraction, encouraging words, and gifts.  But all of those can also exist in relationships that are self-centered and ultimately adulterous.  The three truest marks of love of love are 1) an absolute purity so nothing spoils the relationship, 2) an exclusive commitment (the combination of 1 and 2, God’s Word calls “holiness”) and 3) self-sacrifice for the other person’s good:  “grace”.  When those are present, incredibly good feelings, attraction, encouragements, gifts, and more will flow.  But even in dry times, that true love will remain and even grow.

Leviticus is packed with detailed nuances of God’s holiness and grace, and Numbers takes inventory after inventory proving His power and faithfulness for His holiness and grace with His people.  Let’s take a closer look.  To keep this post relatively brief, we’ll only cover a few major themes – just enough to whet your thirst to look even closer in your own future studies.

One of the first things we notice in Leviticus is that there’s blood everywhere.  It could be the set of a horror film, except the blood is not ours or any threat to us.  It’s a picture of rescue.  The Lord is so holy (pure and requiring exclusive commitment) that He requires death for failing to keep His commands, but He is also gracious.  The blood is proof of His love, foreshadowing the provision of Jesus’ self-sacrifice in the place of unfaithful lovers.

Every time we read Leviticus, we should recall the book of Hebrews.  There God encourages His people that Jesus is both their perfect High Priest and the Lamb that was slain in their stead (Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:3, 10:12, 13:11-15, etc.)  That’s why the Israelites weren’t to eat blood.   Blood is the physical life of people (Genesis 9:4).  Only God gives life, so only God may end life (or direct others to act on His behalf).  Blood also pictures the way to spiritual life that only comes through Jesus (Leviticus 23:4-8, Luke 22:7-20, 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, etc.).

Neither were they to eat any fat because it pictured God’s love in the form of encouraging material gifts.  Those, too, come only by His grace, not by our work (Genesis 4:4-5, 45:18, Leviticus 3:16-17).  In fact, the word we translate as “glory” in the Old Testament comes from the original Hebrew, כָּבַד (kabad or kabed), which specifically means “weight” or “heavy”.  In western culture we’ve conveyed similar ideas in saying a person is “the big man on campus”, “heavy”, “phat”, or that a person’s words have “weight”.

The concept of fat and glory may be most clearly tied in the account of Eli and his wicked sons in 1 Samuel 2-4.  They were a family of priests who were to honor God as glorious, but his sons were fattening themselves on God’s offerings (1 Samuel 2:29).  And Eli had tried to warn them, but they wouldn’t listen (1 Samuel 2:25).  Why?  Clearly, Eli had been doing something similar for a long time, for he was כָּבַד “heavy” (1 Samuel 4:18) and died under his fat (weight or glory) that should have gone to God, not to himself or his sons.

Only God is completely glorious, so we are to give all the “weight” to Him alone.  How is this an encouragement to us?  God is telling us, “If you want to see real hope and help for strength, wisdom, joy, and everything wonderful, look at Me alone.”  Anyone or anything else will fail us and only feed our appetites for more selfishness and more disappointment.

So what’s going all with the prohibitions against eating carnivores, creepy crawlies, and having mildew in our house?  These, too, are to remind us of God’s holiness and grace.  Because of our rebellion against God, this world is cursed and contagious.  We can never think or act as if this place is or ever will be anything like a heaven on earth.  So we’re not to be overly attached to this earth in any way.  Like any good parent who lovingly warns their children “Don’t eat that…in fact, don’t even touch it!’, God was lovingly guarding them against slippery slopes of spiritual danger.  It wasn’t because those things were inherently bad.  We see in Acts 10 that the Lord commanded Peter to eat unclean animals as a sign of bringing the Gospel to Gentiles whom the Jews had considered dirty.  But three times the Lord told him, “Do not call anything unclean that I have made clean.” (Acts 10:15)  Again, a good parent knows to guard their ignorant and/or indulgent children much worse dangers.  We can enjoy many things in this world, but we are to avoid even the appearance of clinging to anything of this world.  Nothing here can provide us with real, lasting hope or help.

And what about the requirement to eat only animals with a split hoof but not pigs?  At first glance, the cleft hooves of pigs seem to illustrate vertical separation (from this cursed earth) and horizontal separation (from the wicked people here).  For the Lord had told His people to be separate.  But pigs will also eat anything indiscriminantly, clean or filthy.  They don’t care what they take into themselves.  Outwardly, they live the same way, frolicking in mud and their own dung.  But God’s people are to be pure.

And what about all the requirements to cleanse themselves from touching bodily fluids?  We might not want to believe it, so the Lord verbally and symbolically tells us over and over again, “Nothing truly good comes from you without My cleansing work.”  Think about it.  Our bodies consume life-giving oxygen, food and water.  But what do we produce?  Carbon dioxide, feces, uric acid, and ammonia:  poisons.  Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), without His grace of Self-sacrifice.  And over and over, Leviticus shows His love by grace.

Leviticus communicates the qualitative holiness and grace of God, and Numbers quantifies His great power and faithfulness to holiness and grace.  This is easier to see.  But if we are impatient and skip the detailed accounting, we can miss the point and the proofs.

Numbers begins and ends with a census:  an inventory of the people He rescued from slavery and brought to Himself by grace for holy relationship.  He numbers His warriors and priests in chapters 1-4, lesson-reviews of His holiness in chapters 5-6, and detailed images of holy and gracious worship in chapters 7-10.  And why does the Lord do this?  Because we quickly forget His blessings and how they came (Deuteronomy 8:11-19).

In fact, isn’t that exactly what happens in most of Numbers 11-17?  So, in chapters 18-19 the Lord reiterates how the mediation of the priests is to be their way to forgiveness, foreshadowing the perfect Priest to come, Christ Jesus.  Yet in chapter 19, they complain again.  And for five more chapters (20-24), He numbers Balak’s failed attempts to curse God’s people, the people who survived God’s discipline for another idolatry (25-26), the four women (out of hundreds of thousands) whom the Lord blessed because they petitioned Him through His mediator (chapter 27), the offerings and vows picturing their responsive faithfulness to God (28-30), their enemies whom God defeated (31), and which of Israel’s tribes settled where after the Lord effectively brought them from slavery in Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land (32-36).

But why does God quantify His love for His people?  For at least two reasons.

First, quantifying love brings greater confidence in that love.  Several years ago I heard a joke that powerfully makes the point.  And elderly man was sitting at the breakfast table with his nose in the newspaper.  His frail wife was seated quietly across from him.  Finally, when she could take it no more, she leaned forward to gently pull the paper down, looked him in the eyes and asked, “Dear, do you love me?’  Her husband responded, “Honey, I told you when we got married 50 years ago that I loved you.  If that ever changes, I’ll let you know.”  Somehow, I doubt that groom built his bride’s confidence.

But God’s Bride has a perfect Groom (Ezekiel 36, Matthew 9:15, Ephesians 5:25-32, Revelation 22:17).

The second reason is much more basic and necessary.  Each time God quantifies His love, He reminds us that He is the most wonderful, jealous Lover for exclusive commitment (Exodus 20:5 and 34:14, Numbers 25:1-13, Deuteronomy 4:24, Joshua 24:19, Joel 2:18, 1 Corinthians 10:22, James 4:5, etc.).  Over time in Numbers, we would expect the second census to reveal even more people, but it reveals fewer people (compare Numbers 1:46 and Numbers 14:51).  The holy Lord purified His people of unfaithfulness.  Not all who came out of Egypt entered into the Promised Land.  In fact, the Lord disciplined even Moses to show that the deepest part of love is exclusive commitment to Him and His holiness (Numbers 20:10-13).

God’s Word clearly shows that Moses was one of His people, and he will be with the Lord forever (Matthew 17:3, Hebrews 11:23, etc.).  But the Lord wants us to know for certain that we need His grace for holiness, not only to cover our past, but to enable our future.

There’s a reason the old hymn encourages to “Count His blessings, name them one-by-one.  Count His blessings see what God has done.”  In this life, we struggle with the failings of our flesh.  We imagine God in our image instead of remembering that He created us to live and love in His image.

Maybe you are familiar with Isaiah 55:8-9, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.   For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  I had always thought that referenced the unknowable grand scheme of God’s plan.  But it’s much simpler and more intimate than that.  Look at the whole chapter, and you’ll see that He’s talking about His love for His people:  exclusive commitment for a pure relationship by His grace.

We think He is like us, but He is perfectly faithful.  We forget that real life is in our relationship with Him and that all of our material blessings are to point us back to encourage an even closer relationship of holiness by His grace.  We sometimes neglect to rejoice in our Creator and the Re-Creator of our hearts and begin worshiping His creation.  Yet, numbering the ways He has blessed us for holy relationship by grace is crucial.

God is the great, great Father of His people by the purifying work of His Son and the transforming power of His Spirit.  We see that qualitatively and quantitatively in His Word.

 

If you’re interested in reading other posts from this series, “Satisfaction Sundays”, you can refer to the menu above.  You can also click on the following link for inductive Bible studies on the shorter books of Scripture, Understanding and Applying the Bible, or studies in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, or you can subscribe to tool4trenches.net/

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