After the death
Ezekiel 22:1-19 (A); 22:1-16 (S)
Amos 9:7-15 (A); Ezekiel 20:2-20 (S)
by Mark Huey
For the second week in a row due to calendar considerations (2012), our Torah study is a double portion. After the tragic and unexpected deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2), explicit instructions are given by the Lord to Moses on how Aaron and future high priests were to formally offer sacrifices at a specified time in order to restore Israel’s relationship with Him. As we see the description of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement at this point in the annual cycle (Leviticus 16:29), Torah students can be reminded that they have about six months or so, before this time is to be observed. The balance of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim deals specifically with God’s desire for Israel to be holy and sanctified. There are a series of both negative and positive commandments, dealing with a variety of issues, that will set the people apart from their pagan neighbors. As we read and contemplate Acharei Mot-Kedoshim this week, it should be an excellent time for personal examination regarding what the Lord requires of His sons and daughters—because from His perspective, personal holiness matters.
The Lord strongly desires a people who not only know and fear His holiness, but recognize that their individual and corporate holiness is necessary to maintain an intimate relationship with Him. With the spectacular fiery deaths of Aaron’s sons fresh in their minds, God specified that access to the Holy of Holies was restricted to the high priest on a designated day, after complying with absolute instructions on how to atone not only for his personal sin, but the corporate sins of Israel:
“Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they had approached the presence of the LORD and died. The LORD said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering…This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute. So the priest who is anointed and ordained to serve as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement: he shall thus put on the linen garments, the holy garments, and make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar. He shall also make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. Now you shall have this as a permanent statute, to make atonement for the sons of Israel for all their sins once every year.’ And just as the LORD had commanded Moses, so he did” (Leviticus 16:1-3, 29-34).
Of course, for Believers in Yeshua the Messiah and His atoning sacrifice, there is confidence that the ultimate sacrifice for human sin has been completed. Yeshua’s own sacrifice allows the redeemed in Him access to the holiest place in Heaven:
“For the Law, since it has…a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. THEN I SAID, “BEHOLD I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD”’ [Psalm 40:6-8]. After saying above, ‘SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them’ [Psalm 40:6] (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, ‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL’ [Psalm 40:7]. He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Yeshua the Messiah once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET [Psalm 110:1]. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, ‘THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,’ He then says, ‘AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE’ [Jeremiah 31:33]. Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Yeshua, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:1-23).
However, even with these assurances from the Apostolic Scriptures that the ultimate sacrifice for sin has been made—it remains incumbent for Messiah followers to be fully informed about what the Lord states regarding blood, moral physical relationships, and proper ethical treatment of neighbors in the community. One cannot appreciate Yeshua’s work, unless one appreciates the Torah that foretold of His work (Hebrews 10:1). By being reminded of these commands on a regular basis by studying the Torah—especially in view of the permanence of Yom Kippur—modern-day Believers in the Messiah have a definite responsibility to not be ignorant when it comes to how they should conduct their lives. After all, while there is forgiveness for sins of commission and omission, the universal principle that a person reaps what is sown will always apply (cf. Galatians 6:7-8). If God’s people desire to be holy, as He is holy, then it is critical to review what He has stated in His Word—so that we might be obedient to His commandments. This is why I am most elated, that the Lord has led many people, both Jewish and non-Jewish Believers together, to the practice of studying through the Torah on an annual basis.
As the reading turns from the Day of Atonement, it becomes apparent that the Lord wanted His people to have a comprehensive understanding about blood, as it was a vital part of animal life. Since blood is used in the sacrificial offerings, the Lord wanted the community of Israel to be aware of the fact that the life of animal flesh is found in its blood, and should be treated with great respect:
“And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.’ So when any man from the sons of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, in hunting catches a beast or a bird which may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.’ When any person eats an animal which dies or is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or an alien, he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and remain unclean until evening; then he will become clean. ‘But if he does not wash them or bathe his body, then he shall bear his guilt’” (Leviticus 17:10-16).
While the Lord has already given instructions about clean and unclean animals fit for human consumption (Leviticus 11), these specific details about blood have been used to develop a proper way to handle the blood of animals that are to be eaten. Blood is to not only be respected—but not eaten or consumed—because the blood is the literal “life” of the animal. So important was this for the First Century Jewish community, that the Apostolic decree decisively prohibited the non-Jewish Believers coming to faith, to consume blood (Acts 15:20, 29), as a definite part of eating kosher. Yet, what does it mean if followers of the Messiah are not aware of these laws—and are more conditioned by various cultural mores? Thankfully by reviewing and adhering to these instructions, we can allow the Holy Spirit to direct us back to an appropriate path, and receive forgiveness from the Lord from whatever immediate or long term consequences—whether spiritual and/or physical—have been incurred as a result of ingesting blood.
After these explicit instructions about how to handle blood, the Torah turns to a lengthy description about proper sexual contact. Apparently, not only in Egypt, but also in Canaan, these pagan cultures were involved in all kinds of sexual relationships that were improper and considered abominable by the Lord. Thankfully, what the Lord considers moral and proper relationships between people has been historically instituted in much of Western civilization because of the influence of Judeo-Christian values. But with the decline of societal standards in modern times, many of these abominable practices are becoming acceptable to an increasing number of the ill-advised population:
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “I am the LORD your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the LORD your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD”’” (Leviticus 18:1-5).
While reading through Leviticus ch. 18, one will discover the varieties of incest considered improper, bestiality forbidden, and homosexuality considered an abomination. Hopefully, despite a Twentieth and Twenty-First Century cultural decline, by reviewing God’s standards for proper sexual activity, followers of the Messiah will be given the resolve to stand up for what the Creator has stated is appropriate. But whether one recalls the vile sexual sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, or rereads the description of Paul in Romans ch. 1 regarding the nations’ rejection of God—one should recognize that these deviant human choices will seemingly always be something with which societies will have to contend:
“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:24-32).
By just reviewing the sordid list of the consequences of being given over to degrading passions, one can better understand why so much sin runs rampant throughout a society unable to stifle these vile practices. Hence, the reinforcement of annually rereading these prohibitions should not only prevent one from ever considering them, but also be able to carefully direct others to the truth—that they might receive the mercy of a Loving God and be stirred to repentance. Those called into God’s community of faithful Believers should recognize how final judgment of those in sexual sin reside with the offender—but they should be able to intelligibly and reasonably explain why God considers sexual actions between people, outside of the bonds of a heterosexual, monogamous marriage relationship, to be totally unacceptable.
Upon turning to Leviticus chs. 19-20, readers encounter ordinances and statutes given by the Lord, to surely enable Israel to be the kingdom of priests and holy nation (Exodus 19:6) that He desires. In many respects, these two chapters are an amplification of the Decalogue, by intensifying the substance of the Ten Commandments. This section begins and ends with the explicit direction for Israel to be holy, as God is holy:
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God. Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods; I am the LORD your God”’” (Leviticus 19:1-4).
“Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).
Walking in a holy, sanctified manner, does not just happen because someone is either born into Israel, and/or calls oneself a follower of Yeshua. What are some of the ways that God’s people can maintain a degree of holiness? The Torah goes into detail, enumerating instructions that include, but are surely not limited to: reverence for parents, keeping the Sabbath, avoiding idol worship, not stealing, not lying, and not profaning the Lord’s name. One of the most important instructions to be followed pertains to respect and love for neighbors:
“You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:13-18).
Yeshua expounded upon Leviticus 19:18, in some rather profound teaching, about how to walk in a manner that exudes holiness. In His well-known teaching on the good Samaritan, when a lawyer asked what was required to inherit eternal life, Yeshua shared the story of someone robbed on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. After comparing what a priest and a Levite did, with how the Samaritan dealt with his neighbor, Yeshua queried the lawyer with a question that has an obvious answer:
“And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ [Deuteronomy 6:5]. And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE’ [Leviticus 18:5]. But wishing to justify himself, he said to Yeshua, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Yeshua replied and said, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.” Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Yeshua said to him, ‘Go and do the same’” (Luke 10:25-37).
As you read this familiar passage, and recall from our Torah portion the ways one should treat his or her neighbor—we find that Yeshua took loving one’s neighbor to a higher level. While there is no explicit instruction in Leviticus ch. 19 to give a person help if he or she was found on the side of the road, Yeshua required that one extend mercy and help in time of need. Early in His ministry, Yeshua expounded His teaching on judging others, with how treating others as you would choose to be treated, is a key part of a walk of faith exemplifying holiness:
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:1-12).
Note how in Yeshua’s conclusion, that treating others as you would want to be treated, is derived from the Torah and the Prophets. If people are not studying the Torah and Prophets, and being reminded of what the Lord has declared, then how are they ever going to know what He expects of them? While some Believers via the Spirit might understand a few things, specificity of good works required of God’s people may be significantly missed. This is why studying Torah is so essential, so that Messiah followers cannot only know what it says—but so that they can allow its principles to be truly ingrained in the heart and mind. What can be lost, in the good works required of God’s people, if you, for example, fail to study the instruction about withholding wages or leaving the corners of a field unharvested? What might this tell us about the poor and destitute in society, who need help?
Child Sacrifice Forbidden
Perhaps one of the vilest sins described, in this section of Scripture, was the Ancient Near Eastern practice of offering up children to appease the god Molech. For modern-day Believers, this passage can be commonly associated with the abomination of abortion on demand, where if a child is conceived, a woman can simply choose to dispose of it. Yet, offering an infant child to Molech was much different, as the metal idol would be heated, and then the helpless child would be burned alive—its screams perhaps being regarded as some kind of worship. Those who would offer children to Molech, a sin that persisted in much of the history of the Tanakh, are those who would surely incur the anger of the Lord for far more than just idolatry:
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘You shall also say to the sons of Israel: “Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will also set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name. If the people of the land, however, should ever disregard that man when he gives any of his offspring to Molech, so as not to put him to death, then I Myself will set My face against that man and against his family, and I will cut off from among their people both him and all those who play the harlot after him, by playing the harlot after Molech. As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. You shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you. If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him. If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death”’” (Leviticus 20:1-10).
To practice any of the detestable practices listed above, would merit one severe consequences. If the Holy One was so concerned about these pagan practices to include them in the Torah—perhaps being reminded of them will instill in modern-day Messiah followers a desire to pray for those caught up in these sorts of abhorrent acts, even with a few modern twists and differences. Perhaps given the opportunity to confront, hopefully in love, those participating in these practices, we can turn to these Scripture passages to reveal what God has declared. In so doing, we can hope that His Spirit will convict and turn people from their wicked ways, with an ample opportunity for them to be transformed by the good news of salvation in Yeshua!
As Acharei Mot-Kedoshim winds down, the overwhelming number of ordinances that are encountered, both positive and negative, need some time for reflection. If while reading and contemplating them, you were convicted of a time when you might have indulged yourself in one or part of one of these actions—perhaps you should go back and confess your sin to the Lord, asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness for sin is available to all, but does require confession and repentance. Yet, being informed from God’s Word regarding what He considers sin to be is necessary, if there is to be a true compulsion to ask for forgiveness, and a commitment made to the process of ongoing sanctification.
Personally speaking, I can remember a time years ago, when first going through the Torah, that I was confronted by the following verse:
“Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:31).
Upon reading this verse, the Holy Spirit brought to mind not only my previous readings of horoscopes, but also times when I played on an Ouija Board, before I became a Believer. While for years I had not consulted a horoscope or played the game, for some reason I was convicted that I had once placed some credence on these means of predicting the future or my good fortune. So, I took the time to confess my sin of ignorance and ask God for forgiveness. Since then, whenever I see a horoscope listing in the paper or magazine, I do not even bother to read it, but am simply reminded of my repentance and how easy it is for people to get distracted by things that God forbids. While this is a simple example, perhaps going back through these Torah portions and asking God to bring to mind some things that were done in ignorance, may just initiate a time of confession and repentance.
After all, God is forever asking His people to be holy—because from His perspective, holiness matters:
“Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).