Ever been on a diet? Whether the goal is to lose hundreds of pounds, get ready for summer, or just get to a healthier weight, dieting is both extremely popular and largely looked down upon. It gets the job done, sure. But once the job is done, the diet is done. And once the diet is done, the work oftentimes gets undone. There’s no consistency to dieting. That’s why doctors instead suggest making bite-size, maintainable lifestyle changes – changes you can keep for a long, long time.
Kinda like a Levite priest tending the lamps in the tabernacle. God reiterates this instruction in this chapter, explaining that olive oil should be kept burning in the lamps in the tabernacle continuously. Talk about expensive. In addition, twelve loaves of bread were to be baked weekly and set out on the pure gold table in the tabernacle. It was a food offering, and it was a lot of work. Thankfully, Aaron and his sons got to eat the bread (verse 9).
Things are looking simple and straightforward, just like the other rules and regulations chapters, until BOOM. A frightening anecdote drops out of nowhere into the chapter and onto your chest. A half-Israelite, half-Egyptian kid gets into a fight and curses God’s name. He’s taken to the principal’s office, aka Moses. And then, God tells them to kill him. And they do. What’s more, everyone takes part in stoning him. “Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death”, God says. Well, who’s next?
The Treasures Within:
Are you a Priest or an Israelite?
This chapter has two extreme moods, two extreme anecdotes, and thus describes two extreme types of people. The wicked and the perfect. The faithful lamp-burners and the God-cursers. The people who deserve to die and the people who don’t. “Pick one”, the chapter seems to say. Obviously we want to be like the priests. No one wants to end up dead for something that slips out of their mouth. But is that even fair? Be perfect or be killed – these are the options, laid out neatly in a chapter divided almost exactly in half. Is this an impossible choice?
Why so serious?
Why was God so serious about what the Israelite did in this chapter? Fights are heated. They’re emotional. People say and do things they don’t mean when they’re angry or provoked. Who knows what the fight was about or what was going through the kid’s mind when he blasphemed God’s name? Couldn’t he have gotten a pass or a warning? Anything less extreme than a whole stoning?
But wait, are we judging this story by what we know? I’m not a lawyer, and chances are you aren’t either, but even lawyers and judges don’t have all the information necessary to make a fair judgment. The only Person who has all the information at all times is our heavenly Judge. He took the bench in this situation. He knew what the fight was about, what all parties were thinking, what the young man had done in his past, and more, and more. But what we also forget is that God knew the crime. We see the words “blasphemed the Name” and we think “oh, he took God’s name in vain. That happens all the time.” But God knows what it means.
Your world and my world are so ordinary. Well-known. Predictable. I’m sitting in a cubicle at work, under fluorescent lights, in a building near a stoplight, where hundreds of cars will stop and go all day and all week and all year. If I take God’s name in vain, right now, nothing really changes. It doesn’t affect my cubicle, my building, or those cars. Life as I know it goes on. That’s how so many sins feel. But right now God sits above the circle of the Earth. He sees my cubicle, my stoplight, and those cars; but He also sees the past and He sees the future. He sees suffering. He sees death. He sees hopelessness. And He knows, without a shadow of a doubt, exactly how to escape. How to survive. How to get to fresh air. He also knows that any sin will snatch us away from that escape. This truth fills Him – He knows it in His bones – but we don’t. And He just wants us to get it. To despise sin. To loathe to touch it even with a ten foot pole. So He allows the deaths, the consequences because if we see what sin is, maybe we’ll understand. We’ll forsake sin. We’ll live. And that way He’d never have to face the thought of living without us. Do we get it?
God’s Message To Us:
“Forever”. So back to the question. Are you a priest or are you an Israelite? Are we perfect angels or hardened criminals? I don’t think anyone has any doubt. We’re not perfect. We can’t even be perfect for a single hour, much less a lifetime. Thankfully, it’s not us who has to light those lamps every day in the tabernacle of our hearts – it’s the priest, our High Priest. His perfection was made a substitute for our imperfection two thousand years ago. The only thing He asks from us is permission – to light our hearts on fire and continuously attend them. If we let Him in, we won’t blaspheme His name. We won’t choose sin at all. But that requires consistency – we can’t take a break from God, blowing out our candles as we head to have some fun. That’s foreign, unnatural, a rewrite of our very DNA — but nothing is impossible with God. Steadiness, consistency, and, yes, perfection are all in Him. He wants us to have that. “Forever”, He whispers to us. What do our hearts whisper back?
What do you think? What did you think about this chapter? Is it possible to obey God forever?