‘Sin Crouching at the Door’ or ‘A Sin Offering at the Gate’: Michael Morales on Genesis 4:7

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If you do well, will you not be accepted?
And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.
Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
— Genesis 4:7 —

In one of the best books I read last year—a biblical theology of Leviticus—Michael Morales (Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?offers an alternative reading to Genesis 4:7. Actually, he recalls a traditional reading found in commentators like Adam Clarke (1762–1832), Adoniram Judson (1788–1850), Young’s Literal Translation (1862), Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown (1877), and Matthew Henry (1662–1714) (p. 57n51).

Commenting on the way sin crouches at the door, he argues that the language could also be render “sin offering,” and that there is good reason for seeing the door, or gate, is the place where the sons of Adam brought their sin offerings—or, should have brought their sin offerings.

I appreciate this interpretation as it pays careful attention to the cultic themes of Genesis (i.e., temple, sacrifice, priesthood) and the way it explains in more objective terms why Cain’s offering is rejected and Abel’s is accepted. The reason? The former rejected God’s Word and Gods’ way; he brought a sacrifice of his own choosing, rather than the sin offering which God prescribed. Meanwhile, Abel brought a offering which responded to God’s Word in faith and sought atonement for his sin.

Read in the context of Moses’s five books, this seems like a superior interpretation, as Morales explains further. Continue reading

Adam as Prophet, Priest and King, and the Bible as the Story of ‘Three Sons’

leviticusWhat has been the best book you have read in 2018? For me, it has been a 300+ page study on Leviticus. Yes, Leviticus!

In Who Shall Ascend the Hill of the Lord? A biblical theology of the book of Leviticus, Michael L. Morales gives the reader a biblical feast. From considering the literary shape of the Pentateuch to the goal of the Yom Kippur (The Day of the Lord), from considering the typology of the tabernacle to the priestly role of Adam, Morales’ book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the system of mediation outlined in the books of Moses.

Even more, the whole book helps the Bible student to learn how to read the Bible and to understand God’s covenantal purposes for bringing his people into his presence. For these reasons, I would highly recommend this book. For now, let me share a quotation that demonstrates the richness of his study.

Adam as Prophet, Priest and King, and the Bible as the Story of Three Sons

Making a bevy of intra-biblical connections, Morales explains how Adam functioned as a prophet, priest, and king. Moreover, he explains how the whole story of the Bible can be explained along the lines of God’s Son—from Adam to Israel to Christ.

Without comment, I will share his words. I pray they stir up your affections for God as much as they did me.

Davidic kingship, then, is (1) rooted in YHWH’s kingship and (2) an inheritance of Adam’s roles as son of God. In reality, all three offices of anointing (prophets, priests, and kings) possess an Adamic role, and are oriented by the mountain of God. Indeed, as to the Adamic role, it is possible to comprehend the progress of redemptive history according to what we may call ‘God’s three sons’:

  • Adam was the first firstborn, who functioned as prophet, priest, and king.
  • Secondly, God created a corporate firstborn son, Israel. (Due to humanity’s estate of sin and misery there was a separation of powers, as it were, with the distribution of the offices of prophet, priest and king among the members of Israel distinctly.)
  • Finally, as the last Adam and true Israel, the Son of God dawned, as prophet, priest and king, now conforming humanity to himself as the image and likeness of God.

As to the offices being oriented by the mountain of God, we have already observed in a previous chapter how the high priest’s office is focused upon and validated by his annual entrance into the summit of the architectural mountain of God, the holy of holies, on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). Similarly, kings were enthroned upon God’s holy mountain, and prophets were sent from it. The king, at his coronation, was installed upon God’s holy mountain, reigning from the earthly Zion as a reflection of YHWH’s reign from the heavenly Zion (Ps. 2). And to become a servant of YHWH, a prophet had first to encounter him at the mountain of God and then be sent forth from it as a messenger (Isa. 6; Exod. 3:1-10). Since all three offices are cultic, functioning distinctly for the same divine goal, one may see how kingship in ancient Israel accorded with what I have argued to be the Pentateuch’s major theme: the Davidic king reigned to shepherd humanity to the house of God upon the mountain of God. (Who Shall Ascend the Hill of the Lord?, 235–36. Bullet points mine.)

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Finding Life in Leviticus 19: Ten Gospel Notes for Social Justice Warriors

commandments-311202__480The Ten Commandments are listed twice in the Old Testament—once in Exodus 20; once in Deuteronomy 5. They are also explicated at least twice. After each list (Exodus 21–23 and Deuteronomy 12–25), Moses specifies and applies the Lord’s “ten words.” This means that we do not need to wait for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7) to get an inspired interpretation and application of these commands. There is, within the Torah itself, explanation and application.

In fact, there is one other passage on the Ten Commandments which stands between Exodus and Deuteronomy. In Leviticus 19 Moses records the holy standards of God and makes personal application to the people of Israel. In reading this chapter recently, I took note of ten observations related to the content and context of these laws. I share them here to help us to better understand the good purposes of God’s Law, and specifically to show how many modern desires are best fulfilled by God’s all-sufficient Word.

In short, Leviticus 19 is not an archaic list of do’s and don’ts; it is actually a personal application of the Law which deals with so many of the issues Social Justice Warriors seek out. Only because these “laws” are grounded in the personal, holy love of Israel’s God, they retain their life-giving shape—something that no human set of ordinances can ever do.

Take time to read Leviticus 19 and consider how these laws give life by leading members of God’s covenant to trust in him. Continue reading

From Capital Punishment to Christ’s Propitiation: What Leviticus 20:13 Means for Christians Today

 

orlando-tragedy

In the wake of the Orlando shooting, our summer intern (Timothy Cox) and I drew up a biblical response for our church. Our hopes were to clarify the differences between the Bible and the teachings of Islam. Although one Bible verse (Leviticus 20:13), taken out of context, calls for the death of gays and lesbians, Christians should never accept this as a blanket endorsement for the violence we witnessed in Orlando. Rather, Christians must defend the poor and oppressed without running roughshod over the Bible. The fulfillment of the law is love (Romans 13:8), and thus as the sacrificial love of Christ constrains us to share the gospel of grace and truth with a lost and dying world, so it compels us to rightly interpret Scripture so that we may be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in the gospel. That was the intention behind this article. 

May God use these words to clarify what Scripture does and does not teach about capital punishment, so that Christians would love *all* their neighbors. And may all our neighbors know the propitiating love of God promised in the Law and fulfilled in Christ.

**********

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us
and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
— 1 John 4:10 —

In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, where 49 people were killed and over 50 injured at a gay night club, Christians weep for the loss of life and are left wondering what to say or do. On social media, trending topics have included gun control, terrorism, homophobia and Islamic extremism. In light of the terrorist’s professed allegiance to ISIS and other radical Islamic groups, it is especially important for Christians to distinguish between the Quran’s teaching on homosexuality and the Bible’s. Now, more than ever, it is important we convey gospel-centered compassion, even as we hold firm to biblical truth.

In order to do that, we must look at Leviticus 20:13:

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death.”

Read by itself, this passage may seem to catch Bible-believing Christians red-handed with a verse that proves their Bible needs to be updated or abandoned. However, because the Bible is not a collection of individual sayings; Leviticus 20:13 must be read in light of its historical and covenantal context. Indeed, only a whole-Bible theology of sexual ethics and capital punishment can rightly explain this verse.

With this in mind, we will show why this verse does not permit violence against homosexuals, and why the Bible is fundamentally different than the Quran and Islam’s other holy books, which do endorse violence towards the LGBT community. In actuality, the command for capital punishment in Leviticus 20:13 becomes a pathway to Christ’s substitutionary death, not a harbinger of hate. Continue reading

Sermon Notes: How to Avoid Getting Lost on the Way from Leviticus 15 to Luke 15

On Monday, I suggested a five-fold system, a Gospel-Positioning System (GPS), to get you from obscure passages in the Law through the Prophets to Christ and the Gospel.  These five-steps are listed again.

1. Law
2A. Prophets: Judgment
2B: Prophets: Salvation
3: Christ
4: Gospel Response
5: Spirit-Empowered Action 

Today, I want to suggest four common errors that plague evangelicals today. Four ways we misread the Scriptures.

1. We skip from 1 to 5.  In pursuit of application and life-change, we read a command, a law, even a story, and we immediately move to application. Instead, of asking how the said pericope fits into the flow the Bible (i.e. textual, epochal, and canonical horizons), many of us move straight to activity.  This is wrong.  It misses the power of the law, the promise of the gospel, and the person of Jesus.  In effect, it makes the Bible about us, and no longer about Jesus.  The solution?  We must move from law through the prophets to Jesus Christ and then to us.  Personal application is vitally important but only after we encounter Christ.

2. We are afraid of 2A & 2B.  The prophets frighten us.  They are strange.  They don’t talk normal. They are hard to understand.  I get this!  I remember reading Isaiah 13-20 one time.  As I read the pronouncements against Babylon, Damascus, and Moab, I got upset.  Not because God was punishing these sinning nations, but because, “I needed a word from God, and this was not it”–so I thought.  I closed the Bible (for that day) upset, because I hadn’t seen how those words related to the rest of the Bible or my life.

If you have had an experience like that with the Prophets, it makes it hard to be a regular reader of that challenging genre.  Yet, to neglect the prophets is to neglect the greatest section of the Bible for fueling Christ-centered hope.

Maybe this will help: The prophets get a lot easier if we remember two things. First, they are speaking a word of judgment, based on the law against sinners like us.  Their words condemn covenant-breakers, social injustice, and unfaithful worship.  They speak to us about our sin.

Second, they are speaking a word of Messianic hope, based on the gospel. They give us glorious images of the Christ who is to come.  They offer salvation to sinful people, and the reality that God is going to bring recreate the world.  If we remember these two things and tie a rope from the law to the gospel, we can learn to walk thru these strange books.

3. We minimize 3.  This may sound strange, to minimize Jesus, but I have heard countless evangelical, Baptist preachers (and you have too) who preach and never mention Him.  Instead they list moral instructions from the life of Joseph or Caleb, and at the end say, “Unless you are Christian you cannot do what I just said.  So become a Christian.”

Friends, this is Christ-less preaching.  It has no power and I can hardly believe that a message without the content of Christ, will bring anyone nearer to our Lord and Savior.  In fact, it is disingenuous, to tell anyone to become a Christian after you have spent 40 minutes preaching moral lessons and not telling them about Christ.  Yet, this happens all too often.

4. We divorce 1-4 from 5.  If we are tempted to skip Jesus, we are more culpable of divorcing the gospel from application. In other words, we read the Bible for application, and we find all kinds of commands that say—Make disciples.  Love one another.  Be unified.  Forgive your enemies.  Turn the other cheek.

Yet, those commands have ZERO POWER, in and of themselves. These biblical commands are good, but in Scripture they are always set in relation to gospel promises.  To say it another way, imperatives are always grounded in gospel infinitives.  Why?  Because laws never produce godliness!  Grace produces godliness (Titus 2:11-13).

Jesus commands his disciples to be witnesses to all the nations, but he commands them to stay in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes so they will have power to do what he commands.  Paul tells us to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you.  The power is in the gospel.  Failure to couple commands with Christ’s antecedent work, will lead earnest Christians to live the Christian life in the power of their own strength.

Instead, we must move to application and action, but as we do so, we must continue to walk in faith, loving others out of the love that has been poured into our hearts.

This is my prayer and hope!  That as we read Scripture, our minds are not just informed.  Rather, our eyes are opened to behold Christ and to become like him. Indeed, Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified by his word (John 17:17), and that comes to fruition when in his word, we see Jesus (2 Cor 3:18).

Open our eyes, Lord to see the wonder of Christ in the pages of Scripture, dss

Gospel Themes in the Book of Leviticus

Reading Leviticus can be heavy sledding, but once you get familiar with the terrain, it can be incredibly profitable and encouraging.

For instance, this morning I was reading about the Feasts recorded in Leviticus 23.  For New Testament Christians, you should be able to see how these feasts, which were a part of Israel’s yearly calendar, point the way to Jesus Christ.  He is the Passover Lamb and his death corresponds to the Passover; Jesus’ Resurrection corresponds to the Feast of the Firstfruits, and of course the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurs on the Day of Pentecost.  Clearly, God was giving his OT saints spatial-temporal events to help prepare the way for His Son.

These events just mentioned have all been historically fulfilled in Jesus Christ and recorded in the Gospels and Acts.  However, we still look forward to the fulfillment of others, like the Feast of Trumpets and Jubilee (Lev 23-25).  Reading the account of the way that Jubilee initiates rest in the land and commands the restoration of all things, provides a hope-giving vision of what will occur at the end of the age, all things will be reconciled by Jesus Christ, things on heaven and things on earth (Col. 1:20).

So reading Leviticus typologically and eschatologically (e.g. with an eye towards Christ and all that he has done and still will do) makes the book come alive.  Here are a few other themes to look for in this rich book:

  • God’s holiness and mercy.  Leviticus 19:2 says, “Be holy because I am holy.”  Repeated throughout the book is this refrain that God is holy and he expects his people to be holy.  If any book in the Bible teaches the utter need to be holy, Leviticus is it.  To a Western Church today that minimizes holiness and maximizes assumed relationship with God, Leviticus is a helpful antidote.  The holiness codes and endless bloodshed teaches us that God will not relinquish his demand for our holiness.  He is just and cannot turn his back on our sin–consider the story of Nadab and Abihu.  Nevertheless, his mercy meets the demands of his holiness,
    and the book of Leviticus tells us how he does that–through the sacrificial system. 
  • Man’s sinfulness.  In the light of God’s holiness and mercy, we see mankind’s sinfulness and selfishness.  Nowhere is this more colorfully painted than in the death of Nadab and Abihu, two priests who offer strange fire and are consumed because they fail to treat God as holy.  The testimony of their death in Leviticus 10 along with all the laws required in Leviticus, should teach us that we cannot live by keeping the law (Lev 18:1-5), but rather we live by trusting in the mercy and provisionary grace of God himself.  He is our life, and his provision of a sacrificial system is the means by which we may live and relate to Him.
  • Man’s fallen condition.  We also learn about our own human nature in Leviticus.  For instance, it is not just sin that separates us from God, but our own corrupted physical bodies.  Leviticus 13 explains that bodily discharges make us unclean and consequently unacceptable to God, that is we cannot enter his presence with our uncleanness.  For human beings preoccupied with self–and we all are–this should humble us greatly.  Bad breath, body odor, diarrhea, constipation, skin lesions, dandruff, eczema and all other forms of bodily disfunction should remind us of our fallen condition, our imperfection, and our uncleanness.  Under the OT law, these sort of things would keep us from God, whose holiness and cleanliness is absolute.  He is pure and we are not.  Apart from Christ, even our humanness in its fallen condition separates us from God.
  • Blood.  We also see that blood soaks the pages of Leviticus.  So gory is the book, that it should be impossible to read Leviticus without coming away with a greater sense of our sinfulness before God.  At the same time, we should be struck by the way that all these blood offerings, where the life of an animal is substituted for the life of a man, remind us of the ultimate sacrifice and the blood that speaks a better word than all OT sacrifices.  Because of our sin, God requires blood, and yet he has not abandoned us to our own demise.  He has provided a way of re-entry, and every sacrifice is a reminder that God has made a way to be reconciled to him, through the blood of a sacrifice.  What is pictured in Leviticus is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 

 

If you are looking for more help with Leviticus, I encourage you to listen to Jay Sklar’s seven-week study on the book.  It is informative without being unnecessarily heady.  It will give you a greater appreciation for Leviticus, but even more than that, it will help you better understand the work of Jesus Christ and the gospel that is foretold in Leviticus.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Ten Ways to Help You Read Leviticus

What is the Bible about?

Well, if you are reading through the Bible this year, during the month of February, the Bible is all about food laws, leprosy inspections, and instructions about bodily discharges.  Exciting stuff!

For twenty-first century readers, understanding the significance of Leviticus, the book of the Bible where these things are found, can be difficult.  In fact, I am sure the book of Leviticus has been the rocky coast on which many Bible-reading plans have crashed.  Nevertheless, the book plays an important role in the life of the Christian, even as it played an important role in the lives of Ancient Israelites.  Granted, we live in a different redemptive era (post-Incarnation/Crucifixion/Resurrection/Ascension/Pentecost), but the truth is, to understand any of these NT events requires a general familiarity with the Levitical laws.

So, with the aim of reading the Bible better, I want to suggest 10 things to keep in mind as you read Leviticus, 10 things that you may find helpful as you make your way through the Bible in 2010.

  1. Pray.  Ask God to help you understand his Word.  The same Holy Spirit who dwells in you, if you are a believer, inspired these words.  He will guide you into all truth, just the Bible promises (John 16:13; 1 John 2:27).  He illumines our eyes and he bears witness to Christ and he will show you how Leviticus points to Jesus, if you will ask him (and then read).
  2. Remember that this is God’s word.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful.  The truth about Leviticus is:  IT IS USEFUL.  You just have to sort out how.  While it is true that not all sections of the Bible carry the same kind of “devotional punch””–compare Leviticus 1-7 with Isaiah 53–every word is inspired by God and necessary to complete his perfect revelation.  Moreover, every word carries precious truth that believers need, which leads to our next point.
  3. Recall that all Scripture is inter-connected.  Thus, a passage like Isaiah 53 with it address of sin, its sacrificial imagery and intercessory prayer requires the background that Leviticus provides.  Without Leviticus, Isaiah 53 is almost unintelligible.  In the NT, Leviticus is sixth on the list of books quoted by NT authors.  Excise Leviticus from the Bible, or your Bible reading, and it is impossible to understand what Jesus is saying when the Greatest Commandment includes loving your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18).  See also Rom 10:5’s use of Lev. 18:5, and 1 Peter 1:16 quotation of Leviticus 19:2).  Practically speaking, if reading Leviticus fails to stir your soul, read a chapter or two and then turn to Hebrews to see the fulfillment of Leviticus in Christ. 
  4. Recognize the symbolism.  The book of Leviticus is filled with symbolism.  God’s OT instructions are physical, tangible, and visible means of introducing himself to his people.  These sacrifices picture the kind of penalty sin requires, just as they demonstrate the kind of love that God has in providing a means of atonement and reconciliation.  In other words, read Leviticus typologically, looking for the types that find their antitype (i.e. fulfillment) in Jesus.
  5. Read with Christ in view. Many if not most of these symbols prefigure the life and death of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the law that Christ fulfills, the cross on which Jesus bleeds, and the Spirit that he pours out at Pentecost all find significant explanation in Leviticus.  If you want to know more about the gospel, the laws of Leviticus are a good instructor.
  6. Look for themes.  There are tremendous gospel themes running through Leviticus.  Take out a pen or a colored pencil (if you are into that) and mark up the places where these themes irrupt.  Tomorrow I will list a number of helpful themes to pick up, but for now look for things ‘atonement,’ ‘blood,’ ‘holiness,’ the work of the ‘priest.’  By keeping your eyes open (figuratively) looking for themes, it will help you keep your eyes open (literally) when you read through this unfamiliar book.
  7. Look for purpose statements.  For instance, Leviticus 15:31 concludes a long section on cleanliness laws saying, “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.”  Here Moses records the YHWH’s reason for the meticulous laws about bodily discharges and other matters of cleanliness.  By noticing these purpose statements, you can discern why God requires Israel to do all these things.  (See also Leviticus 9:6, 22-24; 11:46-47).
  8. Read with imagination.  As you read about the sacrifices, imagine what that must have looked like, sounded like, smelled like.  Our worship services today are very, very sanitary.  Even the food we eat at the Lord’s Supper is package so that we do not stain the carpets or our clothes.  This is entirely different from the OT>  In in the OT, without blood stains, the people would have perished.  So read with imagination as you encounter the elaborate descriptions. 
  9. Read with others.  Talk about what you are reading with others in your church.  Ask your pastor or Sunday School teacher to teach through the Bible.  Look for ways to walk through the Bible together.  Reading the Bible is personal, but it should never be private.  Recruit others to read with you.
  10. Invest in a Study Bible.  As you read Leviticus or any other book of the Bible, you will inevitably have questions.  Or at least, you should.  Is the leprosy described in Leviticus the same as today’s leprosy? (No).  Why is it always a male animal that is sacrificed?  My personal suggestion is the ESV Study Bible.   That is what I read, and it has many, many helps for discerning the historical and cultural significance of what I am reading.
  11. Read in small doses and with other books of the Bible.  Okay, so I said ten, but here is one more.  Like the Big Ten which has eleven schools, so our list includes an extra idea for those who still struggle.  If all else fails, read Leviticus in small doses, maybe even in smaller doses than your Bible reading plan suggests.  If it takes 13 months to read the Bible, that’s okay.  The point is that you are enriched by God’s life-giving word.  Even if you have to treat Leviticus like eating vegetables–mixing it in with other foods or in small portions–the point is that you take God at his word and benefits from this book, because at the end of the day it will help you know and love Jesus Christ more for the high priest that he is and the sacrfice that he made.

These are just a few suggestions to aid your reading of this important book.  I hope you see that the gospel of Jesus Christ depends on our understanding of God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, the need of sacrifice and atonement, and the work of a life-giving high priest; and that no book is better to teach you about these things than Leviticus. 

If you have other suggestions on reading this book, please do share.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss