The Bible in a Year – 10 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

10 February. Leviticus chapters 26-27

These last two chapters of the book are a ‘conclusion’. Commentators tell us it represents the typical ending of a political treaty, with blessings for keeping it and curses for breaking it.  In that respect, a covenant between God and people is no different from human contractual arrangements.  Whether a business deal, a marriage or a political arrangement (such as the European Union which Britain has chosen to leave), you cannot expect to unilaterally break it without suffering consequences.


God will always be faithful to us, if we are faithful to him, but if we are unfaithful to him – saying that we practice religion but actually living selfishly – then we cannot complain if he fails to bless us.  What the nature of those blessing is, though, is another matter – it is not as simple as saying that if we worship God, he will make us rich.  There are plenty of stories through the Bible that disprove that idea.  Blessings lead to happiness, contentment but not necessarily riches.


The Bible in a Year – 9 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

9 February. Leviticus chapters 24-25

Part of chapter 24 is one of those rare passages where Leviticus breaks off from giving general rules, to tell a story of certain individuals. “Shelomith daughter of Dibri” is one of the few women mentioned by name in this part of the Bible – possibly the only one apart from Moses’ sister Miriam, and strangely we are not even given the name of her son whose sin of blasphemy is at the focus of the story, nor of her Egyptian husband.


Maybe it was the influence of his foreign father behind the man’s offensive use of “The Name” (the sacred name of God which ordinary Israelites where not even supposed to pronounce) but he was the son of an Israelite mother and therefore one of the tribe – Jews still reckon the mother’s lineage more important than the father’s even now.


The sin of stoning for blasphemy seems overly harsh to modern western liberals, and yet not only was it one of the reasons behind Jesus being brought before  the high priests leading up to his crucifixion, but also people are still killed for this offence in countries such as Pakistan. If God is believed to be so holy that his very name is unpronounceable, then someone who does so in the course of committing a crime (getting involved in a fight) is doubly guilty.  People of faith even in a liberal culture wince when “OMG” is used in a trivial way, or the name of Jesus or Mohammed (Peace be upon him) is taken lightly.


In the following chapter (as I remarked in the post for 7th February, this relates to a late settled phase of Israel’s history) there is an interesting distinction between land and houses in the countryside which had to be returned to their original owners every fifty years – in other words could only be bought ‘leasehold’, with a sale price proportional to the length of years left on the lease – and houses in towns that after an initial year’s rental could be bought freehold by the tenant.  This speaks to our society in which tenants have little security of tenure (in Britain that is, unlike other European societies) but in which the houses in country villages are bought by wealthy people retiring from the city, pushing prices out of reach of local young couples.


The Bible in Year – 8 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

8 February. Leviticus chapters 22-23

Chapter 23 describes the rituals of the main Jewish seasonal festivals that eventually came to be established. Some of them have equivalents in modern Christian worship (Passover/Good Friday; Sabbath / Sunday; and with a different climate we just have one Harvest festival to their three of Weeks, Firstfruits and Sukkot). I commented on the Day of Atonement in a recent post. It does not mention Hannukah, as that comes from an even later historical development.  What all these have in common, even the solemnities of Atonement, is that they give thanks for God’s gracious presence in both the everyday life of a farmer, and the dramatic events that make history.


A post-religious age has nothing comparable to celebrate, and it is sad to see that “festivals” such as Black Friday and Halloween have taken their place alongside a secularised Christmas and Easter (Star Trek Advent calendar, anyone?) as the significant dates in the calendar. Even those ‘family festivals’ of Valentine’s, Mother’s and Father’s Day are more about commercialism than true love, and leave out those who through no fault of their own have no partner, parents or children alive. What can the church do to draw people back in to the celebrations of God’s goodness in which everyone can participate?






The Bible in a Year – 7 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

7 February. Leviticus chapters 19-21

Despite what some more fundamentalist Christians will tell you (including the people at Bible Gateway whose plan I am following) the whole of the first 5 chapters of the Bible (the Torah) was not written all at one go before any of the rest of it.  Most modern commentaries reckon there are at least four sources for this material from various times in Israel’s history.


That this section (from here to the end of Leviticus) was written well after the time of Moses is evidenced by many references to a settled agricultural life rather than a nomadic desert existence.  For example chapter 19 has rules for harvesting crops in a way that the very poorest can get a share of them, paying hired workers fairly, and planting of orchards.


Sadly, many agricultural workers (or even farm owners) don’t get a fair share even now. Not only in developing countries where  the Fairtrade system and similar ‘trade marks’ are needed to evidence that workers are paid well and able to improve their standards of living, but also in the UK where gangs of overseas workers live in inhumane conditions, and dairy and sheep farmers can hardly make a living for themselves, let alone a profitable business.


Turning from one still very relevant issue to another, chapter 20 refers to the sacrifice of children to Molech. Not that I’m suggesting there is child sacrifice in Britain, but the injunction not to ignore any suspected child abuse is still a message that needs teaching in safeguarding courses..

The Bible in a Year – 6 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

6 February. Leviticus chapters 16-18

The day of atonement (Yom Kippur) was originated in this desert period and is still observed by Jews to this day as a day of fasting, prayer and confession of sin.  For those not part of a religious tradition such practices may seem strange, but to those who do belong to such a tradition, they are essential elements of it, although various religions express them differently.  For Christians, the fasting element is generally less important than it is for Jews and muslims, although many Christians do observe some kind of fasting during the period of Lent (40 days before Easter).  Confession, though, is still important, for although we believe that Christ died “once for all for the forgiveness of sin” thereby putting to an end the need for any animal sacrifice, as individuals we do still keep turning away from God and need to come back to him to renew our relationship by recalling his loving mercy and seeking his pardon.


The Bible in a Year – 3-5 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

3-5 February. Leviticus chapters 8-15

I have combined three days’ readings here as they form a consistent block. Before going on, I should perhaps point out that I am using two short commentaries to aid my own understanding of this part of the Bible – Martin Goldsmith’s study notes on Leviticus and Deuteronomy from the Christian Literature Crusade, and David Edward’s helpful overview “A Key to the Old Testament” (Collins, 1989).


Like most of this book these chapters consist of rituals and regulations that were actually written long after the time of Moses and reflect the more settled nature of life in the writer’s age (hence the references to stone houses rather than tents, for example). And like most of the book, its rituals, especially those of sacrifice, seem arcane to us. But if we remember that the whole point of “The Law” was to keep the Jewish people in covenant with God, it may help us to see the point of them.


In the story of Abihu and Nadab, two of Aaron’s four sons who were killed by “fire from the Lord” for using unauthorised religious ritual, we see a rare touch of humanity, as Aaron in his grief is unable to speak, until later he refers to “such things as have befallen me”.  Even God’s anointed high priest has feelings, and cannot ignore human tragedy on his doorstep. I deliberately use that last phrase as a Christian priest I know recently found an abandoned baby left on his own doorstep; the baby did not live, and the mother has not been found. It has been a shock to the whole community, and not least the man of God who found it.


The many dietary laws and other provisions here do seem (mostly!) to have a sensible origin in terms of hygiene, safe eating and avoidance of contagious disease spreading.  And interestingly, they are to be administered by priests – there is no separate reference to doctors (let alone food inspectors!), and the priests, as among the only literate people in the community, had the welfare of the people as much of their role as performing religious rituals.

The Bible in a Year – 2 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

2 February. Leviticus chapters 5-7

There were many kinds of “offering” (animal or grain sacrifices) in this Levitical law.  Mainly the sin and guilt offerings (seemingly two different things, perhaps depending on whether the sin was deliberate or not).  For those the priest “made atonement” and could assure the guilty person of God’s forgiveness – although that did not mean they had no other obligations, for if there was any actual loss that could be put right or given a monetary value, the guilty person had to pay it to the wronged party with an additional one fifth. In modern law that would be described as both compensation to the victim and a fine. The ritual law of religion is not intended to replace a secular liability, but is additional to it and might just help the guilty to “go straight” in future.


But the passage also lists other kinds of offering: votive, freewill and the “thanksgiving offering for well-being”.  These could presumably be offered at any time rather than as an obligation. We tend to forget that.  God is not only a lawgiver who demands that someone makes atonement for sin and puts wrongs right, he is also the source of all goodness and deserving of our genuinely voluntary thanks, backed up by gifts of money or possessions.  As a well known Christian song puts it, “Freely, freely, you have received: Freely, freely give”.


Today is the Christian celebration of Candlemas when we remember Jesus being ceremonially “redeemed” by his parents by way of a small sacrifice of two turtle doves (as mentioned in today’s reading). This was because all firstborn sons were considered to belong to God and had to be “bought back”.  But it could also be seen as an act of thanksgiving for the child. Mary and Joseph made an offering on behalf of Jesus, who would go on to become an offering for us all. Thank God!

The Bible in a Year – 1 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

1 February. Leviticus chapters 1-4

These detailed regulations concern animal and grain offerings. Although such matters are of no direct concern to our religion (Christianity) which has moved beyond making sacrifices in this sense, there are a couple of points worth noting:


One is that the offering always has to be an animal “without blemish” or the “first fruits” of the grain. The principle is that we give God the best – of our time, talents, income and possessions.


The other is that any grain offerings (flour or bread of whatever kind) are to be without leaven (yeast). That ties in with the ‘festival of unleavened bread’ at Passover, a reminder that the Israelites had to leave Egypt in a hurry with no time for their bread to rise. When God calls, sometimes we need to drop everything to respond, and quickly offer him whatever we have.