Thursday, December 26, 2013

Eating the sin offering

Leviticus 6:24–26; Numbers 18:8–12; Ezekiel 9; Daniel 9; 1 Corinthians 5

There has been some conversation about eating the sin offering in the gathering here. I wanted to put a few of my thoughts on "paper", mainly for my own reference later.

The law of the sin offering (Leviticus 6:24–30) details that the priest is to eat the sin offering. That is, when an animal was brought to be sacrificed, it was mainly the animal's blood and fat that were offered. The flesh of the animal was the priest's. This is slightly over-simplified: there were various subtle differences in offerings, depending on what was offered and by whom. But in general, the law of the sin offering is that the priest is to eat the flesh of the sin offering (Leviticus 6:26).

We understand that the Levitical laws contain "typical" teaching for us. We understand this because Scripture very carefully points this out, especially in Hebrews. I understand that some Christians have taken this idea to the point where they hardly seem to think that the Pentatuech has any historical significance at all: they seem to think it is some sort of allegory. Of course that's wrong, but the New Testament does appeal to typical teaching in the Levitical law, and we don't want to miss what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us.

Numbers 18:8–12 picks up this theme and teaches us that the priests are fed from the offerings that are brought to the Tabernacle. They don't have a part in the inheritance God gave Israel, so He gave them the offerings. And so the priests are told, "this shall be thine: the heave-offering of their gift, with all the wave-offerings of the children of Israel; I have given them unto thee, and to thy sons and to thy daughters with thee, by an everlasting statute" (Numbers 18:11).

Is there a typical teaching for us in the priests' eating the offerings? It would seem so, and 1 Corinthians 10 picks up this theme. "See Israel according to flesh: are not they who eat the sacrifices in communion with the altar?" (1 Corinthians 10:18). Here the Apostle's argument is that although an idol is really nothing (it's just a piece of metal or wood or stone), idolatry is very real. And eating what has been sacrificed to an idol brings us, in a way, into communion with the idolatry. The appeal is made to the Levitical law: doesn't eating the sin offering bring the priest into communion with the offering?

This statement sheds a great deal of light on what it means to eat a sin offering. Eating the sin offering wasn't only God's provision for the priests, to give them fresh meat. It was putting a responsibility on the priests and on their families, because they were in communion with the offering of those sacrifices.

If a man in Israel was to bring a goat to the priest as a sin offering, then when that priest was eating the flesh of that goat later that day, he was expressing a fellowship with the man's offering. Not merely the man's act of slaughtering a goat, but the man's need to slaughter the goat. The man's responsibility was to bring the offering to the priest, but the priest was not allowed simply to slaughter it and go about his day: he had to express communion with that offering probably after the man had stopped thinking about it.

If we think about Aaron, we notice that he grew into his priesthood. When Moses was up the mountain, receiving instruction from the Lord about Aaron's role as priest (Exodus 28), Aaron was down on the plain, leading the people in idolatry (Exodus 32:1–6). And when the Lord was angered about the idolatry, it was Moses and not Aaron who went to make atonement for them (Exodus 32:30–35). In fact, I'm not sure that Aaron really took up his role as priest until the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram, when he ran to stand between the people and the plague (Numbers 16:46–50).

(I realize there is a difference between Advocacy and Priesthood, and perhaps Moses up on the mountain in contrast with Aaron on the plain illustrates this... but the fact remains that Aaron's priesthood grows in Scripture.)

But through the Old Testament, we have the histories of others who took up the duty of the priest, even if they weren't called to it. I don't mean ceremonially, but morally. Morally, the duty of the priest is to take represent the people to God. We see this in Samuel (1 Samuel 12:23), and Daniel (Daniel 9), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 9:8), to name a few. The priest stands between sinful people and holy God.

So what does it look like to eat the sin offering morally, if not physically? Daniel 9 is an example. Daniel read Jeremiah and realized the Babylonian Captivity was about to end. So he got down on his knees and prayed. His prayer is listed in Daniel 9:3–19. The vast majority of the prayers (vv. 4–16) is confession of the sins of Israel. But here's the thing: Daniel hadn't actually committed a single one of those sins. In fact, Daniel wasn't even in Jerusalem, he was in Babylon and had been since before Zedekiah's reign.

This is what we mean when we talk about eating the sin offering. Daniel himself hadn't sinned, but he expressed fellowship with his people in their sin. He confessed the sins as his own, and he took God's side, as it were. That is, he didn't make excuses, he acknowledged God's righteousness in judging the sins of His people.

Ezekiel 9 gives us a little more light on the subject. Here the Lord is judging Jerusalem for their idolatry. But before He sends judgment on them, He commands what appears to be an angel to go through the city, marking out certain people as untouchable (v. 4). What was the test? What made someone escape the judgment? It was simple: "mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that are done." God wasn't looking for a Jerubbaal who'd pull down an idol altar. He wasn't looking for a Josiah who'd go out and slaughter the idolatrous priests. He was looking for someone whose heart was touched with the enormity of their iniquity. He was looking for someone whose reaction in the middle of all this corruption was a broken heart.

This brings us into 1 Corinthians 5. Notice what the Apostle says to the Corinthians: "*ye* are puffed up, and ye have not rather mourned, in order that he that has done this deed might be taken away out of the midst of you" (1 Corinthians 5:2). So the "normal Christian" response to blatant immorality is supposed to be mourning. And I have to admit, I don't see a lot of that. The reactions I've seen have been more along the lines of gossip, slander, finger-pointing, or even just a deliberate ignoring of the sin. But Scripture says that "normal" reaction is mourning.

What's really interesting is the statement, "that he that has done this deed might be taken away out of the midst of you". I'm not going to be dogmatic about this, but this suggests that the Lord might have stepped in and intervened, had He seen the Corinthians mourning. If that's true, then we might conclude that assembly discipline in disfellowshipping someone is an indicator of failure. Had they been mournful of the sin, they wouldn't have had to act.

Regardless, Ezekiel 9 and 1 Corinthians 5 carry this theme: that the reaction God is looking for is sorrow. We see this same theme in Exodus 32. And so we have to ask ourselves: when we observe sin in the assembly, is our reaction sorrow?

When Daniel recognized the sin in Israel, he reacted to it as though it was his own. There was a degree of humility that comes from mourning sin: it reminds us sharply that we aren't above the sin we have seen. Daniel couldn't very well repent of the sins of Israel before God and then say, "I wouldn't ever do that!". But we see that reaction quite frequently among Christians: "How could he have done such a thing?" When we find ourselves asking that question, we've forgotten the lessons of Romans 6–8.

It's one thing to despise sins we've committed, but eventually we have to learn to despise the indwelling sin that is their source. That's the lesson of Romans 7, isn't it? It's one thing to despise what we do, it's another to recognize that "in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing".

Galatians offers a warning to those who'd take the lead in the assembly: "if even a man be taken in some fault, ye who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest *thou* also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). What's the danger hidden in the godly desire to help out? There is the same flesh in me that is in every other child of God. When a believer is "taken in some fault", he or she is simply expressing the same sin that is in me too.

Galatians says the remedy is a "spirit of meekness". That's what Daniel had, that's what Ezekiel had. We don't see in either Daniel or Ezekiel a sense of superiority. We don't see them pointing to the idolaters without a sense of their own frailty. Ezekiel and Daniel are both deeply touched by what they've seen, and they're both dismayed to see it.

When a Christian falls into sin, there's frequently a sort of feeding frenzy among other Christians. We get the scent of blood, and we get into a self-righteous condemnation. The Lord Jesus said, "there's none good but God" (Mark 10:18). We'd do well to bear that in mind.

Now, this doesn't mean we can just ignore sin. At no point does Scripture ever teach, suggest, or imply that we should just ignore sin. Scripture is quite clear: "Let every one who names the name of [the] Lord withdraw from iniquity" (2 Timothy 2:19).

What it does mean is, the proper response to sin is meekness and sorrow. We've no call to act in malice, arrogance, and self-righteousness when sin in the assembly comes to light. The godly ones are always called to walk in humility. Yes, we are to separate from evil. Yes, we are called to walk in separation. Yes, the Scripture certainly prescribes a breaking of fellowship with the unrepentant. But when it comes to assembly matters, the how is at least as important as the what.

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