No Blood = No Atonement
Acharei Mot אַחֲרֵי מוֹת ("After the death") Leviticus 16:1-18:30
Our parasha for this Shabbat is entitled Acharei Mot, meaning "after the death" and spans Leviticus 16-18. The subject matter of chapter 16 is Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement, the most solemn and significant day of the year in Israel's calendar. Only on this one day each year was the High Priest permitted to enter the Most Holy Place to make atonement for the sins of all Israel. The manner and number of sacrifices was very specific, and the ritual preparations the High Priest had to make before daring to enter the Most Holy Place were considerable. Two goats were chosen by lot. According to rabbinical tradition they were to be as nearly identical as possible - to be understood as two aspects of one and the same Yom Kippur sacrifice. One of the goats was sacrificed there at the Temple by the High Priest. The other goat was called the Azazel (scapegoat, or "the one to be sent away"). The High Priest would lay his hands on the head of the Azazel and confess over it all the sins of the people of Israel. The goat was then to be led away into the wilderness by a man who stood ready for that assignment.
The imagery is stirring - the symbolic transference of our collective sin onto an innocent animal, resulting in its death, its innocence meanwhile simultaneously transferred to us, resulting in our continued life. Bearing our guilt, the innocent one goes away - far away to its death. The Psalmist wrote of this idea:
"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving-kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12).
Yom Kippur illustrates the infinite separation between a holy God and sinful human beings, and so clearly demonstrates why Messiah Yeshua, the Innocent One, the Sinless One, had to die in our place.
Seven hundred years before the event took place, the prophet Isaiah wrote,
"All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Isaiah 53:5).
Yeshua's act of taking the penalty for our sin satisfied both the demand of God's infinite justice, and yet at the same time demonstrated His infinite mercy towards us. Aren't you glad we don't get what we deserve?
Chapter 17 contains the strongest of prohibitions against eating blood or offering it in any manner other than within God's guidelines - this under penalty of death! The principle is that blood is sacred. It is life! And the redemption price for a life is a life - a blood sacrifice, but only in God-approved ways. The life principle is also why eating blood was forbidden – something commanded as far back as Noah's emerging from the ark after the flood. It was forbidden then and is still today. Acts chapter 15 places only four demands upon Gentile followers of Yeshua, but this prohibition is one of them.
Unbelievers and nominal Christians who don't know the Scriptures become very uncomfortable with so much emphasis on blood in the Bible. I confess, even as a believer (albeit a new believer) I was aghast the first time I heard the words sung, "There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins…" I didn't yet understand the purposes for God's Levitical laws and the necessity of blood for atonement, nor could I have appreciated just how important Messiah's blood was. But in the years to follow, I studied and learned and God gave me understanding.
Let me share a story. Back around 1995, while on staff with Jews for Jesus, every week I was out on the campus of Rutgers University engaged in evangelism. One afternoon I struck up a conversation with a young woman who was a graduate student in the Anthropology department. She told me she had spent the previous year or two focusing on the Mayan civilization. I had recently done some reading on it myself. At that time it was beginning to emerge that the Mayans were not as advanced as was once thought, but archaeological evidence showed rather that they were a bloodthirsty culture. The young lady admitted that to be true, and said that previous theories about the Mayans were being re-evaluated. But she went on to suggest that what may have been behind all the blood-letting was a terrible sense of collective guilt among the Mayans. When I explained God's purposes behind the Levitical sacrifices and the exchange of life principle, you could just see the light go on inside her. And she listened intently as I went on to explain the necessity of Yeshua's death and the manner of it. She didn't pray with me to receive Yeshua that day, but I always wondered how God followed up with her.
Chapter 17, verse 11 says,
"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".
Notice there is nothing here about prayers and repentance and tz'dakah (good deeds) making atonement, though this is the argument of the rabbis ever since the destruction of the Templein 70 AD. We should not think we are at liberty to re-define God's Word to suit our circumstances. And let me hasten to add that though we presently have no earthly Temple, it does not mean we have no atonement; for final and everlasting atonement was made on our behalf when Messiah Yeshua laid down His life on that Passover two thousand years ago. He died as the Lamb of God to accomplish forgiveness, reconciliation with God and eternal life. Yes, He died as a Lamb, but when He returns, He is coming as a Lion, and at that point it will be too late to choose sides. On this High Sabbath, let me urge you to fulfill God's highest calling for your life, and apply the blood of the flawless and wonderful Messiah, by faith, to the doorposts of your heart.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Achrei Mot אַחֲרֵי מוֹת. Other transliterations: Acharei, Aharei Mot, or Aharei Mos
You Are to be Holy
K’dosheem קְדֹשִׁים (“Holy ones”) Leviticus 19:1-20:27
Our parasha this Shabbat is entitled K’dosheem which means “holy ones” and covers Leviticus chapters nineteen and twenty. It opens with these words:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.’"
These chapters define more narrowly and specifically what it means to be a holy people. Some of the Ten Commandments are reiterated, but the demands go much farther. Anyone having the mindset to do just the very minimal in order to get by will find these chapters a challenge, to be sure. A man might appear outwardly to be living within the boundaries of the Torah, but inwardly fall way short of the principles here.
For example, the outward command to honor one’s parents, to not steal, to not use the name of God in a profane or deceptive manner is one thing. But we are commanded in chapter 19 not to hate our brother in our heart, and not to hold a grudge –things which are defined within a man’s interior world.
We are commanded to show kindness to strangers, to provide for the poor and to show respect to the elderly, by rising in their presence. Being God’s holy people involves much more than “do this” and “don’t do that”. What kind of people are we?
For example, a man might read the commandment: When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field… Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien” and yet harvest his hundred acres to within six inches of the edge and proceed to tell himself that he has fulfilled the demands of the Torah. But God is not fooled. He may have met the technical demands, but he missed the heart – the very intent of the command.
What does a holy nation look like? First of all, it is made up of holy individuals. In these chapters holiness includes reverence for God, reverence for one’s parents, faithful observance of the Sabbath and compassion towards the poor. Holiness excludes stealing, swindling, lying, using God’s name for false oaths, oppressing others (including withholding a person’s wages who has done work for you), mockery of those with disabilities, or taking advantage of others’ disabilities. A holy people are not to pay out bribes nor accept bribes, are not to pervert the judicial process, nor slander others nor devise ways to harm others. Holiness forbids prostitution, it forbids occult practices, it forbids illicit sexual practices and yes, it even forbids holding grudges.
Holiness also means recognizing God-ordained distinctions: men are men and women are women, and we are not to blur that distinction, either in our manner of dress or in sexual union. For that matter, we are not to interbreed different animals, nor plant two different kinds of crops in the same field, nor wear clothes made of mixed fabrics. God was teaching Israel, and I believe is teaching us, the principal of separation - holiness. The created order is God’s created order, and holiness demands we respect what He has done and not suppose we can do better.
The parasha ends with these words: 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. If holiness seems demanding, it is only because God has our well-being in mind. He knows that without holiness we will never live to see Him, and without holiness our lives and even society itself will quickly disintegrate. The Lord loves us too much to let that happen without a warning. The challenge to us is to take honest inventory of our lives. Is it patently obvious to the rest of the world that we are set apart, or are we fitting in very nicely in this fallen world.
The haftarah reading for this Shabbat is Amos 9:7-15, which speaks of God passing judgment on the Jewish people and sending us into exile, but also promising to restore us and return us to our land – a very timely word, considering that a week from Thursday will be Yom HaAtzma’ut – Israel’s Independence Day. This year we are celebrating 60 years since the re-birth of the ancient nation on its original soil. In ancient times many peoples gloated at Israel’s failure. Even today, many people (sadly, including some who identify as Christian) have it in their heads that God is through with the Jewish people and with Israel as a nation. I wonder how they will feel on the day they stand before the God of Israel. For now, I wonder how they reconcile their views with these words,
I will bring back My exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them.”
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Kedoshim קְדֹשִׁים. Other transliterations: K'doshim, or Qedoshim