Developing the Theme of Family through the Torah Portions. Number Twenty-Nine.

Dr Clifford Denton.

Acharei Mot: Leviticus 16:1-18:30.

4th May 2024/26 Nisan.

Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering. (Leviticus 16:3)

Picture by Helen McNeill

Holiness is an ongoing topic in Leviticus. God made it perfectly clear what the Children of Israel must do and what they must not do to live under His protection and blessing. There were requirements for the nation as a whole and for individuals. For individuals the focus was centred on their lives within the family structure. This week’s portion picks up the theme of family in two ways. The Day of Atonement (outlined in Chapter 16) was for the entire family (nation) of Israel. Chapter 17 taught that there was only one way to make a sacrifice. Chapter 18 related to individuals with an emphasis on relationships with other family members.

The emphasis on the exact way a sacrifice was to be made and the matter of the sanctity of blood was a preparation for understanding that the only way to the Father is through the sacrifice of Yeshua HaMashiach. He is the fulfilment of the sacrifice and of the Day of Atonement when the shed blood of the animals were taken by the High Priest once a year into the Holiest Place of the Tabernacle. Knowing this, it is tempting to think that the rest of what we read here has now become irrelevant because it has now been fulfilled through Yeshua – Jews who do not know the fulfilment of the sacrifice continue with the annual celebration of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), but Christians have moved on. But is that really so?

Most Christians do not have a day set apart once a year as the Jews do for the Day of Atonement. Likewise, the matters that are the subject of Chapters 17 and 18, however important they were for Israel, may not be considered as a part of our Bible study on account of the grace that Yeshua brought us through the New Covenant. Surely, we are secure from the need to emphasise these things and make them a part of our family Bible studies. Let’s simply read the New Testament. It may have been a long journey through history for Israel, but we are privileged to come straight to that for which they waited so long. Is that the way to think?

Suppose Christians did pause and reflect once per year like the Jews. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called The Days of Repentance or Days of Awe. During these days, Jews think about everything they have done in the past year. Each year, they seek to put matters right between each other prior to the Day of Atonement. How many Christians can claim to be without division and so not need to seek such an opportunity? This Jewish tradition does have much to commend it. The Day of Atonement occurs within the Feasts of the Seventh Month, Tishrei, which will be fulfilled when Yeshua returns. With signs all around that His return is very soon, we should be making preparations, among which is the need for unity. Paul speaks of this unity in Ephesians 4:11-13 – And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

We will return to the Feasts of the Lord again when we reach Leviticus 23, so for now, let’s simply make a suggestion that in our family Bible studies we might well discuss these things afresh. Picture Aaron the High Priest going once a year into the Holiest Place – a most awesome experience for all Israel. Now consider the more awesome truth that Yeshua is in the Holiest Place of all, the highest Heaven, anticipating our preparations for his return, and making His own preparations as High Priest.

Next, consider Hebrews 12 verse 14: Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Think again about what we read in Chapters 17 and 18 of Leviticus. The things covered here are as relevant now as they were then. How do we know this? There was a great controversy among the leaders of the Jerusalem disciples of Yeshua when Gentiles were being brought to faith in Yeshua. This led to the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. The conclusion of the lively debate on what was required of new believers was summed up by James and included in a letter to the new communities of disciples that were beginning to grow across the world: it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. (Acts 15:28-29)

These four things were also the basis of what was called the Noahide laws, that which was expected of Noah and his family after the Flood. This passage from Acts is loaded with questions to tackle. Why only these four things, when we know that there is so much more that we should do from Torah, beginning with the Ten Commandments? What did James mean by not laying on new disciples any greater burden?

A convincing interpretation is that these four injunctions relate to areas of life in which, if we allow ourselves to slip, we will become vulnerable to being drawn off-track by unclean spirits. The giving of the Holy Spirit was so that we might grow in maturity on our walk, unburdened by ritual observance, except where we might quickly become unclean, and where special self-discipline is needed. This opens up a whole new way to study Torah. Such study begins when we sit down as a family, take seriously all that has been written and prayerfully seek the path of holiness together.