26. Shemini (Eighth) Leviticus 9 – 11

Who Sets the Rules for Worship?

Torah Portion for week 26: Leviticus 9 – 11

שְּׁמִינִי

Shemini (Eighth)

Who sets the rules for worship? In our day and age, we are quite protective of our freedom of choice. Our culture tells us that “our way” is good and true for us, and no one should judge or criticize our personal decisions as long as they don’t infringe on the freedom of choice of others. In fact, the only thing that is really not tolerated in today’s society is what is called “intolerance” – that is, not affirming that the choices and lifestyles of others are “true and good” for them, even if I choose to live differently.

As followers of the Messiah, we too often assert our freedom of expression and choice as an ultimate value – even in our relationship with God. The Corinthian believers had a popular saying,All things are lawful for me (1 Cor 6:12), by which they asserted their freedom to do pretty much whatever they wanted, even participating in pagan feasts and engaging in sexual immorality. Their gross misunderstanding of what it means to be “free in Christ,” based on what they considered to be their superior “knowledge,” led them to betray both God and his law of love – to seek the best for their brothers and sisters in Yeshua and their fellow human beings.

Following the completion of the tabernacle and the descent of God’s glory to indwell the Holy of Holies in Exodus 40, Leviticus opens with a painfully detailed description of the various sacrificial procedures to be conducted there, and then proceeds to the ceremony installing Aaron and his sons as priests. In Leviticus 9, Aaron and his sons actually begin to function as priests to the Lord, offering the necessary daily sacrifices on the altar.

But in chapter 10, tragedy strikes!  Aaron’s two eldest sons, Nadav and Abihu, “offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them” (Lev 10:1b).  Intoxicated with their newly endowed authority and sense of privilege – and  perhaps with alcohol as well, as the following verses seem to hint – Aaron’s sons had exercised their priestly “freedom” to worship God as they saw fit, but “fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Lev 10:2).

As with the worship of the golden calf, which Aaron had described as a ”feast to the Lord” (Exod 32:5b), Nadav and Abihu’s chosen style of worship was contrary to the will and ways of God. In both cases, the judgment of God fell on those who presumed to worship him as they pleased.

The New Covenant Scriptures give a wide variety of acceptable models and instructions for worshipping the Lord, with no small degree of personal latitude. But according to Yeshua, when he spoke with the Samaritan woman, God takes pleasure in worshippers who “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). We must worship him in spirit, from the heart and not merely with external rituals; but we must also worship him in truth, in accordance with his will and ways, so that he is accurately reflected and truly magnified in our worship. No “golden calf” worship of our own making can be acceptable to him!

In fact, our entire lives are to be acts of worship flowing from hearts filled with adoration for God and reflecting his character, so that we might truly exalt him in this, his tabernacle. Let us heed Paul’s challenge to us in Romans:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1, 2)

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