Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Enemies of the Lord often quote Old Testament scripture in order to make God look bad. Now it should go without saying that this is frequently done out of context. However, to be fair, our God says some pretty strange things in the Old Testament, particularly in the Law and the Prophets. One thing that’s always caught my attention is how unbelievably hard it was in the Old Testament to be considered right with God. Take for example Numbers 5:1-4,
The Lord said to Moses, “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has an infectious skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” The Israelites did this; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the Lord had instructed Moses.
Now I can understand if someone has chicken pox or something, since they wouldn’t want anyone else to get sick. But what about those discharges? Quite a few teen guys would be outside the camp just for sleeping if that’s the case. Or touching a dead body? “Sorry, I’d love to help you move your dead family member, but I’m real keen to sleep at home tonight.” But there are more examples of God being seemingly too picky. Scripture tells us,
No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.
No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation
No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:1-3).
Can you imagine if the Christian church actually followed these laws? “Welcome to our church everyone (except eunuchs, people born out of approved wedlock and their descendants, and foreigners)!” A lot of nonbelievers think that Christians are being inconsistent though when they follow Jesus and say the Bible is all true and useful then ignore commands to keep people out of the Temple (and out of town according to the Numbers quote). The one that gets me though (and I’ve heard an atheist quote this while attacking Christianity before) is Leviticus 21:16-21
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: ‘For generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the offerings made to the Lord by fire. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God.’”
So now you can add to your list of people unwelcome in the Lord’s assembly people with handicaps. Surely there’s something to this, right? I mean, have you ever seen a church turn people away based on things they couldn’t even help? Of course not, in fact if you go to church on any given day you’ll find people who would have been excluded from the Tent of Meeting or Temple. Well then what are we supposed to do with this scripture?
Before anything else, we need to remember, these rules of cleanliness stopped applying after Jesus’ death. Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 6:11 when talking about sinners, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.” Now if the cleansing of your life through Jesus’ blood, shed on a cross, can clean you from the sins you actively committed, then surely it also purifies you from ceremonial uncleanliness that you had no control over (such as a physical ailment). Peter goes on to tell us, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Through his atoning death, Jesus has eliminated the laws from above, since anyone who accepts Jesus into their heart takes on the promises given in the word. Therefore, a follower of Christ need not worry about any imperfections or ailments, because Jesus has already nullified them before the Lord.
Ok, so the question begs asking then, “If the laws keeping people out of the Lord’s presence were going to be repealed anyway, why even make them to begin with?” The Holy Spirit showed me while I was reading the above passage from Numbers that the laws of exclusion from the assembly are there to stand as reminders of our natural place with God and the magnitude of his Son Jesus’ sacrifice for us. God made man in order to commune with someone else who had a free will (because angels are in rockin’ awesome heaven and so all they do is praise the Lord and the devil isn’t really all that much fun for God to talk to [I’m assuming]). Therefore we read, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). People were made in such a way that they even looked like how God would look if he were a person (and later he did in the form of Jesus). The first couple likely didn’t have any physical or mental defects for they were created in the image of their maker, who is definition of perfection. However, when mankind first sinned, God took it pretty hard and laid down a curse upon the whole earth. Scripture reminds us,
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat it,’
Cursed is the ground because of you;
Through painful toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17).
Through the Lord’s curse, the very ground on which we walk was cursed and everything along with it. This means that in everything there is sin, death, and decay. The sin and death are what separate us from God and make it so that we can no longer stand in his presence. Now this is of course understandable when somebody is acting badly, but what we need to understand is that the curse of death is so deep in us that it affects things we can’t control. That’s why there are handicaps, natural disasters, sicknesses, and strange emissions that cause one to become unclean. It’s not that the people who are excluded from the assembly in the Old Testament had done wrong, but the curse was so prevalent in their bodies that they were made impure. Which is why, really if you follow the rules of the law- most of us (and probably most of the Israelites) would spend a lot of time outside the camp. That is to say, nobody would be able to enter into God’s presence most of the time. Even people who were without physical defect, because while the outside may be without blemish, God can read their hearts; and the Word clearly says “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Now if this is true (and it is) then we’re all equally screwed when it comes to being able to be in God’s presence.
But thanks be to Jesus Christ our Lord! For the Bible tells us,
But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).
God follows his own laws; therefore everything written that damned us in the Old Testament stands. However, in his grace and mercy, the Lord laid all of our earth-sized sins, defects, frailties and coming punishments onto a God-sized sacrifice in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. And so all of those who are in Christ are now pure in the eyes of God despite how they may look on the outside (or even feel on the inside). Therefore, instead of being in a separated position from God, we can approach him any time through Jesus. And so we read in Hebrews 4:16 “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We can come to God over anything, and even more: John tells us,
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us- whatever we ask- we know that we have what we asked of him (1 John 5:14-15).
Not only can we be confident when we approach God with anything, but we also can know that if we’re in his will with our request, he’ll gladly give us all we ask. It doesn’t matter who you are, Christ died for everyone, and although the Old Testament reminds us that without Christ we have no place in the Lord (or in heaven for that matter), with Jesus we have everything and are restored to our original, pure, status from when God first created mankind in the Garden of Eden. How cool is that?
If you haven’t allowed Christ into your life yet, but are desperately seeking the purity that can only come through the Risen Lord Jesus, then take a few moments to pray with me. Just read the prayer below out loud, and if you mean in your heart what you say with your mouth, God will certainly hear you and grant his grace and purity to you as well.
Dear Lord Jesus,
I’m not really sure I understood all that.
But I realize that without you I have no standing with God.
Please forgive me of my sins and disbelief,
And cleanse me from my impurities.
Grant me the peace of mind that comes from your salvation,
And the mercy I need so much right now.
Come into my heart,
Be with me always Lord, I need you.
In your name, Jesus, I pray,