Community Responsibility

Leviticus 20-23

It’s a common complaint that the regulations instituted by God throughout the Old Testament, particularly in these first books, are impossible to keep. Even if every effort to obey was made, there would always be times when some sacrifice wasn’t quite free of defect, or something unclean was touched unintentionally and unnoticed.

But that is the point. God needed to show Israel, and us, that no matter how much we try, we can’t be holy as he is holy. The preparations for a Saviour, a Holy One who would fulfill God’s requirements, were being made.

For many people it is easier just to walk away from God than it is to acknowledge that it is impossible to come to him except through bending the knee to Jesus. The argument is that if they say it doesn’t matter whether or not they obey God, or come to him as he has ordained, then it doesn’t matter.

That’s self-deception at its “finest.” If I say that the freight train barreling down on me as I sit in my solitary splendor in the middle of the railway tracks, doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t. Unhappily that’s true only if I’m trying to commit suicide.

What also captured my attention in this reading for today were those first few verses of chapter 20:

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him. I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people, for by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut him off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves’” —20:1-5.

Milton writes in Paradise Lost (391-405):

"First, Moloch, horrid King, besmeared with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears;
Though, for the noise of drums and timbrels loud,
Their children’s cries unheard that passed through fire
To his grim idol. Him the Ammonite
Worshiped in Rabba and her watery plain,
In Argob and in Basan, to the stream
Of utmost Arnon. Nor content with such
Audacious neighbourhood, the wisest heart
Of Solomon he led by fraud to build
His temple right against the temple of God
On that opprobrious hill, and made his grove
The pleasant valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence
And black Gehenna called, the type of Hell.
"

What, I ask, is the modern equivalent to Molech, or Moloch, in the 21st century? To what do we offer our children in sacrifice? Following the lead of their pagan neighbours, Israel took on the “look” of the society around them. That “look” included the worship rites of those around them. It doesn’t take much to draw a modern-day parallel. Those of us who follow God are sometimes quick to follow the lead of the society around us and encourage our children, even if only by example, to do the same. We take on the "look" of the world.

What also grabs my attention is that God’s condemnation extends to those who close their eyes to what others are doing to their children. We, the church, have a responsibility as a community to speak up. Our conformity is not to be to the world, but to Christ.

Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy” —20:7-8.

That last phrase is hugely important—we can’t, but God can.

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