Wednesday, April 22, 2009

LEVITICUS: Chapters 9 & 10

Chapter 9
Summary:On the eighth day of Aaron's and sons' consecration, Moses summoned them along with the elders of Israel. He tells Aaron to fetch a bull calf for a "sin offering" and a ram for a "burnt offering".

He tells Aaron, his sons, and the elders that the people of Israel are to also select a male goat for their "sin offering", both a yearling calf and a yearling lamb for their "burnt offering", and an ox or a ram - along with flour mixed with olive oil - as a "peace offering". Moses then adds that God will appear to the people today.

So they brought the sacrificial animals and grain to the tabernacle, as Moses had commanded, and the people came and stood before God. Moses tells the people that when they have followed God's instructions, his glory will appear.

Moses then has Aaron slaughter the animals for his own personal "sin offering" and "burnt offering", and afterward to kill the animals for the "sin offering" and "burnt offering" of the people. As he killed the calf for his own "sin offering", his sons caught the blood for him. Aaron dipped his finger in the blood, smeared it upon the horns of the altar, and poured out the rest at the base of the altar. He then burned the fat, kidneys, and gall bladder from his "sin offering" and burned the rest of the carcass outside the camp.

Next Aaron kills his "burnt offering" animal while his sons catch the blood and sprinkle it back and forth upon the altar. They brought him the animal piece by piece, including the head, and he burned it upon the altar. Aaron then washed the legs and burned them upon the altar as well.

Next Aaron kills the people's goat for their "sin offering" in the same manner he had done for his own "sin offering". Then he sacrificed their "burnt offering" also in the same manner as his own. He also burned a handful of the people's grain offering upon the altar as well.

Next up Aaron kills the ox and the ram for the people's "peace offering", and his sons brought him the animals' blood to sprinkle upon the altar. He then burned the fat, kidneys, and gall bladder upon the altar, and waved the breasts and right shoulders in the air as a gesture of offering to God.

Finally, with his hands spread out towards the people, Aaron blessed them and came down from the altar. Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle, and when they returned they blessed the people while the glory of God appeared to the whole assembly. God, in the form of fire, consumed the fat and "burnt offerings" on the altar; when the people witnessed this they all shouted and fell flat upon the ground before God.
Thoughts:Yet another chapter chocked full of gruesome animal sacrifice, splattering blood, and setting animal parts on fire. After seven days of Aaron and his son's consecration, it's now time to get cracking on slaughtering a bunch of animals for everyone's "sins".

Sometimes I wonder how most people would react if they were told chapters like these when stripped of biblical characters and references. Would they be appalled? If you then mentioned that the story was taken right out of the bible as a command from God, would that excuse the appalling conditions? Why would that justify the savageness and gruesome nature of the story?

Anyway, Aaron kills a bunch of animals both on his own behalf, and as well as for the people of Israel. When he's finished God appears in the form of fire and consumes every bit of animal parts that were left upon the altar. The people of Israel seeing this, all shouted and fell on their faces. Okay...
Chapter 10
Summary:Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu put "strange fire" ("unholy" fire) into their incense censers, laid incense on the fire, and offered the incense to God. This was against what God commanded them, so God's fire blazed forth and killed them both by immolation.

Moses turned to Aaron and told him that this what God meant when he said that he would show himself holy amongst those who approach him, and that God will be glorified amongst the people. Aaron held his peace.

Moses then called for Aaron's cousins Misha-el and Elzaphan (sons of Uzziel) to go fetch the charred bodies of Nadab and Abihu, get them out of the tabernacle, and dump them outside the camp. They went out and retrieved the bodies, wrapped them in their coats, as Moses had commanded.

Moses then turned to Aaron and his two surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar, and told them not to mourn or show any grief for either Nadab or Abihu, or else God would kill them too, and that his wrath will come upon all of Israel as well. However, Moses adds that the rest of the "common folk" can go ahead and mourn them if they wish, but warns Aaron and his living sons that they are not to leave the tabernacle under the penalty of death. They did as Moses commanded.

God now tells Aaron that he is never to drink wine - or any alcoholic beverage - before entering the tabernacle, lest he shall be killed. God explains that this rule also applies to his sons and to all his descendants from generation to generation. He tells Aaron that their duties are to arbitrate for the people between what is "holy" and what is ordinary; what is pure and what is impure; and to teach the people the laws that he had given through Moses.

Then Moses said to Aaron and his surviving sons, to take the "grain offering" (making sure there is no yeast in it) and to eat it in the sanctuary beside the altar. Moses adds on that although the "grain offering" may only be eaten in the sanctuary, the breast and the thigh from the "peace offering" can be eaten in any holy place. He tells Aaron that this belongs to Aaron and his sons and daughters as their food. He continues, saying that the people of Israel are to bring the thigh and breast and wave them in the air as a gesture to God - after which they belong to Aaron and his family.

Moses then searched everywhere for the goat of the "sin offering" but discovered that it had been burned. He became angry with Eleazar and Ithamar and demanded to know why they did not eat the "sin offering" in the sanctuary, as God had given it to them to make atonement for the people of Israel.

Aaron interceded and explained to Moses that his sons had offered their "sin offering" and "burnt offering" before God, but asked Moses if God would have actually been pleased if he had eaten it on such a day like this. Apparently, this satisfied Moses.
Thoughts:Aaron's sons make the fatal mistake of lighting their incense with "strange fire", to which God retorts by immolating them both with his own fire. Incredibly, Aaron just sits there and watches his sons burn to death - and is warned by Moses that neither he nor his sons are to mourn or grieve over the sons' deaths, or God will kill them too. So much for a God who describes himself as merciful.

This whole passage is a perfect example of the cruelty and absence of love and mercy in the bible that simply cannot be justified or rationalized. I was very curious as to what the apologist standpoint on this was, guessing that it was probably the old "you have to take these things into context with the times" bit - and sure enough, the source I consulted uses this weak explanation to excuse God's savage brutality.

I consulted the Christian apologist website to see what their rationale was for God's behavior in the book of Leviticus, and have decided that I'm going to dedicate my next blog post to refute it at length rather than to address it here, so that I may stress the many disagreements I have with this sort of outlook on God's savage cruelty here.

Back to our story, particularly bothersome is that Nadab and Abihu's violent deaths by immolation elicit no response or reaction from either Aaron or his surviving brothers. If you have ever witnessed a death by immolation you'd know exactly what I'm talking about here (as several such deaths can be viewed over the web). Immolation is probably one of the most painful ways to die and will leave its victims writhing around in severe pain until they are overcome by shock and their eventual demise. It's extremely unbelievable that neither Nadab or Abihu's father or brothers would have had an emotional reaction to watching their immediate family members die in such a horrific way. To add more cruelty to the matter, God forbids them from showing any emotion towards their savagely killed family members with the threat of being killed themselves. This is a stark contradiction between God's self professed "compassion", "love", and "mercy" and is completely inexcusable.

Moses however tells Aaron and his surviving sons that it's okay if the regular "common folk" mourn for the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, but that they're not to leave the tabernacle now, or God will kill them for that too. While he's on the subject of capital punishment, God also tells Aaron that there's to be no drinking alcohol while entering the tabernacle, as that's a death sentence too.

God further explains that the bulk of their jobs as priests will be differentiating the "holy" things from the ordinary things for the common folk, and to teach them the laws that Moses had been given.

Moses then tells Aaron and his surviving sons about where they are to eat various sacrifices before he goes off looking for the goat offered as a "sin offering". When he finds out that it wasn't eaten, but just set on fire, he gets furious at Aaron's surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar.

Aaron buts in and asks Moses that considering the circumstances of the day, would God actually be pleased with them for eating the "sin offering"? This seems to satisfy Moses' anger and he drops the issue.

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