Sunday, August 12, 2007

how 'bout them Levites?!

From my lesson this morning, Moses continues to deal with the people in the aftermath of their "great sin" (Exodus 32:25-29). His rallying cry in is met by the Levites' willingness to "execute" the command. What are we to make of this today? What are the applications to invoke (and potential stumbling blocks to avoid)?

1.) Christians should match the zeal of the Levites in eradicating sin in our hearts and in "the camp" (the church), especially those sins which harm the good name of God and do damage/injustice to others.

OK, zeal is fine, but what about their methods?

2.) The passage refers to activity within the community of believers (Israel)-- and thus, by application, refers to today's community of believers (the Church). To those not in the faith, this should be of no concern to them, just as the dictates of this passage will not be enforced on them.

Paul makes this quite clear in I Corinthians 5:9-13.

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."

The church is to enforce its norms for social morality-- within the church, not outside the church. (One can make a case for legislating "social justice" [see: my book!]-- but that's a longer discussion and not relevant to this particular passage.) Ironically, if the Church fails at this task, they will be guilty of a far more common charge: hypocrisy and condoning hypocritical behavior.

3.) Although the distinction between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament is commonly overblown, there are prescriptive differences between the two dispensations. As we see in the I Corinthians passage, Paul's command (inspired by God) is to dis-fellowship the offender. This general approach is repeated elsewhere. So, within "church discipline" we are apparently to match the Levites' zeal without using literal swords.

4.) We see in this episode, most/as prominently, not the wrath of God, but His mercy-- in allowing room for repentance and the chance to stand on God's side (instead of the side of sin/idolatry). His mercy and grace are always in balance with His wrath and justice (Malachi 4:1-2).


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