(Understanding Leviticus 21 for Today)
By Iverna Tompkins
Transcribed by Jane Vaughn
We’re seeing some things today in the church we haven’t seen in many years. It’s a new day we’re living in. For some years, the Lord has been saying through me and many others, “There’s coming a moment of judgment.” I believe that moment is upon us.
In the late 1980’s, we watched as noteworthy, respected ministers and international ministries fell into gross sin right before our eyes. These ministries were televised widely so just about the whole world watched in horror and amazement. Today, there are far too many local pastors falling for the same temptations (and more), but we’re relatively unaware or uninformed because these reports are not hitting the national headlines. God is, however, exposing sin in His leaders. Judgment comes. God has warned us it’s going to come: “Judgment must begin at the House of the Lord. It’s going to begin with leaders” (1Pet.4:17). Judgment brings purification because God establishes His standard and measures our lives with it. That’s what judgment is – a comparison of His plan against what’s actually happening. And, I think we have only seen the tip of the iceberg – as God is testing His Body, not just the leaders!
When we see this happening, we become frustrated because it’s so difficult to know how to respond. It seems to me that there are two extreme camps among Charismatics today just as there were in the 1980’s. On the one side, we have those who say, “Forgive. Just forgive and forget. Let’s treat the situations (there are more than one) like they never occurred. Let’s restore, reinstate and forgive.” On the other hand, there are those who maintain, “There are certain legalities God states in His Word for leaders. And once someone violates those, they remove themselves (or defrock themselves) in the sight of God in the ranks of being a leader.”
God’s people want to know “which is the right position?” I know I want to know. In this day in which we are presently privileged to participate – I’m pausing for that to hit your big toe. It’s a privilege to be in the Kingdom of God these days because trust me, there is much for us to learn positively through all this. We have many, many things to learn – not the least of which is what restoration really means. We need to know what the Bible teaches us about restoration. Restoration and restitution are almost synonymous in meaning from both Hebrew and Greek. How do you “restore such an one” as the Bible tells us to do? (Gal.6:1; cf.1Cor.4:21; Lk.17:3,4; 1Tim.5:1,20)
First we’ll focus on Leviticus 21 beginning at verse 16. Oh, that we would hear with deep understanding. The topic for us is “Priestly Perfection.” Priestly perfection is discovered in the law but fulfilled in grace.
“The Lord said to Moses [NIV], say to Aaron for the 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, deformed. No man with a crippled foot, a crippled hand, a hunch back, a dwarf, or any who has an eye defect or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the Priest who has any of these defects is to come near to present the offerings made to the Lord made by fire.” (Lev.21:16-21) This scripture would well fit one camp that screams against some things in the name of legality.
I think we need to understand that priestly perfection, which is demanded in scripture, is not there for the purpose of separating priests from people, or clergy from laity. If we do not see this accurately, we will never understand the New Testament teaching. You see, we really talk out of two sides of our mouths. Out of one side we say, “He or she is a leader (clergy, paid or volunteer church staff, or recognized leaders of ministries) and more is expected as a result.” From the other side, we quote, “We are a ‘Kingdom of priests’ (Ex.19:6). We are all priests unto the Lord” (1Pet.2:5,9; Isa.61:6). So, which is it? Does God expect more out of the people we designate as clergy, or do we all stand equally accountable before Him?
I am extremely convinced that the next move of God is going to hit the pews in as great a dimension of power as it hits the pulpits. I believe that services are going to be divinely ordained of God – that He will set the order and content of services. As a result, I think during every service people are going to be saved, filled, healed, and delivered – in the pews. I think prayer requests are going to be made, agreed upon and answered – in the pews. I believe that’s what the next Revival will bring. Furthermore, I suggest that’s why pastors have been spending years or months preparing their people saying: “Get ready. Get ready. God’s going to do a new thing.”
But right now we are looking at some extremes. I beg you to be very careful that it does not become a diversionary tactic of the enemy to focus attention on an obvious failing and for us to refuse to deal with what needs to be handled. God ordains for us to see, to learn, to grow through such situations. He doesn’t just cause it (exposure of sin) to be so with no further divine purpose. He wants to use these things for us to recognize “There, but for the grace of God…” – and anyone who does not believe that is immediately bringing a revelation to all of his (or her) own arrogance or ignorance. God is not going to allow haughty hypocrisy to exist among His people forever!
“Well then,” you may ask, “is the New Testament a violation of or a setting aside of the Old? When Jesus came on the scene, the Pharisees indicated that it was. Jesus had begun to preach grace and love and they objected: “Now look, You are violating the law. You’re breaking the law by healing on the Sabbath (i.e.Jn.5:8-10,16; Mt.12:10-14). You’re not supposed to work on the Sabbath.” Can you understand there has never been a day when the Church has been riper for a return to legalism than today?
Today, pastors as well as other people I meet everywhere, are relating a recognized need: “I need to belong to something. I need somebody over me. I need somebody to hold me accountable.” There is a kind of fear that has gripped the people of God today. “Just tell me the absolutes. I want to know what I’m supposed to do and what I’m not supposed to do and let’s just get back to that.”
There are also people, leaders of a sort, who are on the horizon ready to throw their hat into the ring to lead you into just exactly that set-up. They are eager to establish a hierarchy – under them – with the absolutes you think you want so you “don’t miss the mark.” Be careful – for in the very finding of them you will return to a legalism from which Jesus Christ set you free! (see Gal.5:1). We may look at that and cry out, “What’s wrong with wanting to be accountable? I really don’t know some things. I’m unsure of some things.” That’s your moment of judgment! We are accountable to God; our actions and behavior are directed by His Spirit who dwells within each believer. Our responsibility is to get to know Him and allow Him to write His law on our hearts (Jer.24:7; 31:33; Heb.10:16). “They that do know their God are going to do exploits!” (Dan.11:32b). He is – God is – going to have a church. Yes, a church “without spot or wrinkle” (Eph.5:27).
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “No, I did not come to negate the law. Yes, I did come to fulfill it!” (Mt.5:17). Now what does that mean? To some people that sounds like a lot of double talk. I assure you it is not double talk. What He said was, “I came to make it possible for individuals to fulfill the law and please the Father.” Praise God for that!
We are caught in a somewhat frustrating situation. It’s one thing to know what I’m supposed to do and quite another to be capable of doing it. God revealed that there are people, many committed Christian people, who are in bondage to something they hate. That is an enigma. You hate it – why do you bow to it? But remember, this is a moment of judgment. It’s a divine time for measuring – evaluating ourselves (1Cor.11:31) – and then a time to make choices. God has drawn individual circles – lines of demarcation – and placed individuals in them. Then He says, “Take a look for yourself. You judge your reaction to a scene.” So I say, “Okay, Lord. What is it You really want me to do?” He says, “Well, here – here is The Book. If all else fails, return to the recipe.” :-) You’ll find My standard of measure in The Book.
The purpose of the Old Testament is to be there as a foundation upon which to build. So then, when Jesus the Messiah came He would be the key to unlock the symbolism of the Old. Did you hear that? Let’s imagine: Jesus comes on the scene and some educated scribe walks up to Him and says, “Now, wait a minute. Are these Your disciples?” He answers, “Yes, they are.” “These are going to be Your priests?” Again, “Yes, they are.” “Ah, ha! Well, back in The Book it says there should be a perfection in them. It says there should be no blemish, no lameness, no flat noses. And, we can tell by looking, these men have these faults. They’re not qualified to be priests.”
Can’t you imagine the Pharisees saying things like that about the disciples? I’m certain they did, just knowing how people are. “These are the ones You picked? Then, in other words, You’re negating what You inspired to be written.” Jesus’ response was, “I’m not negating it, I’m fulfilling it.” “Well, yeah, maybe,” His critics deride. “But you’ve got Chicken Little over here and Sloppy John, and all these other motley people.” But Jesus responds, “I know whom I’ve chosen. But I’m not through with them yet!” Hallelujah! Aren’t you glad for that, Church? He’s not through yet!
What is it that’s so important to the Lord? What traits disqualify one as His priest? Let’s study these things as listed in our beloved King James Version of the Bible.
First – in Leviticus 21 it says, “I don’t want My priests to have blemishes” (v.18a). That simply means defects or spots. What’s considered a blemish though, today? I think it is unconfessed sin. The only spot left in a believer is any sin that’s not yet confessed and therefore not yet forgiven. The Blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from – what? ALL – “all unrighteousness” (1Jn.1:9). When I admit to my sin (or confess), “Lord, I am the one. I am guilty. Please forgive me, Lord, and cleanse me,” the Blood of Jesus cleanses me from all unrighteousness (1Jn.1:7). We need this divine work for we cannot cleanse ourselves from sin. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission” or forgiveness (Heb.9:22b).
But there are many Christians today who refuse to recognize God’s revelation of personal shortcomings as God’s judgment. God does not judge believers the same way He judges unbelievers. When God judges an unbeliever, it’s a final thing. He turns them over to the enemy (Mt.18:34). Oh, yes, that’s true. That’s why it better be God and not you doing the judging! (see Rom.2:1-3). That word had better honestly come from the Lord before you release one and turn them over to the enemy. Don’t you EVER pronounce judgment on your own. It’s a frightening thing when we usurp that from the Lord. Does that communicate clearly enough?
Here’s the way God judges. He says to the believer-in-sin, “Fine, you don’t want Me? You want to be full of blights and spots and all the rest of it. Fine. Serve your master.” Then He turns to the Church and says, “Now, when they get enough of it, and when they come back after the enemy’s buffeted them and all the other things he will do, you better have open arms.” That’s when the Church hates it! We don’t mind it when they, those terrible sinners, get licked because they deserve it. But then, they come back to our doors and say, “You know God’s revealed to me I have sinned.” And we piously say, “Yes, you have.”
We label our own blemishes as personality traits because we don’t want to admit to personal sin! Or, we describe another something like this: “She is such a pouter. She goes into depression if things don’t go her way. She just shuts down for weeks. Bless her, that’s just her. It’s just the way she is.” God says that’s a blight. It is sin to reject Him and His offers for help and healing.
Now Church, please carefully hear what the Lord is saying. I have asked Him for a change in every one of our lives – an eternal change. And I believe for it in me as well as in you. When He says, “I’m coming for a church without…” what? “No more blight.” The moment He reveals sin to you, you are responsible to deal with it. “Well, but my mother was this way.” So? She didn’t deal with it either. This squarely facing the truth is not intended to encourage disrespect toward those who raised us. It is meant to remove our feeble excuses for not dealing with sin in our own lives.
I cannot accept some of the things I’m hearing in the Church at large today – that we’re inheriting all of these negative things through our family lines – generational this and generational that. What do you think “born again” represents? I refuse to bring the negative things of my father’s family or my mother’s family into focus in my life or grant any sort of pre-eminence to them, except for as long as it takes to deal with them before the Father. I may have to “crucify” a few stubborn things in myself (Col.3:5; Rom.8:13; 6:13), but God enables me to do that. When I was born again, I was born into the family of God (Jn.1:12) and set free from any blights of my family of origin! I am a whole “new creation in Christ Jesus” (2Cor.5:17; Rom.6:4). It is up to me to learn to appropriate that reality. Furthermore, He gives us the responsibility to “put off” the old nature (Col.3:8ff; Eph.4:22, 25,26) and “put on” character traits that reflect the power of God in our lives (Col.3:10, 12ff; Eph.4:24).
Go to Part 2