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Vayikra/Leviticus 17:9 And he does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to offer it to Adonai
Chapters 17-26 of Vayikra are known as the Holiness Code, a sub-section of the book that has a distinctive feel to it, but - according to Professor Richard Elliott Friedman - there is considerable disagreement as to exactly what the distinctiveness is, what it means, or how the text is to be distinguished from that which surrounds it 1. Thought by those who support theDocumentary Hypothesis to be part of the source 'P', composed by priestly writers to preserve and describe the functioning of the cult at a central location, our verse is part of a doublet that states that anyone who offers burnt offerings or sacrifice to HaShem away from the Tent of Meeting will be cut off from the people. A more traditional reading of biblical history suggests that once the Tabernacle was built and erected, it became the central point of worship and sacrifice for all the people, first in the desert and then - once Israel has entered the Land - at Shilo. It was eventually succeeded by the Temple in Jerusalem, so that there was one static place in the country that served as a locus for sacrifice, pilgrimage and ritual. Between the time of the Tabernacle at Shilo and the building of the Temple, however, the Rabbis interpret the texts to say that sacrifice to HaShem at , "high places", was allowed, while there was no one central place. See, for example, 1 Samuel 9:12.
It is certain that this text is more specific about sacrifice than texts earlier in the Torah. HaShem tells Moshe, "You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you" (Shemot 20:24, NASB). Whilst this could be speaking of one central site for the people as they moved about through the desert on their journey to Eretz Yisrael - just as the patriarchs travelled throughout the Land, built altars and called upon the name of the L-rd, so Israel's nomadic journeys would find the centre of their worship in the midst of the camp, wherever that might happen to be on any one day - it can also be read to imply that multiple sites of worship and sacrifice were envisioned. As the Torah proceeds, however, it becomes clear that only one site, one central location, is to be used: "Then it shall be, when you enter the Land ... that you shall take some of the first of the produce ... and go to the place where the L-rd your G-d chooses to establish His name" (D'varim 26:1-2, NASB). Be it Shilo or the Temple, only one site is now in view.
Rabbi Samson RaphaelHirsch points out that the text is prohibiting sacrifice to G-d is any way that falls outside the scope of Torah. "Bringing an offering to G-d elsewhere than in the Sanctuary of the Torah, expresses the conviction that relation to G-d can be established, 'nearness' to G-d obtained, by other means than the Torah, without necessarily treading the path of G-d's Laws, that one can turn one's back on the Torah and still turn one's face to G-d." Or, in other words: someone who chooses to offer sacrifice somewhere else, is effectively saying to G-d, "I'll worship You how and where I please, regardless of what You have said, and You'll just have to put up with it and like it!" No wonder the Torah says that such a person is to be cut off, for as Hirsch continues, "thereby he has torn himself and his future out of Jewish ground as 'he shall be cut off from his people' actually declares to him and his descendants." If you reject G-d's word and commandments then you are rejecting Him, and rejecting Him means that you have no part in G-d's people, no relationship with Him - as Rav Sha'ul so poignantly described the Gentiles: "excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without G-d in the world" (Ephesians 2:12, NASB).
It is in this context that we find Yeshua making what, in these days of tolerance and political correctness, is considered one of the more controversial - if not offensive - statements of our faith: "I AM the Way - and the Truth and the Life; no-one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:4, CJB). Whether for Jews or Gentiles, Yeshua is the way to approach G-d; He is the One who takes our prayers and service into the heavenly Tabernacle and presents them to G-d. As Israel's High Priest, even though the majority of our people still refuse to acknowledge Him as such, when Israel prays, they pray "in Him". The Gentiles, proclaiming Him as the Saviour of the World, draw near to G-d in Him and are grafted in to the olive tree, become children of Abraham by faith in Him. He is the Living Torah, the way we come to G-d.
What should we say to people of other faiths or none? How should we respond to those who say that they have no need of church or religion, that they feel close to G-d in their gardens or on a mountain top? What reason can we offer to those who say they have already found peace with G-d through another of the world's religions? Simply this: "This Yeshua is the stone rejected by you builders which has become the corner stone. There is salvation in no-one else! For there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by whom we must be saved!" (Acts 4:11-12, CJB). It doesn't matter what others think, unless they come to G-d on His terms, according to this Torah - His Living Torah - then they are cut off; they have no relationship with Him. We tend to read that verse as saying that calling on Yeshua means that we must be saved - and that is true - but the converse is also true: there is no other name, no other creed, no other way that guarantees salvation than Yeshua. All those who build in other ways, on whatever foundation or with whatever materials are effectively thumbing their noses at G-d and saying that they know best: G-d will just have to take what He can get. G-d's word declares that to be nothing but delusion!
1 - The Bible with Sources Revealed, Richard Elliott Freedman, Harper Collins San Francisco, 2003, 0060530693, Page 218, footnote
Further Study: 1 Kings 8:27-30; John 20:30-31
Application: Are you trying to please G-d your way, by offering Him what you want or is convenient to you? Or are you seeking Him to find out what He wants from you so that you can please Him in obedience in Messiah Yeshua? Are you bringing your sacrifice to the Tent of Meeting, or still offering sacrifice upon your own high place?
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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