Emor – “Say it!”

This week’s parasha is entitled Emor, meaning “Say it!” and covers Leviticus 21-24. These chapters reveal a God who is supremely holy, who pays attention to details, and demands the same of those who would draw near to Him.

God is awesome in perfection. Hence, the Cohanim, who represented God to Israel (and vice versa), had to be free of physical defects. Anyone blind or lame, or having a facial disfigurement, or eczema, or a crushed testicle, was disqualified. Even something as simple as a broken bone or a limp prevented a man from serving at the altar. I and many of us here would be ineligible on that basis alone. But we should understand that the Cohanim were a type of Messiah Yeshua, who was Himself flawless in all respects.

The priest’s lifestyle was also to be an example of holiness. He was not to marry a divorcee, a widow, or any woman who had ever been sexually impure. Only a virgin Israeli. In terms of ritual purity, the priest was not to have any contact with a deceased person.

Chapter 22 lists the requirements of animals brought for sacrifice to Adonai. No animal with any sort of blemish or deformity was to be brought as a sin offering or burnt offering. We were also prohibited from slaughtering a cow or a sheep and its offspring on the same day, but to allow at least a week for the mother and youngling to be together. Animals may be simple, but they do have feelings, and God cares about all of His creation.

Chapter 23 outlines the seven annual holidays of Israel, four in the Spring, and three in the Fall. Why did God command us to observe these festivals? To make our lives more complicated? Of course not. These were special occasions for us to draw near to God and enjoy His presence! Adonai knows we need spiritual course corrections – periodic reminders of who we are, and who He is.

Each of these holidays points to Yeshua as the Messiah. Pesach – Passover portrays Yeshua as the flawless Lamb of God, not a bone of whom was broken, and by whose blood death passes over those who obey. The seven-day Holiday of Unleavened Bread points to Him as the sinless One, who for our sake was afflicted, broken, striped, and pierced. Bikkurim, or First Fruits, falling on the 3rd day of Passover week, anticipated Messiah’s 3rd day resurrection from the dead. 50 days later, Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost), with the new grain and the wave offering of two loaves of bread baked with leaven, symbolized the Holy Spirit’s coming and drawing together of Jew and Gentile in Messiah as one new man.

Leviticus mentions no summer festivals. Summer is when crops grow and ripen, but the harvest is yet to come. In terms of God’s redemption of the world, I believe we are in the very late days of summer. For the past 2,000 years the seed of the Gospel has gone out worldwide and taken root. The harvest of believers from all the nations will soon be gathered in at the End of the Age.

Israel’s three Fall Festivals are also prophecies, anticipating the Second Coming of Messiah. Yom T’ruah (Rosh HaShanah), on the 1st day of the 7th month of Tishri, with its blowing of shofars anticipates the coming Great Day when “…the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Messiah shall rise…” (1 Thess. 4:16).

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, occurs on the 10th day of Tishri. The High Priest, representing all Israel, would enter K’dosh K’dosheem, the Holy of Holies, but only after elaborate ritual purification and the offering of a bull for his own sin. What a solemn day! It was all or nothing – we would either be accepted by God, and live another year, or be judged by God and condemned. God commanded us to humble ourselves and contemplate our desperate need of forgiveness for our many sins. The rabbis tell us that in ancient times a scarlet-colored piece of fabric was tied to the Azazel, the scapegoat, and another piece nailed to the Temple gate. They say that when the Azazel met its death, instantaneously the scarlet-colored fabric would turn white; symbolizing God’s acceptance of our atonement for the year, reminding us of the words of Isaiah: “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool (Isaiah 1:18). Imagine the gladness and relief felt by all in that moment!

That relief would naturally give way to joy and celebration, which is what the final seventh Festival was all about: Sukkot – the Holiday of Tabernacles, five days later, on the 15th of Tishri. The sukkahs, the little shelters we build and decorate with leafy branches, look back to our wandering in Sinai. The sukkah, which is so temporary, also reminds us that our sojourning in this world is temporary. This isn’t our home; and these bodies of ours will one day fail. Sukkot also looks ahead to Messiah’s Millennial Kingdom of peace and abundance, and to our eternity in fellowship with God; as the Apostle John wrote, “Behold the Tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them…” (Revelation 21:3).

Chapter 24 concludes with a situation in which a young man was judicially sentenced to death for having blasphemed the name of Adonai. The parasha is all about holiness. God is holy, His name is holy, and His people are to be holy.

I’ll conclude with two thoughts:

  1. Even if you’re not physically perfect, like Israel’s priests, don’t despair. God graciously calls us a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. And, we have a righteous and flawless High Priest, who for our sake was disfigured. Because Messiah Yeshua has provided the ultimate atonement offering of Himself once for all time, we are accepted by God in Him… and only in Him.
  2. Let’s make sure we don’t use God’s grace as an excuse for half-baked faith. Those burnt offerings were to be flawless animals – the very best we had. Are you giving God the F.A.T. portions – the very best of your finances, your abilities, and your time? Or is He getting the leftovers? Are you dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s in your life? Yes, walk in His grace, but it’s that very grace that should move you to give the Lord God of Israel your very best, and to accomplish all that you do – at work, in your family, and in your neighborhood, with excellence.