20230429 Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim – Keep on Keeping On
Torah Portion Leviticus 18:1-5, 30
Haftarah Amos 9:9-15
Brit Chadashah John 14:15-21
The twenty-ninth reading from the Torah and sixth reading from Leviticus is named Acharei Mot, two words that mean “after the death.” The title comes from the first words of the first verse of the reading, which say, “Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron” (Leviticus 16:1). Leviticus 16 describes the Tabernacle ceremony for the holy festival of the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 17 establishes general rules for sacrifice and sanctuary. Leviticus 18 lays down specific laws about permitted and forbidden sexual relationships.
The thirtieth reading from the Torah and seventh reading from Leviticus is named Kedoshim, which mean “holy.” The title comes from the words in Leviticus 19:2, which says, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Leviticus 19 describes the holy community through a series of specific commandments. Leviticus 20 warns against the snares of sexual immorality and idolatry, mandating a death penalty for certain sins. Except in biblical leap years, Kedoshim is read on the same Sabbath as the previous reading, Acharei Mot.
This morning I would like to focus on just one word in the five chapters of this Parsha. The word in English is keep. The word is Hebrew is Shamar (שמר). The word shamar is found 468 times in the Bible and is translated variously as keep (283x), observe (46x), heed (35x), keeper (28x), preserve (21x), beware (9x), mark (8x), watchman (8x), wait (7x), watch (7x), regard (5x), save (2x), miscellaneous (9x). The root word for Shamar is found 684 times if you are just reading a Hebrew version.
In the five chapters of our Parasha this week the word “shamar” is recorded 11 times. We read some of them this morning.
Leviticus 18:4-5 You are to obey My ordinances and keep My statutes and walk in them—I am Adonai your God.
(5) So you are to keep My statutes and My ordinances. The one who does them will live by them. I am Adonai.
Leviticus 18:26 You, however, are to keep My statutes and My ordinances, …
Leviticus 18:30 Therefore you are to keep My charge, so that you do not practice any of these detestable customs that were practiced before you, so that you do not defile yourselves by them. I am Adonai your God.”
I think it is safe to say that we should pay some attention to this little four letter word.
To better understand what God meant by keeping His commandments, we need to look at covenants also. The Bible speaks of seven different covenants, four of which (Abrahamic, Land, Mosaic, Davidic) God made with the nation of Israel. Of those four, three are unconditional in nature; that is, regardless of Israel’s obedience or disobedience, God still will fulfill these covenants with Israel.
One of the covenants, the Mosaic Covenant, is conditional in nature. That is, this covenant will bring either blessing or cursing depending on Israel’s obedience or disobedience. Three of the covenants (Adamic, Noahic, New) are made between God and mankind in general, and are not limited to the nation of Israel.
The covenants God made with Abraham, the Land, and David are the unconditional covenants. They were, are and will be carried out in the course of history. The Mosaic covenant, however was conditional.
The Mosaic Law handed down to us at Mount Sinai was written in the form of a suzerain treaty. This was a common document in the ancient Middle East. The treaty typically opened with a short history of the two parties involved. Followed by the identification of who was the suzerain, or greater king and who was the vassal or lesser king. There were stipulations that the suzerain would protect the vassal in return for the vassal state sending tribute or taxes, and obeying the rules laid down by the suzerain. There was a section of blessings and curses. Blessings if the commandments were obeyed and curses if they were not. That is why we say the Mosaic covenant is conditional. We have to keep God’s commandments to receive the blessings.
Six times in Leviticus 18 we are told to keep God’s commandments. Chapter 18 codifies prohibited sexual activities. It is very descriptive and doesn’t leave a great deal to interpretation. Just to be clear, the phrase “uncover the nakedness” means to have sexual relations. So, now that leaves nothing to interpretation.
When I am confronted by the current reincarnation of Sodom and Gomorrah, I really don’t have to personally defend anything. I can boldly point to Chapter 18 and say God Says. It doesn’t matter what I think. God Says. It doesn’t matter what some poor, misdirected soul that doesn’t know what bathroom to use thinks. God Says.
We are told to KEEP His commandments. We are told not to be like those in Egypt and Canaan. What does that mean? It means we are commanded not to follow the practices of this world. In the ancient world, the Canaanites and Egyptians were noted for their promiscuous lifestyles. And now what do we see in this country today? Men pretending to be women, performing lewd dances in elementary schools. Women pretending to be men shooting up schools. School administrations mandating that kindergarten students be taught human sexuality, including acts condemned by God as an abomination.
We need to renew our efforts to keep God’s commandments. Just this past week the Texas Senate passed SB 1515 which requires the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every classroom in Texas. Not one single Democrat voted in favor of posting a copy of the Ten Commandments in schools. Let that sink in the next time you go to the polls.
Don’t let your guard down. Every opportunity we have to press forward the agenda of holiness and purity must be vigorously pursued. Keep His commandments.
There’s another aspect of Keep that needs to be explored. That aspect is the covenants that God made with His people. God made a covenant with Abraham that He would bless Abraham and make him the father of many nations. His descendants would number like the stars in the sky or the sand on the earth. God also made a covenant with Abraham that defined the boundaries of the land of Israel.
The final covenant was with King David that promised a descendant of David would rule eternally. What is the common thread of all those three covenants? They were unilateral. It did not require anything on our part. God made a promise and He kept those promises regardless of what we did.
God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. What He promised to Abraham is still valid today. So the covenants God made to Abraham are just as valid as they were some 2500 years ago. That is foundational.
A third aspect of Keeping is actually an echo of our Parsha but with caveat. Listen to the words of Yeshua.
John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commands;
When we read Leviticus the instructions to keep God’s commandments were couched in terms of the Mosaic/Suzerain treaty language. It was an if/then proposition. If we obey God’s commandments, then He will bless us. Conversely, if we disobey God, then curses will follow. It is what we could call the carrot and stick approach.
However, Yeshua has given the commandment a bit of a twist. It is in the Why do we obey His commandments. Yeshua is not changing the Law. He said that He didn’t come to change the law but to fulfill it. He explained the law in terms of the spirit behind it. In this way we have a greater understanding of the underlying principles of the law.
Leviticus 19 we are told that we are, as a people to be holy because God is holy. That doesn’t mean we are to be sinless. That is impossible. But we are to be set apart from the world. We are not to be like the world. It is counterintuitive to the average person in this world to understand, much less practice the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
Yeshua brought clarity and purpose to Keeping God’s Commandments with some of His examples as recorded in Matthew 5, the sermon on the Mount.
He spoke of controlling our anger.
Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever commits murder shall be subject to judgment.’
SLIDE 17: JERKY HULK
(22) But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca’ shall be subject to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be subject to fiery Gehenna.
Yeshua addressed lust.
Matthew 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
(28) But I tell you that everyone who looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Adultery is not only a physical act, but can be an activity of the mind. Whether or not one actually commits adultery physically, Yeshua said that if we think about it, are consumed by the thought of it, then it is if we have actually committed adultery.
What we say is what we should do.
Matthew 5:33-37 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall carry out your oaths to Adonai.’
SLIDE 21: FALSE OATH
(34) But I tell you, do not swear at all—not by heaven, for it is the throne of God;
SLIDE 22: FALSE OATH
(35) or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.
SLIDE 23: FALSE OATH
(36) And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
SLIDE 24: SPEAK TRUTH
(37) But let your word ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’—anything more than this is from the evil one.”
Remarkably Yeshua told us to love not only our neighbors, but our enemies.
Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Love your neighbor—and hate your enemy.’
(44) But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!
The chapter ends much in the way Leviticus 19 begins.
Matthew 5:48 Therefore, be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Again, it is a call to keep God’s commandments, not only in the letter of the law, but in the spirit of the law also.
In 12th Century Europe, society was of course much different than it is today. Local nobility (another word for a strong man), ruled an area and protected his subjects from bandits and rival lords. This necessitated the construction of fortresses, castles and such that could be defended against waring neighbors. These castles would often include a tower-like structure that was more heavily constructed than the rest of the castle. It was called the Keep and was a refuge of last resort. If all else failed, the defenders could retreat to the keep with the hope of outlasting the invaders. These structures were not that successful and with the advent of gunpowder and artillery, they were useless. But still people would put their trust in brick and mortar.
We are studying the book of Isaiah in our Sunday night online class. One of the main themes of Isaiah is the warning that Israel and Judah should not put their trust in foreign nations, nor should they trust in their own defenses. No, Isaiah repeatedly told them to trust in God to protect them.
Times have changed but God has not. The Psalmist wrote in:
Psalms 46:2 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who promised to protect and defend His people if they would Keep His Commandments is still on the throne today. We all need a refuge today against the onslaught of the enemy. We cannot trust in a political party, or a government to look out for our best interests. But we can rely on God to preserve us and give us the strength and ability to resist all manner of evil. Keep His Commandments. We need to Keep On Keeping On.