Literally Leviticus, an alliteratory allusion to uniquely unite contemporary and conservative christians

LITERAL (noun) “Conforming or limited to the simplest, nonfigurative, or most obvious meaning of a word or words.” I will be referring to the term literal several times and want to ensure that we are on the same page as to definition as I write and you (hopefully) read.

Leviticus is actually one of my favorite books in the bible. It has a great deal to say about holiness and what that means as it is lived out. Now, in fairness, a good many of us conservatives have given Leviticus a bad name with our ranting about the evils of tattoos, homosexuality and engaging in sexual congress with our father’s wife (all while eating bacon mind you), but all that means is in our literal interpretation of scripture (which I ascribe to) we missed the meaning. This is not to try and decipher what is sin and what is not in any singular category mentioned in Leviticus, rather to decipher what the simplest, and most obvious meaning of the words in Leviticus actually are. Don’t worry, I am not going to outline the entire book word for word.

Leviticus comes after Exodus and the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. So what you say? The lesson here is really quite simple for the followers of God then and now. First comes deliverance (Exodus) then comes sanctification (Leviticus). Notice that God did not expect that the Israelites would follow His dictates before they were delivered. As Christians we should probably follow that example and not expect that those who do not have faith in God through Christ to live like they do.

Leviticus exists to instill an awareness of sin as well as to show what constitutes holiness in one’s relationship to God. Under the covenant of law, this was demonstrated in large part by visual and concrete examples that were culturally relevant. It is done so in the covenant of grace as well with the many concrete illustrations that Christ gives, the difference being that Jesus told more stories to demonstrate rather than to simply say “don’t do this”. The examples given however are still concrete and culturally relevant. It is not interpretation to say that the overriding theme of what is written is that the people of God should be noticeably separate from those who are unfaithful. If people do not notice there is something different about us because of our faith we may be in trouble. That is quite literally what is laid out by God in Leviticus.

Leviticus foreshadows and reminds of the complete and perfect sacrifice of Christ by focusing on the perfect requirements of the sacrifice of animals. It prepared the Israelites for the coming messiah and the sacrifice necessary for redemption. No forgiveness without blood. Again, literally what the book says.

Finally, Leviticus adds to the revealed nature of God in Genesis (creator) Exodus (redeemer) by focusing on His holiness and His commands for us to be holy in response (sanctifier).

Whether liberal, progressive, conservative etc. there are a good many themes and ideas in Leviticus that we can focus on in agreement in our dealings and actions toward each other. Yes, sin is unpleasing to God and yes, we all should strive for personal holiness in an attempt to lead those around us to societal holiness, but we will not do so quibbling over the small stuff. We just might manage it when we focus on the big picture stuff. Yes, we are going to disagree over what is sin and what is not based on somethings in the book and I even think that good (Iron sharpening iron and all that good stuff), but let us be sure to do so within the over riding and literal theme of the book so that we can be identified as people of God that the world may see something in us to emulate. Isn’t that, after all, the simplest, and most obvious meaning of the words contained in Leviticus?

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3 Replies to “Literally Leviticus, an alliteratory allusion to uniquely unite contemporary and conservative christians”

  1. I expected there to be a comment on this. Since none, I have to say, wrong in so many ways. How can you take Leviticus seriously, when Lev 14 says “25´╗┐And he shall kill the lamb of the trespass-offering; and the priest shall take of the blood of the trespass-offering, and put it upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot.”? So much easier to believe Leviticus was written by P, to perpetuate the business of Aaronic priesthood meat house, and to keep the priests in charge of the business of intermediary between God and the common man. And also to exclude anyone with a handicap from the temple. So Leviticus, at its core, is exclusiveness of Aaronic priests, and exclusion of anyone not fitting the definitions of purity as defined by the priests. Isn’t this the premise of Jesus’s anger with the money changers in the temple?

  2. I can take Leviticus seriously because the overall theme of the instruction is a call to holiness, not holiness as defined by the priests, but holiness as defined by God. As to your specific example, I would imagine that the instruction was actually fairly sound for its day. Less about excluding someone with Leprosy from the temple and more about protecting those attending from contracting the illness as well. In the same chapter, as it all deals with Leprosy, there is a time when the leper is pronounced clean. As I referenced above, Leviticus was culturally relevant in its time. While we understand this to be a disease to be treated, it was understood in this time as a sin which also required treatment. Hyssop oils have long been used as a natural antiseptic, and topical anti-inflammatory which would have eased the discomfort of the leper, as well as being commonly used in ritual purification of lepers and the temple itself. It has been discovered also that the mold that produces penicillin also grows on Hyssop leaves which could have led to the possibility of curing or halting the progress of the bacteria that causes leprosy as well. The same treatments would also have been effective for scabbing and rising red spots on the skin as is directed at the end of the chapter. I would also say that it is a foreshadowing of the healing that would come from Christ in the new testament. As for some of the rest of the more odd rituals described in this chapter and in other places, I would postulate that it is simply an act of obedience asked by God to demonstrate faith, similar to the calls for anointing one with oil in the new testament as the elders were gathered to pray. For each instance of uncleanliness in Leviticus, there is a remedy so that the person who was unclean could be reconciled back to God. Any physical uncleanliness is treated most often with isolation to protect the health of those who might have come into contact with them until the uncleanliness passes. Ultimately, though unclean, there was a way to be reconciled to God as foreshadowing to being reconciled to God through Christ.

    1. We will have to agree to disagree. One final for me….you said “Leviticus was culturally relevant in its time”. Certainly to the priests. I think of Richard Elliott Friedman’s comment on animal sacrifice…something like, it started as a simple “giving thanks” when you killed an animal for food, done in your own home by the man of the family. It evolved into a ritualistic brew-haha only done at the Jerusalem Temple with a priest attending, with sin brought into the mix. My words, not Friedman’s. But the origin of the practice is the same.

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