Forgive me for what I’m about to say. I know it sounds bad – especially coming from a priest – but it’s honest. We all know that there are books/sections in the Bible that are really difficult to understand – rule after rule, painful detail after painful detail…the very thought discourages us from even opening our Bible.
I know it’s not right, but it’s true.
So what one book in the Bible exemplifies this? The one book that we avoid the most?
LEVITICUS! No doubt about it. To me, Leviticus is by far the hardest book in the Bible to read. It is (forgive me again God) filled with boring detail after boring detail – things that seem to have no bearing on my life today.
Go read Leviticus 11 – where God specifies which animals are clean for eating and which are not – and tell me why I should be excited to read that? Or Leviticus 8 – where Moses consecrates Aaron and his sons as priests – and read the details given and tell me what spiritual lesson you derive from it?
“Also he took some of its blood and put it on the tip of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he brought Aaron’s sons. And Moses put some of the blood on the tips of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. And Moses sprinkled the blood all around on the altar. Then he took the fat and the fat tail, all the fat that was on the entrails, the fatty lobe attached to the liver, the two kidneys and their fat, and the right thigh; and from the basket of unleavened bread that was before the Lord he took one unleavened cake, a cake of bread anointed with oil, and one wafer, and put them on the fat and on the right thigh…” Leviticus 8:23-26
Need I go on? What benefit can we find in these sections/books? Are there any spiritual lessons we can take away? Or do we simply write them off as “boring” and avoid them at all costs?
I think most of us do the latter – we ignore these sections. We don’t read them at all. At best, we skim through them as quickly as we can so we can check off some imaginary checkbox in heaven that says “Read whole Bible.”
Is there anything more though? Is it just empty rituals and outdated laws and that’s it? Or can we find more?
In Psalm 19, King David says this about God’s laws:
“The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes…The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” Psalm 19:7-11
What’s that David? Are you talking about the same laws I am? Did you read Leviticus King David? You are telling me that those laws are “sweeter than honey”? And “more precious than gold?” Are we reading the same book???
Throughout the Old Testament (especially in Leviticus), God gives His people all kinds of rules and regulations governing their behavior. What to eat and not eat…what to touch and what not to touch…what to do when someone is sick or someone sins or someone dies. All kinds of rules for just about every situation you can imagine.
Why so many rules? What was God doing with all these rules?
Simple. HE WAS CARING FOR HIS PEOPLE. Every law was God's way of protecting His people when they didn’t know how to protect themselves.
For example, in Leviticus 13, God gives the laws concerning leprosy – what to do when someone is found to have leprosy. I’ll spare you the details here, but the summary is that God tells people “if you find some white spots on your skin, come to the priest and let him examine you” (thank God the role of priests has changed since that time!).
If the priest sees that it is truly leprosy, he will pronounce you unclean and put you in isolation so that you do not infect the rest of the people in the village. But if he sees that it is not leprosy, he shall isolate you for just 7 days. And then at the end of those 7 days, he will examine you again. If the disease has left, you are free to return to your family – after washing your clothes in the prescribed manner. If not, then you go back to isolation until it has left.
That was my version of leprosy 101.
Do you think the people back then understood what God was doing? Do you think they understood why someone with a few white spots on his skin needed to be isolated like this? Did this rule make sense to them?
Probably not. To us it makes sense because we now understand about bacteria and infectious disease – but back then, they didn’t understand any of that stuff.
Case in point – see the Bubonic plague that killed almost half of the entire European population in the 14th century. 25 million people died simply because they didn’t understand how bacteria spread and infected others. They didn’t realize that they needed to isolate those with the infection to protect the rest of the population.
Today we understand that. Back then they didn’t. The point is that God’s rules don’t always make sense, nor do we understand where they’re coming from. But like King David said, His laws are trustworthy and perfect. To the one who obeys them, they are sweeter than honey and more precious than gold and there is great reward in keeping them.
You see, in the Old Testament, God gave the people laws concerning leprosy. Some liked it and some didn’t. It didn’t make sense to them. It seemed unfair. It seemed like it was taking away their freedom and their right to live fully. But in fact, the exact opposite was true. God’s laws are not given to take away our freedom, but rather to protect it and fulfill it. But unfortunately we can’t always see that in the moment. It often isn’t until much later that we realize the value in God’s laws.
In the Old Testament, God gave His people laws concerning how to keep their bodies pure and clean. Some understood it; others didn’t. But that didn’t make His law any less true.
Today, God gives His people laws concerning how to keep our souls pure…and our minds pure…and our hearts pure. Some understand it; others don’t. But that doesn’t make His law any less true.
For reflection: what law are you struggling to trust and obey today?