For the Love of God, Volume 1/April 2
From Gospel Translations
Leviticus 5; Psalms 3—4; Proverbs 20; Colossians 3
IMAGINE A COMPLEX, WELL-ORDERED SOCIETY such that in every area of life there are actions that make a person dirty and further prescribed actions that make that person clean. When you get up in the morning, you wear clothes of certain kinds of fabric, but not others. There are clean foods and unclean foods. If a spot of mold appears on the wall of your house, there are procedures for treating it. Men must adopt a certain course after a wet dream, women in connection with their periods. Some unclean things must not even be touched. In addition there is a complex religious and sacrificial system each person is supposed to observe, and failure to observe it at any point brings its own uncleanness. And all of this fits into a still broader set of constraints that include what we normally call moral categories: how we speak, truth-telling, how we treat others, questions of property, sexual integrity, neighborly actions, judicial impartiality, and so forth. Understand, too, that in this society the rules have been laid down by God himself. They are not the results of some elected Congress or Parliament, easily overturned by a fickle or frustrated public eager for something else. To ignore or defy these rules is to defy the living God. What kinds of lessons would be learned in such a society?
Welcome to the world of Leviticus. This, too, is part of the heritage from Mount Sinai, part of the Mosaic Covenant. Here the people of God are to learn that God prescribes what is right and wrong, and that he has a right to do so; that holiness embraces all of life; that there is a distinction between the conduct of the people of God and the conduct of the surrounding pagans, not merely a difference in abstract beliefs. Here the Lord himself prescribes what sacrifices are necessary, along with confession of sin (Lev. 5:5), when a person falls into uncleanness; and even that the system itself is no final answer, since one is constantly falling under another taboo and returning to offer sacrifices one has offered before. One begins to wonder if there will ever be one final sacrifice for sins.
But that is down the road. Here in Leviticus 5, Christian readers delight to observe that while God trains up his covenant people in elementary religious thought, he provides means such that even the poorest in society may regain cleanness. The person who cannot afford a sacrificial lamb may bring a pair of doves or a pair of pigeons; the person who cannot afford these may bring a small amount of flour. The lessons continue; always there is hope and a way of escape from the punishment that rebellion attracts.