Leviticus in the Big Picture

Good morning from Southeast Texas! I am preaching this week in Mauriceville, Texas, which is why I haven’t been posting very much. But I have discovered a delicious Cajun delicacy called boudan! I recently had a pleasant Facebook discussion with a friend who does not come from the same perspective as I do regarding religion in general, and certain moral questions in particular. In the course of that thread, he raised the various unusual laws of Leviticus, joking that he hopes Christians will not decide to take them seriously!

Leviticus does indeed sound strange to our ears. Prohibitions against shellfish? Mixing fabrics? Sowing different sees together? In our culture these prohibitions seem bizarre at best. However,  Jesus’ classic teaching, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is a quotation from this book (Leviticus 19:18). So it isn’t completely weird!

The thing to bear in mind is that the Bible is a very big story, with a huge narrative arc. So you always have to ask yourself, “Where are we in the story?” In some parts of the story, God is calling out the nation of Israel to be distinct from other nations. This is why there are certain laws that emphasize Israel’s distinct identity (through things like circumcision, dietary laws, holy days). That’s even why there are obscure laws about keeping things separate (like different kinds of seed, or clothing material). They served as visual reminders of Israel’s distinct identity. But in the larger story arc, it was not God’s intent for Israel to remain separate forever. Through Israel, God brought the Messiah into the world, and for the whole world. So then at THAT point in the story line, those laws that kept Israel distinct were no longer needed (you can read a nice summary of this big picture in Galatians 3:16-4:7).

But there are some principles that permeate all phases of the story arc. And from a traditional Christian point of view, this includes male-female complementarity in marriage. Jesus rooted this understanding in the fabric of the created order itself (Matthew 19:3-9). This is why Christians are concerned about male-female complementarity in marriage, but happily enjoy shrimp, which I intend to do in robust fashion here in southeast Texas!


1 Comment

  1. The beauty of Leviticus – as I study it – is that the “distinct”iveness of those laws were CONSTANT reminders throughout their every act of life was to be holy as God is holy. So saturated were these laws that in fact the practicality of keeping these laws showed them that they were often “unclean” and in need of atonement. What was true for the Israelite was especially true for the priests/high priest: the need for atonement to be able to approach God (see. Lev. 9, esp. v. 6 & 22; 10:3).

    The grand arc you mention in your article, again as I see it, clearly foreshadows the nature and role of our High Priest, Jesus Christ – who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (uncleanness), but unlike the high-priest sinner – is without sin. Further, he broke through the veil once for all, rather than going into the most holy place each year…making the ability for the rest of our priestly nation today to “come near to God” (Heb. 4:14-16) by faith (Rom. 5:1-2).

    Leviticus is boring (great go-to-sleep reading) if we only look at the laws and completely disconnected from Jesus Christ and the Good News we live by today. When the connections are made between the old and new….it is rather beautiful to see. 🙂

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