© 2011 David's Harp and Pen
DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I don’t want to hear from Old Testament scholars accusing me of dissing Leviticus. On the contrary, my hope is to increase its reader traffic and finally give the book the street cred it deserves.
Most Christians and Jews I know read through the Bible/Tanakh each year. My close cronies and I usually dread when we happen up on the Book of Leviticus. The book is a bit of a cross between an annotated legal code and a horror novel. There are nonstop rules, codes, and statutes, along with exceptions to the aforementioned. For those who have never read it, nor have plans to, let me try to replicate some of the themes in a modern fashion to give you an idea of the overall theme of Leviticus’s contents:
“If man steals his neighbor’s Sony PSP, the man shall be required to compensate his neighbor sevenfold. If he stole the PSP on the Sabbath, he shall repay his neighbor fourteen fold. If he stole the PSP on a holy or feast day, he shall repay his neighbor a hundredfold. If it was a holy or feast day AND the Sabbath, the man shall have his right hand cut off, but he can keep all his money. However, if the man stole his neighbor’s PSP by accident (it fell into his grain sack while he visited his neighbor, and no one saw it), he shall run to the nearest city of refuge, where he will be safe until he can stand before the High Gaming Priest. Then, whether he stole the PSP by accident or on purpose, he shall sacrifice a Tickle Me Elmo doll and a flock of Chia Pets. If he cannot afford a Tickle Me Elmo doll and a flock of Chia Pets, he may instead offer a Beanie Baby. If he cannot afford a Beanie Baby, he may offer an apple pie, topped with Cool Whip. Also, if a man steals his neighbor’s Nintendo DS, no punishment will befall him, as he has saved his neighbor from an inferior handheld gaming experience.”
And that’s the gist of it. Some peruse the third installment of the works of Moses and see nothing more than an antiquated rulebook of a theocratic society with no relevance to today’s world. When I got around to Leviticus in my yearly Bible reading this year, I expected I would feel the same way about Leviticus as I always had: I would be overwhelmed by the ancient legal mumbo-jumbo and freaked out by the stories in which God rolled out the death penalty for just about everything, and in grand fashion (not unlike the State of Texas today). This go around was different, however. Very different.
As I read each scheduled section for each day, I was reminded, as always, of the extremely tedious nature of the book. For the first time, however, I finally made its connection with the tedious nature of sin. Our rebellion against God and our transgressions from His Law always have consequences much more involved and far-reaching than we realize when we choose to sin. Although God fully and freely grants us forgiveness the moment we offer to Him total and sincere repentance, the repercussions of our actions more often than not have consequences that we must still contend with long after the fact. The procedures for righting wrongs in Leviticus are long, involved, and cumbersome. Maybe one of the whole points of having the whole thing written down for us to read even today is so we would see, in light of the procedure to set things right when we sin, that it is just better not to sin in the first place.
One day I was reading a certain passage in Leviticus that talked about various animal sacrifices. My dog Bruno was sitting at my feet. I love Bruno very much. He is not just a pet, he is a companion. I thought for a moment what it would’ve been like if I lived in the times of Leviticus. What if I had sinned and had to sacrifice Bruno in order to be forgiven by God? I pictured myself having to go to the tabernacle. I imagined having to turn Bruno over to the priest. I envisioned the look of terror on my poor pooch’s face as he was led to the altar against his will, looking back at me as if to ask why I had betrayed him in such a fashion. A flood of anguish came over me as I hugged my dog as tightly as I could, realizing maybe for the first time the cost of sin is never paid only by the person who commits it. (Now, let’s be realistic here, before anyone reports me to PETA, I would never sacrifice my poor, unsuspecting canine. He’s not kosher, for starters. Second, in light of Bruno’s own sins, God would require me to be sacrificed for Bruno’s sins before he would ever be accepted as a sacrifice for mine. I mean, Bruno’s crimes against the neighbors’ shrubs and the Nashville critter population ALONE—but I digress.)
In all seriousness, though, it is startling to think about the amount of blood required to atone for sins in Leviticus when it was all woefully insufficient to take away or forgive sins in the first place. Not only was the blood of animals powerless to forgive sin, it offered no assistance to prevent those who made the offerings from sinning in the future. Hebrews 10 says it all: “But [as it is] these sacrifices annually bring a fresh remembrance of sins [to be atoned for], because the blood of bulls and goats is powerless to take sins away[. . .] [in accordance with this will [of God], we have been made holy (consecrated and sanctified) through the offering made once for all of the body of Jesus Christ (the Anointed One).”
When I read Leviticus now, it makes me very happy. As I read within its pages the vast scope of the consequences of sin, I am reminded of the even greater significance and thoroughness of Jesus’s blood, a better (and final) sacrifice in that it not only atones for all sin for all time, it gives me the power to walk in mercy and obedience, which God said is more desirous to Him than the blood and fat of animals anyway. I am grateful for that perfect, complete offering of the Lamb of God. And, although he couldn’t tell you in so many words, so is Bruno.