I’m in Leviticus, get me out of here!
I once gave a talk at a Sunday evening service entitled ‘I’m in Leviticus, get me out of here!’ It’s not an easy one, is it? We do often get bogged down and befuddled by this book. But in my journey to discover a love of Leviticus, I found it immensely helpful to look at the why of Leviticus.
Why all the laws and the weird conditions? Why so specific? Why so…gross?
Israel was coming out of one culture (Egypt) and moving to a new land (Canaan) which also had its own culture and practices (and we know that some of these were very displeasing to God).
The lens of culture
Culture is not an easy thing to explain and identify, however much we talk about it. Because we are immersed in it. We don’t just look at culture, we look through it. Culture is not merely a picture, it’s a lens.
Israel was called to look through a different lens. Not the one of the Egyptians. Nor the one of those who had lived in Canaan before them. The laws in Leviticus were so specific because they were reacting to something specific – something happening in one of those other cultures. Something that spoke of other practices and other gods. But Yahweh was different. Yahweh was not confined or hinged to one place or that. Yahweh was not like the other gods, bickering amongst themselves. Yahweh was holy – purely distinctive – and his people were to reflect that.
Some of that was in behaviour – be it general or specific. Some was in symbolism – what they wore and ate was a picture (or lens!) of who they were and why they were different.
Leviticus is all about being different. Acting different. Looking different and sounding different. It’s a book all about difference.
Are we prepared to be different?
This begs the question - how different are we? No, not all the specifics of Leviticus apply to us. The laws regarding sacrifice, for example, have been superseded by Jesus. And the symbolic aspects aren’t the same (I suspect many of us are wearing polyester and thinking nothing of it).
We may not be in the same culture as the Israelites, but we have our own culture – or should I say cultures – as different parts of life impact and mould us. What lens are we looking through? Is it the right lens?
I want to challenge us (myself included) to take a long hard look at what we’ve got in our eyes. What are we looking through?
Are we seeking to please God above all else, to be distinctive for him in all we say, think and do? Or do we let the lens of culture dictate the direction of our gaze? Are we prepared to be wrong about strongly held opinions – those influenced by culture rather than our distinctive God? Are we prepared to be different when everyone else sneers at us and doesn’t get why we don’t do this or why we do do that?
Dear God, please show me what I’m looking through. Amen