You May Never Read Leviticus the Same

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These words from Samuel Balentine give so much perspective to the book of Leviticus that if you read the book in this light you may never read Leviticus the same:

The worldview underlying priestly rituals rests on two crucial beliefs. The first is the conviction that God has created the world and purposefully designed the rhythmic orders that keep it tuned to its capacity to be “very good.” Carefully differentiated categories and boundaries, for example earth/heaven, day/night, land/water, animals/humans, provide for harmonious relationships between God and all parts of God’s creation. As long as this order is actualized and sustained, the world and everything in it prospers. When this order is neglected or violated, creation succumbs to chaos, and the harmony between God and world is fractured.

The second priestly conviction is that God’s creational order is generative of and sustained by human observance of an imaging ritual order. This ritual order is manifest in the litany of the primordial week, when through seven commands God speaks into being a cosmic order that finds its culmination in the observance of the Sabbath day (Gen 1:1-2:4). This primordial design provides the foundation for the liturgy of covenant making, when God’s seven commands (Exodus 25-31) and Israel’s seven acts of compliance (Exod. 40:17-33) bring into existence a cultic order centered in the tabernacle, which provides God’s holy residence in the midst of a fragile world…In sum, the ritual order, like the cosmic order, establishes the boundaries and categories that enable a holy God to dwell in the midst of a world vulnerable to sin and defilement. When these rituals are faithfully enacted, God’s presence is palpably available; when they are ignored or breached, God’s sacred space on earth is compromised, and the harmony between God and the world is subverted…

Rituals are, however, more than ways of thinking about the world. They are fundamentally concerned with concrete ways to conceptualize and thus to enact…the world as it is or as it should be. Priestly rituals…seek to critique status quo ways of seeing and living in the world and to alter them, in accordance with God’s abiding vision, by embodying different models of behavior that bring what is into conformity with God’s hopes and expectations for what should be. – Leviticus (Interpretation Commentary Series), 4.

More than meets the eye:
In other words, the order found in the priestly ritual is mirrored in creation and is established by God in perfect harmony to be completed in a way that recognizes boundaries between the holy and the profane. The priests were acting out more than ancient rituals. They were, in effect, practicing things that helped the world be more in line with how God designed for it to be. That insight alone gives so much meaning to Leviticus and turns it from one of the most challenging books to read in your daily Bible reading to a somewhat more fascinating book that has more meaning that we might noticed on first glance.

Easier Application:
This also makes application a lot easier as it is hard to draw application from Leviticus because we have typically had the attitude that these things no longer apply to us since we don’t worship in the temple, don’t do sacrifices and because Jesus has fulfilled many of these things. Yet, the principle of setting the world aright, is still very biblical. So is holiness, obedience, forgiveness/atonement, and many other principles found in Leviticus. What is also fascinating about this is that the Torah had much more grace associated with it than is often realized.

0 Responses

  1. Excellent quote you have there. It’s funny how we tend to brush past some books of the Bible, assuming they’re irrelevant. I have yet to do serious study of any portion of Scripture without being amazed by how much it has to offer. Leviticus is no exception!

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