“Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God. Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety.” (Leviticus 25:17-19)(NIV)
“How-to for Living with the Holy”
The whole of Leviticus reads like an instruction manual. It’s dry, and a bit tedious, full of regulations and infinite detail. But the level of instruction makes perfect sense when read with the realization that God was taking up actual, physical residence with His chosen people. The Israelites could not make simple adjustments in their lives to fit God in. Rather, they had to re-structure the entire framework of their lives – changing everything from what they ate, to the specifics of sex, cleanliness, law and worship – to guarantee the Almighty’s predominance among them. Much like workers at a nuclear power plant, extreme caution and assiduous detail were required in communing with the Most High. In fact, in chapters 24 and 25 alone, God reminds his people no fewer than 4 times that “I am the LORD your God.” This verbal refrain served to illustrate that God, through His regulations, was setting his people apart for a purpose, and that each ordinance was to be met with the solemnity required of co-habitation with the Living God.
So serious were these regulations, that those who broke them (intentionally or otherwise) were punished – sometimes by death. Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu (chapter 10) were an example. Then, there is the brief tale of the man with an Egyptian father and Israelite mother who cursed God during a fight with an Israelite. This uncharacteristically narrative passage in Leviticus gives names and specifics, and ultimately, an extremely harsh punishment: “’Say to the Israelites: If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death’” (Leviticus 24:15-16). To this day, observant Jews protect themselves from the unintentional invocation of God’s wrath by never writing His name, substituting it for “G-d” instead.
In this narrative, it is as if God is saying, “I have rescued you. I have provided for you. Now, you’re going to do things my way.” There is a perfect, nearly poetic equity in this. This was (and is), as the Israelites were reminded, not a golden idol, not a fictitious deity, not a man-made creation, but a vibrant, powerful, and mighty God. Living with Him meant towing the line.
It seems we get away with an awful lot these days. This, I suppose, is a function of in living in a post-New-Testament world, wherein Jesus has become our representative to God (taking the place of the high priest), has cleansed the source of contamination in all of us (our sin nature), has taken the place of any animal as the ultimate sacrificial offering. There is no pillar of cloud above the Tent of Meeting to tell me when to get up and move, and I am not struck dead upon the utterance of a curse (I won’t admit how many times I’ve been thankful for this). But in reading Leviticus, I have a new respect for God’s holiness and intent. Yes, there are a great many rules, many of which are incomprehensible in a life eased of regulation by the lightness of Grace, but the fact of God’s power and his purpose remains unchanged. Let us not forget we have been set apart, and though this may result in temporal difficulty and short-term discomfort (I Peter 3:14-16), it is the smallest price to pay for the ultimate gift: a chance for co-habitation with the Almighty for the rest of eternity.
Excerpts from a post originally published February 10, 2009.