I’ve decided to start this year by reading the book of Leviticus. For the past couple of years I’ve referred to Leviticus as “the daily Bible reading killer” and it’s mostly true: many a New Year’s resolution has been foiled by the tedious commands of Leviticus. I guess that’s what drew me to open up my Bible last night and begin in the very place where my own good intentions have so often run aground.
Leviticus has often been referred to as a holiness code, protocol for maintaining relationship with God. These commands (mitzvot, in Hebrew) are given to help Israel fulfill the call to image God in the world. But even more specifically, Leviticus is anti-assimilationist literature. It is a call for God’s people to be a contrast people, a display people, a wholly uncommon people pledged to YHWH in fidelity and obedience.
So I thought I’d blog my way through as I read Leviticus to start 2018. Here are some random thoughts on Leviticus 1-2:
Lev. 1:1, ADONAI called to Moshe and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. (CJB – The Complete Jewish Bible)
This truth belongs right up front: this is a word from the Lord. No matter how tedious or insignificant these commands might seem to us — and they surely seemed at least somewhat bizarre to ancient Israel, too, I’m guessing — they are rightly understood as emanating from God.
And this is worth remembering as we read. To my way of thinking, the specificity here is proof that these commands were divinely given. We wouldn’t care about all this business about burnt offerings and grain offerings and do this with the blood and do this with the guts and so on. But God seems to care greatly!
Lev. 1:4, He is to lay his hand upon the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. (CJB)
How odd, to find grace even here, in the sacrificial system that we frequently appropriate merely as a contrast to what we experience in the New Covenant! And yet, there it is, in plain sight. God graciously gives step-by-step instructions in order that his people might experience atonement — a male without defect to foreshadow the Son without sin. And as we read, God seems to make allowances for all kinds of sacrifices: bulls, goats, birds, grains, drinks. Maybe the point is that almost any sacrifice works for God. Just bring him what you have and he’ll make it work. This is grace.
Lev. 2:13, You are to season every grain offering of yours with salt – do not omit from your grain offering the salt of the covenant with your God, but offer salt with all your offerings. (CJB)
Why? What’s the point of this command? Why must the grain offering be seasoned with salt? According to scholars, later Jewish thinkers distinguished between mishpatim (rationally derived rules governing behavior) and khukim (those mitzvot that may seem arbitrary or even irrational). Mishpatim make sense to everyone, like murder as being considered morally reprehensible. But khukim, like wearing tefillin or abstaining from certain foods, require greater faith. So perhaps this is one of those khukim rules that simply requires greater faith.
But I think the answer might be simpler. At the beginning of Leviticus 2, instructions are given for bringing a grain offering before ADONAI. As the grain offering is presented, the priest takes a handful of flour and throws it upon the altar as a reminder portion. “But the rest of the grain offering will belong to Aharon (Aaron) and his sons; it is an especially holy part of the offerings for ADONAI made by fire,” (Lev. 2:3).
I think this command is for the benefit of the priests.
The salt is to be added to the grain offering because the offering is eventually given to the priests to eat. Salt makes the grain offering taste better, plain and simple. God’s intention seems to extend beyond simply receiving an offer to appease himself. No, he requires that salt be included in the offering as a way of extending blessing to the priesthood.
In this, we see further affirmation of a deep biblical truth: God is the Creator of pleasure and enjoyment. Some Christians seem to believe that enjoyment is the playground of Satan. And to be fair, the kingdom of hell profits greatly by peddling pleasure. But God not only created us with pleasure receptors, he also created a world filled with delight for us to experience. So he commands his people to throw a little extra salt in the grain offerings for the benefit of his priests.
In a taste test, 9 out of 10 priests prefer salted to unsalted grain offerings.
And I like to think that our obedience to God functions the same way. God gives some command, some khukim, and our knee jerk response might be, “Why? What’s the point?” But is it possible that God simply intends for my obedience to bless someone else, just like the ancient Israelites blessed the priests by seasoning their grain offerings with salt? Isn’t that possible, even likely?