Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Gospel According to Leviticus

Some days I like to imagine, what if the books of the Bible got together for a good old fashioned barbecue? Acts would be running around, fetching all the firewood (or is charcoal better? Judges wants to consider all the options) while Romans is shouting directions that only 1 and 2 Timothy are actually paying attention to. Joshua and Mark have got 3-foot flames coming out the grill, while Ezekiel and Ruth are finishing up preparing the barley salad and other sides. Manic-depressive Psalms can’t decide if he wants a hot dog or a burger, while Ezra makes sure Corinthians are staying on track with the drinks.

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But Leviticus? Well, I’ve always imagined him over there, still reading the instructions on how to properly use the hamburger flipper while everyone else is happily chowing down.

Leviticus isn’t exactly  the evangelical church’s go-to book. How many pastors do you know announce their next 12-week series will be hiking its way through the Levitical law? Or how many men’s Bible studies decide that their focus this quarter will be on the various rules surrounding removing mold from clothing and identifying infectious skin diseases?
But, after spending six months with the Kamano-Kafe translation team dissecting the book verse by verse and phrase by phrase and spending more time than I thought possible discussing the lobe of the liver (or the legs of a man cow-pig...don’t forget to read that story!), I’ve come to see that Leviticus is much like these pictures of sand...although important, rather blah from a distance…

...but full of great beauty up close.

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Enter a holy and righteous God who loves and desperately wants a relationship with His people. But the chasm is so deep, that it’s only through blood and perfect unblemished sacrifice of His Son Jesus that His people are cleansed, redeemed from the darkness, and can walk intimately with Him in obedience and faith, to receive the abundance of His blessing that stretches beyond the future.

That’s the Gospel...and that’s Leviticus.

Paratext--one of the computer programs we use while translating!
Because Papua New Guinean (PNG) culture and ancient Israelite culture share so many similarities—land-based societies filled with social taboos, animal sacrifices, blood vendettas, sorcery, loose alliances, death rituals, and more—often my Kamano-Kafe colleagues were much quicker to see the beauty and importance of the various laws than I did.

For example, while for many Westerners the laws poking into every corner of daily life seem overkill and intrusive, in ancient Israel and Papua New Guinea, there’s no separation of the spiritual and the mundane, and God’s interest in methods of cooking and hunting is completely logical. Similarly, people and land are intertwined, tied together deeper than blood. The laws of land distribution and ownership, boundary stones, and arguments between clans are everyday issues for PNG and ancient Israel (but not so much for Westerners whose great grandparents were immigrants and who happily move across a continent for jobs or spouses or weather preferences).

Or consider the roles of rest and trust when your survival is dependent on the food you produce with your labor—your daily trudge to the distant gardens. And yet, the entire book of Leviticus is punctuated  by rest—of Sabbath days and festivals with commandments to stop and pause, including an entire year where garden work is prohibited (and the food will be provided by the Lord Himself). After 8 months of severe drought, trust has a new meaning.

And we all acknowledge that those verses about God’s care for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner give us warm fuzzies, but have you actually considered how merciful a law like “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” is? In PNG, if a man destroys a garden, the victim will probably come kill his pig. Then the original man will retaliate, injuring a person...and then the second party strikes back, killing a man. The destruction bubbles upward no end in sight in ever-escalating payback. But this law arrests the cycle, crying to this point and no more!

Mercy. Holiness. Redemption. Sacrifice. Love.

The Gospel according to Leviticus.