Leviticus 16-18

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Ah, I have learned not to wait until evening to write these things. Well, I’ve learned to start tomorrow not waiting until evening. I say, “Later I shall post my thoughts.” Then later has come and a project comes up, or I get a phone call, or something else happens. So, my reading hasn’t been accompanied by writing. Alas.

In Exodus 16-18 we get a bit of variety. Chapter 16 tells us of the day of atonement, that day in which the sins of the whole community are addressed and washed away, sent out into the wilderness, banished from camp. Such a wonderful ceremony really. Oh, I know, Christ has died for us, he is our sacrifice, so we don’t need such a thing anymore. But still, imagine how cleansing that was for the people. So palpable an action. They could smell the blood, and see the smoke rising, then watch the goat released into the wilderness.

Even though there were many sacrifices, and many rules, and many guidelines, there was this day in which all the mistakes and sins and errors were washed away. On this day, after the sacrifice, the people were really and truly wholly clean. How refreshing. How relaxing. It was the ultimate sabbath really.

I’ve heard it said there was another posted outside the camp who ended up killing the goat. This wasn’t an “official” act as much as symbolic.

Imagine if the goat had wandered back into camp. That’s a bad omen.

Chapter 17 is about eating blood. Or rather about not eating blood. What’s the big deal? What’s wrong with a little bloody rare steak? This is one of the few times God explains his rules. The life of a creature is in its blood. Blood is symbolic of life. Life is God’s alone. Blood can be offered as a sacrifice, offered back to God. But it can never be something a person takes, because they would be taking something that is God’s gift alone. Blood is the life of an animal, and it is the symbol of that life. So don’t eat what is God’s. That would be an abomination.

A couple of things come to mind. The first is a regular part of most of our experiences. “Drink. This is the blood shed for you.” We symbolically, or mystically at least, drink Christ’s blood, honoring the covenant his blood brought to us. We have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. The blood of all things are God’s alone. Christ gave us his blood, and gave us his life, for our lives.

The second thing that comes to mind is Acts 15. The leaders of the Church are meeting together to discuss Gentiles. Paul presents his case that Gentiles are now accepted within the People of God and without first needing to become Jews. Other Christians argue that Gentiles must first submit to the Law, because that is the symbol and reflection of God’s reality. Paul relied on his experiences. Those opposing him relied, no doubt, on the passages we’re reading. Scripture was on their side. There was a compromise.

Gentiles did not have to go through all of the rites and thus first be Jews. But, they did need to follow some rules. And they were given foundational ones. To be included Gentiles needed to avoid food sacrificed to idols. They couldn’t participate in idolatry or gain any kind of sustenance with anything connected to it.

God never, ever liked idolatry.

Then, Gentiles were to avoid sexual immorality. What qualifies as sexual immorality? Well, that’s addressed in Leviticus 18.

Finally, Gentiles were to avoid meat of strangled animals and from blood. That’s the rule the early church, as found in Acts 15 set up. This is found in our passage today, but it’s even older than that. It is one of the primal covenants. Not eating lifeblood was a rule given to Noah. Which is why the early church thought it important.

Thus, there’s a curious little connection in Leviticus 16-18. In 16 we read of the atonement, and celebrate the fact that Christ died for us, and took upon him all our sins, so that we no longer need this sacrifice. And yet, chapter 17 and 18 were still seen as binding for the earliest churches.


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