Leviticus 19

Many of these rules are beautiful.

We’ve got equality, fairness, compassion, social welfare, kindness to the disabled, anti-discrimination rules, generally against hate and superstition.

This was radical. We were reminded in the last chapter of the deity Moloch for whom children were apparently sacrificed, this God is not like that. Similarly, it might seem obvious in this chapter to tell parents not to make their daughters prostitutes, but that refers to temple practises of the local religions and was seen as a religious thing to do.  These rules are dramatically different.

Its a picture of a really great society.  Jesus blessed and adopted all this stuff for us when he quoted this chapter and said loving your neighbour one of the two greatest commandments, along with loving god. Love love love, love is all you need. And he told a parable to extend the Israelite concept of neighbour to anyone.

The latter half of the chapter is about not mixing in with the culture, fashion and practices of canaan where they will be settling. This section has the often quoted example of a dumb Leviticus rule, the one about not wearing a shirt with two types of fabric. Those rules seem a lot more arbitrary to us now.  Though the gist of not being a slave to fashion, or taking your cues entirely from the society around you is still relevant to christians.

 

Leviticus 13

Lots of reasonably modern sounding public health rules about infectious skin diseases.

Commentators made a point of how leprosy spreads bodily corruption can be used as a metaphor for sin.  But the passage doesn’t seem to do that.

There is no blame attached to it here, though by Jesus’ day there seemed to be strong assumption that lepers deserved or earned their fate.  And of course Jesus turned this upside down by having more to do with lepers than the cleanest religious leaders.

But here it is a real honest to goodness diagnosis guide… I loved the bit about how a bald man is just bald and a man with receding hair just has receding hair.

The diet was a mix of symbolism and a reasonable nutritional and safety element, this seems primarily practical.

Leviticus 11

And… dietary rules.  Rather a jarring progression from the death in the last chapter, but here we are.

There really isn’t much scientific basis to the rules, though the pork restriction, for example, it did protect them from some parasites that we don’t see much any more.  Careful cooking also can fix it.

I read the wikipedia article on the modern “leviticus diet” based on all this which appears to have been a sham scheme to sell branded supplements and viewed dubiously by nutritionalists.  Its not a bad diet, its just that a number of the restrictions don’t necessarily add to its health properties.

Its about obedience, being set apart, external and self discipline, pure and simple, I think. And of course for christians the idea of adopting a leviticus diet doesn’t really jibe with the vision of Paul where God invited him to eat all the “unclean” stuff, which he later turned into his “eat whatever, as long as you don’t offend people” advice.

Leviticus 6

Leviticus is so far working out better than I expected.  I know, I’m being condescending to God. That would probably cost me a ram or something back in the day.

The rules are, for the moment, not random and arcane, which I confess I did expect. There is a strong thread of very personal morality running though it. 

There is tenderness to the poor and the exploited. 

It’s easy to condemn sins you see as an existential threat to your world view, and which you are personally unlikely to commit. But the sins constantly referred to are not the equivalents of abortion or condemnation of gay marriage that you hear from conservative Christians. Here we have things like not defending victims of unfairness, or taking unfair economic advantage of others. The emphasis is on getting the log out of your own eye more than the splinter in others.

It is sexist though. The gender of the priests, even the gender of the animals is a big deal. 

In this chapter there are more details about different kinds of offering, but again the sins referred to are deceptions, for example lying about lost property, greed, cheating others.

Leviticus 2

Grain offerings. I find myself visualising it like a Vienna roll, but solid, no yeast, like a brick. But I suppose it was flat bread. Part was kept to feed the priests.

I’m not much of an animal rights person, but I’m glad this does show a vegan sacrifice option. It’s not about God absolutely needing blood, is about the first fruits, giving back some of the best to acknowledge the source of life. 

There is lots of detail about how is cooked. Not sweet, no yeast. Oil, salt.

It’s a niggle that the Israelites were in the wilderness and itinerant when they got this rule. They didn’t have crops presumably, though I suppose they carried some grain with them. They lived off mana and quail. 

But this system is for the long haul, when they are in the promised land. 

Anyway, chapter 2, grain offerings, let’s see where this is going.

Exodus 35

Most of the remaining chapters of exodus detail the building of the tabernacle. God designed it in detail on the mountain for Moses’ ears, and even choose his supervising craftsmen. Now everyone who remains after the traumatic golden calf affair gets to start again working together on the tent where God will meet with them. It’s like taking Moses’ personal faith and extending it to the whole nation, since he already meets with God in a tent.

There’s an obvious excitement and joy in doing fine work for the lord. Giving and making.

My church is very good in this, a doing church.

Exodus 18

A visit by Moses’ father in law Jethro.  I don’t really know what this “means”, despite consulting various commentaries. 

Maybe its just something that happened, a reminder that this is in part history as well as spiritual journey and chronical of God’s mighty acts and character.

Moses catches him up on what’s been happening, and his conclusion is that Jehovah really is the most powerful God. A good reminder of how extraordinary the familiar story is to an objective third party.

He gives Moses some classic good management advice about delegation. Moses is doing too much, and the criteria for trusted surrogates is a good portrait of a godly leader: capable, trustworthy, fear God, hate dishonest gain.

It reminded me to delegate more at work. It is not necessarily a revelation about God, but an interesting practical perspective on the scale of the wandering nation of Israel.

Exodus 13

God is so present as the Israelites leave Egypt. When he chooses he sticks like glue. 

Leading them the long way, to avoid war. Telling them to consecrate the first born, to remember, they were saved by the god of gods. He’s with them every step of the way. A cloud by day, a fire by night.

We’re encouraged to pray like he’s there with us, sharing every moment. 

Genesis 46

The Israelites all come. It’s a list chapter. Heartfelt moment when Joseph hugs his father. 

God speaks to Jacob/Israel and promises good when they get to Egypt, and to bring them back.

It starts with a plan to keep them separate, which seems like a diplomatic win win for both peoples. The Israelites will be shepherds in goshen. It is a verdant bit of rural land near the nile Delta, it will mean geographic and cultural separation. 

They will be nomadic shepherds, something very unattractive to the urbanised Egyptians, self supporting, so no economic or social threat.

Should work out, shouldn’t it?

Anyway, sometimes it is god’s will to go to Egypt.

2 Samuel 16

David turns the other cheek and often refuses to be political to his own disadvantage.  Now he is a vagabond again – Israel’s king, wandering about the countryside trying to survive, while being usurped by his own son Absalom.  We get some quite telling portraits of the two men in this chapter, which are great examples of the grace filled life – and its opposite.

He meets Ziba, his enemy Saul’s old servant who he left serving Jonathan’s lame surviving son, Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth. Most Kings would have had them killed long ago, but David has been kind to these former enemies who were definitely in the anti-David camp during the civil war, in memory of his love for Jonathan and his respect for the god given position of Saul, as his anointed king.

Ziba is there with a loving cart of goodies for the troops. During this low time Ziba is repaying David’s decency.

Mephibosheth? Back in Jerusalem on the side of the usurper, pining for the end of David and new glory days.  He has completely despised David’s kindness and turned on him at the first opportunity.

Was David wrong to show him mercy?  In earthly terms, yes, he doesn’t deserve it and from a practical point of view he’s a rallying point for opposition. But David views himself as accountable to God for his ethics, not man. David does grant Ziba all the property he gave to Mephibosheth for his kind loyalty.

Next they meet another supporter of Saul, part of his extended family, who single handedly and continually rains down curses, rocks and dirt on David and his men.  What he says is in some senses quite fair, if showing a pro-Saul spin.  He calls David a man of bloodshed, which he really is, and says his current usurped situation, a parallel of what he did to Saul, is God’s punishment for all the bloodshed in Saul’s house when David took the throne. That’s a little unfair, given how many opportunities to pro-actively seize the throne from Saul David ignored.  But there was much bloodshed.

One of Saul’s men wants to quickly dispatch this man, Shimei by cutting off his head, but David defends him saying this is what the Lord has told him to do: “The lord has spoken to him”.

So as they continue along the road, bedraggled and tired, probably hungry again, Shimei goes along with them shouting abuse and throwing rocks and dirt the whole way. David cops it – after all he says, his own flesh and blood is doing the same. David showed an absurd – in practical terms – amount of loyalty to Saul who was unjustly violent towards him at every opportunity, and now extends the same to Saul’s old supporter.

He does it because of God, and perceives this man as a kind of prophet, telling God’s truth. Talk about love thine enemies and turn the other cheek…

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, a different kind of behaviour is being modelled. When David evacuated he left 10 concubines to look after the palace.  His son, Absalom very publicly enters sexual relations with the women.  This is a means of politically signalling an irreconcilable break with David.  There can be no going back after that, everyone must choose to be on David’s side or Absalom’s. And all the cards are in Absalom’s hand at the moment.

Absalom did this on the advice of Ahithophel, who is an interesting character who we’ll return to next chapter.  He’s a bit of a Samson type.  God gave him a great gift of insight and wisdom, and both David and Absalom desire his advice.  But like Samson Ahithophel abuses and wastes the extraordinary gift God has given him.

This advice, about the concubines, is an astute political power play to consolidate the moment, but ethically corrupt before God. Last chapter ended with a kiss between father and son after David reached out to Absalom with a very painful process of forgiveness. Now the son is taking his father’s throne, his women, his palace, his people’s hearts.

Should David have left Absalom in exile?  His return is a disaster. But forgiveness is its own reward, before God. David is working on the struggle with his own sinful nature to live a grace filled life.

And yes, that is the thing to do.

And before I go, spare a thought for concubines.  The second class citizens of a polygamous system.

Their situation seems to range from what we would traditionally think of as mistresses – long term, possibly quite loved, non-wives – to total sex slaves.  They can’t attain the status of wife, I think, because they are foreign.  They are generally captives of war, though there were also some traditions of them being free to leave if they chose.  If allowed to be free, they would abandon any children and a life of luxury and privilege if they did – a classic asymmetric “freedom” of the disempowered.

Sometimes they would be female circumcised and/or sterilised. So, worst case scenario, they were merely another object of plunder along with gold and livestock: the best looking women of the enemy forced into a brutal, mutilated life of sex slavery. I don’t think this was completely true of the biblical Israelite concubines because they keep producing children in these stories.

I don’t know if the fact that David left 10 behind to mind the palace shows a certain level of trust and genuine relationship between him and them.

Whether or not David was good to them, they certainly would have been reminded of their vulnerable position when Absalom took over and claimed them for himself.

Sorry, long entry, quiet Saturday morning. Lots to think and pray about grace and being accountable to God.

That concept of “God sees everything” is one of the most hated and parodied by atheists and God haters.  They portray us as living in paralysing fear of an invisible and capricious bogeyman, a pathetic life.

But I’m convinced that God’s laws are good – love your neighbour as yourself even when your neighbour is not watching or there is no obvious benefit to you. Because love is an end in itself. That’s right and the best of humankind, not pathetic.

Atheists call it ethics and so do I.  They also, in the end, think its good, give or take an argument about state recognition of same sex marriage (which I personally am not against in any event).

I’m not always good at it. There is a great wisdom in this chapter about how to love your enemies, which is being prepared to hear the truth in what they say.  I pray that like David I will struggle to be always getting better at it.