So… Leviticus! I studied this some then took a long break due to my trip to Asia, but I want to make a few last comments on this book which we often just gloss over. God has valuable truths for us here, and I don’t want to miss them. Leviticus is like a watermelon: much harder to eat than a peach, but delicious, nonetheless.
If interested in some other studies on Leviticus, see:
Onward to chapter 20!
The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molech is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. 3 I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. 4 If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molech and if they fail to put him to death, 5 I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech.
It’s easy to come to a chapter like this and see nothing but a list of commandments: put so and so to death; don’t sleep with this or that. What is God speaking to us through this passage in the age of the church?
As I’ve studied Leviticus, I’ve been interpreting the Torah for Christians, which is different than how the children of Israel read it. Here’s some notes of how I’ve been doing this, which I think are good guideposts for anyone reading through the Law:
- Helps us understand the law that binds us. Rom. 7:1-6 states that we died to the law with Jesus and have been released from it. We now serve God in the new way of the Spirit, not in the old way of the written code. We ARE bound by the law of the Spirit (following His voice) and the law of love (love God; love your neighbor). Often, through commands in the Torah, we learn how better to fulfill the law of love. For example, in the 10 Commandments, we read that bit about not bearing false testimony. That’s loving your neighbor. The New Testament commands against sexual immorality, but it doesn’t tell us what exactly constitutes sexual immorality. I believe that the Old Testament sexual laws give more specifics in this matter.
- Foreshadowing to completion. “The Law is a tutor that leads us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24) – The Law points to Jesus and the New Covenant. It did so back then as well, but they couldn’t see clearly. Now, the veil lifted, can we see the truths which the Torah speaks of. The sacrificial Passover lamb foreshadows the crucified lamb of God. The freed bird in the ceremony of cleansing for lepers represents the risen Savior. Col. 2:17 calls these shadows of the reality to come in Jesus.
- What truths about God does this reveal? As God does not change, truths the Law reveals about His character remain true. For example, through the cleanness laws, we understand God’s holiness. The natural world displays of His holiness through cleanness and wholeness, contrasted with dirt and disease.
- Outward versus inward. The focus for Israel was outward conformity to the letter of the law, ideally from a heart of love to God. We focus on conformity from the inside working outwards. We look at the heart behind the Law to see what relevance those laws have, today.
- Certain passages require understanding cultural factors. This is why God commanded against two kinds of crops in the same field, garments of two different kinds of materials, etc. Those related to local pagan practices. Generally, good commentaries help to figure out this sort of thing. No amount of prayer and meditation will reveal the full truth of a passage clouded by a vital cultural factor.
That being said (someday I’ll do a more full treatment on my Old Testament hermeneutic overviewed here), let’s look the first part of chapter 20 of the “Book of the Levites” (2 to 1 odds you didn’t know the literal definition of Leviticus).
The first section of Lev. 20 involves a prohibition offering children as sacrifices to Molech (one of the Canaanite gods). If I only interpreted according to the literal command, I would glance over this passage, because I don’t see many people around sacrificing their children to pagan gods. However, as good students of the Bible, we can extract an attribute of God’s character, which is that He cares for the helpless and for human life.
But what interests me is verses 4-5, the curse on those who close their eyes to someone who offers his children to Molech. If they do, God would set His face against the whole clan.
We can draw a principle here that sin does not affect an individual, it affects a community. If my neighbor sacrificed his child to Molech, it affected us all. We were forced to a decision point: permit it or stone him. Whether we liked it or not, his sin forced us to action. To do nothing was to condone. And if we condoned that, the yeast of sin entered our community and caused the whole loaf to rise.
What do we do?
So, what do we do with this? Since we’re on the topic of innocents, take for example the area of abortion, which many Christians have compared to sacrificing to Molech. This is a national sin that affects us all. But living in such different times from ancient Israel, what should we do?
For starters, marching around an abortion clinic with signs that say, “God hates you” probably doesn’t convey the love of Jesus very well. Because unlike the Old Testament injunction to stone them, our directive in New Testament times is to actually love and rescue the pregnant women, abortion supporters, and abortion doctors.
Another key difference between OT and NT times is that the church doesn’t wield civil authority. That’s why we don’t do executions. In Israel, there was no separation between church and state. Today, history shows that our faith actually works best when we don’t have absolute control of the government. When Christians gain too much power and try to set up a theocracy… well, they didn’t call it the dark ages for nothing.
Yet if sin is a communal thing, we can’t abandon the public sphere. Unlike (for example) ancient Rome, we live in a democratic republic where we get to help determine law. This gives us a responsibility to prayerfully and wisely engage (in love) on key issues. Vote, and write your senators. Better yet, volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. That’s a far cry from creating a theocracy.
But as we do this, we must not look back to restoring some golden age where America feared and followed God. Even in more “Christian” parts of our history, we condoned evils like slavery and the genocides of the Native Americans. Even in those times, America opposed God’s Law and the church had to protest against our own government.
As Christians, we can’t force our nation to follow God through government control. I think the right perspective is that when we see an evil like slavery, our hearts leap with God’s desire for justice, and we fight. Yet as we do this, we know that even in the best of times, our earthly government still opposes our heavenly government with various injustices and sins. Ultimately, we look in hope to the age where injustice will be unknown.