BiND: Day 9
Most of today’s reading is taken up with ritual rules—what to sacrifice and when and why—and secondarily with community rules about festivals and what behaviors are unacceptable. This is also when we hear about the Day of Atonement and the ritual for scapegoating—symbolically placing the sins of the community on an actual goat, then sending the goat out into the wilderness to carry those sins away, taking the blame and punishment.
It’s very interesting to read Leviticus and think about the understanding of sin. Sin in Leviticus is mainly conceived of as an action, but it creates a state of uncleanness. Both can be redeemed by appropriate ritual action, in most cases sacrificing. Interestingly, when the sin has been committed against another person, there is a two-step process for forgiveness: first one has to confess to the wronged person and make restitution (replace/pay for the loss), and then one has to go to the priest and make appropriate sacrifices. The sacrifice is worthless without the restitution.
There is also an understanding of community sin—the priests make regular sacrifices on behalf of the entire community. Communal sin is taken very seriously, in a way that we often no longer conceive of sin. What is the sin of our community (local, national, global)? How can we begin to redeem our lives and live more fully into God’s vision of community?
Today’s reading also includes one of my most favorite things about the Old Testament: the Jubilee year (an extension of Sabbath—so every seventh day is a day of rest and renewal for the people, every seventh year is a year of rest and renewal for the land, and every 50th year (the year after the seventh seventh) is a year of rest and renewal for all of society, where slaves go free, land reverts to its original inhabitant, and there is a year of celebration. I love this Sabbath extension to include all of creation and all of society’s created problems. These practices remind people that everything belongs to God, the earth and all those who live in it (Psalm 24). The Israelites are not owners of the land, or owners of the people—they are renters, tenants. They have charge and care of it for a certain time, but not forever. And even the land deserves time off, time to recharge and remember that it really belongs to God, not to greedy people who overwork it. I wonder how, in our community, we can practice Jubilee?
Interestingly, today’s reading also includes the first articulation of covenant blessings and curses—the promise of God’s blessing when we work hard at doing God’s will and being God’s people, and the promise of God’s curse when we forget or turn away or deliberately work against God. The curse is essentially to force the land and people to rest by sending the people out of the land God promised them. But, of course, ultimately God does not forget God’s promises. God says, “yet for all that…I will not spurn the, or abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God.” Though people break the covenant, God will not. This is the defining characteristic of covenant with God: God will never leave the covenant, though we might try to get out. And that, my friends, is good news even in the midst of purity laws and bloody sacrifices and rule upon rule.
photo is of an altar, made of unhewn stone. This altar is from Megiddo. photo by TCP.