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3-5 February. Leviticus chapters 8-15
I have combined three days’ readings here as they form a consistent block. Before going on, I should perhaps point out that I am using two short commentaries to aid my own understanding of this part of the Bible – Martin Goldsmith’s study notes on Leviticus and Deuteronomy from the Christian Literature Crusade, and David Edward’s helpful overview “A Key to the Old Testament” (Collins, 1989).
Like most of this book these chapters consist of rituals and regulations that were actually written long after the time of Moses and reflect the more settled nature of life in the writer’s age (hence the references to stone houses rather than tents, for example). And like most of the book, its rituals, especially those of sacrifice, seem arcane to us. But if we remember that the whole point of “The Law” was to keep the Jewish people in covenant with God, it may help us to see the point of them.
In the story of Abihu and Nadab, two of Aaron’s four sons who were killed by “fire from the Lord” for using unauthorised religious ritual, we see a rare touch of humanity, as Aaron in his grief is unable to speak, until later he refers to “such things as have befallen me”. Even God’s anointed high priest has feelings, and cannot ignore human tragedy on his doorstep. I deliberately use that last phrase as a Christian priest I know recently found an abandoned baby left on his own doorstep; the baby did not live, and the mother has not been found. It has been a shock to the whole community, and not least the man of God who found it.
The many dietary laws and other provisions here do seem (mostly!) to have a sensible origin in terms of hygiene, safe eating and avoidance of contagious disease spreading. And interestingly, they are to be administered by priests – there is no separate reference to doctors (let alone food inspectors!), and the priests, as among the only literate people in the community, had the welfare of the people as much of their role as performing religious rituals.