Wednesday, February 24, 2010

February 24

OT: Lev. 15:1-16:28

Oh, for goodness sake! I try and I try to make this stuff make sense. I try to reason and to be logical. I theorize, for example, that all this "clean" and "unclean" is really about hygiene, and that God didn't mean it as a statement on morality. I try to make these commands seem reasonable for a populace to follow.

And yet, I am thwarted. Today's text just beat me soundly and threw all my logic back in my face. My theory on the sin and guilt sacrifices being for all the sins the people committed while they were "unclean"? Nope, they are for the uncleanness itself. According to 15:30, "The priest is to sacrifice one [dove] for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the Lord for the uncleanness of her discharge." First of all, there goes my theory. And secondly, gross! Do I really want to discuss emissions of all kinds with you today? NO. It is inappropriate. As my friend, Molly, would say, "This is not okay." And yet, apparently, God thought all this stuff should be everyone's business! I mean, it is going to be obvious to the world who just had sex and who is on their period, b/c, for all practical purposes, they are going to be useless to society! They will either spend all their time washing stuff and breaking jars...or they will have to leave the camp. Seriously, how do these people get anything done? These laws are beyond impractical to me. I think at this rate, a woman might spend most of her life outside of society, between...the two things (I'm just going to stop saying them. So not appropriate.)

Ugh. Moving on. Let's just leave all that knowing that I am 100% confused about what all these commands say about God and how they were able to be practically carried out.

It seems that God is trying to show the people just how unholy they are as humans. He really seems to be lowering them. The same holds true for the priests. In chapter 16, Moses tells Aaron that he can't just go into the Most Holy Place any time he wants (2). And Aaron and the priests are given another long list of things they have to do (and kill) to enter God's presence. At this point, it is seeming like the bulk of most Israelites' lives are spent doing things that are completely impractical.

And yet, they aren't impractical b/c the goal of these things is to connect people with God, which honestly, is our only purpose in life. I guess I am just frustrated b/c I don't understand, and I really hate not understanding. Okay, time to mentally repeat Proverbs 3:5-6 and move on.

NT: Mark 7:1-23

Alright, well I haven't moved on quite yet. More and more, after reading the strict Law these days, I can sympathize with the Pharisees. They take uncleanness very seriously, and after reading the Law, I can understand why! Of course, they are criticizing Jesus and his disciples for not ceremonially washing their hands before they eat, and that is apparently not in the Law. It is just a tradition. And while I can understand putting the "hedge around Torah," are they really going to add to the "clean" and "unclean" laws?? I mean, seriously! Those are already crazy hard!

I also thought it was interesting how Jesus says that it's not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of a man. That, um, struck me differently today, after reading our OT passage. Yet, Jesus is talking about the sinfulness of men's hearts. Hmmm...there are things connecting in my brain about the two passages, one about physical uncleanness, and one about spiritual. Perhaps those regulations in the Law that we read today were symbolic of a deeper truth about human nature, one that Jesus came to reveal? Like, that we are all unclean b/c of the sinfulness of our human nature? Maybe the OT was painting us a picture, like a metaphor. I don't know. It's still not making a ton of sense. But thinking about the connections between the two passages make me feel like I am looking "through a glass darkly" instead of staring at a blank wall.

I also both love and am confused by Jesus' words in verses 9-13. He criticizes the Pharisees here for using "service to God" as an excuse for not showing proper respect and care for their parents. It is very "family values" of Jesus. And yet, He is the one who tells people to "hate" their father and mother and to leave their families. He is the one who says that He has come to bring division between families. So it's weird that He is criticizing the Pharisees for putting their duty to God before their duty to their parents. It seems like Jesus calls His disciples to do just that.

Psalm 40: 11-17

More great verses. My favorites are 11-12: "Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord; may your love and your truth always protect me. For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me." I love verse 11 because of the beautiful image of God's love and truth protecting us. And I love verse 12 (strangely) b/c it gives such a relatable picture of David. It's nice to know that this great man felt overwhelmed by life and by his own sins sometimes. I know that he has felt that way a lot thus far, but these verses in particular really resonated with me today.

Proverbs 10: 13-14

My childhood preacher once gave a sermon about raising children. He said the trick was to get them to internalize their morality, and not just to do what was right in order to avoid punishment. That internalization is the difference between wise people and fools, according to verse 13-14. Wise people "store up knowledge," and it is thus found on their lips. It comes from within them. Fools, on the other hand, have to have external punishments to keep them "in line."

1 comment:

  1. I had to call in the big guns again.

    Right after I read yesterday, I wrote Dr. Briley. I was hoping that I could just quote him for the OT section since I was so stumped. I ended up writing before I heard back from him, which is why you got my tantrum instead. Thankfully, he did write back soon, and I really liked what he had to say. He gives some good explanation for the practical aspects. And I saw some tie-ins to my "through a glass darkly" thoughts, which made me happy:).

    Here is Briley's response:

    Ooh! I'm getting ready to go out of town tomorrow for a conference, but these crazy OT ritual questions are right up my alley!

    First, in terms of the rationale(s) for the purity laws, it is important to remember the relationship between impurity and sin. As you note, a person can become unclean as a result of the typical rhythms of life. In fact, even the good deed of burying a dead relative makes a person unclean.

    I don't tend to place too much stock in health or hygiene as reasons for the ritual laws. For example, if the dietary laws promote good health, why did Jesus bring them to an end?

    I think the most foundational basis for these laws is the way they taught Israel about the fallenness of the world. Uncleanness frequently reflects imperfection, abnormality (especially in areas such as disease and death). One widely held view is that many of the unclean animals are abnormal in that they don't fit the proper category. For example, creatures that swim in the water but don't have fins or scales are oddities.

    If you look at Leviticus 16 and the Day of Atonement, the primary purpose of the rituals is to cleanse the sanctuary of Israel's uncleannesses that jeopardize God's presence in their midst. The people's sins are a problem, but even their inevitable contact with that which defiles jeopardize the presence of a holy God. An Israelite had not necessarily sinned in contracting uncleanness, but failing to seek God's cleansing and coming into the presence of the holy invited disaster.

    Another aspect of the purity laws served to separate the people from pagan ideas and practices. In one sense issues like blood, sexuality, and childbirth are sacred. Ironically, however, they are placed in the context of uncleanness to protect them from the tendency in pagan cultures to use them in magical rites and attempts to gain power. Childbirth is also associated with the risk of death, as is the loss of blood.

    The situation for women would not be as devastating as it might appear. Most women of an age when they would be menstruating would have children and would nurse them until they were 2-3 years old. Under these years they might go years without having a period.

    Although these laws sound strange and overwhelming to us, they would have been incorporated into the daily fabric of the people's lives at that time. We actually live under many more laws, but we don't even think about them that much because they are more familiar to us.

    I do believe reflecting on the purity laws has a great capacity to teach us about the nature of holiness, the extent to which sin has corrupted our lives and God's creation, and the love of God to provide for both the cleansing of sin and ultimately the removal of every trace of the curse from the creation.

    I hope that makes these laws at least a little more comprehensible! I appreciate the seriousness of the way you are working through the text and helping others to do the same.