Musings on Leviticus

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A group of us at Ridley are working our way through the Bible in a year and today, with a sense of foreboding, we hit Leviticus. I say foreboding because, whilst Leviticus is the inspired word of God, it can also feel a bit dull at times. Laws about mildew in Israelite camps were clearly very important to the survival of the Jewish nation during 40 years traveling the wilderness, but as a 21st century reader it can feel slightly irrelevant to modern life.

So, I was very pleasantly surprised when God hit with something during my reading of the first 3 chapters of Leviticus this morning.

‘You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings, you shall offer salt.’ (Leviticus 2:13)

When I read this verse Jesus’ words sprang to mind

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under-foot. (Matthew 5:13)

I knew that salt was used as a preservative in Biblical times, particularly to preserve dead bodies prior to burial, so had always taken Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 to be about our call to try to preserve the decaying world that we as Christians currently live in. I haven’t changed that view but the salt reference in Leviticus made me wonder if there may be some extra layers that I had previously missed.  And sure enough, I had managed to miss a lot.

It turns out that, as well as being used to preserve dead bodies, salt was also used to ratify treaties, so salt came to be the symbol of fidelity and consistency. That is why in Leviticus God commands the Israelites to include salt with their sacrifices and offerings. The salt that God requires of the Israelites is a symbol of the eternal nature of the covenant between God and Israel.

So, if Salt in Leviticus is meant to symbolise the eternal nature of Gods covenant with Israel, what does that mean to us non-Jews in the 21st century? Well if we are (as Jesus says) ‘the salt of the earth’ then our lives are potentially also a powerful symbol of Gods eternal covenant.

But what is this eternal covenant?

To be honest I thought that I understood this before I started theological training, but the more I’ve studied it, the more I realise that I have no idea. Having said this, as I read Leviticus 1:4 I started to wonder if I actually had it right in my head all along, and have just started to confuse it by over thinking things.

Lay your hand on the animal’s head, and the Lord will accept its death in your place to purify you, making you right with him. (Leviticus 1:4 NLT)

At college, we discuss what happened on the Cross (or the atonement if we want to sound all theological). There are lots of different ‘models’ and ideas that we throw around and debate using phrases like ‘Penal Substitution’. But is this a distraction from the really simple truth that someone explained to me as a 7-year-old?

The animal that was sacrificed in Leviticus died in the place of the person who made the sacrifice, purifying them and making them right with God. But it was an ongoing thing, they had to keep sacrificing animals to be ‘right with God’. The very reason that we can find Leviticus hard going is because it is a long and complex list of all of the different sacrifices and offerings that Israel need to give in lots of different situations.

But that was before Jesus died. Things are different now. As the writer of Hebrews tells us:

And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14)

So Jesus’ death on the cross is the everlasting sacrifice that makes us right with God. And, as the ‘salt of the earth’, our lives are the symbol of the ever-lasting nature of this sacrifice.  We don’t have to keep sacrificing (in the intricate detail that Leviticus unpacks) and we don’t need to keep chucking salt on those sacrifices to try and preserve them and make them legally binding.

We just need to live. And through living our eternal lives (from now until we are with Christ for eternity) we testify to what Jesus did on the cross.

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