Image source: ChristEpiscopalChurch
My high school anthem is titled ‘Builders of Bridges’. The first line of the anthem is ‘Builders of bridges across split minds’. Whenever we sang the anthem, the school authorities would remind us that we are builders, and therefore we have to be examplary leaders in society. I left high school three decades ago, but my classmates and I continue to call ourselves ‘Builders’. The school authorities composed an anthem that made us feel unique, defined a mission, and thus gave us a purpose.
When God saved Israel from Egypt, and brought them to camp at Mt. Sinai for a year, it was a period of rest, of organizing them into a new nation, of teaching them how to worship him, teaching them how live with one another, teaching them how to be different from Egypt where they were slaves, and how to be different from the people in the land of Canaan where they were going.
God defined a mission and a purpose for Israel at Mt. Sinai. It is in this light that we understand Leviticus 17 to 20. Chapter 17 warns against killing an animal for sacrifice and not going ahead with the sacrifice; the people are told that life is in the blood, don’t kill just for fun, respect blood. Chapter 18 lays out God’s instructions about sex; Chapter 19 is about how to live with each other and differently from the nations around them; Chapter 20 lays out consequences for disobedience.
Leviticus 18:1-5 (The Message) says: “God spoke to Moses: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, I am God, your God. Don’t live like the people of Egypt where you used to live, and don’t live like the people of Canaan where I’m bringing you. Don’t do what they do. Obey my laws and live by my decrees. I am your God. Keep my decrees and laws: The person who obeys them lives by them. I am God.”
If the language and penalty for not obeying the law seems like the people were in the army, it is by design. The people had left Egypt, a warrior nation, and were going into Canaan, another warrior nation. God was not just organizing them to live a good life, God was organizing them to be a warrior nation. There is more about this in the book of Numbers that come directly after Leviticus.
Lord, help us to see your mission and purpose in Leviticus, Amen!