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Leviticus 5:1, 45, 1416; 6:17comment (0)

April 11, 2013

By Scott McGinnis

Related Scripture: Leviticus 5:1, 45, 1416; 6:17

Bible Studies for Life 
Associate Professor of Religion, Samford University

Honoring God’s Holiness

Leviticus 5:1, 4–5, 14–16; 6:1–7
When I was a teenager one prominent mark of piety recommended by my church was reading the entire Bible through in a year. Sometime in February I would inevitably arrive at the Book of Leviticus, and the whole enterprise would grind to a halt. Whereas books of the Torah like Genesis and Exodus are filled with stories, Christians often have trouble knowing what to make of Leviticus, with its bewildering collection of legal codes and priestly regulations.

Although the cultural setting of Leviticus may be quite separate from our own, the book nevertheless contains valuable principles for people of faith seeking to live well in the world. At the heart of Leviticus’ message is the principle of life: God’s people should pursue those things that lead to life and wholeness, not death and separation from God or one another. 

Recognize Guilt Before Holy God (5:1, 4)
Chapter five lists certain sins that require a purification or sin offering. Leviticus contains both positive and negative prescriptions, how one should act and how one should not. This case concerns the situation where a person has knowledge that would be useful in resolving a dispute or providing justice. To remain silent when speaking could lead to a better community is to fail not only God but also one’s neighbor. 

We often think of sin in opposite terms, with an emphasis on the offense that sin represents to God. For instance, after David sins against Uriah and Bathsheba, he cries to God in the psalm, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:4). In Leviticus, however, the two are inextricably intertwined. One cannot live well with God and ignore one’s responsibility to one’s neighbor, and vice versa. The text here affirms a positive duty to act on behalf of justice and challenges the modern person’s overwhelmingly individualistic approach to life.

Verse 4 is part of a careful parsing of intention with respect to one’s actions. It is possible to act in a way that does not lead to life and wholeness without being immediately aware of the consequences. The example here is making a rash oath without having thought through all of the implications. The classic example is the vow of Jephthah (Judg. 11). The case immediately preceding concerns inadvertently coming into contact with impurities from various bodily emissions (v. 3). With both the oath and the contamination, “when you come to know it” you then must takes steps to purify yourself. Knowledge carries responsibility.

Seek Restoration with Holy God (5:5, 14–16)
One way to read the Book of Leviticus is to pay attention to the boundaries it lays out. These passages introduce the reparation, or guilt offering. The purpose was to restore the boundary that has been violated by making a compensatory offering to God and, in the case of a violation against another member of the community, making restitution to one’s neighbor. Verse 14 addresses one who inadvertently pollutes the “holy things” of Yahweh, a reference to objects associated with worship. Coming into the presence of God in worship should not be approached casually or without the necessary forethought. Israel’s respect for the “holy things” of Yahweh was tantamount to respect for Yahweh Himself.

Make Amends with Others Before Holy God (6:1–7)
The terse instruction of God in the eighth commandment — “you shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15) — is expounded upon here. I can steal from my neighbor by not carefully guarding a trust, by cheating her or by failing to seek diligently to return lost property to its rightful owner. With these examples we once again encounter the positive duties that are incumbent upon members of community. Living well with God requires that I go out of my way to live well with my neighbor, an observation that leads us to the crucial question on which everything hangs: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25–37).

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