Leviticus: The Biblical Speed Bump

Forward by Guy Cramer

Many people at some time in their lives will pick up a Bible and decide to begin reading the book from cover to cover. They start with Genesis and quickly make into and through Exodus. Then you hit the Biblical speed bump: Leviticus. Many don't make it through and give up on reading the whole Bible. What is so different about Leviticus? The Stories and personalities of Genesis and Exodus and throughout the rest of the Bible change in Leviticus into procedures and laws of the Jewish people. Most people don't find any legal document 'a good read,' but there are many fascinating aspects about the book of Leviticus.
(Guy Cramer)

Living with Fire

Dangerous material more powerful than the atom.

The book of Leviticus is painstakingly ritual, however, strikingly similar to the procedures surrounding nuclear technology. The specialized clothing, the concern for purification, the precise handling of crucial materials-both nuclear workers and Old Testament priests share these. This similarity gives an important clue to understanding Leviticus.

Cleaning up a Nuclear Spill

At the Hanford plutonium separation plant in Eastern Washington, plutonium and U-235 are keep in a special high-security vault, in brass cans wrapped three times in plastic. To move the radioactive material, specially trained handlers don white protection overalls and special breather masks. They never touch the materials except through a sealed "glove box."

If an accident occurs, such as a small fire ignited by the "hot" material, the entire area must be cleansed through laborious scrubbing with soap and water. Carefully trained workers dispose of the dirty water in a specially protected toxic waste area. Anyone contaminated must be similarly "cleansed" from the exposure. In extreme cases, she or he must stay away from other people for months.

These rigid rules grew from hard experience. For decades no one knew the dangers of radioactivity. Workers who used radioactive materials to hand-paint the first "glow in the dark" watches licked their paint brushes to get a fine tip; their supervisors said they would gain sex appeal. Instead they got cancer. The introduction of nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants increased the amount of radioactive material being handled. Gradually scientists realized: if you are going to use the atom, you must adopt procedures to fit its power.

The Intimate presence of God

Leviticus reads something like a training manual for atomic plant workers. Its "dangerous material," however, is more powerful than the atom. Leviticus gives exhaustive detail on how to live with God.

A pamphlet on "how to survive a nuclear accident" may be dull if read on vacation, but it's gripping if read in a vibrating nuclear reactor. Similarly, Leviticus is dull if you do not realize the wonderful news behind it: a powerful God, the creator of the universe has entered the life of a small and insignificant tribe. The Israelites could not merely fit this God into their lives. They needed to restructure their lives-food, sex, economics-to fit with his. It was essential not just for priests, but for everyone.

Ignoring the operations manual could be deadly, It was for Aaron's two sons (Chapter 10).

Free from Contamination

Today, Because of Jesus Christ, we don't live in the world of Leviticus. Jesus' perfect self-sacrifice made the daily sacrifice of animals unnecessary. He replaced the high priest as our representative before God. Jesus cleanses the real source of contamination , our sinful nature. Leviticus was meant to teach people some basic truths about God. and when their lessons were complete, they could go on to bigger and better things. (The New Testament book of Hebrews spells out this graduation.)

Yet we need to be reminded of the principles Leviticus taught. It tells us that God was then, as he is today, "a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). He has taught us how to live with that fire, not because we deserve to know, but because he wanted our company. We dare not treat him lightly.

The article "Living with Fire" comes from The Student Bible, NIV, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids Michigan. This Student Bible is highly recommended for those readers who grow up with very little exposure to the Bible.

Because it was written several thousand years ago, the Bible presents a cultural gap: it mentions hard-to-pronounce names and refers to many outdated customs. For most readers, the Bible is the most ancient book in their library.

Most of us need some coaching on how to jump the 2,000 year gap back to when the Bible was written. The Student Bible addresses this problem with hundreds of additional notes scattered throughout the Bible.

Each of the 66 books of the Bible is preceded by an Introduction that gives cultural background on the book and why it is written.

Throughout The Student Bible, you'll find short articles marked Insight: Written in the style of a modern magazine article, Insights includes important background information right in the Bible, near the passage they shed light on.

Much shorter notes called highlights appear frequently throughout the Bible. These explain confusing verses, point out interesting facts, and, in effect, highlight something in the passage that might easily get overlooked. They're designed to catch your attention and draw you to read the Bible more closely.

The Student Bible and many other Bibles with similar features such as "The Living Insights Study Bible" with articles, highlights and introductions by Chuck Swindoll can be found at your local Christian book store.

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