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What is being really spiritual like? How can that connect with our brief analysis of Leviticus? Years ago I went to New Tribes Boot Camp (now Ethnos). I was eager to serve God but found myself puzzling over what seemed like more spirituality in the leadership than I was used to observing in Christians. This made me hungry to understand so I could become more spiritual myself. Before boot camp, my misguided zeal made me like a loose cannon. My experience at boot camp became a beacon of light to my blinded soul for the rest of my life. I’m eager to share the details. But first, more about Leviticus.
WHY JEWISH DIETARY LAWS
The purpose and meaning of the dietary restrictions in ancient Israel have been a matter of debate for a long time. We have little help from the rest of the ancient Near East…such a series of laws is unique to the Hebrews….
The key to their meaning is…in…Leviticus 11 where God tells the Hebrews not to defile themselves but…be holy…. The term in Hebrew is qad’sh…literally means “to be set apart, distinct, unique….”
The reason that certain animals are defined as clean or unclean is more difficult to understand…. There are a variety of suggestions but very little in the way of consensus.
An explanation on grounds of hygiene is possible in some cases. For example, the pig may produce trichinosis, and predatory birds are clearly a health risk. Thus health hazards may be one element of the rationale…. Another issue…why, if these distinctions are correct on health grounds, they are abolished in the New Testament.
ANCIENT JEWISH BACKGROUND
A…possibility…which has some merit, is…the religious background of the times. Some of the animals may be…unclean because of their use in pagan worship. For example, the pig was used in Egyptian cult-worship…. De Vaux has discovered a lot of pig bones in a Canaanite cultic context…. Isaiah 65:4 supports the claim that pagans regarded the pig as clean food….
Deuteronomy 14 is a parallel passage to Leviticus 11 regarding dietary laws. In verse 21…Israel is told not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk. This…may be a polemic against a Canaanite magical spell known from the Ugaritic texts…to ward off another spell. The opening verses of Deuteronomy 14 set this passage in a worship, cultic context that denies Canaanite ritual practices.
WHY RITUALLY UNCLEAN FROM GIVING BIRTH
Leviticus 12 opens
with a woman who gives birth to a male child…. There is nothing…immoral…. The problem is that that woman’s…discharge of blood makes her unclean….
Blood is taboo. And losing blood is a sign of not being whole or complete; one is imperfect and thus…unclean. The mother must wait 7 days–the Hebrew number of perfection….
Every Hebrew male must be circumcised…(Genesis 17:9-14)…the sign of covenant membership…. The mother undergoes a second period of purification…no longer technically unclean, but this period serves as an interval between cleanness and uncleanness. It lasts for 33 days; adding that number to the first period totals 40 days that she is taboo. The number 40…”marks a major social transition or a complete period of endurance such as in fasting or punishment…. During this second period the woman is specifically barred from the sanctuary (and thus from communal worship) and the consecrated things…. The time of purification of a mother is twice as long if she gives birth to a female…. The reason for the doubled time is uncertain…. Perhaps the best answer is… “A female was…potentially more unclean than a male because of her liability to the impurity of menstruation and childbirth.”
ONE OF TWO “INGREDIENTS” NEEDED FOR TRUE SPIRITUALITY
Next week I’ll cover the second “ingredient” in true spirituality. The first “ingredient” is a recognition of how needy we are. While I was at boot camp, I didn’t know yet how much we need God to open our eyes to how self-deceived we can be (Jeremiah 17:9-10). I didn’t realize yet that we need repentance as a gift to turn us from our sin (2 Timothy 2:25). I didn’t even understand we need God to draw us to himself (John 6:44). Or that it must be him to give us both the will and the power to obey God (Philippians 2:13). Instead, I was just impressed with the security, maturity, honesty, transparency, and tranquility of my teachers at the boot camp.
In particular, I was fascinated with how one of them talked about our neediness in one class after another. He kept saying over and over, “We are a needy people.” And he said it not like a broken record, but like he had a deep realization and conviction that seemed imperative to somehow get across.
We only call out to God when we know we need his help. We ask for motivation and deliverance from sin when we want to become more spiritual. In contrast, when we have a lot of misguided zeal, we’ll become either more legalistic or liberal. The legalists will try to refine their list of dos and don’ts. The liberals will try to emphasize the importance of love to the denial of scriptural adherence.
I find Leviticus is one of the best books to impress upon humanity its neediness. Do you?