Well, after 50 days I’ve read and blogged on the first five books of the Bible, and I’m really glad that I’ve done it. There have been days when I could have written happily about any of half a dozen pages or themes. There have been days when if I hadn’t committed to writing every day I wouldn’t have written anything – either because I couldn’t see anything that felt relevant to me or because I read this that felt relevant and which I really didn’t like. Knowing that I had to write something made me stick with the passage until I had something to write, even if it was nothing profound. So thank you for your part in helping me stick with this.
The joy of Leviticus
There have been lots of things I’ve read in a new way, or linked together in ways I hadn’t seen before. Leviticus in particular was a high point -not something that I ever thought I’d write – at least in hindsight. It was very good at getting me to appreciate the privilege of bring able to come to God through grace, thanks to Jesus, without the whole system of sacrifices and without having to divide the world into ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’.
The big picture
The biggest thing I’m aware of at the moment, though, is this. We refer to these books with too little thought as ‘The books of the Law’. I know that’s an ancient title that reflects their status in Jewish and Christian faith. But I think that it encourages us to see what we have here in the wrong way.
These are not codes of statutes, collections of rules which can stand almost without context and be applied systematically in different situations. They are the books of a story, and the laws they contain, under God’s inspiration, come out of that story. It’s the story of a majestic Creator who chooses to love his human creatures enough to let them be free, who within his love for the whole world enters an intense, sometimes exasperating relationship with one family which becomes a nation. He leads then to freedom and promises them a home – and gives laws which will help that particular nation to continue the next part of the story. Those laws cover the heights and depths of human life, and a lot of trivial stuff in between. Despite our later interpretation (which may well be valid for us) they don’t really distinguish ‘ritual’ and ‘moral’ law, because both ritual and moral are principally about the dog fain of individuals and the nation to the LORD, the God of their ancestors.
Of course, I knew that. After all, I’ve pointed out in sermons that the Ten Commandments start not with ‘thou shalt not…’ but with ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt’. But I think I knew it in the sense of the French verb ‘savoir’ rather than ‘connaitre’ – not the sort of knowledge that transforms experience.
How does this change how I’ll read these books? I hope I’ll be more aware of the need to set the laws in the context of the story before trying to work out how they speak to us now. And it’s a story that continues. As I wrote at the start of Deuteronomy, that book is the last of the five books of Moses, but it’s also the first book of the long history saga that I’m about to start reading. The rest of the Bible continues the story, but we’re still part of God’s creativity in writing the but that fits between Acts and Revelation.
I’ve got a long way to go – and I’m looking forward to seeing how my understanding of what I’ve read so far may affect and be affected by the continuing story of the LORD and his people.
Including me. And you.