Day 52 (Feb. 21): Contaminated houses, Ceremonially unclean rules, Day of Atonement a.k.a. Yom Kippur

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Leviticus 14:33-16:34

Questions & Observations

Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily reading.  Read on, some answers may surprise you.  Most of all, they can help you understand the Bible, which helps us lead a life that fulfills God and us.  Let us know if you have any comments to add.

Q. (Leviticus 14:33): Can you tell us why God would purposely contaminate the houses with mildew (leprosy)?

A. (See my answer yesterday to the question of the English word choice for translating mildew/leprosy).  I am honestly not sure, but much of the area that will be settled in the Promised Land would be near the coast, so there could certainly be problems with moisture brought in from the Mediterranean.

O. This scene reminds me of people in an airplane — me being one of them — who doesn’t want to have to touch the person seated next to them.  Luckily, I am normally surrounded by my kids.  You never know what ailment the person had seated in that same seat the previous 10 flights or more.  Viruses live a long time.  LOL.  We are all God’s creatures and should love one another accordingly.  Just keep your germs to yourself.  Ha.

Q. Was being “unclean” shameful?

A. In the absence of basic sanitation and knowledge about how disease is spread, it was very likely that being unclean would have been seen as God’s punishment, so it very likely was perceived as being shameful, but as we discussed yesterday, most of the time the being unclean was only temporary.

Q. (15:28): What sin has a woman committed through menstruating that she would have to make a sin offering?

A. The sin offering was being made in this case to restore the woman to full “clean” status in the community; she didn’t sin by having her period.

Q. With all due respect, the talk of all these offerings is wearing me out.  I can’t imagine all of these offerings and inspections.  I don’t understand why God made all of this so complicated.  …  Now that I’ve had a second to think about it, I recall that it’s preparing the way for the brutality of Christ’s sacrifice.  The saying, “Look to the cross,” answers so many questions!

A. The system is complicated because life is complicated.  God is making a way for His people to be in close relationship with Him on a daily basis, but they must be ceremonially clean in order for that relationship to take place.  You can probably see why this text is among the most baffling and least read of the OT: It can seem like it is just easier to skip it.  In some regards, it does get better: there are other sections of Leviticus that we will get to — I’m thinking of chapter 19 in particular — that relate to care for the poor and loving one’s neighbor that seem a lot more “relevant” to us.  But there is some important stuff here: we will see a lot of atonement imagery in the crucifixion — as you pointed to — that relates to what we read about the Day of Atonement.  So while it can feel like something that needs to be “waded” through, there will be important principles that will be laid out here that will resonate throughout scripture.

Q. (16:1-2): God is telling Moses to tell his brother Aaron not to make the same mistake that Moses’ nephews made?  I feel like he is pushing Aaron away because of the mistakes his sons made.  Can you say what God’s reason is for warning Aaron that he will die if he doesn’t fulfill protocol before entering the Most Holy Place?  I always imagine God wanting to get closer to His people, but here, it seems he wants a distance.

A. God’s warning is not about the same thing that got his sons killed.  Verse 1 is only a placeholder for the time: it tells us that these instructions came after his son’s death.  God’s instructions to Aaron were for a different set of rules: for entering the Most Holy Place behind the inner certain in the tent — the resting place of the Ark.  Aaron and his descendants were not allowed to enter the MHP anytime they liked, they were only able to do so one time of year, and after very specific procedures were followed.  But this was probably the most important act of the High Priest the entire year: making atonement for any unconfessed sin for the ENTIRE NATION!

Q. (16:18-22): I see a lot of similarity between the sacrifice of the goat and the release of the “scapegoat” with Christ’s crucifixion.  I’m understanding that the animals will eventually be replaced by Christ.  He takes the reasons of both animals.  He dies for us, purifying us and takes our sins away, making us feel a lot less weighted down.  Yeah!  Thank you Jesus and God!!!!  How about “a man specially chosen for the task will drive the goat into the wilderness.” Can we pin that character on anybody in the crucifixion story?

A. I guess you could say that person is Pilate, the man who ordered Jesus to be crucified — under pressure from the Jewish leadership — but I think that’s a step too far.

Q. (16:25): I keep getting things that I have forgotten to ask in similar stories.  We talked about the fat of the sacrifices belonging to God, but I don’t think I’ve asked about the symbolism of the altar.  Does the altar represent God or just a place where we can offer him things?  I have never given much thought to it other than a platform to burn things.  But, know I’m getting a vibe that it’s more than that.  It’s a place where God embraces the gifts.  He does come in the form of fire a lot.  If you all have already made this realization, please forgive me, there’s a lot to think about in this Holy Book and sometimes I have mommy brain.

A. The altar is everything you have stated above, but I think in addition to these other things, it is a symbol of God’s righteous judgment and wrath.  Don’t miss the imagery of burning and consumption — the imagery used with Hell — in considering the role of the altar: it was a place where the sins of the people were burned away from the people, and I think the people would have been quite clear about the importance of the altar where they could make sacrifices to hold the wrath of God at bay.

Q. (16:29): Does anyone still observe this day: “On the tenth day of the appointed month in early autumn?”

A. Yes.  Yom Kippur, Hebrew for Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the entire year for Jews even today.  It does indeed take place on the 10th day of the month that Jews call Tishrei.  This month always falls in autumn — but is based upon a lunar, rather than solar calendar — the Gregorian equivalent is September or October.  So, for example, the 2013 date of Yom Kippur will be Sept. 13, though note that Jewish holy days begin at sundown of what we would call the day “before,” if that makes sense, on a lunar calendar, and in 2014 it will fall in October.  Check it out for yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_kippur

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