Some say the most conservative Adventist school in America is Southern Adventist University. I graduated from said institution, and if someone somehow came to the scientific conclusion that this statement was true…I wouldn’t be surprised! Skirt length requirements, early curfews, laws against having the opposite sex in your apartment late at night – sound extreme to you? Still, we sucked it up and (mostly?) kept the rules. After all, it was only temporary.
But try handing a full-grown adult a bunch of rules for how to live their life, and they’ll call you crazy. Or maybe they’re just a Christian. And as Christians know, rules for God’s people have been around since the beginning of time. Leviticus 19 is no exception. Unlike the chapters that came before it, however, this chapter is sort of a “miscellaneous” section. Everything from sex to the Sabbath to personal grooming is touched upon in this chapter. The short, straightforward instructions fly by quickly. But these are not historical artifacts or weird trivia – these are literal laws that God wants those who believe in Him to obey. Sound extreme to you?
The Treasures Within:
Maybe not all of them are extreme. As we pore through these verses, we can find a lot that stick out as making a whole lot of sense. For example, “Do not steal”, “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind”, “Do not go about spreading slander among your people”, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge” (verses 11, 14, 16, 18). These are the laws that people are talking about when they admit that the Bible is a pretty okay book with a lot of good stuff in it. These are the rules that, even if we don’t follow them exactly, we get why they’re there. They’re mostly easy to digest. They’re reasonable. They remind us that the God we serve loves everyone, and wants us to do the same. They’re the commands that make us feel like we really can do this whole Christian thing.
And then there’s the rest of it. The laws that wrinkle our foreheads. The rules that make us squint our eyes. “Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed”, “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material”, “When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden”, “Do not cut your bodies…or put tattoo marks on yourselves” (verses 19, 23, 28). These verses sound nitpicky and controlling. They seem unnecessary and over the top. They cross the line.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an explanation for these laws. For example, verses 26-28 seem to be specifically related to the strange things the nations around the Israelites did to worship the dead, rather than God having an irrational hatred for haircuts and body art. And we know that some of these laws were ceremonial, specific to the Israelites and their unique relationship with God, just like the tabernacle laws. Still. An explanation isn’t always enough. The discomfort we feel with some of God’s commandments goes deeper than the words themselves.
We all have a breaking point. In college, I didn’t care that my school wanted me to be in my room by 11 PM each night, but the fact that I couldn’t spend a night off-campus with a friend and her father without my parents calling to grant me permission really got on my nerves! Maybe it doesn’t bother you that God asks us not to lie, but it really annoys you that He doesn’t want us to eat non-kosher meat. Maybe you never had any intention of robbing your neighbor, but keeping the Sabbath feels like an unnecessary encroachment on your time. Maybe you’re all for laws against sex slavery, but the fact that God requires us to keep each and every single one of His commandments sounds absolutely insane.
But the discomfort doesn’t make the rules go away. I kept my school’s rules for two reasons: I didn’t want to pay a fine. I wanted to continue receiving my education from that school. Everyone hates fines. But why that school? Why did I continue attending that school compared to all the other rule-less ones? Because I loved it. I loved Southern and I believed it was a good school and I knew I would be happy there. So I stayed. I obeyed. And I was right.
So why this God? Why this Bible? Why this worldview, compared to all the other, freer ones? If the answer is because we love Him, because we believe the Bible and because we know that one day God will take us from this worsening, sickening world to a beautiful eternity, then we must stay. We must obey. It may be uncomfortable at first. It may seem insane. It may mean that we must do things we don’t want to do. It definitely means that we can’t do whatever we want. But soon we’ll see that this was right.
God’s Message To Us:
“This is who I am.” We can’t see God. We can’t touch God. We can’t physically be near God. The only way to know Him is through the words He wrote a long time ago. The words He gave to his prophets to write down reveal His heart to us. This includes every last one of His laws and commandments. They tell us what He loves. They tell us what He hates. They show us what makes Him happy. They make plain for us His wisdom. They show us His power. And they remind us that if Someone that wonderful promises that obeying Him will make us happy, then maybe He’s right. Maybe what we want to do isn’t what we need after all. Sound extreme to you?
There Are Always Questions
- Just because some of these laws were ceremonial laws that were specific to the Israelites doesn’t mean that they didn’t make any sense. So what’s the reasoning behind them? Why couldn’t the Israelites plant two types of seed in a field or wear two types of fabric in a garment (verse 19)? Why couldn’t they eat the fruit from a newly planted tree until it was five years old?
- What do we do when we don’t understand one of God’s laws? How should we react?