Truth Illustrated

The often peculiar ceremonial laws of the Old Testament still perform a valuable news-bearing function.
A picture is worth a thousand words.  The “pictures” I’m referring to in this post are all found in the Old Testament.  Frequently those peculiar images captured in true stories, laws, miracles, etc., generate just enough mystique to capture the curious, and with adequate understanding, give hope to the forlorn.    

They also unfortunately attract the jeers of the unbelieving.   Nowhere in the Bible have detractors of holy Scripture descended with more mockery than upon the approximate last half of the book of Leviticus.  There we find prohibitions of shellfish consumption, regulations concerning purification after childbirth, seminal and menstrual discharges, and an almost laborious degree of leprosy detection.   

Why does this provocative segment of Mosaic law appear with such force?  Apparently, an event helped provide the framework for it.  In chapter 10 of the book, a startling judgment had fallen upon Nadab and Abihu, priests who blindly rushed into the presence of God.  Following the event, we are treated to an intense focus on ceremonial cleanness, uncleanness, purity, and impurity.  

These laws were never meant for a literal application into eternity, as the New Testament goes on to show.1  And yet without them, we would lack certain insights into the depth of our own fallen state.    

The New Testament provides many words that teach about humanity’s inherent sin problem.  Romans 5:12 says,Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  That is the truth taught.  The many negative examples in scripture–moral failures and the like– provide that truth seen.  But Leviticus and its associated ceremonial laws present that truth illustrated. 

 It seems we must be convinced of our spiritual disease, because our first impulse is to deny it.  And so through every elaborate picture, God sought to make clear our gloomy prognosis.  Otherwise, we would proceed as fools, believing ourselves far better than what we were with no humility, no sense of urgency for salvation.  

And yet, thank God, we also find redemption illustrated through that same ceremonial law, again, in odd, picturesque ways.  The cleansing of a leper, for instance, called for two birds– one killed, one released–and cedarwood, scarlet, hyssop, a clay vessel, and freshwater (c.f. Lev. 14).  To those not interested in redemption, the details are bedeviling, only worthy of ridicule.  But for those with a heart to understand, ceremonial particulars communicate a fine, highly detailed hope of redemption–a welcome end to our habit of generating corruption.   

The ancient Israelites probably could not manage much more than an obscure understanding of these regulations.  But for those of us with the benefit of having been born in these latter days, we can look backwards on such “pictures” with access to a thousand words of explanation.    

“The law has but a shadow of the good things to come” Hebrews 10:1 tells us.   A few verses later, we’re told,

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure’” (Heb. 10:5-6).

Thus, the striking communication here between Christ and God offers the master interpretive key to God’s previous ceremonial law:  it is all about our sin, and His sacrificial body as the solution.  

At the end of the day, both Old and New Testaments come together in a most compelling format:  non-fiction graphic novel.2 

 

1. Surrounding and sometimes intermingled with ceremonial law we find civil and moral law, the latter of which the New Testament actually does uphold.  It is a great error to suggest that like ceremonial law, biblical morals passed out of literal observance when Christ died.  Actually the cross fulfilled one category, while elevating our awareness of the other. 
2.  Back in less sophisticated days, we called these “comic books.”  But no way am I going to go on record calling the Bible a comic book, so I’ve hidden away the inference down here in this footnote.

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