Tag Archives: arbitrary rules

Leviticus 22:17-33

Scripture: verse 27

When a bull, sheep or goat is born, it is to stay with its mother for seven days; but from the eighth day on, it may be accepted for an offering made by fire to Adonai.

Observation:  The passage is about acceptable sacrifices: animals offered had to be without defects or deformities, etc.  I’m not sure why a newborn animal had to stay with its mother for seven days, but I’m guessing it was for the good of the flock.  It seems quite possible that losing a baby too early caused distress in the mother.

I could be wrong, of course, but there’s a number of places where God gave instructions that make more sense now than they did then.  Washing your hands under running water after touching a sick person would prevent the spread of disease and reduce the risk of infection.  The commandment that slaughtered meat be eaten within two days makes plenty of sense when you consider that they were in a hot climate with no refrigeration and limited resources for preserving it. (They had access to salt, admittedly, but it was expensive and probably not widely used.)

And I like that we can trust God to know what He’s doing.  That even the most arbitrary rules will probably make sense when we have access to His knowledge of how things work.   He knows the plans He has for us – and they are plans for good (Jer 29:11). He knows enough to help us stay safe.

Application:  What you see is not all there is.  Trust Him to know more than you do.

Prayer:  Father, I praise you for knowing everything there is to know.  I praise you for understanding the mysteries of the universe, and for sharing your knowledge with us.  Help me to trust you to keep me safe.  Amen.


Leviticus 19:19

Scripture: by special request:

Don’t let your livestock mate with those of another kind, don’t sow your field with two different kinds of grain, and don’t wear a garment of cloth made with two different kinds of thread.

Observation: Normally with a commandment this bizarre, we look at the context (the type of rules it’s grouped with) for clues.  In this case, the surrounding verses are a complete jumble, so that’s no help.

So why do we do these things?  Why do we interbreed our livestock and produce and mix fibers in our clothing?  Usually it’s because we hope the result will have the advantages of both and the defects of neither.  We hope to be able to pick and choose the things we like.

While this probably isn’t a problem when applied to consumables, it’s a very big problem if we apply that attitude to God.  There’s plenty of people who try to pick and choose the aspects of God that they like.  There’s even people who combine multiple religions, keeping the nicest holidays and traditions from each one.

But God doesn’t work that way.  He is Himself, unchanging and indivisible.  We don’t get to pick the bits of Him that we like and ignore the rest.  He won’t let us.

We don’t get to have it all our own way.  We don’t get to be in control all the time.  And I think this law, arbitrary as it is, was meant to remind people of that: God is Himself and there is no changing Him.

Application:  Don’t try to mold God into the box you’d like Him to be in.  Celebrate differences instead of rejecting them.

Prayer:  Father, I am sorry that I am not big enough to see you properly.  I am sorry that I expect you to act the way I want you to.  Help me to remember that doing things your way is far more sensible than doing things my way.  Thank you for being Yourself.  Amen.

Leviticus 20:15-27

Scripture: verse 21

If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is uncleanness; he has disgraced his brother sexually; they will be childless.

Observation:  The penalties for sexual impurity varied depending on the offense, sometimes without any obvious reason.  Sometimes the offenders were killed, sometimes they were exiled, and sometimes they weren’t punished by the community, but by God.

This reminds me of the story in 2 Samuel 24.  David does something idiotic (David was good at that.  But then, who isn’t?) and God gives him a choice of punishments: three years of famine, three months of war, or three days of plague.  David chooses the plague, because he’d rather be punished by a gracious and loving God than fall into the hands of men.

Which is not to say that marrying one’s sister-in-law is a good plan, of course.  Sin never is.  But I’m glad that I can trust God with my heart and know that even His correction is loving and as gentle as possible.  That God sees me and knows me and is working in me and won’t break me.

Sometimes it’s scary, walking the path that God sets out.  Sometimes I have to tell things to my friends or my husband that I’d rather keep private.  Sometimes He asks me to do things that make me feel vulnerable.  But I know that I’m safe.  That He holds my heart, and that He is my shield.  And if I’m going to trip and fall (and I’m definitely going to trip and fall sooner or later) there’s no safer place to do it than in Him.  Because even His discipline is full of grace.

Application:  Trust God with your sin.  Trust Him to know how to fix you.  Better wounds from a Friend than kisses from an enemy (Proverbs 27:6).

Prayer:  Father, it scares me sometimes that you can see all my sin.  Thank you for being patient and gracious and calling me righteous when I’m not perfect.  Please help me to trust you as you guide me.  Amen.

Leviticus 15:1-15

Scripture: verse 8

If the person with the discharge spits on someone who is clean, the latter is to wash his clothes and bathe himself in water; he will be unclean until evening.

Observation:  This passage is discussing the uncleanness of someone with a bodily discharge: anything they touch is unclean and needs to be washed and/or quarantined.  This passage sounds less like a matter of divine judgement and more an attempt to introduce basic hygienic practices to control the spread of sickness.  (They didn’t have soap, of course, but washing with water alone is considerably better than nothing.)

(Huh.  The internet says that ancient Egyptians did have a soap-like substance, after all.  I don’t know whether the Israelites would have used it.  Probably not.)

I mostly picked this verse because I was amused by the image of the sick person terrorizing everyone around him with the threat of being spat upon – or, possibly, offering to spit on a friend who is looking for an excuse to take a bath.

To the people who heard this, these laws were just as irritating and arbitrary as the ones about mildew and leprosy.  They didn’t see the point.  Nowadays we know about germs and infection and contagion and incubation rates, and keeping away from someone who is contagious is just common sense.

Which raises the question, of course, of the other rules that seem irritating and arbitrary to us today.  God knows more than we do.  He may have some mystical reason for telling us to do or not do certain things – or He may just want to protect us from getting spat on by sick people.

Application:  Trust God’s word.  He knows more than we do, and He’s not trying to hurt us.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for protecting me.  Thank you for making secrets for us to discover and delight in and use.  Thank you for giving me eyes to see and a brain to think with, and for keeping me safe while I do it.  Amen.