7 The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. 9 You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Read the rest of the chapter, here)
The book everyone loves to hate.
Let’s spend a little time with the book everybody loves to hate, Leviticus. About the only thing “in style” about Leviticus right now is spending time refuting it. Two of the six clobber passages (passages used to denounce homosexuality) are found in Leviticus. Almost any compilation of “weirdest rules” or “strangest passages” in the Bible samples heavily from Leviticus.
There’s a pervasive need of modern readers to patronize Leviticus. We’ve all seemed to develop a sense of superiority sitting here looking at it, almost four centuries after it was written. Sometimes, that sense of superiority is factually based in the cumulative knowledge that time has brought, but other times I think it’s just a bit haughty of us.
If we take the time to research Leviticus it not only brings the past – in this case, the time of Moses, to life – but also presents us with (you guessed it) even more examples of God’s unending love for us. A book of rules – very specific rules, at that – seems a strange place to look for boundless love. But I’m happy to report I’ve found a lot of it, and I’m excited to share that with you here. Some of the more perplexing verses can be understood in context: obsessive directives about skin diseases and mold make more sense when you remember that this is a time before bleach and antibiotics. But more than anything it is a book about care: God caring for Xyr people, and those people caring for each other and God in return. It is a book of joyous communion.
God loves a barbeque.
And bless my southern little heart, what is a more joyous communion than a barbeque? If you come away from Leviticus learning one thing, let it be this: that God loves a barbeque. The phrase “aroma pleasing to the Lord,” in reference to the animal sacrifices made on the altar, is mentioned three times in this opening chapter alone. I cannot stress enough: God opened this book of rules with a cooking lesson. How to present the meat, butcher the meat, and prepare the meat is all detailed, similar to how a pit master might do. Come to think of it, another name for the first few chapter of Leviticus could be “this is how we eat together.”
I realize that whole last paragraph might come off as a little trite. But really, these opening chapters are a codified invitation to sit at the Lord’s table. And God makes it available to all: If you can bring a bull, definitely bring a bull. Can’t afford that? No worries, bring a ram, or even a bird. Can’t bring any meat? How about a grain offering? God wants us, all of us, with them. Because what is a barbeque without lots of people?
Practical concerns surrounding sacrificial butchery.
I’m also enjoying these opening chapters because, for those of you that don’t know, I am a farmer in my other life. I have herded cows, castrated pigs, and eviscerated chickens. I have carved a pig head, among other things, and make stock from chicken feet. So reading some of the practical instructions surrounding animal sacrifice is particularly amusing. Today’s winning line is verse 1:16, “He is to remove the crop with its contents and throw it to the east side of the altar, where the ashes are.”
First off, the word translated as “contents” is uncertain, according to my NIV study notes. Some translate it as “crop and feathers.” I don’t need to be a Hebrew or religious scholar to tell you that word means “anything you wouldn’t want to eat on the bird.” Having removed thousands of them myself, I can tell you that crops – the “holding stomach,” if you will, on birds, is stinky. As are their intestines and feathers. You do not want any of that burning on your holy altar – it would not be an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Imagine diarrhea and burnt hair, and that’s probably a pretty close approximation of what burning bird offal smells like.)
I also like that it is further explicitly stated that said gross stuff be thrown away on the east side of the Altar. There are detailed descriptions of how the Tabernacle should be constructed (we’ll get to them when we read Exodus), and my study Bible has a handy little drawing of how the Tabernacle was set up. Sure enough, the east side of the Altar is the farthest side from the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant rested. Basically, God is like “keep that nasty stuff over there.” I’ve smelled a gut bucket full of the offal of 100-plus birds. It is not conducive to communing with the Lord.
Alright enough about bird guts, for now. But be prepared: we’re going to talk more about animal entrails in the not too distant future. My writer’s block seems to have cleared, Leviticus is thoroughly enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to sharing chapter two with you all next week. Remember that you are always welcome at God’s barbeque, for God loves us all.
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