This past week, my Bible reading plan took me through Leviticus 13 and 14. It struck me like never before the parallels there are to our current situation of a global pandemic. This won’t be a detailed article or exposition of these chapters, but I want you to make some enlightening if not transformative connections. I would like to do so through three parallels: light, tight and eternal.
None of these parallels come through adhering to the exact levitical prescriptions. These two chapters would fall generally under a simple heading of “ceremonial” laws. What in the past has seemed to me archaic or strange all of a sudden jumped off the page to me in April of 2020. The surprising connection I made this week is the use of the word or idea of ‘quarantine’ (using the Christian Standard Bible translation, 13:5, 21, 31, 33, 46, and 14:8 speaking of humans; 13:50 and 54, referring to fabrics or materials). Check this out— “The person who has a case of serious skin disease is to have his clothes torn and his hair hanging loose, and he must cover his mouth and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ He will remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He must live alone in a place outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46). The sobering part of this is that the diseased person had to voluntarily proclaim his uncleanness, and he had to temporarily dwell in a designated sanitarium away from the rest of the populace. The ‘light’ connection here is the fact that the society of the redeemed (Israel) practiced a kind of social distancing and isolation of certain infirmed people who had conditions that were ‘spreading’ on their own bodies.
A closer or tighter connection I made was through the question: ‘how do these detailed prescriptions about cleansing from disease’ relay back to the BIG (10) commandments or the Great commandments? While I’m still mulling over how skin disease laws connect to the 10, it became clear that the practice of quarantine assumedly also targeted the whole ‘camp’ of Israel, that is, the greater good of the whole nation. The meticulous check ups with a priest, the separation of the sick from the healthy and the days of waiting weren’t about shaming the sick but loving the (still healthy) neighbor. “Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” What seems odd or outmoded to our modern sensibilities was actually understandable in the ancient Near Eastern culture that Israel inhabited. In fact, it was a kind of “higher road” among the nations which makes for yet another tight connection to the supreme commandment. The God of Israel is a holy God, and he was intending to make a holy people unlike the rest of the nations around them. To quarantine oneself, test a piece of fabric or remove a mildewed stone from one’s house wasn’t merely appeasing the demands of a whimsical deity. It was an act of devotion to the one true God. It was faith in action. And, so were the consequent sacrifices made for purification from diseases. Ancient Israel’s skin disease protocols and the global/national/local protocols being issued ultimately are for the safety and good of the whole. No one likes our current immobility; this imposed asylum that seems more insane with every passing day. But, it’s NOT new and in God’s common grace to the whole world he created, it is loving our neighbors.
The uncanny parallel of greatest significance is that the Coronavirus global pandemic is a small scale of the universality of sin and the depravity of every human being. See how some airborne particles at a family reunion can infect a dozen and kill a couple? Well, multiply that exponentially to the human race of all time past, present and future, and you have a global killer on your hands. The insidious part is that many people experience the effects of it but are helpless, blind and unable to tie it back to the original carrier and/or helplessly grope for a patch to fix it. Patches are useless on corpses.
Sin kills everyone. We come into this world with a death sentence (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-2). You can’t throw enough money, research, technology, education, isolation or unification at global a killer as toxic and viral as sin. It’ll never reach the infinitely bottomless coffers of God’s demands.
The skin/material disease protocols of ancient Israel were ‘lifted’ by the slaughter of animals. These sacrificial rites of purification (Leviticus 14:5, 13, 19, 25, 29, 31) were a right back into the covenant community as a clean citizen. The ‘atonement’ was the price of redemption or reconciliation to your home and tribe and nation.
But, God the Holy Spirit, all along was making it clear even in Leviticus that such ceremonial prescriptions were just ‘physical’ in nature. The accompanying sacrifices for cleansing and transition back into “normality” couldn’t cleanse the conscience perfectly (Hebrews 9:8ff). Built into those laws was a momentary pragmatism that couldn’t atone for what couldn’t be seen or healed (Hebrews 9:13).
We Need ‘Bigger Guns’
As unpleasantly disruptive and lethal as COVID-19 is, and as distantly quirky the Levitical laws seem to us, Good Friday layers over them like a diamond on its black felt background. Our efforts to make the world a better place are like taking spit wads to the rock of Gibraltar. Coronavirus or the next virus and the next one aren’t anything compared to the devastation of sin. We need to call in the ‘big guns’. ‘Big guns’ are needed for big problems. And, that is the point of Hebrews when it says: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?” (9:14). Jesus’ death is what saves. It’s a big gun. In fact, the only one.
As a Christian, you may be bummed to have to watch a Good Friday or Easter service as if you’re streaming Hulu. But, maybe, you and I can get over the effects of this pandemic and see God teaching and reminding us of great eternal truths. Maybe, just maybe, the Holy Spirit is using global disruption to cleanse his people’s consciences from the dead weight we feel in ourselves these days to prepare us for more pure and vibrant service to our living God.
This Good Friday will be unforgettable, but let the greatest remembrance be that the blood of Jesus spoke to us a better word than the tireless glows of streamed church gatherings or distant religious rituals ever could.