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Leviticus, Coronavirus and Good Friday

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. 

Light

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. 

Tight

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.

Eternal

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.

We Become What We Worship

Everyone worships something. 

There is no immunity from worship no matter what your view of God is. Specifically, the point is that we naturally “worship” what we love. Biblical scholar G.K. Beale has a whole book on the theology of idolatry in the Bible titled We Become What We Worship (no light reading for sure). Dr. Beale didn’t come up with this nifty title on his own. I imagine he was inspired by Scripture:

“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” 

(Psalms 115:4–8 ESV)

When Westerners think of idols, we may think of figurines or statues typical of the Eastern (or even Southern) Hemisphere peoples. We might think ancient; but not modern; primitive; not industrial; or even superstitious; but not reasonable. 

As sophisticated urbanites who see National Geographic-esque portrayals of tribal deities in the Majority World, we might think: “Not us.” But if the Bible written so long ago and is sufficient and relevant for us today says much about idolatry, should not we assume that idolatry is our problem, too?

Jesus said it in different words: “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If your cell phone gets lost, your wifi goes down or your Ring doorbell glitches while you’re out of the house, we may get a glimpse into your heart. 

The late revered Dr. John Calvin has famously been quoted to say: “the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge [factory] of idols.” In his day and age, he may have been saying this in the contextual “stew” of Romish and Popish idolatries. But he goes on as if he were sitting with us today:  

The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labors under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth. That idolatry has its origin in the idea which men have, that God is not present with them unless his presence is carnally exhibited.

Idols don’t just appear (Exodus 32:24) or drop out of the sky (Acts 19:35). They are formed and fashioned. They are conceived as the psalm above attests. And then they are cherished and coddled. They are bowed to. In other words, they are worshiped. But they aren’t so adored neutrally. 

In our day and age, idols are anything that emptily and/or ignorantly substitute for God. It can be a thing, an idea; an imagination; a person. It can be a whole complex of these. We may not personally take a hammer to anvil along with some silver and bang out something that we literally genuflect to. But, we constantly are capable of pumping out affections or allegiances toward things that comfort, amuse, distract or secure us.

This is exactly what Dr. Beale says in book:

“People will always reflect something, whether it be God's character or some feature of the world. If people are committed to God, they will become like him; if they are committed to something other than God, they will become like that thing, always spiritually inanimate and empty like the lifeless and vain aspect of creation to which they have committed themselves.”

As Christians today, we are like those to whom St. Paul wrote: “...how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). We are no longer slaves to any other god or idol. But, our hearts (to Calvin’s point) still have potential to reenact our former slavery. Though we are saved from bondage to any idolatry, we are not immediately saved from the attraction to some idols. With the saints of the ages, let us fight the magnetism by “hating worthless idols and simply trust in the Lord” (Psalm 31:6).

Posted by Will Pareja with

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