Monday, 12 May 2014

Pork Products and Polyester Blends

I love bacon. I really like sausage sandwiches. I like lasagnes. I wear cheap clothes made of polyester and cotton blends. But sometimes, when I read the Bible, these things worry me.

I've been (trying) to read the Bible in a Year. For the first four months, I found myself reading the rules and legislations that the people of Israel followed. I have a moment of panic where I think, "Should I be following these?" If the answer is "yes" then I will have some major changes to my lifestyle. There would be no more bacon (Leviticus 11:7-8), I'd have to stop eating lasagne*, and goodbye polyester blends (Leviticus 19:19). What if for all my life I had been breaking the commands of the Bible? Why had no one told me about this before?

Then I realise that, as a Christian, I no longer have to live by these laws. These are laws in the Old Testament, which discusses how God's people were to relate to God before Jesus. We are able to live without these requirements hanging over us because of Jesus' death and resurrection. (There probably needs to be another post on that, so watch this space.) I breathe a sigh of relief, tuck into my bacon bap, and wonder what relevance these sections of the Bible have for me now.

These lists of laws are long (Wikipedia tells me there are 613 of them). They are listed in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers, and a lot of them are repeated numerous times. This shows how important they were to God's people. But I have a hard time reading them, always questioning whether they are important today. However, there are a few things that these laws can show us.

My God is a wise God
A lot of these laws promote cleanliness and good health. This was especially true in the ancient Middle East where God first set down these commands. It's interesting that there is controversy about eating undercooked pork today, which perhaps shows how wise this particular law may be. By following these rules, diseases such as trichinosis and hepatitis E would have been reduced. The sanitation rules (such as being considered unclean after touching a corpse or what to do with those effected with skin infections) would have prevented further diseases. There are many other laws that show wisdom in areas of life from agricultural practice, financial dealings and marriage.

My God is a compassionate God
The Old Testament Laws often have practices to benefit the poor and foreigners amongst God's people. One example of this is found in Leviticus 23:22, where farmers are urged to leave crops for the poor to gather. The laws also provide instructions on how to provide for widows in the community, how to loan money in a fair and merciful way and provided refuge for perpetrators of manslaughter.

The Old Testament laws show how God cared for his people. He didn't want them to get ill, to struggle, to be under the burden of debt or to be in fear of their lives. The laws showed mercy to his people and instructed the Israelites in how to show this mercy to others.

My God is a holy God
The Biblical idea of holiness is one of being different or set apart. One of the aims of the laws were to show the world how different the Israelites were. The circumcisions, the dress codes, the hairstyles were all a part of making God's people different to all the others. Furthermore, the Israelites were forbidden to marry into other people groups. This was to ensure that their cultural identity and otherness was in no way tarnished. Although some of the Israelites' dealings with other people groups seems heartless and over-the-top, the Old Testament provides hints as to why God dealt so cruelly with other nations. Leviticus 18:21 mentions the practice of child sacrifice. God's treatment of the other nations was to avoid these practices did not make their way into those of the Israelites. This would maintain Israel's uniqueness.

My God is a perfect God
God's goodness is unblemished and pure. Many of the laws reveal this in what they required of the Israelites. Their temple offerings were required to be of a high quality. They were not to mix seed, or interbreed animals or weave linen and cotton together. This would have emphasised God's purity to his people, showing God's righteousness and goodness. His people, too, were to maintain high standards of cleanliness, justice and honour.

I am fortunate that I do not need to follow these laws anymore. But I am more fortunate in having a God that is wise, compassionate, holy and perfect. I am thankful that can enjoy a bacon sandwich, but whilst I am doing so I can also be thankful for the amazing God that I have.

Quick Questions
  • What Old Testament Law would you find hardest to follow?
  • Do you find the Laws difficult to read?
*Jews were forbidden to eat goat's meat with its mother's milk (here). All meat and milk mixes were henceforth avoided to prevent the combination occurring by accident.

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