I am working with Sarah Julian and Celia Kellett at BBC Radio Nottingham on an idea to present most of the books of the Bible, one a week, during 2011 as part of the celebrations of the King James Bible. The plan is to read some verses from the book, to give a one-and-a-half minute summary, to hear a human interest story which relates, and then include a short discussion making the connections.
Verses: from Leviticus 19
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.
Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight. Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD. Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.
To modern ears, the book of Leviticus sounds very strange indeed. Page after page gives details of guilt offerings and sin offerings, thank offerings and fellowship offerings; we are told very clearly which animals to kill and how, which bits to eat, which bits to burn and which bits to give to the priest. Perhaps my favourite is the section on which insects I can eat, depending on how they creep on the ground and where their legs are jointed!
In many ways this is a text from another world, where life is a lot more brutal and basic than life today. And yet in other ways people are facing the same questions: how should I relate to my family? How do I settle disputes with my neighbour? How can I make myself financially secure?
We might not be tempted to reap the harvest to the edge of our fields, but we know how to burn the candle at both ends, or work all the hours God gives—and in doing so we keep for ourselves what could have been given to others. The specific laws make concrete in their culture principles that still apply in ours: to judge fairly, to forgive quickly, and to love others as ourselves—something Jesus put at the very centre of what God requires.
And we still understand that sacrifice—giving up something we could have—points to something more important than our wants, it points to a God whose demands are more important than our desires.
Philip Jenson’s recent Grove booklet How to Interpret OT Law gives a very helpful guide to making sense of the different kinds and levels of commandment we find in these kinds of text.