Sunday, January 30, 2011

New Year: Lev 4-6 for Jan 30

Sometimes what we're talking about is a way to highlight what we're obviously NOT talking about. Maybe some of this is going on here, with "unintentional" sins, or sinning "by mistake."

The obvious unmentioned subject in Lev 4-6 is defiant sin, which is explicitly contrasted with another type of unintentional sin (Nm 15:22, sins of omission), and dealt with separately. The unmentioned subject is mentioned later, and called sinning defiantly, or willfully, or with a high hand, in Nm 15:30ff. The writer of Hebrews knows his readers know that (10:26).

In the narrative form of Lev 4-6 we see principles at work under the surface, namely, first of all, the universality of application. Questions like "what if I didn't know I was sinning at the time?" are answered. Also, like "what if I can't make restitution right now?" Also, "what if I'm a priest myself?" ... or a leader ... or just a common man? There is universality of application, and no "outs" for anyone.

Look at these chapters from the point of view of the priest's job. The cleaning bill, by itself, would bankrupt the city, if the law were completely followed! The laundry bill (6:27) for this work would be big as well, even though very practical counter-measures are in place (6:11).

Let's look once more at the universality. If "a person" does something wrong, sacrifice of an animal (4:1). If the wrong was done by everybody, ("everybody does that ..."), or a priest does something wrong, a bull is sacrificed (4:3,14). Leader, a male goat. Common person, a female goat or a lamb. Public speech or testimony, according to the ability of the person, either goat or bird or grain. Property, a ram, plus restitution.

So, is it what a society might expect are a set of "livable" laws? These laws are prohibitive in both senses, in the sense that they function to prohibit excuses, and that they are onerous. Does the punishment overwhelm the crime? If a person does something unintentionally wrong, does an animal REALLY have to be killed? Wouldn't a child of four in every generation be asking these questions?

The obligations incurred by even unintentional actions far outstrip the performance of worship by the priests. This tension would be obvious, to a priest, and a careful reader. The burden is further explained and resolved in Hebrews 9.

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