The Torah's Vision of Worship

By Samuel E. Balentine | Go to book overview

6.

COVENANT HOLINESS

IN THE TORAH'S VISION, THE SEQUEL TO THE ERECTION OF THE TABERnacle (Exod. 40) is Leviticus, where God continues the instructions of the covenantal liturgy at Sinai. Chapter 1 initiates the address with the words “The LORD summoned (qārā') Moses and spoke (dābār) to him.” Chapter 27 brings the address to its conclusion with similar phrasing, “The LORD spoke (dābār) to Moses, saying…” In between these framing chapters, the phrase “the LORD spoke to Moses” (or a similar one) appears fiftysix times. It opens seventeen of the twenty-seven chapters. In more than half the cases, it introduces divine words addressed not just to Moses or a select group, but to the entire community of Israel (for example, Lev. 1:2: “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them”). It is proper, therefore, to enter into these continuing words of covenant liturgy by recognizing that, as W. Kaiser has said, “Leviticus, more than any other ОТ book, claims to be a divine word for humanity.”1

Such a claim may well strike the average reader of Leviticus as odd. Of all the books in the Hebrew Bible, perhaps none is more routinely dismissed by most Christians as irrelevant, if not pagan,2 than Leviticus. As T. Mann has observed, “Many a pious vow to read straight through the Bible from cover to cover has foundered on the shoals of Leviticus.”3 Sadly, this neglect and disparagement cannot be judged as benign or innocent. Too often, behind the negative evaluation of ritual laws in the Old Testament there lurks a corresponding lack of regard for the lews whose identity

1. W. Kaiser, “The Book of Leviticus,” in NIB, vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), 987.

2. J. Wellhausen routinely evaluated ritual and cultic laws as the heathen element in the
Old Testament that testified to the death of Israelite religion once the controlling reigns of
power were seized by the priests. For a critical assessment of Wellhausen's influence in mod
em scholarship, see). D. Levenson, The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criti-
cism
(Louisville: John Knox/Westminster, 1993), 1–32.

3. T. Mann, The Book of the Torah: The Narrative Integrity of the Pentateuch (Atlanta: John
Knox, 1988), 113. Mann summarizes well the typical Protestant response to Leviticus by
observing that ritual prescriptions like those cited as a remedy for leprosy (Lev. 14:4–7) con-
jure up for many the witches' chant in Macbeth: “Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing;/For a charm
of pow'rful trouble/Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

-148-

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