(The Bible for Atheists, number 9)
“Why would God design a woman’s body and then require her to sacrifice two birds once a month because the natural cycle is considered unclean?” (from Tanya)
Two passages to consider together:
- Leviticus 12 (childbirth),
- Leviticus 15:19-30 (menstruation)
Let’s begin by stating the obvious:
- It struck me as really odd, for a man to talk about a woman’s mentrual cycle.
- No one performs these sacrifices any more.
An understandable misconception – as Christians we tend to insist upon the immutability of Divine Truth, and sometimes we proclaim silly things (like, women shouldn’t wear trousers), so it’s really no wonder that people get confused.
Stems from seeming conflict between different statements of Jesus:
Jesus’ disciples criticised for eating with unwashed hands, to which he responded, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.” (Mark 7:15 [= Matthew 15:10-20]; see also Matthew 23:25,26)
COMPARE: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. …, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Mathew 5:17-19)
Resolved in the next verse: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mathew 5:20)
What does it mean to “exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees”? It requires us either to:
- do what the experts do, and do it better than the experts themselves, or
- realise that he’s talking on a whole other level, and they’re missing the point – which is what Jesus and the other New Testament authors consistently tell us.
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? … Therefore, when Christ came into the world, … First he said: “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.” (Hebrews 10:1, 2a, 5, 8, 9 [NIV])
“Those who belonged to the Ancient Church knew these truths, but they were led to know them through external representatives. … Actual representatives were done away with by Him since the majority of them had regard to Himself; for the image must pass away when the actual likeness presents itself.” (Heavenly Secrets, 4904, section 2)
So, what is the Jewish law for? PREVIOUS TALK (#6, on Slavery):
- Sets the context for the gospels,
- Points to the life of the Lord, who is the fulfilment of OT laws and history, and
- Internally, it reflects the inner life of the Lord and the processes we ourselves pass through in the progress of our spiritual growth.
The Law DOES contain eternal spiritual truths, but these were written in such a was as to be accessible to people in a more worldly, and temporal mindset – we see the Jews acted out abstract spiritual principles in concrete natural ways.
In order to understand the spiritual intent – the eternal truth – behind the literal story:
1. Uncleanness is an IMAGE of sin, it is not sin itself.
“Each particular uncleanness [represented] some specific evil; for evils are what render a person unclean, because they infect his soul.” (Heavenly Secrets, 10130.11, section 10)
2. Likewise, the sacrifices were IMAGES of the antidotes to sin, they were not themselves the antidotes.
Sacrifice on the eighth day – the first day of a new week – a new state begun – acknowledges that all good and truth comes from the Lord, and not at all from ourselves:
“… good as it exists with a person is not that person’s; rather it is the Lord’s with him. And he is maintained in it to the extent that he allows himself to be withheld from evils.” (Heavenly Secrets, 10109.2, section 2)
3. Every person in the literal text of Scripture refers to some aspect of our own individual humanity, for example:
- The women in the book of Proverbs, wisdom and foolishness (cf. the headings in the NIV)
MOVING ON to Leviticus chapter 12
Birth represents spiritual birth – being “born again”. None of us begins our spiritual journey “clean”. We all have our failings, tendencies towards selfishness. But our rebirth is to the end that this spiritual uncleanness within us might be irradiated from our lives.
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)
“In comparison with the state that follows it, a state in which temptation takes place is like conditions in a pit or prison – squalid and unclean. For when a person undergoes temptation unclean spirits are near and round about. They activate the evils and falsities residing with him; … So it is that the person dwells at such times amid uncleanness and squalor; and when a visual presentation of that state is made in the next life … it is seen as a cloud issuing from filthy places.” (Heavenly Secrets, 5246.2, section 2)
On Leviticus chapter 12 (Henry MacLagan):
“… in the insemination, conception and birth of truth with [a person] there is impurity in the proprium and purity internally even as is the case in the course of regeneration.” (Verses 1,2) Similarly in the reception and acknowledgement of good.
IN OTHER WORDS, what is true of our regeneration as a whole, is also true of every stage of regeneration: every new insight, every new impulse to good, every act of self-examination, begins as “unclean” (it is self-centred or worldly-focussed in some way). Any desire I have to live a heavenly life begins as my own wish for salvation, and the one person I want to benefit from that is myself. Nevertheless, the Lord accepts it for what it is, and uses it to lead me on.
On Leviticus 15 This is the reproductive system NOT doing what it was designed for, that is, producing offspring. It is the failure to conceive, a stalling of rebirth.
On Leviticus 15:19 (MacLagan):
“When any natural affection is corrupted by falsity from the evil of selfish love in a state of undergoing regeneration, that natural affection must be regenerated”
We all have tendencies towards selfishness. We also have a mind capable of either examining our own selfish desires and recognising their reality, or else inventing justifications for them. I might:
- blame others for for how I feel, or how I speak and act in difficult circumstances
- dismiss or underestimate my own evils – “it was only a little lie”, or a “white lie”; “I didn’t hit her hard”; “I did it in self-defence”.
Can you see how that attitude might have a “contagious influence” on other areas of my life? How these might infect other relationships, for example?
There’s a well known principle in spiritual growth – our problems are recurring – we keep meeting the same challenges in life until …we resolve them. You can run away from a bad relationship, but the one person you’ll never escape is you, and if you were the cause of the problem all along, then it’s going to happen again. If you are able to stand and face the challenge, really exam your life and actions, and make a change, then the result is a rebirth, a new lease on life.
A final reading:
For human beings are nothing else than forms receiving life from the Lord; yet the nature of those forms is such, owing to people’s heredity and their own actions, that they refuse spiritual life coming from the Lord. But once those receptacles have been renounced so completely that they no longer claim any freedom of their own, there is total submission. The person who is being regenerated is brought at length, through the repeated experiences of desolation and sustainment, to a point at which he no longer wishes to be his own man but the Lord’s. And once he has become the Lord’s he passes into a state in which, if left to himself, he is dejected and gripped by anxiety. But when he is brought out of that state he returns to the bliss and happiness that are his, to the kind of state all the angels experience. (Heavenly Secrets, 6138)