100 Answers in 100 Days

More questions answered on this blog:

Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Answering the Letter to Dr Laura, Part 3

The next point made in the Letter is as follows:

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Of course, there’s an emphasis on humour in this letter. But here we want to discuss these criticisms seriously. It’s not the case that a person was not permitted to have contact with a woman on her period. That’s not what the laws in the passage cited are saying, exactly. They say that if you have contact with a woman on her period you will be “unclean”. Now, to be in an “unclean” state did not mean that you had committed some sin. The things that make you “unclean” are not sinful acts. Contact with a woman on her period was not a sinful act but it made a person “unclean”. God made these laws regarding "cleanliness" or "purity" to essentially set Israel apart from other nations. Whenever the Bible gives a reason for the purity laws it is essentially like this one in Leviticus 20...

You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. (Leviticus 20:26)

This is in the context of keeping away from unclean animals, but serves to show what the purity laws were essentially about. To be holy literally means to be "set apart". People often associate it with being righteous or without sin, which is true; but in a broader sense it is to be set apart. So Israel was to be set apart from the other nations in that they didn't do the sinful acts of those nations, but they were also set apart because they had these purity laws. To be unclean meant that you were not permitted to worship at the temple. In other words, you were barred from participating in the essential thing that separated Israel from the rest of the nations. You had lost that distinctiveness for a time. In the Leviticus passage cited, contact with a woman on her period rendered you unclean “until the evening”. Sinful acts needed to be atoned for with a sacrifice, but the non-sinful state of being unclean simply "expired".

Regarding women on their periods; it was not for a person to determine whether a woman was on her period or not, but for a woman who was on her period to be careful where she went and with whom she had contact with. If you did come into contact with a woman on her period while on your way to the temple, say, then you can hardly be held accountable. The reason contact with a menstruating woman was one of the things which made a person unclean is probably beyond the scope of this particular post.

Well, Christians are supposed to be holy, or "set apart" from unbelievers. So we might wonder why such laws don’t apply to Christians today. The quickest answer I can give for that would be that through the incarnation of Christ, where God became a man, all things were made clean. Without a more detailed discussion of the cleanliness laws, which I don’t want to spend time doing now, this answer will have to suffice. What remains for Christian holiness is purity from sin.

So moving on to the next point the Letter makes:

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

Let’s read Leviticus 25:44-46...

As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly. (Leviticus 25:44-46)

Here I think we need to put this in the context of the “big picture”. Adam was called by God to rule over all creation. But Adam sinned, and so followed the fall of mankind. God’s plan of redemption, however, carries on through Israel. Israel was called like Adam to rule, but to rule over the nations. It was Israel’s vocation to present God to all the nations; that is, to all of fallen mankind. Of course they themselves were fallen, but God’s plan of redemption was to start with Israel and spread to all the Earth through Israel. In Deuteronomy we read:

For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you. (Deuteronomy 15:6)

The blessing promised is probably the one made to Abraham Genesis 12...

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:2-3)

The point is that it was Israel’s vocation to rule over the nations, just as it is Christ’s destiny to rule over the nations. And this is how we should understand Israel’s relationship to the nations; that they were to rule over them for the purpose that the nations might be blessed, in that they might come to know God. When one nation rules over the other, their labours are devoted to the building of that conquering nation. If they refuse to be under the employment of their new government they are considered rebels. Whether we agree or not, it was for a Gentile nation’s own good that Israel rule over them; that they have God’s own appointed nation to be the chief influence over their lives, leading them to the one true God of Creation.

But how does such a nation treat its slaves? As we saw in Part 2, slaves were to be treated kindly. But if a captured nation remains in rebellion to their captors, what do we expect should happen? Yet if a captured nation submits to their captors, then they essentially become as one with that nation. Consider Ruth, for example, (though she wasn’t captured by Israel but came to Israel willingly), her submission to Israeli rule made her, for all intents and purposes, an Israelite. She even finds herself in the genealogy of Christ Himself; a man borne of Israel.

Of course, these laws referred specifically to Israel and their neighbouring nations. It doesn’t apply to America and its neighbouring nations today. But nor does it apply to present day Israel and its neighbouring nations today. Christ established His Church which is a body of people from many nations, scattered amongst many nations. It is through the mission of the Church now that the world comes to know God. From Adam, to Israel, to the Church, God has expanded His kingdom. Presently all who follow Christ are His slaves, and are happy to be so (the Bible literally uses the term “slave”, or “doulos” in the Greek). And we know that one day all who continue in rebellion to Christ, the true ruler, will be put out.

This is the picture of the Old Testament laws on slavery. The imposition of Israeli rule should have been submitted to, in which case a slave should hardly feel like a slave. Was this imposition of Israeli rule wrong? Not when it really was the true God of all creation appointing Israel to lead all nations to Himself. And of course, unless they kept that mission as their focus their rule would have been wrong. This doesn’t make the Law itself wrong because Israel would have been transgressors of the Law when they lost sight of their God-given mission and purpose.

Part 2 <- -> Part 4

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