Reading Leviticus in Pandemic

I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations. You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those that I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. (Leviticus 20:24b-26)


Many find Leviticus tedious, repetitive, and uninteresting. More than one brave soul attempting to read through the Bible has had her devotion tested in the lengthy sections on offerings, skin diseases, and dietary restrictions. One reason for this is the belief that Leviticus has nothing to do with our lives right now. We’re no longer under the dietary laws (Mark 7:18-23), and Christ has offered himself as our once-for-all sacrifice, putting an end to the sacrificial system (Hebrews 10:12-18). Oh, and we have dermatologists, so we don’t look to Leviticus for advice on rashes (for better or worse).


In the midst of this pandemic, interest in Leviticus has perked up a bit, although often in simply humorous ways. After all, Leviticus forbids eating bats (11:19) and has lengthy sections detailing personal hygiene to prevent the spread of disease. Feels pretty relevant!


There is a deeper relevance at work, however. Note the rationale Leviticus 20:24-26 gives for the dietary restrictions, for example. God has set his people apart from the nations (24b). They are to be a city on a hill, displaying the glory of God by the purity of their lives. Our lives, as the people of God, should be distinct from those of our unbelieving neighbors. We are to be holy, because God is holy and has set us apart from the nations to be his own (26; see 1 Peter 1:15-16).


Therefore, God says, make a distinction between clean and unclean animals (25). That word “therefore” is so important to our understanding Leviticus. God has set his people apart; therefore, follow these dietary laws (and keep yourselves clean in the other ways Leviticus details). God instituted dietary laws to separate his people from the pagan nations. This functioned practically, as Jews could not dine with pagans, thus limiting contact—and the risk of “exposure” to sinful ideas and practices. (We see here, by the way, why God has lifted the dietary restrictions: now that Christ has come, we make disciples of all nations. There is no longer an ethnic or racial distinction between clean and unclean peoples [see Acts 10:9-15 and the conversion of Cornelius shortly thereafter].)


Do you see how relevant this is to our daily lives? While we no longer look to dietary laws to separate us or the sacrificial system to purify us, we still seek to live holy lives. We don’t fear ritual impurity, but rather ethical impurity. As Paul says, “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:7). We must take great care to keep sinful ideas and practices from “infecting” us. We want to be holy, just as the God who called us is holy.


That means this entire coronavirus lockdown is a spiritual parable played out on a global scale. Sin is the most serious virus, and it kills (eternally) all who do not seek healing in Christ. Once we receive cleansing by his blood, we practice good spiritual hygiene, temptation distancing, and sin mitigation procedures. A bit corny, perhaps—but deadly serious, deeply relevant, and exactly the point of Leviticus.

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