Reflections on Leviticus
Leviticus 17 says, “Any Israelite who sacrifices an ox, a lamb or a goat in the camp or outside of it instead of bringing it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting … shall be considered guilty of blood shed … and must be cut off from his people” (v3-4).
This is one of the few rules that are explained in the law: “This is so the Israelites will bring to the Lord the sacrifices they are now making in the open fields” (v5).
Apparently, some people were making sacrifices to the “goat idols” out in the desert (v7). It’s kind of hard to tell to whom you’re making sacrifices out on the edge of camp; if everyone brings their sacrifice to the priests, no one has to wonder.
This rule builds a hedge around the first and second of the Ten Commandments. If you don’t violate the hedge, it’ll be that much harder to break those two of the top 10.
This hedge was actually part of the Mosaic law, but people made other hedges that were simply human traditions. The Pharisees were masters of this. Hedges aren’t, in themselves, a bad thing. A simple common sense rule that keeps you from sinning is a very good thing.
However, it becomes a problem when you mistake your rule for God’s law. The hedge in this passage is part of the Bible, but the ones created by the Pharisees weren’t.
They made their rules into such a burden that many people couldn’t keep up. And they treated those who couldn’t keep their rules like wicked sinners.
Lots of Christians have hedges:
If you don’t drink, you won’t get drunk.
If you don’t use credit cards, you won’t go into debt.
If you don’t watch movies, you won’t watch the wrong movies.
If you don’t play cards, you won’t gamble.
If you aren’t alone with a member of the opposite sex, you won’t commit adultery.
These are good, sensible rules that some people set so they could stay not only out of trouble, but well away from it. But if you look at people who, e.g., play cards as wicked sinners, you have sinned.
What rules have you, or your denomination, set to keep yourself out of trouble? (If you haven’t set any, you might consider some.) Do you look down on people who violate your rules? Do you accuse people who have violated your rules, but not scriptural principles, of sin?
Used properly, hedges can be very useful. Used incorrectly, they can hurt your neighbor, your brother, and your own soul. Handle with care.