Are you a selective Christian? A Biblical cherry-picker? Are there some parts of God’s word that you embrace, and others that you disagree with, and therefore ignore?
To be honest, I think we all do that to some extent. I have short hair, in spite of Paul’s words to the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 11:15). I don’t stay silent in the church, either, even though some commentators believe 1 Corinthians 14:34 tells me I should. Am I doing something wrong?
Lately, I’ve been wading through Leviticus. All those rules! Did God really mean the Hebrews to obey every single one? And what about us? Surely, those rules may have applied to them then, but what about us now?
If you’ve read A. J. Jacobs’ book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, (which I happily recommend) you realize how absurd it is to try and live perfectly according to the Law. It fact, it’s impossible, which is why only Jesus did it. I’m grateful for verses such as Romans 3:20—“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”
But was an awareness of sin the only reason we were given the Law? No, there’s more. The Law constrains sin. By following its directives, we live a better, healthier, happier life. So, even though we are saved by grace, we need to take the Law seriously.
Now, back to Leviticus. A significant part of the book covers rules related to health and diet. With what we know today, these rules actually make a lot of sense, protecting a people with no understanding of microbes or how diseases are transmitted.
Then we come to chapter 19, a list of “various laws” that largely expound on the Ten Commandments: Don’t worship idols. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. And so forth. For the most part, we’d totally agree with all of these today.
However, right in the middle of this list is verse 19: “Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”
Wait a moment. It’s wrong to breed mules? My garden beds should only contain one crop? I shouldn’t buy clothes made of cotton/polyester fabric?
Living in our American culture, I can’t understand why God would have an opinion on these things. Some commentaries related these three laws to God’s emphasis on clean versus unclean, but why these particular issues?
Then I came across an explanation by Tom Gilson on ThinkingChristian.net that makes a ton of sense to me. He points out that God has reasons for everything He commands us, and we would be foolish to ignore one of his laws just because we don’t understand it. Shouldn’t we first know God’s purpose, before we can evaluate whether or not to blithely disregard His instructions?
Then he quotes Jonathan Morrow in his book Think Christianly, who in turn quotes Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart:
These and other prohibitions were designed to forbid the Israelites to engage in fertility cult practices of the Canaanites. The Canaanites believed in sympathetic magic, the idea that symbolic actions can influence the gods and nature…. Mixing animal breeds, seeds, or materials was thought to “marry” them” so as magically to produce “offspring,” that is, agricultural bounty in the future.
Fee and Stuart may be right. They may be wrong. Their explanation seems reasonable— even today I’ve encountered those who believe in what is essentially sympathetic magic (for starters, check out the underlying principles for homeopathy). God was very intent on separating His people from the pagan cultures that surrounded them, and this reason fits that principle.
Does this mean we can disregard this passage? As with all decisions, I hope you pray about it. We don’t need to distance ourselves from the Canaanites, but we do live in an increasingly pagan culture. Are there things we do that we should probably not do?