Introduction to Part 2 pages 149-150
Considering that this section (part 2) covers nine of the Levitical chapters running from 8 through 16, it’s surprising (to say the least) that North takes just 25 pages (pages 151-175) in dealing with them in contrast to the 98 pages (pages 49-146) that cover the first seven chapters.
It’s even more surprising when we read North’s statement (pages xx-xxi - my italics) telling us that
‘I did not write this commentary to meet the needs of those readers who prefer short commentaries. If Christians are ever to become doers of the word and not hearers only, they need someone to tell them exactly what the word requires them to do, and why. Leviticus tells Christians what they must still be doing’
and, even more so (page xxxviii), that
‘...this is a Bible Commentary...’
Though it may be regarded by North as such, it hardly seems fair to lump it together under the same label as, for instance, Harrison’s or Wenham’s works which say at least something about the verses and passages that are encountered in a systematic read of the Biblical book.
When I first read North’s words (page xxxviii) that
‘Some of the laws of Leviticus are still binding. Which ones? This is a difficult question to answer, but Christians need to find the correct answer. This, too, requires a hermeneutic: a consistent, coherent principle of biblical judicial interpretation that enables us to study other books of the Bible and their case laws. A serious Bible commentary on the Mosaic law should instruct the reader on how to do this work of interpretation. Very few commentaries on the Old Testament do this’
I was encouraged to purchase a hard copy of the book (easier to read on the bus to work in the morning than the electronic version!!) but his treatment of the Levitical sacrifices (the point we have reached so far) have failed to meet what I saw as one of his intended aims.
North writes (page xxxvii) again in the preface
‘In this commentary, I show why most of the economic laws in Leviticus are no longer in force’
but this stated aim has been largely lacking in hitting its target. I found very little in the preceding chapters that told the reader whether the author felt that the sacrifices were relevant to be offered today - even though it would be standard teaching to show, at least, what the New Testament says concerning any possible relevance or fulfilment in Christ (Heb 10:5-9).
Again, North comments upon his own question of why he’s written the ‘commentary’ (page xxxviii) with
‘...Christians need a principle of biblical interpretation...’
but, unfortunately, this ‘principle’ has gone largely unnoticed even if one has been included.
Before I comment directly on the Introduction to part 2, a structure list of the Levitical chapters should help the reader to focus on what will soon be discussed:
Leviticus 8 - Day 1 of Aaron’s (and his sons’) consecration
Leviticus 9 - Day 8 of Aaron’s (and his sons’) consecration
Leviticus 10 - Nadab and Abihu’s sin on Day 8 of Aaron’s (and his sons’) consecration
Leviticus 11 - Food instructions
Leviticus 12 - Purification of women
Leviticus 13 - Test of Leprosy
Leviticus 14 - Cleansing of Leprosy and House Leprosy procedure
Leviticus 15 - Bodily discharges
Leviticus 16 - Day of Atonement
North’s introduction, in one sense, states simply the obvious. He notes (page 149) that
‘Leviticus 8-16 is concerned with the priesthood in general...’
and so it is - as most of Leviticus is, not just these selected 9 chapters. But there are exceptions here. Chapter 11 begins with the words
‘Say to the people of Israel...’
as do chapters 12 and 15 (an indication that the following legislation is for the nation to hear and apply, not just Aaron).
North’s other observed characteristic (page 149) is that the nine chapters deal
‘...with cleansing in particular’
True, the chapters do deal with cleanliness (that is, remaining clean) and probably six out of the nine chapters deal with cleansing (becoming clean) - but the preceding seven chapters deal proportionately about the same with this subject in that respect. Besides, the Scripture quotes that head up the two chapters in part two refer to, firstly, staying clean (and differentiating between the clean and unclean) and, secondly, becoming unclean - hardly verses that teach the priesthood how to be cleansed.
Although chapters 8-16 do deal with becoming clean, unfortunately North has chosen not to comment to any great degree on the subject.
North also sees the nation of Israel as being a nation of priests. He writes (page 150)
‘Ritual cleanliness was mandatory for a nation of priests (Ex 19:6) that had been set apart...by God as His special people...there had to be a priesthood for the nation of priests’
It would take me some space to deal with the idea that, at that point in Israel’s history, the entire nation was regarded by God as priests so I’ve included a separate web page which deals with this subject in the detail that’s required.
Needless to say, if the nation were now considered to be priests - one and all - then North’s assertion that the priests needed a priesthood (the intermediaries need intermediaries) becomes contradictory, and the accusation of Korah and the crowd is given great weight when they say (Num 16:3)
‘...all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and YHWH is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves [referring to Moses and Aaron] above the assembly of YHWH?’
If the nation really was holy and set apart to God, why did they need an intermediary? The sad fact of the matter is that the priesthood of the nation was forfeited through the rebellion of the golden calf when the tribe of Levi won that right (that is, if God had been intending to make the nation a kingdom of priests at that point in their history).
Besides, it seems apparent that God’s will that they would be a kingdom of priests was still in the future when God spoke it out in the passage partly cited by North - Ex 19:5-6 (my italics) - the important phrases being, first, the conditional
‘...if you will obey My voice and keep My covenant...’
followed by the prophetic desire of God that they
‘...shall be to Me...’
The priesthood of the entire nation was dependent upon obedience to the voice of God and the legislation of the covenant. But I’ll deal with this in greater detail on the web page listed under ‘Additional Articles’ concerning priests.
Finally, with no Scripture reference for justification, North asserts (page 150) that
‘As we find in the laws governing leprosy, [the Levites] very physical presence inside the boundary of a house made unclean a house infected with the disease. It was not legally unclean until a priest crossed its boundary’
The Scriptures teach otherwise, however. The passage that North appears to be referring to is Lev 14:33-53 which is the part which specifically deals with the type of Leprosy which would be found within Israelite houses (that is, a fungal growth on the plaster of the walls). The question has to be, did the entry of the priest into the house cause the dwelling to be proclaimed ‘unclean’, as North asserts that it was?
Very briefly, let me describe the scenario.
The occupier discovers a growth in his house (14:33-35) and the priest, once told, goes in to the house (14:36) and examines the problem (14:37). If it’s a serious outbreak then the house is shut up seven days (14:38). Has the house been declared ‘unclean’ by the priest’s entry? Well, the Scripture makes no mention of it - strange indeed if what North asserts is correct.
Going further, we see that if, after seven days when the priest re-enters the house, the growth has spread, then the walls of the house must be scraped and replastered so that the owner can come and reinhabit it (14:39-42). Has the second visit of the priest rendered the house ‘unclean’? Again, the Scripture doesn’t say so - in fact, because the inhabitants can return, it must be considered to be ceremonially clean.
The next scenario is what if the fungal growth breaks out again? What happens then?
For a third time the priest enters the house and, this time, if the disease is seen to have spread and not to have been got rid of by the previous action, then (14:43-44)
‘... it is a malignant leprosy in the house; it is unclean’
and the house is destroyed (14:45-47).
If, however, the examination shows that the disease has not spread, then the house is declared ‘clean’ (14:48) even though atonement must be made for the house (14:49-53) – one might think that to declare something ‘clean’ it must have been ‘unclean’ but the declaration seems to be for the conscience of the worshipper who could rest assured that there was an official decision from God on the ‘righteousness’ of their house. This scenario only takes place if the priest is called in to re-inspect the house after his two previous visits have caused the house to be replastered.
So the reason for the declaration ‘unclean’ being pronounced over the house is the spread of the fungus and not the presence of the priest. This then undermines North’s subsequent analogy (page 150 - my italics) concerning
‘...the moral uncleanliness of Canaan, which became judicially unclean - and subject to God’s corporate negative sanctions - only after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan river and entered the land’
But, more than this, the Hebrew word used for the uncleanness of the house (Strongs Hebrew number 2931) comes directly from another word that’s often translated as ‘defiled’ and which carries with it a similar - if not identical - meaning (Strongs Hebrew number 2930). In the passage Lev 18:24-27, we see it used of the land of Canaan in which no Israelite priest had yet set foot. It reads (italics denote the relevant word)
‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves; and the land became defiled, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for all of these abominations the men of the land did, who were before you, so that the land became defiled)’
Notice that the land is defiled (or, ‘unclean’).
Why? Because the presence of Israel has made the land to be considered unclean? No, not at all. It became unclean because of the abominations that were committed by the people in the land.
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