27 May 2019

Leviticus 10.22: A Weird Law and its Mercy

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Environment, Exegesis, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Joel, Suffering

In the middle of Leviticus, that book we never read, there are some interesting rules that were given. Leviticus often is caricatured by Protestant Evangelicals as prime example of the “burden of the law.” They fail to realize that Leviticus is for priests and Levites not for everyone. But most is not and none of it applies to everyone all of the time.

The rules are framed by the narrative of God’s grace and we can never forget that fact. The story of God’s great redemption of Israel frames all “law” in the “Law of Moses.” Exodus comes before Sinai. Leviticus comes after Israel’s “fall” into stunning apostasy during the Golden Calf episode. Yahweh forgives Israel and declares the holy name and exegetes it for the people of Israel (See my article Untamed God and Dangerous Grace).

One of the strangest rules is in the food laws. After forbidding this and that, some of which I would not want to eat anyway, we get to Leviticus 10.22. Insects (or better “swarming things” in Hebrew) are off the menu. But then we read,

You may eat of these: every kind of desert locust, every kind of cricket, every kind of long or short horned grasshopper.”


Grasshoppers are ok for lunch, why?

Locusts are frequently seen as threats to the world in which Israel lives. They come and destroy everything when there is a locust “plague.” God used locusts as an instrument of deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 10). The little book of Joel gives us a window on how catastrophic swarming locusts could be in the Ancient Near East (and to this very day). They destroy everything.

It is precisely here that we find, hidden in plain view, the mercy and compassion of God. As even the Lamentations in the aftermath of the horror of Jerusalem’s devastation we read,

For the Lord will not reject forever.
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his HESED;
for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone

And according to the prophet Joel, Yahweh even apologizes and then promises to restore everything that his army of locusts destroyed.

I [Yahweh] will repay you for the years
that the swarming locusts has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you
(Joel 2.25)

Yahweh is not the saido masochist that so many imagine the God of Israel to be. The purpose of any discipline by the Lord is not our destruction but our salvation. This brings us to the mercy of Leviticus 10.22 that is hidden in plain view.

After the locusts devour the crops famine covers the land. The only way for the poor to escape starvation is to eat the locusts themselves. So if the Torah did not declare locusts “clean,” the vast majority of Israelites would have simply starved to death. The instrument that was used to discipline now becomes the means of survival. The mercy and compassion of God in plain view.

Because we are so far removed (historically, culturally, environmentally, etc) from the world of the Bible, all we westerners see is something weird.

As I was reflecting on this this morning, the words of that faithful Jew from Nazareth came to my mind, “the sabbath was made for humans not humans for the sabbath.” This is actually true of all the Torah. It was made for humans, humans were not made for the “law.”

Several years ago I read A. J. Jacobs The Year Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. As a “non-believer” he often had some interesting insights. His words on the food law for locusts is underlined in red.

More and more, I feel it’s important to look at the Bible with an open heart. If you roll up your sleeves, even the oddest passages–and the one about edible bugs qualifies–can be seen as a sign of God’s mercy and compassion.” (p. 176).

If a non-believer can discern the mercy of God in something he confesses is “completely weird” I have to wonder why those who confess love for the Father of Jesus do not see it first?

The Torah did not bring about starvation but was literally the means of “salvation” after a plague. To this day in the Middle East locust can be regarded as a plague and a blessing from heaven. When there is nothing else to eat, there is suddenly a feast.

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