A Pepper Grinder Post

Not Like Us

I was reading through Leviticus recently. I can't honestly say it is one of my favorite books of the Bible. It is a book which spells out in minute detail the laws God expected Israel to follow. These covered everything from offerings made to God, to sexual practices, to what to do if you had a boil.

Let's take a quick look at one of those regulations, which I happen to have read recently. I'm thinking of Leviticus 14:33-53, which tells you what to do if you have mold in a house. I can relate to this concern. We live not too far from the Atlantic Ocean, and the whole region where we live is quite humid. I have heard that people with good knowledge of the woods used mold on the trees to tell which way was north (since mold tends to grow in places that get the least direct sunlight, and so is most prevalent on the north sides of trees). Where I live, you can tell which way is north by looking at the mold growing on the sides of houses. When it's been more than 8 months since I last power-washed my house, I start seeing that tell-tale greenish tint, mainly on the more northerly sides of our house.

moldy houseSo let's see what you would have had to do in Old Testament Israel if you had found mold growing on your house. Well, not exactly on your house. The passage I'm referring to deals with mold in a house. I don't have so much of a problem with that at the moment. But let's suppose you did. Here's what you would have to do:

  1. Tell the priest you have something that looks like mold growing in that room in the basement you converted into a man-cave.
  2. Go to your nearest storage facility and rent their largest-sized storage area. You might need a few of them. Then head over to U-Haul and rent a big truck. Call some friends to see if they're interested in an exchange of hard labor for free pizza. Order the pizzas. Why all the moving preparation? Because the house has to be emptied before the priest examines it.
  3. After getting all your stuff out of the house, have the priest come and examine the mold. I'm not sure what the priest does if the mold just looks like it's on the surface. Maybe he'd just tell you to spray it with bleach solution and be done with it. However, if the mold has "greenish or reddish depressions that appear to be deeper than the surface of the wall," the priest will whip out his roll of yellow tape like they put across driveways when they've been resurfaced, and put a big "X" of it covering all the doors. This tape will say "UNCLEAN" in big letters.
  4. Call the local motel and book a room for the next week. That's how long you have to wait to go back into your house.
  5. After a week, the priest returns. The passage doesn't say what to do if the mold hasn't spread. I'm guessing you can do what you need to do to clean it up and move back into your house. But if the mold has spread, you've got some more work to do. You need to rip out the drywall and possibly even the studs all around where the mold is. Cart everything you ripped out to the landfill (our modern equivalent of "an unclean place outside the town"), and replace with new materials. But don't relax yet. Now you need to scrape the paint off all the walls in your house, and take everything you scrape off to the landfill. Now repaint, and you're all set.
  6. Maybe. If the priest comes back after an unspecified amount of time and sees that the mold has not returned, he'll offer a sacrifice of two birds (one to be killed, the other to be released) and declare your house clean. But, if he looks at the wall of your man-cave later and notices that the spreading mold is back, he declares your house unclean. At this point, I hope you've been paying your home insurance premiums, and that your policy has a really generous mold provision.
  7. Call the wrecking company. Your house must be torn down, and all the debris taken to the landfill.
  8. Build a new house. I'd advise building one with no basement, like most of the houses in the humid area where I live. And what do you need with a man-cave, anyway? Maybe you should spend more time with your wife and kids.

demolition signWow. I can imagine people thinking the regulations I've just described are absolutely insane. I'd like to point out that things in ancient Israel were quite different from the place where I live. For one thing, houses were much smaller, and possessions much fewer. Getting all your possessions out of a one or two room house and scraping down its walls was still a job, but not nearly as big a job as it would be for many people today. Also, the Middle East was quite a bit dryer than the place I live. Spreading mold in a house would probably have been much less common than in my area, and much more of a big deal.

But, even with those facts in mind, this still seems like a lot of work for a little mold. What we would think of as a home maintenance hassle was a matter of religious purity for the Old Testament Jews. Why is that?

Some argue that many of the Old Testament regulations were pronounced by God for the sake of the physical health of his people. I have seen this most often said in regards to Old Testament dietary laws (for an expression of this viewpoint, see a the comment sent to me by Lisa at the end of Legalism Blues). The argument goes that God knew that eating pork and various other things would be unhealthy for his people, and therefore, he forbade it. I can see a similar kind of argument being made here. I have more problems with allergies since moving to a more humid, and I think I might well be more prone to respiratory problems if I lived in a moldy house.

But is health the primary reason for many regulations in the Law of Moses? Here's what I would encourage you to do. Read through the first five books of the Bible (the books Jews refer to as The Torah) and look for verses that seem to introduce or finish a section of laws. (To be honest, Genesis doesn't have any regulations in it, but it's an awfully good read.) Look for phrases that seem to sum things up. These will often give you a sense of what God's purpose was in setting forth the regulations he proclaimed.

What I have not seen are statements like, "The Canaanites get sick all the time, and die young. I want you to be much healthier." What I see instead are verses like this one, finishing off a passage about what animals not to eat:

Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:43-45 NIV)

Or this one summing up a passage about forbidden sexual practices:

Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, (Leviticus 18:24-26 NIV)

The way God sounds makes me think he was not happy with the people in Egypt or in Canaan. They were fallen, imperfect people, just as the Jews were, but they had taken that fallen nature and run with it. Whatever they felt like doing, they did. (Does that remind you of any modern-day societies?) The thing I think God most wanted for his people was for them to be different.

Is it possible that some of those regulations also had health benefits? Sure. I don't think God has anything against killing two birds with one stone. It may be that God knew people would be more fit if they avoided drinking blood, eating animal fat, or eating any kind of pork. But I think what he most wanted was for them to stick out like sore thumbs. He wanted them never to forget that they were special and unique. He didn't want them to slide into thinking that since their neighbor, Carl Canaanite, does it, it must be okay for them to do. He wanted to imprint on their brains that God was different, and that they, as God's people, were also called to be different.

He wanted them to be holy. While holiness certainly has a connotation of purity and goodness, it also has a very strong idea of "otherness." People were created in God's image, but when man chose to disobey God and follow his own ideas of right and wrong, he became something very different. God's call to his people, both then and now, is to come and join him, and let him make us like him. The more he makes us like him, the more different we'll be from the people around us.

This brings us to the question of how we, as Christians, are supposed to approach the regulations of the Old Testament. I hope no one can read the New Testament without seeing that the role of the Law has radically changed for the Christian. Here is what Paul has to say in Romans 5:20-21 (NIV):

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

seagull on top of plastic owlThis sounds a little odd to me, but here, I think, is the basic meaning of what Paul is saying. The Law came to point out sin and make it obvious. That way, when Christ ushered in the age of grace, it was absolutely clear what we were being freed from. All we have to do is read the Old Testament with open eyes to see that we can never, with our best efforts, please this absolutely Holy God. Our only hope is in Jesus Christ, and the forgiveness he offers.

So do we need to get on the phone with our pastor if we find some mold growing in our house? No, thank God, we do not. And yet, the message of Leviticus is still important. We need to remember that God is very different from people in the fallen world. He doesn't think like them, and he doesn't act like them. So often when we get mad at God (for example, for not being fair), we are thinking of what we would expect a person to do. But God is really different. What's more, he has called us to be really different. Those differences may not be in how we deal with mold or whether we plant two different crops in the same field, but they will be just as noticeable to those around us as the differences God called for in the Old Testament. If our goal is to be as much as possible like everybody else without doing bad things, I think we're missing the boat. God wants us to be like him. He wants us to be different. We should embrace that.


*Photo Credits: Demolition sign by .