Review: Blood, Guts & Fire: The Gospel According to Leviticus

Ancient, weird, violent, brilliant, surprising, mysterious. These adjectives describe Leviticus in Bell’s recent commentary, Blood, Guts, and Fire: The Gospel According to Leviticus, which is only available in audio format. Bell has released two parts in the series, and divides the content into Chapters 1-7 and Chapters 8-10. I found joy and grace when I explored Leviticus under Bell’s tutelage.

His approach is one that looks at scripture from 30,000 feet, in a larger context. He sees truth in Leviticus as being like nesting Russian Dolls. That means one can see the truth about God as multi-faceted and detailed. Bell proposes that one must understand culture to understand this third book in the Bible that is often mocked and carved up by people who want to prove the Bible to be irrelevant. For Bell, Leviticus is relevant, and, in fact, shows that the gospel was subversive from the beginning. Leviticus shows God’s big-hearted reach to all people. On the heels of the Exodus, Leviticus comes to a people whose culture was transformed after 400 years of enslavement. People in Mosaic time would not understand the stories we tell now about traffic and how that phenomenon overlays daily quality of life. Cars? Highways? Accidents? Engine trouble? Similarly, understanding these older stories will require us to consider the context.

Bell suggests reading Leviticus for spirit, not form. Yet, there was a reason for the comprehensive list of directions. The idea that God conveyed in Leviticus was this: The world may be a mess, but here, with this, we are not a mess. God instructs about many details, and details elevate the every day. Rituals unite. Sing together. Breathe together.

Levitical rituals are not about leaving the world, but about coming together in the world to encounter the Divine. What an idea for people who had been used ruthlessly by Egyptians. This path to God would involve adherence to details and rites that may appear insignificant, at first glance, but would serve a purpose. In Leviticus, the priest would lead people in ways that showed respect for God and soothe anxiety. In these words, people hear a promise that they can be part of a new world, a new culture. Leviticus describes form that is meaningful to use to bring about the change. There seems to be a timeless hunger to enter a new stage.

Bell poses the question, “Why do we love to binge watch makeover shows?” There is a yearning for a better way of life. There is an endless variation to the eternal craving for a new start. In the genre of makeover shows, one can learn that details of life matter. Leviticus functions as key to the makeover of liberated slaves. Leviticus offers an antidote to anxiety. It is as if God said, “You can know where you stand, and here is how not to have anxiety.”

Leviticus offered details about the plans for a tabernacle in which God would dwell, providing validation and reassurance to the newly freed people. God wanted to be among them. They would participate in a process that would allow the Divine to dwell among them and flow through them. Their identity would now consist of more than being mere production units. We, also, can be more than the total of our component identity pieces. We can be a part of the Divine task here on Earth. When the world seems unordered, collapsed, and spiraling out of control, we must, like the Israelites, attend to detail and mind boundaries. Sabbath rest is a part of this. It allows time to recharge and remake an identity that is free from barnacles of consumerism, empire, and power. God dwelling among the Children of Israel — in tabernacle and through priests — is all about validation of a new identity.

Bell says the descriptions of various offerings in Leviticus functioned to address a deep narrative for that time which said, “Someone, somewhere, must be appeased.” The definitive instructions of what to give offered a boundary so that the Israelites knew specifically what would be required to remediate certain problems. This was a culture where people thought gods had insatiable hunger and that it might be necessary, at times, to give the ultimate, a child, to appease the gods. The sacrificial gifts in Leviticus were specific and finite.

In the 21st century view, one can feel repulsed to read about bloody animals for sacrifice. Lest one disparage those times unfairly, Bell suggests one might consider several facets to the issue. The animals offered were creatures with which the people had a relationship. To offer an animal without defect implied that the people had a level of care and concern and connection with the creatures. This is different from the way we kill creatures today. In an extraordinary development in historical context, the way society breeds animals for consumption now is actually more barbaric. Animals are raised as commodities, thoughtlessly and greedily, and with no respect for their lineage as a part of creation. Perhaps, society now is actually more bloody and barbaric than the Mosaic era.

This God, Yah-weh, as described in Leviticus was a good God, not a competing God. Yah-weh’s admonitions were measured and thoughtful and could lead the Israelites to undergo a new ordering in their society. The words of instruction in Leviticus were not a trial to be endured, but a gift to be received. The Hebrew people would be launched on a path that featured gratitude and minimized resentment. In the Mosaic context, people would think that gods were incessantly hungry and demanded more and more. The God described in Leviticus was not like that.

Bell frames the failure of Aaron’s sons in Chapter 10 as a case study in hope. Nadab and Abihu, close to power, were not able to handle it well, and, instead, abused it. After this, God just continued to work with the leaders available. God, speaking through Moses, directed the sons of Aaron’s uncle to act. God kept giving instruction, and was not thwarted by the actions of Aaron’s sons. Nadab and Abihu did not follow God’s way, as it would later be described in 1 Peter 2. There is always a special responsibility for the chosen people. But, if the chosen do not stay in God’s path, He continues with His purposes. Thus, Leviticus shows the pattern of failure and restoration that is evident in all 66 books of scripture. In God’s Kingdom, human failure does not have the last word.

God wins. God is love. Love wins.

Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum. She lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama.

Images courtesy of RobBell.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9208
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God demonstrated His love to us when we were without hope lost in our trespasses and sins , “He loved us and gave Himself for our sins… " for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say , of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Rom.3

Christ was victorious and “won” at the cross and Satan was judged. God truly is Love and gave himself for us. He took our deserved wrath. Yes Love won, it is winning and it will ultimately win at the consummation of all things when again love reigns and there can be peace on earth when the wicked are destroyed.

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It is a Pay Per Listen.
In 2 chapters listening sequences.
Did not say how much time each sequence was.
Not like YouTube where one can come back later to finish.

very interesting., but it is hard to get past the ritual. Thank You.

Interesting.

The new acting US Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, when asked in a 2014 interview whether candidates for federal judge should have a “Levitical or New Testament view of justice,” quickly replied, “I’m a New Testament [person]. And what I know is as long as they have that [New Testament] worldview that they’ll be a good judge.” Perhaps, the Gospel According to Leviticus should be made required listening for him: sit him down in a cell and blast the audio loud and clear.

Leviticus was not written for the laity, but for the clergy, the priesthood. The common man reading it and not being able to appreciate it is much like a high school student attempting to read the October 2018 issue of the Journal of Mathematical Physics 1 and coming away flabbergasted, confused and disenchanted.

Secondly, the idea that God of the Old Testament was different from God of the New still persists in spite of the fact that it is well known that the two greatest commandments of the Torah, and upon which “hang all the Law and the Prophets” were NO different at all from what Jesus Christ asked of His disciples, “A new commandment I give you,” He said, “that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

And so, contrary to the wanton ignorance expressed by the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and lazy readers everywhere, from time immemorial to eternity hence, GOD IS LOVE. And the Old Testament is proof of it.


1 Nondegeneracy of the traveling lump solution to the 2 + 1 Toda lattice

The 2 + 1 elliptic Toda lattice has a traveling wave type solution Qn satisfying Qn+1(x,y)=Qn(x+122,y). This solution is analogous to the lump solution of the Kadomtsev-Petviashvili (KP)-I equation. We prove that { Q n } is nondegenerate in the sense that the corresponding linearized Toda lattice operator has no nontrivial kernel.

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Carmen,
I agree that one can find grace in the laws of the OT Israelites, especially when compared to the law codes of other nations of the time.

As new covenant believers, I think we can benefit in our understanding of God by looking at the spiritual dimension of OT books like Leviticus. You used the word gospel in your review yet you did not mention Jesus Christ by name.
As Christians we believe that the entire Bible speaks of Him. The OT sacrifices, and rituals and even the physical elements of worship all point forward to Him. Does Rob in any way relate his understanding of Leviticus to the One it is spiritually foreshadowing?

Hi Patrick,
You mention the destruction of the wicked.

By the word ‘wicked’ I assume you mean all non-Christians because our Bible says the only way to be saved is by faith in Christ Jesus. So, I guess that means you believe all the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Taoists, those adhering to any other belief system, agnostics and atheists are lost. Regardless of how giving and loving any of them were or are, they are out. I wonder how many down through history even heard the name Jesus Christ.
I think about the kids sexually abused by clergymen. I have a hard time thinking that God is willing to end their existence because their trauma and lifelong suffering at the hands of one representing Christ prevented them from returning to Christianity.

One of the things I have learned in my studies is that a word in one language can have a range of meaning that cannot be encompassed by a single word in another language.

By the word ‘destruction’, I assume you mean incineration in the lake of fire. The Greek word often translated in the NT as ‘destruction’ is apoleian (Strong’s#G684) and it can mean ruin or loss (physical or spiritual), damnable, destruction, die, perdition, waste. My lexicon says that this Greek word sometimes can mean loss of well being, not loss of being.

In Luke 15, cognates of a related word, apollumi (Strong’s#G622) are used to describe the lost sheep, lost coin and prodigal son. They were all eventually recovered. One commentator has said one must be ‘destroyed’ before one is saved.

In 1Cor 5:5, Paul instructs the Corinthian church about how to deal with an unrepentant immoral person in their midst. They were ‘to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction (Greek olethros , (Strong’s#G3639), a word related to apollumi ) of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’ Surely Paul didn’t mean to kill him.

I believe the same idea is brought forth in Matt 7:13-14. ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the gate is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and there are few who find it.’
Not many find eternal life in this age. In 1Cor 11:31-32, Paul says if we judge ourselves now and submit to the discipline of the Lord, we will not have to join the rest of the world which will have to go through the process of judgment at the end of this age and, I believe, chastisement later.

If any of what I have said is of interest to you, here is an article I found helpful,
http://www.growthingod.org.uk/olethros.htm

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I think gospel means good news. The words in Leviticus, I think, were good news at that time. Best.

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Pastor,Carmen,

I am usually an ardent admirer of Rob Bell but deplore his advocacy of the book of Leviticus.

Rivers:of blood running in the gutters around the Jerusalem temple, from innocent sacrificed animals is not for me an optimal optic.

The word “abomination” occurring over one hundred times in scripture, totally loses its forcefulness when applied to,wearing clothing of two different fabrics or eating oysters ( one of EGW’s favorite delicacies ),
and applied to other nonentities.

What is truly offensive to me, is when one particular abomination is heralded as highly significant when all the other multiple abominations are totally ignored.

Many of these Levitical laws lose all legitimacy when they are not supported by current science and common sense.

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Patrick Travis,
You rightly affirm:

CHRIST WAS VICTORIOUS AND “WON” AT THE CROSS
AND SATAN WAS JUDGED

Then why was His ultimate atonement NOT SUFFICIENT ??

If Christ did indeed “win” why was not an end called to the “ great controversy “ if as you say, Satan was already judged ??

Apparently the crucifixion was NOT pertinent nor profitable to end the war between good and evil.

Why did God nor fast forward the Second Coming and end it all right there?

The disciples clearly expected the end of the world in their lifetimes or shortly thereafter, at least in the first century AD.

Why were another two millennia of wars, genocodes, famines, pestilences,
plagues, atrocities, and misery for mankind allowed to continue ?

Is God a sadist who exults in human misery? — Which He could stop in a heartbeat by expediting the Second Coming — long overdue, if indeed
ALL was already settled at Calvary!

The whole atonement as you state was finalized at the Cross — there was no need for humanity to wallow in misery for another two millennia, and who knows how much longer !

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Dave –
I believe that you would get a better understanding of Rob Bell’s theology by
reading “What We Talk About When We Talk About God”.
And that our perceptions about God INFLUENCE out perceptions about Jesus Christ.

Dave,
Forgive 70 x 7 +…yes.
But,
“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,
Heb.9:27.”
Final judgment comes…
" And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Rev.20:12-15

Seems pretty final “destruction to me” unless you prefer never ceasing burnings. I hold to annihilationism.
Regards

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“concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” Jn.16:11.
At the cross the accuser of the brethren is judged. God justifies Himself as just. Rom.3.

The Cross is sufficient for our salvation. If all had called it off then, where would you and I be?
Just because the kingdom “has come in Christ” doesn’t mean all whom he chooses have come into that Kingdom.
God chooses the final consummative end to “the end times” begun at the cross.
Regards,
Pat

Steve,
I have heard of Rob Bell but have not yet read any of his writings.
Thanks for the suggestion.
Yes our perceptions about God influence how we see Christ. The inverse is true also.
Christ stressed love because as Scripture says, ‘God is love’ and ‘Love never fails’.

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