I would imagine that most would echo the title of this article upon hearing the laws of Leviticus. After all, to a culture that is antithetical to biblical authority, it just seems so ridiculous—if not offensive—to allow the Bible to regulate one’s diet, to guide us regarding skin rashes, and to require that new moms be out of circulation for anywhere from six to twelve weeks. “Give me a break!” is the response of most.
But for those who seriously consider God’s law, “Give me a break!” may be precisely the same response—albeit with a totally different tone of voice. Yes, I would imagine that a new mom is keen to say, “Please, give me a break!” Likewise, someone who needs a change in their diet as well as another who is ill might cry, “Give me a break, indeed!”
Recently, someone asked me how many of these Levitical laws apply to the new covenant believer, and how many do not. That is a good question, to which I attempt a brief answer in this article.
As we have learned, there are times when a later Word from God abrogates His former Word. The food laws are a case in point. Jesus clearly did away with this law in His communication with Peter in Acts 10. Paul affirmed this in 1 Timothy 4:4-5. With reference to leprosy, Jesus Christ in His redemptive work took away our infirmities (Isaiah 53:5; Matthew 8:17; 1 Peter 2:24). In other words, He fulfilled the picture painted in Leviticus 13 of a sin-plagued world, and one day we will experience this in space-time for all of eternity. With reference to the laws of Leviticus 12, it is clear from the New Testament writings that circumcision is no longer required by God for His covenant people (Romans 2:25-29; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:16; etc.). It also seems clear that the laws with reference to a new mother and her being rendered “unclean” have been abrogated because of God’s declaration of the believer being clean through the work of Christ (see, for example, John 13:10; 15:3; Revelation 19:8, 14).
But having acknowledged that these laws served their pedagogical purpose of leading to the new covenant era (Galatians 3:19-24), is there not anything of value to keep from them? And if so, how do we know what to keep and what to leave behind?
Again, we are clearly to leave behind to the era of the old covenant those things that were merely shadows; those things that pointed to the substance, which was Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). The church would therefore be on unbiblical grounds to require church members to not eat prawns, to circumcise their sons, or to excommunicate those with scarlet fever. The church can quite legitimately enjoy a crayfish braai, welcome uncircumcised boys into the crèche, and fellowship with those affected by all manner of skin rashes. But again, what legitimately applies from these laws for today?
To answer that question, we must come to grips with a basic summary of the ethical obligations of the Christian. Jesus did not leave us in the dark about this. He clearly articulated that our responsibility, our obligation, is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves (see Matthew 22:36-40). Jesus said that this is the summary of the old covenant. So let’s apply this principle to these issues in Leviticus.
If you love God with all that you are, then clearly you will want to take care of the body He has given to you. Therefore, if there are certain foods that do your body harm, you will want to stay away from them. Further, if you love your neighbour as yourself and you know that consuming a particular food item or beverage is either offensive to them or is in fact dangerous to them, you will abstain. For example, if they have a nut allergy you will not want to sit next to them and open your bag of Simba peanuts! If you are so insensitive, they will be well within their rights to respond, “Give me a break.” (They might also request an injection of epinephrine!). Love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:10) and so you will want to apply Levitical principles motivated by this.
Consider, as another example, the matter of leprosy and the practice of isolation for those who either might be or were in fact contagious. Clearly if we love our neighbour then we will not want to risk their health by passing on a particular sickness to them. It is true that Christians share many things, but there are some things that most of us wish that others would keep to themselves—and bacteria are certainly high on the list! Even Christian community has some boundaries.
And so if we love our brothers and sisters, then we will keep our contagious children out of the crèche (and the workers will thank you for giving them a break!). If you love others with a godly love, then when you are ill you will keep yourself at a distance from those who have sensitive immune systems. Christian love will encourage others in matters of personal hygiene. Again, love for God and for others will drive us to follow such principles.
Finally, what can we legitimately apply from the laws of childbirth (Leviticus 12)? Again, from the motivation of love we should learn from this passage that giving birth is a huge physiological, emotional and spiritual undertaking for a woman. When a woman gives birth there is loss of blood, loss of hormones, loss of many enzymes and electrolytes, etc. Therefore, in a very real sense, she loses life to bring forth life. She thus needs time to recover. She needs to rest, to heal, to recuperate, and she needs time to adjust to a huge change in her life. Emotionally, she is faced with the huge responsibility to care for a life completely dependent on her. Spiritually, she often finds herself battling due to a lack of personal time for devotions and for fellowship with the saints. She battles the lies put forth by a world system that belittles motherhood and stay-at-home moms. She may also feel the financial pressures to get back to work and so, in every way, she may be overwhelmed. But Leviticus 12 provides a practical prescription.
Husbands who want to demonstrate practical love to their wives will be quick to come to their aid, and a part of this will be to let your wife know that you will do for her what is needed for her recovery. You will give her a break! This may mean you doing extra domestic duties around the house, helping out with existing children, more takeaways, or perhaps even hiring extra help. And it may mean that you will let her know that you do not expect her to go back to the workplace, but that you will do whatever is necessary as a household to keep mom at home.
The particular shape of this will vary from household to household, but the principle remains. In Leviticus 12, God speaks for women who may be hesitant to articulate to their husbands, “Give me a break!” If you won’t listen to your wife (shame on you!), then listen to God.