'm in Leviticus in my personal Bible reading, and candidly it's pretty tough slogging. Numbers will be harder. Parts of both readily yield meaning and blessing, but other portions are... pretty chewy. It is from one of those parts that I take my illustration.
I hit Leviticus 12:5, which reads: "But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days." So, the time for purification after giving birth to a girl, under the theocracy, was twice the time for purification after the birth of a boy (vv. 2-4).
Why? What in the world does that mean?
Uncharacteristically, Matthew Henry admits he hasn't a clue, which is somewhat comforting. I looked at a few others I had available electronically (Gill, JFB, K&D, Geneva [tersely "Twice as long as if she gave birth to a boy"; gee, thanks, guys], Clarke, Barnes). Nothing.
So here's the part where I unveil the grand insight I came to after further study, right? Sorry, there won't be any. I have one lame guessso lame I'm not saying it in public. What's more, I'm not doing any further study right now. Sure, one of you smart cookies will have the answer, you'll tell us all, and we'll all applaud and marvel at the awesomeness that is you. But me? I've got nothing, and I'm stopping there deliberately at the momentbecause that is going to be my focus.
What do you do when you hit a verse, or a passage, that either is totally impenetrable to you, or even initially strikes you (let's be honest) as absurd?
You and I have several options, theoretically.
- Reject it. It doesn't make sense to us, it is offensive, so it's wrong. Right? Well, if you really think you're smarter than Jesus, this is an option. I am not, at the moment, writing for that audience.
But, to you, Dear Reader, whoever you are, I will say this: you may believe in Jesus, or you may reject parts of the Word you find difficult, uncongenial, or repulsive. You may not do both.
- Make fun of it. We can loudly tell others how stupid the text/passage is, mock it, make fun of it, parody it. We might look very clever, "transparent," "authentic," bold, and daring.
I hope that the problem with that approach is obvious to all: it is ruinously inconsistent on the one hand to say we believe in Jesus, and on the other to mock the Word that He affirms as His sovereign Father's inerrant revelation (Matthew 5:18; John 10:45b; 17:17, etc.). Whatever wonderful things we tell our friends, relatives, children about our view of the Word, giving vent to mockery and belittlement can give the lie to our formally professed position.
- Refuse to draw a conclusion until we've made it make sense to us. By this I mean, do not commit to whether it is true or false, whether you believe it or not, until it makes sense to you, on your terms. This may seem to make better Christian sense, but I see two hazards, one of which is sizable, the other of which is deadly.
The deadly hazard comes if by this we mean, "I'll withhold my opinion until I decide whether I agree with the passage or not." This is to head straight back to the Garden, take our stand next to Eve, and nod in agreement. Eve didn't say she necessarily disbelieved God. Maybe the fruit was bad, maybe it wasn't. She would find out for herself, and then decide. She might end up agreeing with God, she might not. Whatever she did, it would be on her terms. And so, in rejecting God's "Turn back, road out," she'd already made a decision, she'd already made a commitment. No longer was her knee bowed to God; autonomy had taken the throne. And that's the issue that we are supposed to have settled when we confessed that "Jesus is Lord"for the corollary to that confession is, "and I'm not."
The sizable hazard is the possible failure to come to grips with an important Biblical truth: omniscience is an attribute of God, and not of man. There are simply things that are over our heads, that we will not understand this side of Glory, period. The reasons for this state of affairs may be good (God hasn't provided enough objective light yet), or they may be bad (we're lazy, we're stubborn, we don't like to admit having to change our minds), but there it is. PeterJesus' right-hand man, the apostle, recipient of actual revelationconfessed that Paul's letters contained some pretty knotty passages (2 Peter 3:16). If Peter could say that of his contemporary peer, then how can it surprise us to find the same, as we seek to understand Moses, the prophetic historians, Ezekiel, or Solomon?
- Adopt a reverent, qualified, specific agnosticism. Confess our ignorance and, at the same time, confess the text as God's Word. I say "reverent," because the divine origin and authority of the Word doesn't cease at the limits of our understanding. In my case, a favorite verse such as Romans 5:1 or John 14:6 is God's Word for me, deserving of my submissive faithand so, to no lesser degree, is Leviticus 12:5. I virtually never cite Matthew Henry as a model exegete, but he sounds a wise note here: "Why the time of both those was double for a female to what it was for a male I can assign no reason but the will of the Law-maker...." Henry admit he's hit a wall, but no less confesses the verse to be God's revelation.
"Qualified" in the sense that I confess that I do not understand the text, but I grant that I will one day. It isn't that the text is meaningless; it is that I haven't yet gained its meaning. I don't even have a right to say much about it until I have worked hard to try to gain its meaning (which I haven't yet done with Leviticus 12:5). All I can say is, "I don't immediately catch that one." But I won't sit in the seat of scorners, and ridicule the text because I have failed to grasp it.
And I say "specific," because to admit one personal interpretive dead-end is not to cast a shadow on the whole. There is a great deal in the Bible that is perfectly clear. In fact, this verse is perfectly clear, as to its practical impact under Moses. Some are fond of collapsing in a feigned inability to understand, when the problem is the will, not the intellect. Others take easy refuge behind a showy dodge of trumped-up and endless questions, like a precocious early teenager, when the real dilemma is that they simply don't like a text or a doctrine. All we need to know is what we are to do. This text is pellucid in that regard. The rationale may be murky, but the duty is not.
So I can say, "It is the word of God. It is not to be mocked, ever. I know it makes sense, I know it is true, I know it is profitablebecause God said it. I'm just not seeing it right now. Maybe later, I'll take the time to study it to the best of my ability, and maybe then God will open my eyes to the sense of it. But then again, maybe I won't ever see it, in this life. I can be content with that, because I can't expect to be able to make sense out of absolutely everything. I'm finite, flawed, fallen. My new nature is still shackled to my flesh. When I get to Heaven I'll see things very differently. If this passage hasn't made sense by then, it will."So what I do in such cases is say that I'm putting that on my list of things-I'll-ask-God-when-I-see-Him. (Though, to be honest, I expect the list to drop from my hand, overwhelmed by wonder, love, gratitude, and awe.)