Leviticus: A Map to Eden and Beyond

(This is the second post on Leviticus in an ongoing series)

One of the most noticeable figures in Scriptural typology is that of recapitulation. There are certain themes, images, and motifs that are quite literally “recycled” over and over again. The features of the opening chapters of Genesis are some of those most often employed by Biblical writers (though whether this is always intended by them or only by the Divine Author is still a question of some debate). It is fairly well established among New Testament scholars that that the apostles made regular use of such themes (think of Paul’s use of “Adamic” and “Abrahamic” imagery as well as John’s use of the Genesis motif in the opening of his passion narrative and the conclusion of his Apocalypse) but it is sometimes forgotten that those writers under the Older Testament frequently employed such reflective tactics as well.

That said, allow me to offer a few reasons for considering the opening chapters of Vaykira, or Leviticus, as something of a “Genesis Redux.”

Genesis opens with God “speaking,” thus calling creation into cosmos (into “good order”). He then crowned his creation by forming Adam from the dust and breathing life into his nostrils, thus constituting man as a living soul. The commentary supplied in Genesis 1 is that this was done in order to erect God’s “image” on the earth. Following the creation of Adam and the formation of Eve, the Lord tasked his image-bearer to “tend and guard” the garden, as well as name the animals and bring the creation under his dominion. There was a single prohibition given to that created couple, and that prohibition involved the eating of food. That this garden functioned as the first “temple” is fairly demonstrative given the amount of work done by scholars over the last half century (Beale, Alexander, Hamilton, et al.). As Imago Dei, Adam functioned as a priest in God’s temple. God would come in the cool of the day and Adam would be brought near into the Divine Presence. But, as we well know, the Fall brought a swift and bitter end to this felicitous arrangement. Adam and Eve were cursed and cast out of the temple; away from the source of everlasting life, away from the presence of God. Two cherubim with flaming swords were then placed at the entrance of Eden forever barring the banished from gaining entry ever again.

When we come to the opening chapters of Leviticus we find that something amazing is taking place! To quote the wise woman of Tekoa, “God has devised means whereby his banished be not expelled from him.” Leviticus 1-3 records one, long speech by God. The book, like Genesis opens with God speaking and rightly ordering a newly constituted people.. They are a nation of “adams.” Leviticus 1:2 says, “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.” Though it isn’t immediately apparent from our English translations, the force of the Hebrew text presents us with a forceful echo of Genesis 1: “When an adam brings an offering…” Later in the narrative when the adam brings a tribute unto the Lord he is called a nephesh, that is, a living soul. This is both the same word and the same progression found in Genesis 1. Having offered himself and having been accepted by God in the ascension offering, the worshiper is made alive to offer the fruit of his labor as tribute unto the Lord. Then in Leviticus 3 we are first made aware that the so-called sacrificial system somehow involves food. The verb “eat” is used for the first time in Leviticus 3:17. It is interesting to note that this is a food prohibition, again hearkening back to Genesis. So Leviticus 1-3 moves through Genesis 2: An adam (Genesis 2:7a; Leviticus 1) is made into a soul (Genesis 2:7b; Leviticus 2) and told not to eat certain foods (Genesis 2:16-17; Leviticus 3).

But the similarities are not just etymological or grammatical. The tapestry woven throughout the entire narrative is illustrative of the original purpose of God in Genesis. God is beginning the long process of reversing the curse; a process that would reach its consummation in the Last Adam born from this nation of adams. That purpose is to bring the banished “near” once again. The tabernacle and temple were new Edenic constructs (see chart below) whereby the people of God could find partial access, mediated through sacrifices, back into the Divine Presence. This is the gospel according to Leviticus.

Perhaps nothing brings this idea to light anymore than a proper understanding of the term “offering” that we find repeated throughout the book. Taken on its face it doesn’t suggest much more than the giving a receiving of items. That is quite unfortunate. This is largely due to the way in which we conceive of “offerings,” but it is also due to a lack of precise translating. The word rendered “offering” throughout is the word qorban, which literally has the idea of “bringing a gift near.” It isn’t enough to simply recognize that a gift is being given, it has to be understood that a gift is moving toward, drawing near to, the receiver. The best way to conceive of these “offerings,” or qorban, is to think of them as “near bringings.”

In a very real sense, the command itself is a gracious gift of God. The newly created nation of fallen adams is summoned to the edenic tent.  These adams are then invited to “bring themselves near,” present their tributes, and thus be “brought near” to the presence of God. Rather than a cold ritual, this action marks the first steps back into Eden’s Paradise Lost. From the first word, God is saying to his once banished people, “Come unto me.”

 

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More to follow…

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