The Hope of Leviticus 25, Part 1

The Hope of Leviticus 25, Part 1

[Photo credit: An Idyll of the Deep South, by Aaron Douglas, 1934]

Christians often give short shrift to large swathes of the Old Testament. Baked into much of Christian culture is a latent, misguided notion that the Hebrew Bible is all laws and fire and brimstone. That’s a big problem, for our understanding of Scripture, of the Jewish people, and of our Savior Jesus. Devaluing the Old Testament is just one example of Christianity’s longstanding antisemitism – who needs the “Old” when we have the “New”? And, what should we think of “those people” who read only the “Old”?

(Nearly two years ago I wrote “The Jews” Did Not Kill Jesus, addressing problems of anti-Semitic interpretations of the crucifixion story.)

Overcoming our biases and confusion about the Hebrew Bible can lead us to find gifts of hope and promise in Scripture.



Some Christian leaders and scholars, instead, choose to refer to the “Hebrew Bible” and the “Christian Testament,” or the “First Testament” and the “Second Testament.” Such language avoids the negative connotations of an “Old” text replaced or improved-upon by the “New.” Scripture – from Genesis to Revelation – tells of God’s unstoppable grace, reveals wisdom for holy living, and recounts the stories of God’s relationship with God’s people.

Jesus’ powerful teaching in Luke 4:14-30 about releasing the captive and good news for the poor (the Gospel we read on Sunday and will read again this coming Sunday) finds its roots all the way back in the book of Leviticus. Yes, THAT Leviticus – the book that talks about purity laws and tattoos, clean and unclean foods, Sabbath and sexuality, and more. It’s one of those books that even Christians devoted to the regular reading of Scripture struggle with due to its many layers of ritual and cultural practices that do not have direct corollaries in today’s Christianity. Reading of Leviticus is further complicated when some Christians use isolated verses as bludgeons in culture war battles surrounding human sexuality.

But let me tell you – to understand Jesus’ mission, it really helps to understand Leviticus 25. Because in Luke chapter 4, his first public teaching, Jesus claims that the “year of the Lord’s favor” (that is, the jubilee year described in Leviticus 25) has come. His first hearers understood that jubilee reference, as did the first Christians who read from the Gospel of Luke. So, let us join them in such understanding.

The next post in this series will be available later this week. In the meantime, open your Bible or click over to a good Bible website (I like Bible Gateway, and I usually select New Revised Standard Version or Common English Bible as my translation) and get familiar with the texts we’re talking about:

Read Leviticus 25 and listen for the spirit of restoration and wholeness that blows through it.

Read Isaiah 61 and note the sense of hope and renewal that the prophet announces.

Read Luke 4:14-30 and note the (initial) joy with which the congregation receives Jesus’ proclamation.

Pray: give thanks for the gift of Scripture, and ask for wisdom to understand what you’re reading. Ask God’s blessings and promise for those whom these passages name – the poor, debtors, the oppressed and captive, and more. Conclude your prayer with the Prayer of the Day for this past Sunday:

Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures to be written for the nourishment of your people. Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, comforted by your promises, we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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