The Bible as a whole is a marvelous collection of books. I have no doubt that many of its parts are divinely-inspired and that the whopping majority of its verses were written when “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit,” including the verse somewhere in the New Testament that informs us of this fact. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable” for a wide variety of benefits, but a high percentage of Scripture certainly qualifies as being inspired and helpful to those who have God’s stamp of approval.
There are exceptions to every rule. Even the law of gravity doesn’t always work. For instance, I once “shot an arrow into the air,” as one of Author Unknown’s poem reports, but, rather than “falling to earth I knew not where,” it kept right on going. The reason I’m sure of this is because I spent half an hour looking for it. This was out in a sandy desert, where fallen arrows are easy to spot. I conclude that my arrow is now either in orbit or has just kept going right on up. Another example, this one from the Bible: Jesus ascended into heaven. I don’t think Sir Isaac Newton could explain that one without having to admit my point, that there are exceptions to every rule, including his law of gravity.
One major exception to the amazing spiritual material you read in the Bible is the Book of Leviticus. I noticed this recently after I ran into a traveling Bible salesman, who gave me a special two-for-the-price-of-one deal: I gave him 75 bucks for a leather-covered, gilt-edged Bible (with Helps), and he threw in a bonus—a schedule for reading the entire Bible in exactly one year.
Genesis, I believe all right-thinking critics would agree, is a fine read. It has everything the reader looks for in a book: explanations (e.g., how we got the world), romance (Adam and his wife chasing each other around in the buff), tragic flaws (Abraham pimping for his wife Sarah), moral examples (Joseph turning down a great chance with Potiphar’s wife), and a surprise but happy ending (Joseph getting even with his big brothers for selling him into slavery and then being able to see his father and kid brother before he dies, full of years).
I got through all of Genesis in two evenings, way ahead of schedule. Exodus started out the same way. The first evening I stormed through the story of Moses and how he led his and God’s people into the Wilderness and ended up with the Ten Commandments. Again, a great read, by and large. I say “by and large” because those commandments were mostly negative. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Fine advice, of course, but where’s the positive attitude? I went to bed expecting that the next evening I would run across what had so far been missing.
Wrong! Six weeks later, I was a month behind schedule. Exodus had been excellent reading, up to a point, specifically to the end of Chapter 20 (I’d give the book as a whole about a C+, maybe a B-), but by the time I’d finished Leviticus I could see that the Bible salesman’s two-for-one deal had been a scam.
Immediately after the Ten Commandments, Exodus launches into what it calls “the ordinances.” In other words, the fine print. Interesting rules, anyone would have to agree, but in my humble, humanly-inspired opinion, quite unnecessary. Take the first rule: “When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing.” This ordinance is followed by contingency plans. For instance, if you give your slave a wife and she bears him children and he comes to love her and them and he decides to remain your slave, you’re required to bore his ear with an awl and he must serve you for life.
Many of us might find all of this offensive, but if you keep reading you’re in for a real shock. Next ordinance: “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.” Followed by additional legal explanations. God must have had a lawyer on call.
Ready for more? Let’s move to the Book of Leviticus, which starts off with the laws governing the burnt offerings (cattle, sheep) that God will find acceptable. This raises all kinds of questions: Does God eat animals? Don’t animals have rights? If you’re a vegetarian, do these laws apply to you?
Later: “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind.” No reason is given; besides, cattle might have their own ideas. “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” We are not told if this applies to women.
Then: “If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is wickedness; they shall be burned with fire.” One could, I suppose, make a case for this punishment. But then: “If a man lies with a beast, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the beast.” (The same with woman and beast.) This seems to assume that animals have a moral sense. (There is, of course, food for thought in the inconsistency between the ideas that animals have no rights but that they have a moral sense.)
One last ordinance caught my attention. It seems that the Lord told Moses to tell his brother Aaron, who was apparently in charge of priests, that no one could practice priestcraft if he had a blemish. No blind priests, no lame priests, no priests with mutilated faces or arms or legs, no hunchback priests, no dwarf priests, no priests with scabs or crushed testicles.
And what if one doesn’t give a fig about these ordinances? Then the Lord says he “will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.”
Leviticus: a book to avoid.