8 And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” (Leviticus 12:7-8)
Through the Bible: Leviticus 11-13
In today’s reading, we are introduced to the dietary laws that constitute what it means to keep kosher, It reminded me of my personal ritual whenever I go to Israel. I make it a point to get a bacon double cheeseburger before the final leg of the flight to Tel Aviv. Because not only will there be no bacon, there also will be no mixing of meat and dairy products at the same meal. Something about not wanting to risk violating the prohibition about boiling a kid in its mothers milk in Exodus 23:19. So, with all respect to Jimmy Buffet, if heaven is kosher, then “cheeseburger in paradise” won’t be a thing.
But I digress. I was so moved by the combination of law and grace that you see in Leviticus 12:7-8. As Tara-Leigh pointed out in her Bible Recap podcast this morning, God made provision for poor people to be able to fulfill the law of purification after the birth of a male child. If a couple couldn’t afford a lamb for the offering, they could substitute a pair of doves or pigeons. I love that centuries later, Mary and Joseph took this option when they presented their offering at the dedication of Jesus (see Luke 2:22-24). This tells us a great deal about both their character (they were faithful Jews); but also their station (Jesus was not born into a wealthy family.
But let’s focus on what this says about the character of God. What would you do if you were in charge of the dedication/purification offering? I know what I would do. I would probably just wave them on by. Seeing their poverty, I might offer a wink and a smile and say, “You know, it’s really just symbolic anyway. I know your heart is in the right place. Go ahead and keep your offering.”
But to do so would disrespect both the couple and holiness of God. People don’t want to be condescended to. They don’t want you to change the rules because you don’t think they can abide by them.
And God will not change his position on sin. Don’t miss that this offering was both a burnt offering and a sin offering. For God to say that the poor didn’t have to pay anything at all would imply that sin didn’t really need to be atoned for.
So the law had to be fulfilled. But grace made a way for it to be fulfilled, even by the poorest members of the community.
Now, imagine for a moment a couple coming to the temple who couldn’t even afford the turtledove/pigeon offering. What would happen then? Leviticus 5:11 makes a provision even for them. They could bring a tenth of an ephah (about two liters) of flour.
And if they couldn’t even afford that? Well, I suppose their best hope would be a compassionate priest on duty that day. One who would not minimize the need for a price to be paid. But one who would love the penitent so much that he would pay the price himself.
And beloved, if you can imagine that, then you can begin to understand the gospel. We have a great high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) because He shared in our poverty. Who understood the demand for a sacrifice, yet knew our complete inability to make one.
We all come to the Temple, praying for a compassionate priest. And thanks be to God, He is there.