My high school English teacher had a fixation on symbolism. With scholarly zeal, she spent hours plumbing the depths of the Robin Williams movie, “Awakenings,” while her class secretly dozed.
Propped up by one sweaty elbow, I spent many a warm afternoon listening to her emote about the irony of the main character wearing a striped shirt to speak about the imprisonment of his own mind. In rich soil of her imagination, significance sprouted in cigarette butts, wisdom in the merest of nods. She found mystery — and the clues to solve it — buried in a night at the movies, forever tainting my ability to simply enjoy a good film.
But one thing she taught me has been useful: Repetition reveals significance. If the same masked man appears in every scene of a classic ballet, you can bet he’ll play into the plot later on. And to take it to a more useful arena, if a phrase crops up often enough in a Scripture, it’s obviously there for a reason.
Let the curtain rise, then, on the feature film of Leviticus. At its first screening, you might be tempted to chuck a tomato or two — even three. After all, who really finds spiritual depth in the naming of skin diseases and their cures? Who wants to think about rules regarding cleansing mold from fabric, fungus from houses, or sin from a people? It’s rough reading, for sure. But after each rule, a standard phrase always stands out: “I am the Lord.” Often, it’s garnished with a descriptor, too: “I am the Lord Who sanctifies you” (makes you holy). The phrase buzzes around in this book like a mosquito that’s just out of reach until you’re forced to ask, why?
The answer brings me back to those days of movie discussions. “I am the Lord,” I read over and over again. And eventually, I start to catch on. Hidden in God’s proclamation of His identity and function for His people lies a clue. A glance forward. A seed of what will grow to be true rest offered in the New Covenant, later on. For with each repetition of this phrase, the God who requires the work reminds His people just Who does it all, to begin with.
“You’re my kids,” He says with each law. “I want you to serve me like this.” But when each regulation concludes, He adds something deeper, as well.
“I’m your Dad. And no amount of doing on your part changes the fact that I do the real heavy lifting. I brought you out of Egypt. I keep you strong. I set you apart because I choose to. Even though I require these actions, it’s I myself — not your efforts — that sanctify you. Someday soon, all these laws will find their fulfillment in the One who can keep them perfectly and give you a new law, written on your heart instead of on stone. Until then — enjoy these little hints — and remember. I am the Lord, Who sanctifies you.”
And that deserves a five-star rating, for sure!
Sarah Coleman Kelnhofer lives in College Place with her husband and three children. She believes the Good News of Jesus trickles down to change everyday life. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sarah Coleman Kelnhofer lives in College Place with her husband and three children. She believes the good news of Jesus trickles down to change everyday life. You may reach her at email@example.com.