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"If any one sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity. Or if any one touches an unclean thing, whether the carcass of an unclean beast or a carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him, and he has become unclean, he shall be guilty. Or if he touches human uncleanness, or whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it he shall be guilty. Or if any one utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that men swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it he shall in any of these be guilty. When a man is guilty in any of these, he shall confess the sin he has committed, and he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD for the sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin. . . .
Sin offerings provided a way to deal with unintentional error caused by an imbalance within ourselves.
They asked us to look inward to see the part of us that was malfunctioning, and find our integrity as persons and our wholeness. Guilt offerings ask us to look outward to our relations with others as well as with God, to see the evil that comes to us from our society, and the evil we do in our relationship to God or to our neighbor, in other words: defilement and transgression.
It would be delightful if we could go through the world untouched by the evil of it, having no memories of unclean acts or words to come unbidden, knowing only good. But who reaches even the first stages of adulthood without experience of evil? And who can stop here and say that he or she has not taken pleasure in some evil? We are not excluded from the world. And even if we were, exclusion would not result in purity of thought. It takes experience, including the involvement of the feelings, and not just thought from afar, to produce positive hatred of evil as evil, or real delight in goodness. Our task is not to avoid contact with the world, but to learn to know evil as evil, to know, that is, with feeling and by living, as well as by reasoning about it.
Our text begins with a strong statement on responsibility to bear witness, and then goes on to deal with offerings for defilement. The courage to witness, to speak out and not let the thing remain hidden, is stressed in every instance of defilement. If anyone has seen evil and is called to testify as "a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak," he is defiled. Seeing or knowing evil is not the problem, then, but failing to witness to it. But if that is true, why do I feel so filthy when I see evil done by others? I think the mischief is that those who do it, or those who report to me in horror about the ones who do it, take pleasure in it, and there is in me a capacity or similar pleasure. And so I go through an issue with myself. In the light of day, with its real quality clearly seen, the evil can do me little harm. But taken into the half darkness of the inner recesses of my mind, it is food to the animals there that love the darkness. Shall I just keep it there a little, before I really look at it and see dearly what it is, and face the knowledge that I too take pleasure in it?
This is the danger point, the non-decision that lets it be absorbed, and shuts it up inside for secret pondering. When we know evil in our outer world and refuse to testify, we are accessories to it. When we keep any evil we have seen or heard in this state of half knowing, concealing it from the light, we "bear" our "iniquity." We keep it with us, a continuing source of uncleanness in our memory and thought. Defilement comes from outside. When it is left outside, the evil recognized as evil, it can go by, and leave no damage. But my fear of knowing that I enjoy the evil makes me invite it inside, and this is the problem. The fact is we do take pleasure. If we see that and see the thing as evil, evil enough to turn away from it, and say this before God and ourselves, we are free.
An evil seen or heard requires our witness, then. We must acknowledge it as such, and the same applies to any unclean thing we touch that may defile us. Israel knew clean and unclean animals. Clean domestic animals, clean cattle or sheep or goats or pigeons were eaten and also used for sacrifice, while wild or unclean animals were not. Wild deer and some other animals of the hunt were clean and could be eaten. No bird or beast of prey or weasel, mouse, or lizard, or swarming thing that crawled upon the earth, or animal that died of itself, could be sacrificed or eaten (Lev. 11 and Deut. 14). Unclean wild animals are symbols of the fierce passions, the desire to kill, to tear to pieces, to steal, to plunder, or, in the case of creeping things, to spy and gather in appearances of evil. Feelings that prey on other feelings or scavenge for the remains of old, dead feelings, can be dangerous beyond all reasonable expectation. These animals we do not eat or bring for sacrifice. I think we all know the wolf and fox in us. The Bible speaks also, among other beasts, of hornets, vultures, leopards, lions, wild asses, poisonous snakes, and crocodiles. If we cannot avoid these realities and cannot sacrifice them, what do we do? Does just touching them make us unclean?
On this point, the text is clear. Touching them does not defile us. What does defile is touching their carcass, and letting that be hidden.
Does that mean I can feel desire to kill and not be guilty? Isn't that what anger is? And isn't that why Jesus says that anger makes people "liable to judgment," just like murder?
Anger, as both the Old Testament and the New Testament recognize, can lead to murder. Anger is dangerous. But the Bible sees it as a part of life. It makes a distinction between the person who is "slow to anger" and the one who is quick (Prov. 14:29 and elsewhere). Live anger felt, and live anger channelled into violent action against others are also two different things. The Bible sees God's anger as the force of love ready to act against injustice to free persons from oppression (Ex. 22:24). Live anger channelled into acts of mercy is not evil. Anger gone sour or used as an excuse for violence is the problem. And Leviticus in our text distinguishes between the unclean animal and its carcass. What is the difference between live and dead anger? What does it mean to touch a living lion, or a dead one? The lion can be the symbol of the power of good, or of truth in power from good. God's blessing on Judah is that he will rule with the strength of a lion (Gen. 49:8-10). God will "protect and deliver" and "spare and rescue" Jerusalem "as a lion or young lion growls over his prey" (Isa. 31:4-5). But lions, like other symbols, can have another side. They are destroyers who will make Israel's land a "waste" in Jeremiah 4:7.
God's love is the source of life. There is no other source. The power of the lion is blessed and alive as long as it is the force of a love that comes from God. Dead anger, cut off from spiritual life and kept alive artificially by my own power alone, to serve my ego and do violence, defiles. The wolf has good quick power to seize, as well as ravenous swallowing up of stolen prey. The fox has excellent strategy, for good or ill. So every animal in the list has a positive and a negative power.
The power of anger is dangerous. So is the power of love. And to the extent I lack either power I know I am not real. And when I fear either power so much I keep it hidden, I find it later as a carcass. Dead animals of any kind symbolize feelings cut off from their real source. The willingness to touch the living power of any feeling and know openly its reality, is the issue here. It is the dead wolf or fox or lion that we try to keep hidden or use as an excuse for doing violence, that defiles.
Unclean animals are not the only problem. Contact with human uncleanness, awareness of the filthy thought of others, also has its effect on us. If we fall in with it, we feel unclean. If we do not, we may react too much, and find our thoughts and words rushing tumultuously to commit us rashly to something we find we hate, or to a good so absolute we know we cannot do it.
When we are affected by evil of any of these kinds, our first response is naturally to feel that the defilement is our own. And so, before we even clearly see it, we tend to hide it in ourselves and make it actually our own. It is exactly at this point that awareness of this Word of God is crucial. The intent of every sin or guilt offering is forgiveness. No matter in what way defilement comes, the Lord does not impute the evil to us, but wants us to be free of it. One of Swedenborg's most absolute and emphatic convictions is that "the Lord imputes good to every man." If God is Love itself and Mercy itself, and so Good itself, we cannot think that God would do evil to anyone. Swedenborg's experience with people in heaven and in hell convinced him that those in hell are those who impute evil. We all come in contact with enough evil. Those voices that instantly suggest the added evil, "You are guilty," "You are involved, with no way out," are of hell. When we listen to those voices, and mistake the potential we have for pleasure in the evil for actual guilt, and get scared, we hide the unclean thing in ourselves and do make it our own. When we listen to God's Word and trust God's goodness, we can then look at the evil clearly and see the fierceness, the filthiness, or the violence present in our thoughts, and turn to God for help.
The guilt offerings, then, ask us not to take the evil into us, but to see the evil and then to see what good the evil is disrupting. Is it our living in mutual love that is upset, or our confidence in God's love for all, or our doing the thing we know is right? These are the things in us that are displaced by filth. We are to bring the symbol of that good to God, a female goat or sheep (or, if these are not right for us, two pigeons or fine flour), identifying the evil that would harm it, and asking the Lord to remove the evil from us and fill the gap with positive good. And so we bring the clean, domestic animal for our offering and not the wild one. The Lord asks us not to stand and feel how guilty we are, but to turn away from the evil thing and ask to have the space filled with good. This it is to be forgiven, free from defilement.
Be quiet. Turn your mind to God's amazing, consistent love for you. Rest quietly for a moment in God's goodness, the reality of all that is, that does no evil, the goodness that no matter what feeling you have had, does not want you to be guilty, but wants your healing.
Read again Leviticus 5:1-6, and hear the Word of God to you that there is a way to come from the touch of any unclean thing to the Lord, to be free of it.
"If any one sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity. Or if any one touches an unclean thing, whether the carcass of an unclean beast or a carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him, and he has become unclean, he shall be guilty. Or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it he shall be guilty. Or if any one utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that men swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it he shall in any of these be guilty. When a man is guilty in any one of these, he shall confess the sin he has committed, and he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD for the sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin. . . ."
Now let your mind be open to the guilt or the uneasiness which has been bothering, and this time don't turn away before you see it. Look at it. Is it some feeling that you hate yourself for feeling? What feeling? Is it some evil you have seen someone do? What was the evil in it? What feeling comes in you as you think about it?
Look at your feeling. Is it a lust to kill? A dead body of an anger? Some other unclean animal? Feel again the touch of it, the filthiness, the fear, the desperate need to run away. This time, don't run, but turn, and see the Lord with you, caring for you, not looking away, but asking you to come. Look again at that dead body. And see it as it was alive. What was its strength for you, that strength so strong you ran away from it, and never told yourself or God? And see again that lion (or whatever creature it is), alive and strong, and see it as your friend. Reach out and touch it and feel its strength beside you to help you, and feel your confidence. What was the good that was disrupted when you ran away? A good of love, of strength of caring for yourself or someone else? An insight into how to do the loving or right thing? Now bring your lamb of good or goat of insight to the Lord. And know the Lord is there. And give your gift, with all its life, into the Lord's hands. And greet the priest in you, and give the source of your feelings and your memory of this thing to the altar, that they be for your good. And see the priest in you take all the rest, skin and dung and all, outside the camp to be burned to ash. And now, again, be still a moment, and let new life come in.
Lord, thank you. Thank you that I can trust you with myself, my hurt, my fear, my guilt, or any of the things I touch or feel or do, and that you want my healing. Thank you for healing me. Amen.
1E. Swedenborg, True Christian Religion, Par. 650.
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