Aliens? Yes, aliens. Read Leviticus 17 (link) in the New American Standard Bible, and you’ll see it. Of course, the clearer, less giggle-inducing, translation is “foreigner” as you see in the New Living Translation and a few others, but for me, I like aliens. The connotation works better than a mere foreigners for us.
Why? Here is a spot that we Americans, especially, have difficulties with is understanding just how deep national divisions run. Imagine the cultural divisions, language divisions, and more that separate Arkansas from New York. Now amplify that by at least an order of magnitude. Add in a mix of general hostility that is tempered only with times of apathy. As in: when a disaster strikes, you hope the neighboring nation sends no one rather than sending an invading, plundering horde.
Now, that is the normal state of affairs for those times. And do not forget that we’re not dealing with aliens with a universal translator or a TARDIS. You can’t understand each other. I’ve heard it said, though I have no clear evidence, that the words for “stranger” and “enemy” often have the same root words. May not be true, but it’s unsurprising if it is.
One of the critical dividing lines between countries and cultures at the time was religion. Not only were they lightly different, like Southern Baptists and Missionary Baptists, but they were majorly different. Think more of the difference between Islam and Christianity, or Hinduism and Judaism. The distance was not one of minor squabbles. Rather it was woven into the warp and woof of life: foods, manners, everything was different.
Alien seems to put the right force behind that difference. We’re talking about Klingons, Vulcans, and Humans, not Russians, Mexicans, and Americans.
Two responses existed for this situation. The first excluded any foreigners from participation in the local religion. It was only for the indigenous people, no matter the desires of others. The other response ran the other way: mandated participation for everyone, no matter what.
Old Testament religion was a mix of both: there are texts that exclude foreigners from certain practices, and then this one that mandates participation in these rituals. It’s a hard mix.
Yet if we dig into it, one thing we find is this: the Israelite religion of Leviticus allowed, even demanded, that all people—including the aliens—participate in the sacrifices for the atonement of sin. A passing alien could not join into the fellowship of worship, but could call out to God for forgiveness of sin.
This became the entry-point for joining in that fellowship of worship. One could participate in those sacrifices, participate in the celebration of redemption and in due time become part of the covenant people of God. Joyfully, the time is drastically shortened this side of the Cross of Christ:
It is instant when one comes to faith in Christ. How so? How can those previously banned be so readily admitted?
Because we can be adopted as the children of the Father. (1 John 3:1)
And that’s a good thing.
Nerdiness: There is so much to the theology and covenantal significance of this passage that you really ought to read an expert.
Let us, instead, address a foolishness that is often based on this passage: “The blood is the life.”
#1: Yes, we should understand that to mean blood is important to life and that human life is impossible without blood. We know that, don’t we?
#2: No, we should NOT understand that to mean that we cannot share blood when medically necessary and properly done. That’s not the point here. Except for this: giving blood gives life at times. So reconsider that, ok?