So now we come to the last portion of Leviticus, Behuqothai (Leviticus 26:3-27, meaning “in my statutes”). And I thought I’d do a little study on the central word of that title, חֹק (hoq, meaning “statute”), because I don’t think the concept is known or understood very well among English readers of the Bible.
The statutes of God are collectively referred to as חֻקִּים (huqqim). Huqqim is the plural form of hoq (which also appears in the feminine form חֻקָּה, huqqah, in Scripture), and is translated many ways: statute, custom, ordinance, appointment, decree, boundary, rule, portion, term. The word appears in its various forms well over 200 times in the Bible, and basically refers to what is stipulated, or determined, especially in writing (a hoq can be given by God or man, but I’ll be focusing on the divine huqqim in this post).
More specifically, according to traditional Jewish understanding, the huqqim are those parts of God’s law that are not always easily comprehended by logic or morality (as opposed to the מִשְׁפָּטִים, mishpatim, or judgements). They’re essentially equivalent to a royal decree which is given completely at the discretion of a ruler, in exercise of his sovereign prerogative to issue commands out of his own preferences and at his pleasure, without reference to anyone else (rabbinic opinion holds, in fact, that the huqqim, by nature, tend to be inexplicable – it will appear to us that they make no sense – and ought to be followed simply for the sake of obedience, because that is God’s due as King of His people).
So I did a perusal of those instances where the huqqim are identified in Scripture, and noticed that they’re basically divided into 4 categories:
1. The 7 holy festivals (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, Tabernacles) and their methods of observance/celebration.
2. That which pertains to the Aaronic priesthood and temple service, including:
- the perpetuity of the Aaronic priesthood
- the perpetuity of the priests’ right to a portion of God’s food offerings
- the command for priests to wash before entering the sanctuary or ministering at the altar
- the command for them to always wear linen undergarments when ministering
- the prohibition against drinking alcohol before they enter the sanctuary
- that the priests should always tend the menorah in the sanctuary
- that they would always service the sanctuary and bear the iniquity of the people
- the ordination offering of every succeeding High Priest
- the purification of the sacrificial altar in the new Temple under the sons of Zadok, and their making offerings on it (Ezekiel 43)
- the daily lamb and meal offering with oil being provided, morning by morning, for a regular burnt offering in the new Temple (Ezekiel 46)
3. That which pertains to the people of Israel, including:
- eating neither fat nor blood
- slaughtering and making offerings to God only at the sanctuary (Leviticus 17)
- not breeding different kinds of livestock, sowing mixed seed or wearing garments of mixed linen and wool
- the blowing of trumpets (Numbers 10)
- the laws of purification using the red heifer’s ashes (Numbers 19)
- the laws of inheritance (Numbers 27)
- the laws of purifying plunder through fire and washing in water, and warriors washing their clothes on the 7th day before entering camp (Numbers 31)
- the laws of the cities of refuge
- the shemitta year and Jubilee
- the law regarding the keeping and voiding of vows (Numbers 30)
- God’s promise that He’d put none of the diseases of the Egyptians on the nation if they listened to Him, obeyed His commands and did what was right in His sight (Exodus 15)
- God giving the land of Canaan to Israel
- idolatry and the sexual sins of Leviticus 18 (these were also regarded as huqqim, albeit pagan ones which the Israelites were commanded not to practise)
4. The divinely ordained laws of creation (Jeremiah 33:25), e.g. the weeks appointed for harvest (Jeremiah 5:24), the cycle of the moon (Jeremiah 31:35), the human lifespan (Job 14:5), rainfall (Job 28:26) and the boundaries of the sea (Proverbs 8:29).
When one surveys these categories, it becomes apparent that the huqqim have much to do with the sovereignty and impenetrable wisdom of God. Many of them possess a discernibly spiritual aspect, even if the exact nature thereof can’t always be made out, and they present us with a challenge to either see God as a mysteriously arbitrary despot, or a purposeful Being who has a reason for the things He decrees… who commands nothing randomly or in vain regarding His creation.
See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)
From Moses’ words, it’s clear that the huqqim are to be valued and honoured alongside the rest of the commandments. … As far as God and His prophet were concerned, just because some of these laws weren’t comprehensible to the human mind didn’t make them any less important; the fact they were prescribed by God was, in the end, all that was needed for their adherence to command divine favour. When followed, they brought glory to God and His people, and diligent students of the word, I think, will be able to see from the parts they can understand of the huqqim, that this was because the Torah was the gift of a Mind and Personality far above humanity’s, whose words and thoughts planted great gems and rich veins into the soil of His Scripture, to be mined by those who delight in understanding… who’re willing to give His decrees their due attention in meditation or even practice.
This is why, I think, God promised both extravagant blessing and terrible judgement to the children of Israel when He adjured them to walk in His huqqim and keep His commandments. … When one reads Leviticus 26, it’s very difficult at first to think that God would deal so severely with His people if they strayed from their covenant with Him; but the truth is, as Jesus said, to whom much is given, much is required. The Creator of the universe was pledging Himself to Israel in giving the nation His presence and teaching them His laws, and Israel had willingly agreed to live in a way that would honour the love and condescension of this divine commitment; for them to renege, therefore, was an act of gross ingratitude and faithlessness – an offence of literally cosmic proportions. In God’s words, it meant they despised and abhorred His ways, and if this was allowed to take place without consequence, it would furthermore cause His name to be blasphemed among the nations.
Notwithstanding this, though, Leviticus 26 also tells us that God would punish rebellious Israel in successively terrible degrees rather than one annihilative stroke, and with the door open for them to repent at every stage. This is because, in Jeremiah’s words,
Though He causes grief,
Yet He will show compassion…
For He does not afflict willingly,
Nor grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:32-33)
God does not afflict or grieve willingly. He brought Israel out of slavery so He could be their God; He was going to bless them and teach them to be a light to the nations; His statutes and commandments were meant to glorify Him in the sight of all peoples, to facilitate Israel’s ability to live in a holy, worshipful way, and ultimately, to please Him. And if His covenant nation turned their backs on that, it was incumbent on Him to judge them in order to hold them accountable to their promise to love and follow Him, to purge them, and bring them back to repentance. This is probably why the psalmist wrote:
It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:71)
Sometimes, the ability to understand and appreciate the goodness of God’s commands can only come from the consequences of straying… when you see how badly things go outside of His will, you come to see obedience in the correct light: not as a restrictive yoke, but as the safest and sanest way to live.
Of course, one can still ask what this has to do with, say, not sowing one’s field with mixed seed, but unlike many people who put it down to a simple matter of cultural distinction, I prefer to say I honestly don’t know. It’s a huqqah, and while I don’t believe that believers should take on Torah laws without the specific conviction or prompting of the Lord, I’m not going to knock the idea that there’s quite possibly more to such a decree than a matter of custom, aesthetics or even horticulture, either (certainly it’s something I’m very curious to ask God about when I get the chance).
But anyway… that’s my brief survey of the concept of the huqqim. We’ve come to the end of the third book of the Torah now; 2 more to go. See you soon.