Starting something new is hard, but it is especially hard if what you are doing is unprecedented.
A business proves this truth.
Founding Federal Express before anyone could imagine overnight deliver had all the problems of any new business with the justifiable skepticism of experts who could not imagine Fred Smith’s idea working. Deciding to create full length animated films and then a newish thing called a “theme park” made Walt Disney rich, but also presented unusual challenges. Smith and Disney conquered because they were bold leaders, but also because they managed to create a “people.”
Federal Express was saved from financial ruin by the loyalty of employees who took a risk with Smith. The Disney Company did what seemed improbable, because they were a team and not just Walt’s vision.
Success came when a dynamic leader combined his talents with a group of people who embraced the new way of doing business. No leader can do everything alone, but no new people can be formed without a man of destiny. Combine the two and nothing possible is improbable.
What is true in business is also true of countries. The American Revolution turned a nation of British colonists into the United States of America. The United States might have failed if George Washington had not been the kind of leader with a progressive vision for the nation and an ability to inspire others to think of themselves as a new people: Americans.
Creating a new people requires changing old patterns of thought and behavior. The new people must have new ways of acting to separate themselves from the previous folk. These new ways must reflect and reinforce attitudes and assumptions that are the basis for real change.
The book of Leviticus teaches these lessons by demonstrating God forming a new people in Israel. Slaves left Egypt, but free men will conquer Canaan. To begin the changes, God rose up and created a visionary leader, Moses, and together they made new folkways for the people of Israel.
For us the details of Leviticus may seem obscure and boring, but God recognized that the carelessness of slaves would not befit His new people. Holiness is at war with slavishness, because holiness as described in Leviticus required careful observation and care. If the new Law was to be truly followed, it had to be understood.
If the people of Israel merely conformed to the new outward requirements of the Mosaic Law, they would have become a new nation, but still not free. Outer obedience with no comprehension would make them a new people, but still slaves. Instead the Law was written, explained, and publically read. There existed for the first time in world history the possibility of a nation where the behavior of every man and not just some priest-king mattered.
The sin of a simple man like Achen could bring defeat to the people of Israel. Every leader of the nation could be judged by his subjects based on whether he obeyed the timeless law of God.
This was a political revolution.
It took centuries for the people of Israel to understand what God was saying. First, they had to understand that personal behavior mattered. God knew the power of human desire to corrupt the soul and so worked to bring every physical desire under control. The Divine commands attempted to make every man moderate and master of his passions. Basic to this control were commands about eating and sexuality.
By extending to every person in Israel the necessity of moderation, God began the process in this new people of making every man important. These laws were designed for men coming out of hundreds of years of slavery and are not meant for us today, but they establish the pattern for all time that men cannot be free if they ignore what they do.
Leviticus guards, however, against a second mistake: external behavior is all that matters. God wants men who are changed truly and not just superficially. The Laws demand comprehension or their true meaning will be lost, because the principles are there, with some applications, but not exhaustive description.
The people of Israel will have to create a scholarly class in order to obey. Unlike businesses or nations that try to create exhaustive lists of laws and handbooks, Moses gave his people a constitution for centuries in a few books. The Founding Fathers of America gave us a constitution that has lasted centuries written on a few pages.
The sprawling handbooks and rulebooks of modern business and nations explain why many cease to feel like part of a new people and more like the subjects of petulant tyrants.
Moses and Israel were born, like most nations and businesses, in the Wilderness. A great man used that time in the wilderness to create a new people and that new people changed the world. In the same way, shared suffering in any group is a great way to create a new culture.
Leviticus reminds us to seek out God’s leader for this time, but to know he or she cannot act alone. Instead, we must become part of the project and support the leader the way Joshua metaphorically held up the arms of Moses to help bring victory to the people. Finally, we must reject libertine tendencies that resist all law. A new people need a new constitution, but at the same time this constitution must demand creativity and encourage flexibility.
God grant the American Church a leader to renew our faith, willingness on our part to be intelligent followers, and laws that guide without enslaving us.