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Journeys to the Twilight Zone

by Farrell Till

Great Balls Of Fire!

In modern civilized societies, special considerations are given to people who are physically handicapped. Governments both national and regional provide them with special parking facilities, access ramps, restroom accommodations, and other services intended to integrate them into society as much as circumstances will allow. One would therefore think that back in the days when Yahweh, the omnibenevolent creator of the universe, routinely visited and chatted with his specially chosen people, treatment of the handicapped would have been at least equal to what it is in modern society. But when we journey back into the twilight zone of biblical times, we learn that such was not the case. Rather than showing special consideration for the handicapped, Yahweh expressed a contempt for such people and even decreed that they were not to be allowed in his presence. Above all else, he did not want them profaning his sanctuary.

This meant that no physically handicapped person could serve as a priest or as an assistant to a priest. In Leviticus 21, Moses gave Aaron very explicit directions concerning this: "Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say: No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles" (vs:16-20, NASV, with "Yahweh" substituted for "the LORD"). Yahweh seemed to have a special contempt for crushed testicles. Any male who had suffered such an injury couldn't even enter into Yahweh's assembly: "No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh" (Dt. 23:1). As my wife once said after I had read this verse to her, "Hasn't this poor guy suffered enough? For God's sake, let him into the assembly!" But that wasn't the way the mind of the inscrutable Yahweh worked. Even though Yahweh preferred penises that had had a little bit cut off by circumcision, he drew the line on cutting off the whole thing. And crushed testicles were an absolute no-no. Any human male with crushed testicles couldn't go into Yahweh's assembly, and any animal so injured couldn't even have the honor of being incinerated to pander to this god's colossal vanity. Yes, I know it seems inconsistent with the idea of a kind, loving heavenly father, but we must remember that we are talking about laws and customs of biblical times. Things were just different in the twilight zone.

At least Yahweh wasn't completely heartless toward the physically handicapped, because he did grant them at least one concession: "No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer Yahweh's offerings by fire. Since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the food of his God, of the most holy as well as of the holy (Lev. 21:21-22). So you see, Yahweh did have a speck of decency in him. The physically handicapped could eat "the food of [their] God"; they just couldn't offer it to him on the altar. Why? Well, it seems that Yahweh was just too holy to be profaned by having blemished people in his presence: "But he [a blemished person] shall not come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am Yahweh; I sanctify them. Thus Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel" (vs:23-24).

Yes, it's true; the people living in biblical times actually believed that when they burned sacrifices on their tabernacle altar, they were feeding their god. It all seems rather silly to us, but this is now; that was then. Things were just different back in twilight-zone times when Yahweh, the creator of heaven and earth, roamed the world freely and lived in a tent that the Hebrews carried around with them in their nomadic wanderings. Having such a god living in their midst, they took very seriously their responsibility to feed him. Who wouldn't?

Needless to say, just any kind of animal wasn't good enough to feed to this god. No, it had to be ... well, what else? It had to be an animal without blemish. Yahweh himself told Moses that when anyone offered to him a burnt offering, to be acceptable it had to be "a male without blemish" of the cattle or the sheep or the goats. "You shall not offer anything that has a blemish," Yahweh said, "for it will not be acceptable in your behalf" (Lev. 22:20). "Anything blind, or injured, or maimed, or having a discharge or an itch or scabs - these you shall not offer to Yahweh or put any of them on the altar as offerings by fire to Yahweh" (v:22). In a word, the food offered to this god had to be perfect, because you couldn't expect a god to eat blemished sacrifices if he wouldn't let blemished people serve the sacrifices to him. And, oh, yes, an acceptable sacrifice couldn't have its "testicles bruised or crushed or torn or cut" (v:24). Of course, we could hardly expect a god who wouldn't even allow men with crushed testicles inside his assembly to eat the burnt offerings of animals with damaged testicles. No self-respecting god in the twilight zone would eat that sort of thing.

It all boiled down to this: Yahweh, that inscrutable god of twilight-zone days, demanded that both the one who offered a sacrifice to him and the sacrifice itself have a perfect set of balls.

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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