Newborn Calves and the Heart of Leviticus
Heifer International is an organization started in 1942 by a man named Dan West who was struck by the meagreness of a glass of milk. While providing relief on the frontlines of the Spanish Civil War he began to wonder how much more effective the work of providing relief to the refugees he served would be if, instead of the limited rations of milk provided, they had a cow. Upon his return to the United States, West founded Heifers for Relief, shipping heifers to farmers around the world with the goal of ending hunger, alleviating poverty, and passing on the gift.
This third aspect of Heifers for Relief has become central to the model of the organization today. Behind the relief they provide is a desire for sustainability within the communities affected. This is achieved through training recipients in animal husbandry, and having them agree to pass on female offspring to other members of the community. Followed faithfully, the investment of a single cow or goat becomes a significant factor in eradicating hunger and poverty for whole communities.
This commitment to the sharing of both the tangible capital of farm animals and the knowledge of how to care for and breed them is coupled with a commitment to sustainability in all aspects of their work. The farmers involved in Heifer International are impacted beyond the alleviation of hunger—selling eggs from chickens, or spinning wool from sheep provides income on the side. They are also trained in environmentally sustainable farming practices, and thus are invited to participate in the healing of the earth as they receive healing in many other ways.
Organizations like Heifer International, and the many others who are providing aid in similar ways, paint such a cool picture of motif of the firstborn. Throughout the Old Testament, the firstborn was the representative for the family, the nation, the world. This extended beyond humans and into animals and plants as well. The first fruits of the earth and the first fruits of the livestock also to belong to God. Their purpose was to further the ministry of the temple allowing for the continued ministry of grace into the world in a similar fashion to the firstborn of people represented by the priests. They too are dedicated to God through being a means by which God’s sustaining grace is extended to broken and needy people. Such a neat way for us to participate in God’s work of redemption, and in the Law.
Ministries such as this give incredible insight into the purpose and heart of the Law. We often understand the fulfilling of the Law as its abolishment, but this is quite contrary to what the New Testament has to say on the matter. The Law was not abolished by Christ, nor reckoned as something bad or even irrelevant by the New Testament writers. It was, however, fulfilled and summarized. Christ’s summary of the Law in Matthew 22 states that the whole of the Law and the message of the prophets can be stated as simply loving God with everything, and loving your neighbour as yourself. Such simplicity cuts through all the pomp and misunderstanding that is so often hovering over the Law and gives us interpretative power to see the whole Law as the grace of God in teaching us how to worship him by living in accord with the way the world is supposed to work, and showing us how to care for those around us. It is through this schema that we begin to grasp the reality that God has always been a God on mission to bring all nations and all people to the worship of him.
The Law, and especially the dense chapters of Leviticus, was never meant to be something dead and dry and ready to be discarded, it has always served a purpose and has always communicated to people about the worship of God. Sometimes we just need a little nudge in the right direction to recapture the true purpose and beauty behind the Law. I’m thankful for Heifer International—and other organizations providing similar aid—for reigniting this understanding of the Law that continues to inform our worship today.
Pentateuch students, show me how this reading of Leviticus could be applied to other matters of the Levitical code. What do we learn of God and his heart in other sections of Leviticus, and how should this guide our lives towards worshipping God? How could we, for example, practice the sacrifices of the first few chapters of Leviticus in light of Christ’s summary and fulfillment of the Law? Get the conversation going around initiatives that you’ve seen that put the Law into practice today towards the worship of God and his missional work, or your own ideas about what this should look like.
Also, be sure to check out Heifer International’s website, which can be found here. They have a pretty cool thing going there.