When we get to the book of Leviticus our Bible reading stops. Many times we do not understand what is happening, the names confuse us and we do not get what these things have to do with us. But sister, the book of Leviticus is wonderful because it speaks of our purity and our holiness. And this is our call in Christ: “Be holy, because I am holy: (1 Peter 1:16, Leviticus 11:44, Leviticus 20:26). So this book is basic to our new life in Christ because it reminds us that a holy God requires holy daughters. Every Word of God in Leviticus is useful. This book offers us an incredible vision of God’s heart as He restores sinners to Himself.
We left Moses and the Israelites having built the Tabernacle but with no one being able to enter to the presence of God in the Tabernacle. People who entered and had contact with our Holy God without being clean would die. And as all were full of sin, including Moses, no one could enter. But God is a merciful God and a God on a mission and in that mission He seeks us. So in Leviticus he gives us the law that we can have communion with Him.
The entire book of Leviticus can be summed up with the following verse “You will be holy to me, because I am the Lord and I have separated you from the people, that you may be mine” (Leviticus 20:26). All that God will say in this book is so that Israel can be holy, separated to God and therefore in relation to God, in communion, so that this difference between Israel and other peoples would show the nations, the goodness and the holiness of God. God needs to explain exactly how Israel can be holy and, therefore, able to enter into that personal relationship with God once again. And this is the point of Leviticus.
Now, this book is separated into 7 main sections, each of which shows them how to be holy. Leviticus 1-7 and Leviticus 23-27 talks about different rituals. Leviticus 8-10 and 21-22 speaks about the Priesthood. Leviticus 11-15 and 18-20 talk about the laws of purity. And in the middle of Leviticus, in chapters 16-17 we see a new Feast: The Day of Atonement. These parallel and repeated structures are used throughout the Bible and I love them because many times in the center of this structure we find the main theme and here, that center of the book points us directly to Christ.
Rituals specifically set the requirements for animal sacrifices. These animal sacrifices are different from those of the pagan peoples that surrounded them because these sacrifices are not human efforts that attempt to obtain God’s favor. Rather, it is God’s response to His own covenant with Israel. It is He who gives His people the opportunity to restore this vital relationship with Him because He is merciful and trustworthy. It is God who dictates how they should and how they can approach Him and not them inventing a human system to try to approach God. Relationship not religion.
Once this relationship has been restored through the sacrifices of the law, they could approach God in gratitude for His goodness, mercy and love. Therefore, God gives them grain offerings and fellowship offerings. There will be other times when they wanted to ask for forgiveness for various types of sins that had broken that relationship with God and therefore God gives them burnt offerings for sin and guilt.
In this section, God also gives His people different Feasts. The Feast of Passover (Lv. 23: 5), which we explored in detail in Exodus and which points us directly to the perfect Lamb of God (Jesus). The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lv. 23: 6) that symbolizes our holy walk with God. Leaven is generally used in the Bible as a reminder of sin. The Feast of the First Fruits (Lv. 23: 10-11) in which Israel recognizes that the fruit of their land comes from God and not from themselves, and then reminds us that Jesus was the first fruit when He resurrected from the death. The Feast of Pentecost (Lv. 23:17) that takes place 50 days after the First Fruits and was to rejoice in the harvest of God. This also coincides with the time when the Holy Spirit came in Acts 1: 3 and there has been a harvest of men ever since. Then, the Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:24) in which Israel was supposed to stop harvesting and go to worship the temple. The Feast of Atonement (of which I will speak a little more below) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:34) where Israel celebrated the refuge that God provided for them in the desert and that points us to Jesus’ first coming (“The Word became flesh and made His abode or Tabernacle among us” – John 1:14) and His Eternal Kingdom (“Look! God’s dwelling- or Tabernacle- is now among the people … Revelation 21: 3).
Right in the middle of Leviticus is the Feast of Atonement. I want to explain in more detail why this Feast and you will see once again that the Bible as a whole points us to Jesus!
The people of Israel lived their lives in a normal way and obviously as they lived they sinned. Perhaps some did not know that they were sinning so they had sins of omission or others knew that they had sinned and because they did not have time to make the sacrifices they should make, they had sins of commission. However, God seeks to have a relationship with them, so each year God gave them the opportunity to be forgiven. The high priest was to offer two goats. The priest killed the first goat and the blood was offered in the center of the Tabernacle where the Shekinah presence of God was. Only the High Priest could enter the center of the tabernacle. The blood they offered symbolized the payment of their sins. The punishment that deserved because of their sins throughout the year, had been received by the goat and therefore this goat served as atonement or forgiveness of sins for all the people of Israel. This meant that their sin had been paid and therefore they had reconciliation with God even though someone else, the goat, had paid for their sins. Doesn’t this remind you of Jesus paying for your sins on the Cross? If by faith, you trust the payment of your sins made by Christ on the Cross, you have forgiveness, the atonement of your sins in Him!
But if you remember I said there were two goats. So this Feast has a second part. The second part of the Feast of Atonement began when the priest laid his hands on the second goat and confessed all the sins of the nation. This symbolized that all the sins of this nation were now on this second goat. This goat, the scapegoat, was driven out of the desert camp, and showed that God had completely taken away the sins of Israel. Incredibly sister, Christ was crucified outside the city, in Golgotha not by coincidence but because God wanted to show without a doubt that Christ, who bore our sins, completely took them away from our lives.
In Leviticus, God also names Priests in long lists of names that you might not choose for your children. However, these names are important as these people were specifically chosen to go to the presence of God. They had very high purity standards and if they did not meet them and went to the presence of God without following them they could die. So God tells them everything they should do; from how to dress, how to wash, what to wear, etc. so they can approach Him in holiness.
Finally, God gave them many laws of purity. You may find some of them weird and even irrelevant. But as with our sins, it was of the utmost importance to know what state you were in (clean or unclean) since that would affect your possibility of having fellowship with God. God also gave them guides to be clean again. For us this is vital because our relationship with God is affected by our sin, so we have the gift of repentance.
God was also concerned about the morality of Israel, with social justice, with family problems. God wanted and wants society to work well, so God also established moral laws so Israel could understand how this society should work (social justice, marriage, sexual immorality, etc.). God is not a God who is only interested in your spiritual life but is interested in all of you. Your physical problems, your relational problems, social problems. God has a holistic or complete plan for your life. He wants all of you!
We finish Leviticus but we cannot leave without pausing and pointing out how Leviticus relates to the meta-narrative of the Bible. God again shows us that due to our corruption, our sin, we are absolutely insufficient to have a relationship with Him on our own. Anyone who comes into contact with Him without being holy will die because He is holy and sin cannot abide in His Holy presence. Again, those who say “When I die I will say this and that to God” without Jesus will not be able to stand. They will be expelled from His Holy presence. We all need Jesus and, here, in Leviticus God establishes rituals, priests and laws that point us directly to the One who would once and for all achieve complete forgiveness, forever for our sins: Jesus Christ. Leviticus is an incredible book because, although it seems strange, it shows us that God’s supreme plan of redemption for mankind would come only through Jesus and, like our brothers and sisters of the past, we keep walking in faith knowing that Jesus has paid for everything.
- What does it mean that God wants you to be holy?
- Why do you think God gave so many laws? Do you think it’s because God wanted to ruin the fun for Israel or do you think God wanted Israel to live life to the fullest?
- How do you apply the idea of you answer to question 2 to the commandments that Christ has given us?
1. How can you explain to someone who believes that Christians are legalists why so many laws?
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