With blood, guts, slaughter, unlawful sexual relations, and pustulous skin disease all laid out in monotonous lists, the book of Leviticus doesn’t have a lot going for it. I’ve just read through the book and again I struggled to maintain interest, find relevance and discern purpose.
But if Leviticus wasn’t important, it would be part of Scripture.
So, what’s the story with Leviticus?
I was determined to dig deeper and find out. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my findings. And, with the help of the Holy Spirit, find relevance for us today.
Leviticus is part of section which includes the backend Exodus and the beginning of Numbers. It was written for a newly formed nation, and answered two main questions:
- Israel was experienced at being a people of slavery. They were becoming accustomed to being a people in the wilderness. But how were they supposed to be the people of promise settled in their own land?
- How were they to do relationship with Yahweh, the covenant God, and be a blessing to the world around them when the world around them were very happy in their own cultic practices?
In short, Leviticus was an instruction manual which worked out the logistics of God’s promise of relationship to the Patriarchs.
The name Leviticus (short version of the story) meant it pertained to the Levites. But before you start breathing a sigh of relief; “this book is not for me”, think again.
Whilst it includes laws for the creation of a new nation, it also details instructions for worship and civil order. Leviticus highlights the nature of covenant relationship and therefore has information for us as well.
Even if we have to dig a bit to find it.
Checks and balances
This is not a Priest’s handbook. But rather an instruction book for a congregation. In it we find correct procedures for:
- Making sacrifices
- Observing the high times in the calendar
- And for living as a holy people.
This information enabled the people to carry out proper worship, but it also stopped the priests from gaining improper power by holding secret knowledge of basic operation of the sanctuary. Thereby enabling the people to:
- Keep a check on the priests
- Have access to God.
Access to God
And this is really the heart of the book of Leviticus. Like I have mentioned in the Impartial Invitation, our Holy God extends His invitation of relationship to everyone; he does not show favourites. We read,
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.Hebrews 13:8:
And this is just another example of that truth.
Right from the beginning God’s heart was for relationship. He strategically placed His people in the hub of the Ancient Near East. Anyone travelling … anywhere, had to pass through Canaan–the Promised Land.
By establishing Israel in this prime piece of real estate as His posties, all people would have access to knowledge of Him. But before God reached out to the world, He had to establish His people. And before this could happen, He had to sort a few things out.
First and foremost, God commanded his His people to become Holy, just like He, their God, is Holy. This is actually the catch phrase for this section of the Bible.
45 I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy,Leviticus 11:45
Holiness is a serious matter. Fire from heaven struck down Aaron’s sons because they did not obey God’s commands in the sanctuary. These laws establish right practice but also protect God’s people.
Leviticus explains how:
- God is holy
- The Israelites can become holy – make atonement for sin through sacrifice
- Live holy lives – remain pure and set apart from the world around them
- And stay holy – maintain right relationship and fellowship with God and each other.
We have the extreme blessing of coming to this book from the other side of the cross. We know that all Scripture–Old and New Testament–points to Christ. This helps us understand what is behind the lessons laid out in Leviticus.
We know that God does not change. His heart is the same today as it was in the Old Testament. He desires to have relationship with us, and through the sacrifice of Christ, we have been able to enter relationship with Him. Therefore, the command to be holy because He is holy is just as relevant for us today as it was for the new nation of Israel 3 500 years ago.
- How do you understand the command to be holy?
- What similarities/differences do you see between Christians and OT Israelites?