Have you ever said that? I’ll admit, I have. After the fast paced excitement of Genesis and the first half of Exodus, the narrative in the Pentateuch slows down as the Lord instructs Israel about building the tabernacle and its instruments, creating the priestly garments, consecrating the priests, and then (in Leviticus) the laws themselves. It’s tempting to skip over those seemingly irrelevant passages (and, later, the genealogies), but that’s not wise. All of God’s inspired Word is, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). So, how can we be faithful to the Lord and his Word? As I was recently struggling again with this myself, I have some ideas.
Remember the Three C’s
[Ed. Note: About five or six years ago I wrote the below essay. It’s included in my book. (Would it be wrong to link to it here? I don’t know. I don’t want to be annoyingly self-promoting. Tell you what…I mention it on the Our Story page and there’s a link there, if you like.) Anyway, here are some thoughts and then below this I’ll post some further thoughts I’ve had since I first wrote this.]
Some Christians avoid the Old Testament. They feel as lost in the Bible as I did in the North Georgia Mountains. For them it is unfamiliar territory. When I talk to some people about reading the Bible, one response I get is that the person started reading in Genesis, but gave up by Leviticus, only two books later. I’m reading Leviticus now in my own Bible reading plan, so I think about those folks as I make my way through it. It can be a bewildering landscape if you have no idea what you are reading, or why it is in the Bible. There are three ideas I keep in mind when I read Leviticus:
Consider the context of the book. Here are over a million people who, until recently, were slaves in Egypt for over four hundred years. God delivered the Israelites out of Pharaoh’s cruel Egypt with his mighty Hand. Famously safe on the other side of the Red Sea, God leads them into the Sinai wilderness, en-route to the Promised Land. The children of Israel are learning to live not just on their own, but as new nation literally and miraculously birthed out of another and specially chosen to live as God’s chosen people. Leviticus is a book of laying down crucial ground rules and learning to follow the Lord.
The rules and regulations presented to the priests and the people signify something more: Being wholly devoted to the Lord. The word “holy” literally means, “to be set apart, consecrated.” Every other nation around them was steeped in pagan idolatry. Every other nation on earth veered hard away from God (really ever since Genesis chapter three). But God was doing a work, a much bigger work than they knew. They were to be wholly devoted to him. Impurity, idolatry, and iniquity were not going to be tolerated. Israel was to be wholly holy. They were to be the special, chosen, representative people of Yahweh. Yet, God knew they would sin. In his mercy he prescribed the means to seek forgiveness for their sins, which brings us to…
In Leviticus chapter 9 we see the first animal slaughtered for the sins of the people under these new rules of priestly intervention and atonement (hence the term “Levitical priesthood”). Over the next thousand-plus years millions of animals would be slaughtered to atone for the sins of the people. Yet none of those sacrifices, individually or all together, could truly take away the sins of the people. To use the question from the old hymn, “What can wash away my sin?”
The answer in the song is the answer of the Scriptures: Nothing but the blood of Jesus. All the sacrifices pointed in vivid picture form to the one great sacrifice that would one day come. Jesus, the Lord himself, as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” would be the perfect one- for-all sacrifice for sin for those who would be saved from their just punishment.
R.C. Sproul tells the story of when he first started teaching the Bible as a college professor. Students would say to him, “Oh, Professor Sproul, you make the Bible come alive for me!” Aware that they were trying to compliment him, he refuted their words. “Look, I can’t make the Bible come alive, because I can’t make anything come alive that already isalive!” He said to them, “There’s nothing wrong with sacred Scripture. What you’re noticing with my animation and my excitement is my response to the Scriptures… The Bible makes me come alive, rather than my making the Bible come alive!”4
That is a great testimony to the value of studying the Bible. Regular Bible reading and study literally is walking alongside God. The Holy Spirit knows the way and delights to lead us. When we follow him he points out all the beauty and truth along the way.
My 2019 Thoughts
I still agree with the above. I’d also add a briefs Do’s and Dont’s:
- Remember the burden it was on every Israelite to try and keep these laws
- Remember Lev 20:7-8 as the theme verses of the book; all of this was for God’s people to be holy (separated) to him.
- Remember that over and over again, in detailing the necessary sacrifices for sin, the lesson is the same: The wages of sin is death (Rom 3:23). Sin has consequences, and they are always awful.
- Remember that Jesus, who did the impossible, fulfilled these laws for us, most ultimately in becoming the perfect and final sacrifice for sins
- Thank and praise God you and I are no longer under the weight of these impossible laws
- Skip over Leviticus. Don’t skip over the dry passages of Scripture. In his wisdom the Lord chose to put them in there for his good reasons. Trust him about that. Obediently do your part and read them.
- Take audio version shortcut. If you can read it, read it. Don’t take the shortcut of listening to the audio version. Saints of God have been both challenged and blessed by reading it for literal millennia. Submit under the opportunity to be sanctified by doing the hard things. In this Christian life reading through Leviticus will probably be the least difficult thing the Lord will require of you in your sanctification, trust me.
- Zone out with a “does not apply to me” attitude. I’m not saying you need to memorize which sacrifice goes with which occasion, but don’t just let your eyes scan the page and move on. Use the Do list above to help you engage thoughtfully with the text.
- Don’t forget that every paragraph, every sacrifice, every command to be pure and perfect…all of it points to Jesus. All of it glorifies him. He is the great fulfillment, the pure and perfect hero Lamb of God, and Prophet, Priest, and King.
Have ideas on how to more enjoy reading Leviticus? Share in a comment below.