A Message from Leviticus


     Many people begin reading the Bible with a lot of zeal. Genesis is often quickly devoured. Exodus is pretty good. It’s at Leviticus that people often give up. The reason is because its contents are very foreign to us. All of the ceremonial ritualism, rites performed by the priests and its other components are completely removed from our way of life. In some Muslim regions of the world missionaries often open their conversations with this book because of its similarity to the Islamic law code, but for us here in the west it remains a difficult text to unlock or make sound use of. 

     Jesus Christ Himself is the hermeneutical key to unlocking the entire Bible! This is true of Leviticus as well. Ultimately, I’d say that the book gave details to us that were to make use of the sacrificial system and the atonement principles set forth within it like a 10,000,000,000 kilowatt light bulb over the cross of Christ. Concepts that remain relevant to the New Testament like substitutionary atonement, mercy, righteousness, remembrance, guilt, holiness, sin, priestly office, grace and the like find their definition and roots in this culture of sacrifice. Such a nation’s faithful were to behold the cross clearly as a result of its history, Romans 3:1-2; Galatians 3:24.

     Because easily accessible relations to Jesus are sometimes difficult for us to make in Leviticus, many folks unwittingly resort to the hunt of wild allegory or a hyper-spiritualization of the text in an attempt to make it relevant. They try to find hidden pictures in everything, but we don’t need to do this. John Calvin wrote a harmony of the last four books of the Torah and said of Leviticus: “…We read of many things here, the use of which has passed away, and others, the grounds of which I do not understand…however, the reader may fully perceive that whatever has been left to us relative to the legal sacrifices is even now profitable, provided we are not too curious…” We must make use of God’s word here properly and not seek to find hidden meaning in every sprinkle. Martin Luther spoke of good Bible study in the following way: “First I shake the whole tree that the ripest might fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf.” He spoke of Bible exposition like a meticulous examination of numerous individual leaves. Though this was his joy, he also spoke of the great need to step back often and gaze not only at each leaf (or book of the Bible) but at the grandeur of the entire forest. Reading texts like Leviticus is like this. Examine it. Learn it. Then step back and apply it to all you know of the whole of Scripture.

     One lesson I’m taking from it this week is that God is specific. Very specific! Consider Leviticus 1:11-13 and a snippet of detail on the burnt offering’s standard operating procedure for example: “He shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the Lord; and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar. And he shall cut it into its pieces, with its head and its fat; and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar; but he shall wash the entrails and the legs with water. Then the priest shall bring it all and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.” Not the south side, the north side. The priests did this with this organ, that with that. The person was to do such and such, and on and on it goes for chapter after chapter after chapter.

     Without spiritualizing or allegorizing the text, I would like to use it to illustrate only one simple truth and that is that God is very specific. What can we learn from this?

     How about that our theology should be precise? Jesus was born, lived and died under the Jewish law. Why? Shouldn’t we be able to speak with clarity and exactitude when we preach? We must seek precision. This is why I genuinely delight in the care put into documents like the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. Their fastidiousness is inspiring. God is not a, “Whatever you think is ok” kind of God. We see this vividly in Leviticus. God gave in-depth instructions for the priests and for the people. The theology that Jesus later built, that which was laid down with His Apostles, was no less detailed. Do we approach it in such ways? Leviticus can help us.


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