Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hello, Leviticus!

Reading through the chronological Bible has been interesting, informative, convicting and inspiring. Genesis and Exodus are loaded with great stories with masterful plots and tense drama. They move along quickly and I can imagine myself in a different time and place. They are what epic movies, with eloquent movie stars, are able to capture on the silver screen. Genesis has universal appeal. It's about the human race and the universe, so it interests us. In Exodus, although it zooms down on one nation, Israel, we can easily observe the relevance, as God rescues His people from savage oppression. Leviticus, however, the view gets narrower, as the focus is on one tribe out of the entire nation. This view is why so many get stuck while reading the book of Leviticus. Not to mention, all that bloody charred meat.

A few years back, I gave a 30 minute lecture on the first seventeen chapters of Leviticus. It nearly did me in.  Reading through the text again, it is good for me to remember something the apostle Paul wrote, in his second message to Timothy. "But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work." At the time Paul wrote this, there was no New Testament, only the Old, so we know this is what he is referring to. There are two key things we can learn from the Old Testament. They are salvation and righteousness. And we can glean these from Leviticus as well.

Building from the book of Exodus, which focused on God's approach to man, and His grace in setting them free, Leviticus deals with mans approach to God. It begins with thank offerings, and it explains how by obedience, God's people can show their gratitude to God for all He has done for them. God saved His people to serve Him. Dividing the book into two parts, the first half, chapters 1-15, describe the way of salvation, or justification. The second half, 17-27, covers one's walk with God, or sanctification. Sandwiched in between, is the pivotal chapter 16, the Day of Atonement. This was Israel's most solemn holy day, exclusively concerned with atoning for the sins of the people.

Diving in, as Christians, you might begin to wonder which of the 613 laws are relevant for us today. After all, Jesus said, "I have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it." It is obvious that some have been fulfilled in Christ. Otherwise, for the necessary sacrifices, my backyard would be inhabited by more than my current three chickens, and my Sabbath would be only one day set apart, rather than every day of the week, where we have the freedom in Christ, to enter into God's rest and work. Others, are very practical laws, which are meant for safety and protection of the race in a very different time and culture. Many times, God didn't give reasons for His laws, He just asked for trust and obedience.

While deciphering the text, and so as not to get mired down in "rules", there are a few things we are wise to focus on that are unchanging. God is holy. His ways are not our ways, and God's love is a holy love. From Leviticus, it is clear that God hates evil. The sinfulness of man pollutes and profanes the holy. In reading about sacrificial slaughter upon slaughter, tempting me to skip over huge chunks of Scripture, one can't help but comprehend, that sin is "bloody" serious. And now it gets personal. As the head of each family lay his hand on the head of the animal he brought for sacrifice, he comprehended in living technicolor, what he and his family deserved...death. What they received in its place, were grace and mercy. The life is in the blood and God provided a substitute of the innocent for the guilty. Ultimately, Leviticus speaks of Jesus, and the once for all, final sacrifice, made on our behalf at Calvary. The innocent for the guilty.

"Be Holy, for I am holy," is a recurring theme. It tells us to be holy in every part of our lives. Under the New Covenant of Grace, Jesus said that it is not what goes into our mouths that makes us unclean, but what comes out of our mouths. It is no longer a matter of clothing and food, but of morality and the heart. Not a morality that judges others, for what we perhaps perceive as a lack of morals, but a morality that loves people as God loves us, and as stated in both the Old and the New Testaments, "love your neighbor as yourself." 

Leviticus is a rich book, of which ninety percent are God's direct speech--"The Lord said to Moses." One can more fully understand the New Testament book of Hebrews after having read Leviticus. According to the chronological timeline, I'll be there in mid December. I hope I can remember what I am reading now. ;) As I read this book, my prayer is that I will hear God speaking to me, that I will grow deeper in reverend awe of His holiness, and that my heart will respond more quickly in gratitude for all He has done for me. I hope the same for you.

Be Blessed!

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Karen! I'm so glad I read it...what a wonderful reminder of what our focus should be as we read Leviticus!