Well, it happened. I opened my Bible reading app, opened up my plan for reading through the Bible in a year, and Leviticus 1 stared right back at me. Genesis is a fast moving book filled with many intense scenes that capture your attention and your imagination. Exodus is filled with the glory of God on display and His majestic power as played out in the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. Leviticus opens with 5 chapters of rules. And they are all specific rules for how God demands to be worshipped. Rules. Just a list of rule upon rule upon rule. This is where the road trip of reading through the Bible in a year tends to hit its first major breakdown. You wind up with a majorly flat tire in Leviticus as you are driving through the Old Testament. So what is this book all about?
So much can and should be said in answer to that question! First, this book is INSPIRED BY GOD, breathed out by Him and as such it contains the promise from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. There are truths contained in Leviticus that will equip us completely, and will prepare us to live righteously before the Lord. Second, we know that many of the commands in the book of Leviticus do not apply anymore. We do not have to sacrifice animals since Jesus is our once-for-all sacrificial Lamb. We don't need to abstain from unclean food, there is no such category anymore since Jesus Himself declared all food clean and since God told Peter that all food was now clean (Mark 7:19, Acts 10:15, see also Colossians 2:16-17). There are many commands that we do not need to follow anymore. There are also several commands that are restated in the New Testament that still apply today. Because of this, many people find Leviticus confusing because they don't know which commands apply and which do not and why. With a strong and clear hermeneutic, or grid with which we interpret the Bible, this difficulty resolves itself fairly quickly.
There are many more answers to give to the question of what Leviticus is all about and why it is in the Bible and how it is profitable, but for now I want to speak to what I walked away with after reading Leviticus 1-5. The first thing I felt while reading these incredible tedious and lengthy list of rules was a sense of overwhelming oppression, failure, and burden. I can't imagine trying to remember all of those laws, and I'm only 5 chapters into the book! I would surely fail time and time again in obeying those laws. But isn't that expressly the point of those laws as stated by Paul in Galatians 3:24-25? The Law is our tutor to lead us to Christ. Romans 3:20 states that through the Law comes our knowledge of sin. When God does one thing, He is doing a billion things! And when God gave the Law, He not only desired to keep Israel safe and separate from the world, but also to show them, and us, that we are inherently and incredibly sinful! We cannot keep the Law! We are lawbreakers by our very nature! And we need cleansing that can only be possible through the atoning work of God. So, as I sat there meditating on these 5 chapters, I felt completely overwhelmed and completely lost and then I realized, that's EXACTLY what the Law was designed to do, namely to show me that I cannot keep all these laws and I need the righteousness of someone Who can and did keep every law perfectly!
The second thing I felt as I read through these chapters was a sense of a rigid structure in how God demands to be worshipped, almost as if the parameters were too tight, like these laws should be relaxed a little and there should be some wiggle room. I thought about how the Israelites would have received these laws and how they must have felt when God spoke every single one to them. How overwhelming! And yet, how gracious and kind of God! I immediately thought of 1 Kings 18 and the contest on Mt. Carmel with Elijah and the prophets of Baal. You remember what the prophets of Baal did. They prayed to their god to reign fire down from Heaven. They prayed from morning until noon and nothing happened. Then they started dancing and leaping around the altar, still nothing happened. Finally they began cutting themselves and bleeding all around the altar, still nothing. Imagine the conversation between the prophets of Baal at that moment. "What in the world does Baal want from us?!?!?...we've tried everything and nothing is working?!?!....I wish he would just tells us so that we wouldn't have to play this obnoxious guessing game every time we want to communicate with him!" If you had been able to take just 5 chapters of Leviticus to the prophets of Baal in that moment, I don't think they would have felt overwhelmed or burdened AT ALL by the long list of rules! They would have wept in gratitude that the One True God had spoken clearly and had revealed exactly what He desires of His people. There is no guessing with our God! There is no wondering what He desires! There is only a crystal clear pathway made clear and lit up by the Word of God, directing us and guiding us into a perfectly reconciled relationship with Him. No, these rules are not ultimately tedious, burdensome, and overwhelming. They are a gracious gift of God revealing Himself to a sinful people.
Praise God for His grace in revealing Himself to the Israelites through those laws! Praise God for Leviticus! What a majestic book! Praise God for the clarity the Law brings to show us our need for a Savior. And PRAISE GOD for His gracious gift, His final revelation, the Word made flesh dwelling among us. Praise God for Jesus Who perfectly kept every single law and died on the cross as if He had broken every single law so that our penalty as law breakers would be paid in full and our account would be credited with His perfect record of righteousness! Praise God for the Substitute! Praise God for the Lamb!