Perhaps the least read book in the Old Testament is Leviticus. Christians seem to find it difficult to find relevance and meaning in a book that contains law for another people (Israel) in another time and place. However, God intended all of His word for our learning (Rom. 15:4), and certainly we can learn a great deal from Leviticus.
The key word of Leviticus is “Holy.” That word is used at least 94 times in the 27 chapters that make up this magnificent book. God inspired Moses to write Leviticus because He wanted Israel to be a holy people: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:1-2). Holiness has two components: separation from sin and devotion to God’s glory. The condition of coming into God’s presence is holiness (Hab. 1:13; Isa. 59:1-2). Leviticus is all about how God made a way for sinful man to enter into His presence. What a wonderful theme to contemplate!
The Provisions For Entering Into God’s Presence (Lev. 1-7) — The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). So, in order for the remission of sin to occur, a death had to take place. Blood had to be shed, and life had to be poured out in order for sin to be removed. The word, “blood” is found 88 times in the book of Leviticus. It signifies that sacrificial blood must be shed in order for one to enter into God’s presence. God explains at least five different kinds of sacrifices and offerings in the first seven chapters of Leviticus.
First, there was the burnt offering (Lev. 1:1-17). This was a voluntary offering that signified the Israelite’s complete devotion to God. The entire offering was burnt on the altar.
Second, Leviticus mentions the meal offering (Lev. 2:1-16). This was also voluntary and it seems to signify both dedication to God’s service and a heart of thanksgiving. Meal offerings gratefully recognized that God is the Great Provider who causes the early and late rains to fall (cf. Deut. 11:13-17).
Next, Leviticus explains the peace offering (Lev. 3:1-17). The peace offering was voluntary, signifying the offerer’s communion and fellowship with God. God and man are at peace through the shedding of blood.
The fourth kind of offering was the sin offering (Lev. 4:1-35). This sacrifice was made primarily for sins committed in ignorance. Whenever that sin became known, God demanded a sin offering be made (Lev. 4:14).
The fifth type of offering described in Leviticus was the trespass offering (Lev. 5:1-19). Whenever someone willfully and deliberately transgressed the law of God, then the trespass offering was necessary. Sometimes God also demanded that restitution be made if others were involved (Lev. 5:14-19). This indicates that God desires a change of heart (repentance) in people. Sacrifice and worship without obedience from the heart is empty and hollow (1 Sam. 15:22).
Chapters 6 and 7 of Leviticus focus on the laws concerning the various offerings. They show that God was concerned with both the method of offering and also with the attitude of the offerer. The first seven chapters of Leviticus stress the need for complete dedication to God. If New Testament Christians intend to be true worshippers, should we not also be concerned with both how and what we offer God? (continued next week) — JB
Learning From Leviticus (2)
Last week’s bulletin article dealt with the first seven chapters of Leviticus and how they show the provision God made for entering into His presence. Let’s continue our study of this amazing book:
The Means for Entering into God’s Presence (Leviticus 8-10) — Because of God’s holiness, not just anyone was permitted to come into His presence in ancient Israel. The means of approaching God was mediation. Just as the blood of sacrifices had to be shed to make atonement for sin, there also had to be someone to stand in between a holy God and sinful man. The mediators under the Old Covenant were the Levite priests. The priests from the tribe of Levi were to be characterized by three traits.
First, Levite priests had to be consecrated to God. To “consecrate” means to set apart for God’s use. Moses carefully dressed and adorned his brother Aaron, the High Priest (Lev. 8:1-13). Next, Aaron and Moses offered offerings of consecration before the Lord (Lev. 8:14, 18, 22). God commanded Aaron and his sons to repeat the ceremonies of consecration daily for seven days (Lev. 8:31- 36). God is interested in a pure, consecrated priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5,9).
Second, Levite priests had to be devoted to their work. Theirs was a perilous task. Just notice how many times the words, “lest you die” are spoken to Aaron and the rest of the priests (cf. Lev. 8:35). Levite priests were required to make sacrifices first for themselves, and then to make offerings for others (Lev. 9).
Third, priests had to understand the seriousness of their task. Nadab and Abihu apparently got drunk, “on the job” (Lev. 10:9-10) and did not offer the right kind of fire before the Lord (Lev. 10:1). Scripture says that these sons of Aaron were devoured by the fire of God’s wrath (Lev. 10:2). Perhaps nothing in the entire book of Leviticus shows the holiness of God better than the incident of Nadab and Abihu. God’s work is serious.
The Condition for Entering into God’s Presence (Leviticus 11-22) — The condition of coming into the presence of God isseparation from sin. Chapters 11-15 show that Israel was to be a God-governed people. The laws and regulations that God established were to rule every facet of their lives. So it is with Christians — God wants us to be under the rule of His will (cf. Matt. 26:39). Chapter 16 describes the regulations concerning the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest would enter into the Most Holy Place in order to atone for the sin of all the people. Chapter 17 describes how God intended for the Israelites to take sacrifices seriously because, “life is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11).
Chapters 18-22 describe how Israel was to be a God-manifesting people. They were to show God’s glory by the way they lived their lives. Jesus would later command His followers in a similar manner: “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good work and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Leviticus 18 commands the Israelites to keep themselves pure from impurity and idolatry. Chapter 19 commands them to keep themselves holy, especially concerning the nations around them. Chapters 20-22 command Israel to despise and shun what is unchaste and unclean. The followers of Christ today need to heed the warnings of Leviticus. The condition for entering into God’s presence is our separation from sin — our holiness (2 Cor. 6:17-7:1)! (continued next week) — JB
Learning From Leviticus (3)
Leviticus is a book that showed Israel how they could come into the presence of God. Scripture teaches that only in God’s presence can we find the fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11; Jn. 15:11). All of God’s people, then, ought to be concerned with the terms and conditions for entering God’s presence. Consider the great truths of Leviticus:
The Blessings of Entering Into God’s Presence (Lev. 23-24) — The first 22 chapters of Leviticus taught the Israelites about the “how, who, and what” of being holy. Chapters 23 and 24 describe something of the “why.” Eight feasts or festivals are commanded in these two chapters, each one focusing on the providential care and protection that God had bestowed on His people. The feasts reminded the people of the blessed relationship they enjoyed with God Himself.
The Sabbath Day was always the seventh day of the week, and God commanded His people to do no work on it (Lev. 23:3). It was to be a day of solemn rest, and it reminded the Israelites not only of creation (Gen. 1-2), but also of the need to regularly contemplate our relationship with God (Ex. 20:11).
Passover was always held at twilight on the 14th day of the first month in the Hebrew calendar (Lev. 23:5). This feast served as a yearly reminder of how Israel was delivered from Egypt by the power of God (cf. Ex. 12:2-49).
The Feast of Unleavened Bread was held immediately after the Passover, beginning on the 15th of the first month. No work was done on the first and seventh days of this feast, and all bread with leaven was to be destroyed. Only unleavened bread was to be eaten. This, too, was a reminder of how God delivered His people from slavery (Ex. 23:17-20).
The Feast of Firstfruits took place when the harvest first began. Before the Israelites could eat any of the new harvest, they were to take the first part of the harvest (firstfruits) and offer it before the Lord (Lev. 23:9-14). This reminded Israel to keep God first in everything.
Pentecost (sometimes called the Feast of Weeks) was a feast that took place fifty days after Passover (Lev. 23:15-22). It marked the end of the grain harvest, and was a time marked by a sense of thanksgiving and covenant renewal. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness (Psalm 107:8)!
The Feast of Trumpets took place at the new moon of the seventh month (Lev. 23:23-25). The seventh month of the Jewish calendar was especially sacred, containing both the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Day of Atonement was the one day of the year when the High Priest would enter into the Holiest of Holies and make atonement for the sins of the people (Lev. 23:26-32). The nation waited with anxiety until the High Priest re-emerged from the tabernacle, for it was not always certain that he would come out alive (cf. Lev. 16:2, 13). God’s holiness is serious business.
The Feast of Tabernacles was observed on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Lev. 23:33-44). For seven days everyone moved out of their houses and lived in tents. This was a reminder of the years God provided for His people while wandering in the wilderness. (continued next week) — JB
Learning From Leviticus (4)
Leviticus is a book that showed Israel how sinful men could come into the presence of a holy and righteous God. Whenever atonement must be made, a covenant is needed. God always sets the terms and conditions of covenants — it is up to us to abide by them. Consider the great truths of Leviticus:
The Symbols of Consecration (Leviticus 24-27) — Within the holy place in the tabernacle, the Israelites were commanded to keep two symbols of their consecration to God.
First, they were to keep oil for the lampstand that was within the tabernacle (Lev. 24:1-4). The Israelites were continually reminded that they had a responsibility to be light-bearers to the nations (cf. 1 Kings 8:41-43).
Second, the Israelites were commanded to keep a table of shewbread that represented the twelve tribes of Israel in communion with God Himself (Lev. 24:5-9). Every Sabbath day the bread was replaced with new bread, thus symbolizing the renewed communion and fellowship that the Israelites had because of God’s grace and mercy.
A third symbol of consecration is found in the penalty for blasphemy, which is illustrated in Leviticus 24:10-23. Israel was to hold God’s name in reverence and awe, and any person who failed to do so met with the severest punishment possible. God’s holiness is always to be taken extremely seriously.
A fourth symbol of consecration was the observation of the Sabbath year, in which all the ground was to lie fallow every seventh year (Lev. 25:1-7; 18-22). A great deal of faith in God was required for the Israelites to do this, and yet God promised His people that He would provide for their needs. How all of God’s people need to trust more in His promises!
Fifth, the Israelites showed their consecration to God through the observation of the Jubilee year, every fiftieth year (Lev. 25:8-17, 23-55; 27:1-34). During the year of Jubilee, all indentured slaves were freed, unpaid debts were cancelled, and all property was returned to its rightful owner. God established the year of Jubilee so that every generation of Israelites would experience it at least once in their lifetime. The year of Jubilee taught the people about God’s nature — He highly values freedom, liberation, and abiding within the terms of His covenant.
One of the reasons why many people fail to study Leviticus is that they do not understand its purpose. Leviticus is a practical manifestation of the ugliness of sin in the presence of a holy God. Christians would do well to learn its lessons thoroughly.
- The Provisions for Approaching God (Lev. 1-7) — Sacrifices
- The Means of Approaching God (Lev. 8-10) — Priesthood
III. The Conditions for Approaching God (Lev. 11-22) — Separation from Sin
- The Blessings of Approaching God (Lev. 23-24) — Provision and Protection
- The Symbols of Consecration to God (Lev. 25-27) — Symbols of Fellowship