If Leviticus was a book all by itself, it would be a very strange book. Stranger than it is now for sure. If Leviticus was a book, not as part of the Bible, but of itself, it would seem very unorthodox compared to other literature. Think about it. Where would you put Leviticus on your book shelf, other than right beside the book of Genesis and Exodus? Would you put it with your medical textbooks, about leprosy and bodily discharges? Would you put it in the Do It Yourself section, beside the mold remover tips and tent making books? Or would it be better suited to sit with the history text books you had to buy for your Intro to Middle Eastern Affairs class? So where do you put it?
By itself, a separated book of Leviticus doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Or maybe it does? The direction and purpose of the book isn’t self evident and only works in the context of the corresponding books, no? I don’t know. I thought so when I sat down to read the book of Leviticus. But upon reading it, I found that there were amazing truths that I needed to be share. Some were things I was already aware of but didn’t realize they had their origins so far back in the biblical narrative.
There are more than this, but I noticed three truths in the book of Leviticus that can stand on their own feet. Three truths that all believers should know and understand in their hearts. Three life altering realities that Leviticus has to share with us, things that we would be able to hold onto if Leviticus was the only gospel book we ever read.
1. God Is Holy
Holiness isn’t a word that is used much in our modern age. We don’t talk about being holy or acting holy, unless we misuse the word and think that it means “completely or totally.” While some may confuse “holy” with “wholly”, the two are very different.
Holiness is the quality of something sacred, something uniquely special. To be holy is to be set apart from other things. If someone is holy they have the ability to instinctively inspire awe and respect in their observers. To describe something as holy is to identify that it is not corrupted, it is not stained by anything. And when Leviticus uses the word “holy” it is quite often used to describe who this Great God is.
I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.
Leviticus 11.44-45 NIV
This is who this God is, holy, untainted, pure, sacred in a way that His audience isn’t. He is separate from the people of Israel in a very unique way. While Israel, and the whole of humanity, was affected by sin and sinful desires, they had no bearing on God and who He was. While Israel would pollute their minds and bodies with evil, God remained untouched and unaffected by it. His character was never corrupted. His ways and actions always inspiring Israel to awe and fearful respect. Because this God was holy.
Over and over again, God would remind Israel that He was holy. Repeatedly, He displays His holiness, through a breathtaking metaphor of His Tabernacle. It was a marvelously adorned place of worship, perfectly designed, perfectly decorated. It was separate from Israel and their tents, and vibrantly unique in the world. Even the works done for this God were done in a way to illustrate His separateness and His sacredness.
While Israel would continually sin, they would do great evils by the works of their hands, God did something different. So great was and is this God’s holiness that He was able to take a nation that was notorious for sinfulness and evil, and change them.
Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.
How astounding, how marvelous is this God! Untouched and unaffected by sin, separate and sacred in all of the world. This is a God that is unique amongst all gods. He is holy, and He makes His people holy as well.
2. God Calls His People To Obedience, For Their Good
The call for obedience is not unique to this God of Leviticus. All gods, whatever they are, whoever they are, command their followers to do as they ask. Obedience goes with the territory of following a god. So it is not surprising when God calls Israel to obey Him. What is surprising though is that to obey Him is not the end of His command. Yes, this God does ask that His children do listen to Him simply because He has said so. But there is more. Something of a bonus for those that hear God’s words and obey.
“‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.
“‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.
“‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.
For a nation that was previously enslaved, all of these good things, all of these riches would have floored them. No longer do they have to eat what the masters decide, we have the bounty of the earth to feed us. No longer will we work for someone else, but we will sweat for our own good. And all this comes as a blessing from our saviour God, if we obey.
We may fail to realize, God doesn’t get anything out of Israel being blessed. Not directly anyways. Yes, at the end of all this blessing, we would assume that Israel would be thankful to God, and give Him laud and praise. But God doesn’t personally benefit from the Earth producing food for Israel. He doesn’t eat the food. God doesn’t need the protection and safety from neighbouring nations. They are no threat to this saving God.
This God sees it as good that Israel listens to the laws that He gives. While His words and commands are life giving and life affirming by themselves, He adds a great joy to those that listen. God graciously blesses those that obey Him.
It must be stated that there is also great cost to disobedience. The author records a whole chapter of Leviticus of repercussions for disobedience to God’s laws. While this again is not abnormal for the gods to do, this only serves to heighten and highlight how great this God of Leviticus, how merciful He is, and how astounding His offer of blessing with obedience is.
3. God Is Gracious And Forgiving
As is always the case, when there is a command given, someone is bound to break it. So when God gave His commands to Israel, it didn’t take long before they had disobeyed. While it was clear that there was going to be consequences for their choices, Israel’s disobedience did not mean their end.
While you may find a coldhearted god in other books, that is not what Israel had in the God of Leviticus. But there was a catch.
“‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the Lord.’”
Whenever Israel was disobedient to God, they did have a chance to turn around and repent. They were not utterly wiped out. God was gracious to them, giving them a chance to not be completely destroyed. If Israel would confess their sins and transgressions, God would be gracious and merciful to His people.
The dense reality of forgiveness, the chance to have a spiritual debt paid is no small thing. To overlook this would be a grave mistake. The weight of guilt and the eternal consequence that comes from sin suddenly removed cannot be overlooked or minimized. Rather there may be nothing more important. There may be nothing of greater value. To live a life not in the proverbial dark, but in the light, to live without a yoke burdening yourself is something that all people want. And that would include the people of Israel.
God is under no obligation to give Israel grace and forgiveness. He doesn’t have to do this eternal favour for them, especially when they are the ones that are breaking His law. It would make sense for the God of Leviticus to retaliate, that would be something that was understandable. But that is not how this God works. Rather He acts graciously towards His children Israel. He offers forgiveness to His people.
While these three truths can be found throughout the whole Bible, it was astounding that they were here in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. This is a largely overlooked book, one that is not read regularly in church and even less frequently in personal devotions, but I think that should change. The truths, that God is merciful and forgiving, that God calls his people to obedience, and that God is holy, need to be continually preached. And these truths can be and should be preached from the book of Leviticus, whether it is a book within The Good Book, or a single book on our shelf.
May you enjoy these truths whenever you read from Leviticus.
What truths have you found when reading Leviticus?
Do you agree or disagree with the ones I found?
Let us know in the comment section below.
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