“But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two young pigeons, he may bring two quarts of fine flour as an offering for his sin.”
—Leviticus 5:11, HCSB
My journey at Dallas Theological Seminary has landed me square in the middle of perhaps the most neglected, misunderstood, and even avoided book in the entire Bible.
Welcome to Leviticus.
Leviticus is best known for its laws against sexual immorality, its gruesome sacrifices, and its bizarre differentiations between that which is clean versus that which is unclean.
Um, a cow is clean but a mama with a newborn isn’t? I know; but if you will give me five minutes of your time, I might be able to give you a fresh perspective.
To understand Leviticus, we must first understand the theme of the Bible as a whole.
The Bible is an epic, millennia-spanning saga of a God who longs to be reconciled to His people. In other words, the Bible is the story of God’s plan—that the people of God would live in the place of God enjoying the Presence of God.[i]
That was His plan. That was Eden. God lived in His place (the garden) with His people (Adam and Eve) in perfect fellowship. But there was a problem.
God is a holy God. Holiness, in fact, is the overarching theme of the book of Leviticus.
Holiness drives out sin like light drives back dark; so when the man and woman sinned, God evicted them from the Garden. But not without a plan.
The plan was the same as it had been before: the people of God would live in the place of God enjoying the Presence of God.
The plan began with a promise. Not to the man or the woman, but to the serpent:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15, NIV). Someday the offspring of the woman would overthrow the offspring of our enemy, and reconciliation would take place.
The plan continued with another promise, this time to Abraham. This elderly man with a barren wife would become a father, not only to a son but to a nation. Abraham’s family became the nation of Israel, God’s people, chosen to bring His holy law (the Old Testament means of reconciliation) to the world.
Exodus opens to the dawn of a new era. Whatever favor Joseph’s family had enjoyed had dried up in the desert sands of Egypt. A new Pharaoh was in town, one who wanted nothing to do with the exceedingly fertile Hebrews.
Enter a baby in a basket, a Hebrew living as a prince, and a burning bush. Another piece of the plan falls into place. Moses will lead God’s people into God’s place (the Promised Land) so that God might dwell among them.
Cue the plagues and the Red Sea.
The people travel to Mt. Sinai, see God descend in a cloud, receive tablets of stone, worship a calf, get two new tablets of stone and detailed instructions to make a tabernacle. God will dwell with His people in the tabernacle as they journey to the land of Canaan.
Before we discuss the laws in Leviticus, let us consider the love upon which the laws are built. The Creator of the Universe is perfectly holy. Holiness and sin cannot occupy the same space. God exists not only in perfect holiness but also in perfect community. He was not lonely or bored when He created mankind, so why didn’t He end it with the fruit? Or Abel’s blood? Or the flood? Or the Tower of Babel? Or Sodom and Gomorrah? Or Joseph’s spiteful brothers? Why bother at all?
When I read Leviticus, I see a God so loving that He will go to any measure necessary to dwell among His people. No plan is too intricate and no sacrifice too gruesome. There is covering for sin, the removal of guilt, and a path laid out for a set-apart people to approach their God. This is a God of love.
Yes, but the sacrifices are disgusting.
So is our sin.
But the laws are so rigid. No one can keep them!
Thus the sacrificial system.
Well, the laws are offensive to me.
Yes. And your sin is offensive to God.
The book makes God look so angry!
How would you react if someone or something defiled one of your children? My wrath would be sure, and my vengeance would be swift.
Leviticus points us to the heart of a Father longing to dwell with His people. The sacrifices point to His mercy. The laws point to our protection. The tabernacle points us toward heaven. The feasts point us toward joy. The mediators point us to Christ.
Leviticus is not a book to be feared; it’s a book to be studied, understood, and treasured.
Open my eyes, that I may see wonderful things in Your Law.
—Psalm 119:18, NIV
[i] Sandra L. Richter, The Epic of Eden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 29.