Our church uses a Bible reading plan that takes us through the whole Bible in about four and a half years. We discuss the week’s reading each Sunday morning. The man making the announcements last Sunday mentioned that we’d be starting Leviticus this week, “where Bible reading plans go to die.”
It’s true, isn’t it? How often have we begun January in Genesis with good intentions of reading the Bible, only to get bogged down by the time we get to Leviticus.
So we tell ourselves all those regulations don’t apply to us any more since the sacrificial system and feast days were fulfilled in Christ, and we move on to something more interesting. That is, if we haven’t given up our reading plan completely.
But there are several reasons New Testament Gentile Christians should still read Leviticus.
It’s inspired of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” God gave it to us and it’s profitable for us even though we don’t observe all the rituals in it.
It’s instructive. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
The New Testament quotes from Leviticus and refers to it over 100 times according to Warren Wiersbe in Be Holy (Leviticus): Becoming “Set Apart” for God.
Key biblical truths are better understood with Leviticus as a foundation. Imagine growing up repeatedly bringing sacrifices for sin to the tabernacle or temple. Then imagine being stunned by this news:
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-13)
Or imagine reading that the lamb for a burnt offering had to be perfect and without blemish and then finding that “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Or imagine having the whole burnt offering in Leviticus 1 in mind when reading Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.“
Sure, we can get some of these concepts in the New Testament on their own, but we get a fuller picture and a deeper appreciation when we understand the background of them.
It emphasizes holiness. Dr. Wiersbe writes in Be Holy, “The word holy is used 93 times in Leviticus, and words connected with cleansing are used 71 times. References to uncleanness number 128. There’s no question what this book is all about.”
A seminary professor taught a class on Leviticus. One assignment was to try to keep the regulations in Leviticus for a week and journal about the experience. One student wrote:
Every day, I found myself focused on thinking about ritual purity and impurity. Partway through the week, I realized that I was thinking about these things all day long and in every aspect of my life, and that’s when it hit me: God cares a lot about our purity and holiness. Not just from a ritual perspective, but also from a moral perspective. All day long and in every aspect of life, the Lord wants me to pursue purity in my heart, in my life, in my actions. He wants me to reflect his holiness in all that I do. I have been treating holiness way too lightly! O Lord, help me to be holy!
It underscores the pervasiveness and seriousness of sin. We take sin too casually these days, maybe because we seem to be able to receive it easily. But we forget what it cost.
It encourages thankfulness and appreciation of Jesus’ sacrifice. We not only appreciate all that He went through, but we’re thankful for His deliverance. Jay Sklar, the seminary professor mentioned earlier, said that after teaching Leviticus, he could hardly sing a hymn about Jesus’ sacrifice without tears of thankfulness.
Israel’s feasts helps us understand our Christian celebrations. The ESV Study Bible’s introductory notes to Leviticus say:
The festal calendar of Israel enumerated in Leviticus (Lev. 23:1-44) has strongly shaped the Christian church’s traditional calendar. The three main national pilgrim feasts of Israel are the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Booths. For those churches that follow the traditional calendar, these celebrations find their climax in Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost. To fully understand the Christian celebrations, one must see their initial purpose in the OT (p. 213).
It teaches love for neighbors. Did you know that the first instance of the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” occurs in Leviticus 19:18? We see justice tempered with mercy in the regulations in Leviticus. Justice and fair treatment at large begins with justice and fair treatment on a personal level to our neighbors and acquaintances.
In Mark 12, a scribe asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” The scribe responded, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’” (Mark 12:28-34).
Many hymns refer back to concepts in Leviticus, like “Is Your All on the Altar?” and “Whiter Than Snow.”
Sure, there are some difficulties in Leviticus. Some of the regulations or restrictions that seem most odd to us are thought to have connections with the pagan worship in Egypt that the Israelites had lived with for 400 years. There are a few passages that are hard to understand.
But by and large, Leviticus sheds light on much gospel truth. OT Israel practices these things looking ahead to Christ’s sacrifice, seeing much of it in symbolic form. As the NT church, we look back on the symbols and object lessons to more fully understand.
I’m approaching Leviticus this time with eager anticipation.
(Sharing with Sunday Scripture Blessing, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot,
Hearth and Soul, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon,
Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements,
Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday,
Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)