From CJ Davis:
Well Harvest, you did it! You successfully read through one of the more thoroughly ridiculed books in the Bible; Leviticus! I remember asking a professor, “What should I get out of Leviticus?” and his tongue-in-cheek response was, “Get out as quick as you can!” Jokes aside, I’m betting a lot of us are breathing a sigh of relief to have this book behind us.
But I have a confession- it’s my favorite book in the Bible. That’s right. My favorite. I doubt I can convince you in a short blog post that it should be yours too, but I at least want to help offer some perspectives that might make the next read through a bit more exciting. So, let’s take a quick look!
First things first, Leviticus is the heart of the Torah. Moses’s 5-part masterpiece has as its literary and theological center the book we just finished reading. It looks like this:
This alone should warrant some attention from us! Moses was an artful composer of his work, and he intentionally chose to put Leviticus at the central point. Leviticus does something that might have gone unnoticed due to all the blood and lobes and whatnot. It resolves the tension created by Exodus. 40. If you remember, the Israelites had just completed building the tabernacle- the place where God was going to dwell with his people again just like in Genesis 1 and 2. But there’s a hiccup- in Exodus 40:33 it says after the tabernacle was completed, “the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” Sounds good, right? Until you keep reading… the verse goes on to say, “.. but Moses could not enter into it.” THIS IS A HUGE PROBLEM! God is now dwelling on earth again as he has always wanted to, but no one can go into his house! This is where Leviticus steps in. Check out the first line of Leviticus:
“God spoke to Moses from the tent of meeting.” Where is God? In the tabernacle. Where is Moses? Outside. How is man supposed to dwell with God? Now check out the first line of Numbers:
“God spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting.” Did you catch it? Moses is now IN God’s house speaking with him! What happened in between? Well, in short, Leviticus happened.
The book of Leviticus provides the answer to the problem presented at the end of Exodus- “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?”
To understand how Leviticus helps solve the problem of how man is to be in God’s presence like back in the good ol’ days of the garden, we need to spend a minute talking about sacrifice.
This is a big leap for us in our context because it’s so foreign to our everyday experience. But there are a couple of helpful truths that will hopefully clear up some confusion!
There are 5 sacrifices in Lev. 1-5 and they might not mean what you think they mean. The first 3 are the burnt offering, the grain offering, and the peace offering. Essentially 3 ways of saying “thank you.” The other 2 are the purification offering and the reparation offering. Essentially two ways of saying, “I’m sorry.”
Typically we think of animal sacrifice as the animal taking the punishment for sin on themselves and the blood of the animal purifying the offeror. The problem with this is it isn’t what the Bible says. As you read through, you might have noticed that the text never says the animal is punished for sin. There is no transference of sin onto the animal in any of these sacrifices. In fact, the only animal that does have the sins of the people placed on it is the “scapegoat” in Leviticus 16 and it’s the one animal that doesn’t die! The sins of the people being placed on an animal would actually make it unclean and not able to enter the presence of the Lord. So if the death and blood of the sacrifice don’t “take away sins” (Heb. 10:4), then what is it doing? In short, the blood of the animal is purifying the tabernacle to create a clean space for God to dwell. If you noticed, the blood of the animal is never sprinkled on the offeror, it is only ever applied to different elements in the tabernacle. Why is this? Because of verse 17:11, “the blood of the animal is its life.” Essentially, blood represents life and as such acts as a detergent to clean God’s house from the pollution of sin and death.
The next thing to notice about these sacrifices is that they result in God’s presence showing up in deeper and deeper places. When God shows up in the Bible to people, the nerd-word for it is “theophany.” And in Leviticus, we get 3 theophanies that help us move “from the tabernacle” to “in the tabernacle.”
The first one happens in Leviticus 9:23. After the priests have been ordained, God shows up in front of the tent of meeting. This is outside the holy place and all the people can see it! Then Aaron’s sons create a bit of a problem by offering “strange fire” and now God’s house is dirty again. So what is to happen?
Enter the laws about clean/unclean in Lev. 11-15. This culminates with Lev. 16 where we get the second theophany. After the sin of Aaron’s sons has been cleaned up, God shows up again in Leviticus 16:2 but this time it is in the holy of holies ! We have moved inside the holy place! Getting to the heart of things.
After the regulations for holy/common things, we get the 3rd and final theophany in Leviticus 24:1-9. This one is the coolest. It’s inside the holy place, and it is represented by the Menorah and the showbread. The Menorah was a lamp that looked like a tree (think Tree of Life in the garden) with 7 branches and the flames of the candles represented the flames of God’s presence. The showbread, or the bread of the presence, was twelves loaves of bread that represented all of Israel. This bread was to remain in front of the Menorah every day, 24×7, 365. The arrangement of the Menorah and the showbread is super intentional- it is meant to depict the presence of God shining on his people all the time. That’s why Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6 says “Let his face shine upon you” – it’s a blessing that comes from God dwelling with his people in the most intimate way possible!
This is how the gap is bridged between the end of Exodus and the beginning of Numbers. Because the offerings and sacrifices have purified a place for God to dwell with sinful humanity, he now speaks to them and is present to them as he once did with Adam and Eve. This all points us to Jesus, whose blood (life) provides the necessary purification so that God can not only dwell with humanity, but IN them! As Paul says, we are the temple of God. His presence is able to dwell with and in us because the blood(life) of Jesus cleanses us from the pollution of sin and death.
Maybe you still don’t like Leviticus, and that’s ok. My hope is that by looking at what the sacrifices are really doing, and how they moved ancient Israel into closer proximity with the living God, we will see how the work of Jesus does the same for us!