Learning to love Leviticus


Today, my reading plan brings me to the beginning of Leviticus, that book of the Bible most of us probably try to skip over. But skipping over Leviticus is a big mistake, because despite the many regulations for ceremonial and moral purity contained within, this is a book that is deeply and profoundly Christ-centered.

But it took me a while to see it. The first time I did a complete read through of the Bible, I desperately wanted to get through the book as quickly as possible. All I could see were prohibitions, and rituals, and all sorts of other things that didn’t really appear to have any direct application in my own life.

So what changed? I read it. And then I read Hebrews. And then it started to make sense.[1. Well, not the mix fabrics thing. I still don’t get that. Although the NAC: Leviticus suggests that because of the positioning of the prohibition alongside animals and plants, it may have been related to the commingling of the holy and the profane, though it might also refer to a “web used in magic ceremonies” (259).]

See, the whole theme of Hebrews is that “Jesus is better.” He is the better mediator, the greater prophet, the perfect priest, the all-sufficient sacrifice. He is better than all of the rituals that pointed to him because he brings them to their fullness.

But it’s easy to forget this when you’re so far away from the New Testament in your reading. And yet, this is what we need in order to actually read Leviticus without wanting to die a little bit. This is something Michael Williams reminds his readers in How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens. There, he writes that the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and sin and guilt offerings with “their emphases on acknowledging, celebrating, deepening, and restoring our relationship with God, reveal aspects of a coming ultimate sacrifice when we view them through the lens of Christ” (p. 22).

So as we read them, we need to keep this in mind because it’s true. They do reveal something of what is to come in the incarnation of Christ. But we also need to remember the one offering the sacrifices in Leviticus—the High Priest. For he, like us, also needs his sins atoned for. Though his offerings may be without spot or blemish, the same can hardly be said of him.

But Jesus is different—as the spotless sacrifice and the sinless priest, “He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do—first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all when He offered Himself” (Hebrews 7:27).

That’s the real secret of loving Leviticus—recognizing that it is a book full of hope for those redeemed by Christ’s death and resurrection. Even as the book forces us to acknowledge our unholiness, we need not despair, because it also encourages us to put our trust in Jesus, our great high priest and spotless lamb. Williams writes,

When we acknowledge our unholiness and put our trust in Jesus and what he has done, his self-sacrifice is credited to us and achieves for us everything the many sacrifices of Leviticus could only point toward. It secures our unimpeded and uninterrupted fellowship with God as he lives out his sacred purpose for us. Christ’s holiness admits us into God’s holy presence. There we find abundant stores of mercy and grace to help us as we seek to carry out our divine mandate to bring his blessing to all people (Heb. 4:16). (p. 23)

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