Leviticus has a reputation for being a bit boring. Featuring top tips on how to wear your ephod correctly, a beginner’s guide to mildew removal, and a comprehensive overview of sacrificial obligations, it doesn’t exactly scream ‘relevant!’ to a modern-day audience. However, it invariably follows Genesis and Exodus in this awesome book I’m reading at the moment, and seeing as I want to read the whole thing I thought I should read this bit of it too, regardless of how dull I thought it would be. Rather than being something to plough through as quickly as possible, though, I actually learned some stuff through it – things I can actually apply to life! Intrigued? You should be…
What struck me first was how restrictive life was then compared to the freedom we have now. If you were an Israelite in Moses’ day, your life would be governed by an extensive list of specific, rigid, and, at times, confusing rules. If the regulations about making your compulsory sacrifices weren’t bad enough, the rules about clean and unclean foods a bit later on are even more perplexing. For example, you would only be allowed to eat a land animal if it ‘has a divided hoof’ and if it ‘chews the cud’ (whatever that is!) and even though one verse says ‘all flying insects that walk on all fours are […] unclean’, the next verse declares it acceptable to eat certain flying insects that walk on all fours. I don’t know why on earth you’d want to eat insects in the first place, but if I had a sudden craving for locusts or grasshoppers I’d like to be clear whether I’m allowed to eat them or not! And life would have been particularly problematic for people with eczema like myself: there’s a whole two chapters devoted to the identification and cleansing of ‘defiling skin diseases’ – bad times for us! There were very severe consequences for disobedience too; two of Aaron’s sons were literally consumed by fire in Leviticus 10 just for making their sacrifices incorrectly, so you’d be constantly be living in fear of making even a tiny mistake in case the same thing happened to you.
Moving back to the 21st Century, then, and I’m now more thankful that we’re free from those shackles and have access to the life ‘to the full’ Jesus promises in John 10:10. Furthermore, I’ve been reminded of the magnitude of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross – the only reason we’re able to be free. His death was the only way the old covenant could be fulfilled; instead of us sacrificing the blood of animals to ‘make atonement’ for ourselves on the altar like the Israelites did (Leviticus 17:11), Jesus selflessly poured out His blood for us to atone for our sins, becoming the ultimate sacrifice and paying the price we should have paid. His death and subsequent resurrection brought about a new covenant of life where we can approach God without fear of condemnation: our sins are totally forgiven, washed away by Christ’s blood, and we are now pure and blameless in God’s sight, no longer restricted to worshipping Him at a distance, but able to walk closely and intimately with Him. God’s not changed, but the protocol’s different now because the price has been paid for us.
Leviticus also revealed to me a little bit more of God’s character, reminding me how unimaginably holy and loving He is. He didn’t establish all these rules to make the Israelites suffer; on the contrary, he did it to enable the people He loved, who sinned and were far from perfect, to draw closer to Himself, the embodiment of purity and perfection – ‘consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy’, He says in chapter 11. And because He loves us so much, He sacrificed His only Son to bring about a better covenant, meaning that even though we all sin too and are far from perfect, we can approach God without having to study Leviticus for hours first. Thank You Lord!
So twenty-seven chapters later and I’m more appreciative of a few things I often take for granted: my freedom, Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s unfailing love. Though Leviticus isn’t the most quotable, dramatic or uplifting book to read, it’s still important. It’s so worth bearing with the dullness because it’s actually relevant today; not because we have to follow its laws, but because it reveals God’s love to us. He disciplines us because He loves us, like any good Father should, but more than that He sacrificed what was most precious to Him, His only Son, for our sake. Leviticus 26:1-13 is a great place to conclude: God’s talking about the rewards for obeying Him, and at the end of the section He says ‘I broke the heavy weights that were on your shoulders and let you walk proudly again’. To me, that just sums up what He’s done for us – what an awesome God we serve!