What is the book of Leviticus? Is it:
- A book of ancient wisdom for living?
- A legal system invented for a Bronze Age civilization?
- A set of strange rules with mysterious arrangements?
- A symbolic book about Jesus?
- A story of Israel’s history?
There is some element of truth in each of these descriptions, or accurately describes our assumptions as we approach this book. We've also spent the past year in this book by breaking it up into 4 major sections. In this summary study, we'll take a look at Leviticus as a whole, and try to understand some of the broad principles and lessons from this book.
Leviticus is about the Christian life in story form: slavery, redemption, sin and sanctification
The book of Leviticus does not stand alone, but is part of a larger narrative. The image below shows the sequence of events that take place in Genesis to Joshua. Where does Leviticus fit in? It is important to realise that the laws in Leviticus were given after God rescued His people from slavery in Egypt. Why is this important? The laws were not given to save the people, but people who have been saved receive the law. God's people do not have to earn their salvation and redemption.
At the same time, from all the laws in Leviticus, we see that they are in desperate need of continued salvation. Not that they were in danger of "losing" their salvation, but that they had to be taught and learn to live out their new identity. Leviticus plays a role in sanctification. It teaches us that though we have been saved from the penalty of sin, we need to continually be saved from the power and presence of sin.
The detailed laws in the book of Leviticus shows us that the life of sanctification is lived in a million small choices. God has a view of even seemingly insignificant things such as skin problems etc. God cares about every single detail about our life! He is not so far away that He does not hear our inner thoughts.
Leviticus is about life as the corporate people of God: a national identity and life together
Lev 19 is an important chapter of the book. It also repeats some of the commandments (Lev 19:3 c.f. Exo 20:12, Lev 19:3 c.f. Exo 20:8, Lev 19:4 c.f. Exo 20:3, Lev 19:11 c.f. Exo 20:15, Lev 19:11 c.f. Exo 20:16, Lev 19: 12 c.f. Exo 20:7). From these verses, we learn that love for God is also meant to be reflected in love for neighbour.
This chapter in Leviticus also goes into great details about what such love would look like practically. Lev 19:9-11 lays out how it would affect the way they ran their fields and harvested, for example. The people of God were taught that their land is not all their own, and they were not to reap it all. What about us? Perhaps our salaries are a modern day equivalent. Therefore, does 100% of what we earn belong to us? What do we do with our time? How much of it is given to others, and how much do we keep for ourselves? Leviticus is not fuzzy, but is very detailed, intentional and we can see the application points clearly. It requires effort to read, not only because some of the laws appear distant, but also because though it is so clear sometimes, we are tempted to wriggle our way out of this. But again and again, Leviticus calls us and shows us what it means to live holy lives.
Lev 26 is another important chapter as it serves as a concluding section to the book. IN this chapter, we see that God addresses the people of Israel as a community. The "you" in the passage does not refer to an individual. Therefore, the blessings and punishment are to the community as a whole. God addresses His people in a corporate form, and His laws are given to His people as a whole.
What are His goals? Is He trying to just control the people? God is not trying to punish us when we disobey and bless us when we obey. God is seeking to help us to obey by laying out the consequences clearly. Through both the blessings and punishment, He is deterring us from sin and pushing us to obedience. How then, does this change the way we read Leviticus? Leviticus is an incredibly practical book because it shows us the outcome clearly, and is meant to show us how we are to live together. It is a book that is an inclusive text, and brings people together. As we read this, we are also meant to reflect on our own lives, and how we live in community. What is the status of your love for neighbour? What am you actually doing with my time and money? What are you actually fighting for to keep and maintain? After all, our priorities reflect our heart. If your life, time and resources are wrapped up in serving self, then that is who our God is.
Leviticus is about life before the present presence of God: union with Christ
When reading the book of Leviticus, we encounter many verses that provide intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for holy living (e.g. Lev 25:55). But why should we talk about motivation? Doesn't the Spirit work in us? These motivational statements in Leviticus teach us also that the Spirit works, but not necessarily in a mystical process. The Spirit may ordain a supernatural outcome by working through a natural process as we work to obey. This is the logic of Scripture, where we learn to obey in faith by recalling to mind these reasons and truths.
We've seen how Leviticus tells us about the Christian life, both individually and corporately. But a natural question that would cross the mind of most readers would be how we ought to live the life of Leviticus as Christians today. How are we similar to and different from the Israelites? According to Gal 2:15-21, no one -- both then and now -- could have been justified through the Law. But for the Christian who places faith in Christ alone, Gal 2:20-21 tells us something about the life we ought to live. The Christian died with Christ on the cross, and now lives a life by faith in Him alone. This is an inseparable union!
Having been joined with Christ, we live lives differently and we approach Leviticus differently. Leviticus is not a standard that we need to hold on to and neither are these burdens that we need to bear. We know that we cannot live out everything in Leviticus. The verses in this book are pictures of what Christ has already done and his perfect obedience of the Law. Jesus lived a life of perfect equity, fairness and obedience, the life that the people were to live in the presence of God. This is our motivation this side of the cross, as we continue to live before the presence of God not by our own efforts at obedience, but wholly because of Christ's perfect obedience.
As we end off our studies in Leviticus, it is worth reflecting on the following questions:
- Has your confidence in God’s word grown from your study of Leviticus? What is your attitude towards the Bible now? Does your life reflect your Biblical conviction?
- Are you more of a solitary Christian, or a corporate Christian? What does Leviticus have to say to you about your relationships, and the state of your heart?
- Are you living in holiness? Can you identify areas where God has changed you in holiness, and areas where He is confronting you?
- We are living ‘coram Deo’ – before the face of God. Who is this God that we claim to love and serve? What is the state of your heart before Him now?