To understand Leviticus properly, we need to understand the God who gave Leviticus, and the God of Leviticus. Leviticus is basically about God coming down to live among us, but we are presented with a problem because of who God is, and because of who we are. The God of the Bible is a specific being. And this God describes human beings in a very specific way too. The theology and anthropology of the Bible is very unique. Leviticus is all about how we try and deal with the problem, but continues to hint that the answer is not in us, but really in Christ. And the God of Leviticus, of all the ceremonies and slaying and fire, is the God of Christmas.
(A) The God of Leviticus is the God who called Moses (1:1a)
As we read Lev 1:1, we must acquaint ourselves with who this God is (i.e. theology). He is described as “the LORD”. What's so special about this as compared to "the Lord"? Remember how "the LORD" is the specific name of God (YHWH), his personal, revealed name, and it reminds us of the covenant made with Abraham. "The Lord", translated as adonai, speaks of God as one who is noble, or a master.
To understand this, we need to look at Exodus 3:1-15. This passage records for us Moses' first encounter with God. When He first calls Moses in Ex 3, how does He introduce Himself to Moses, the theophany (God-appearance) took the form of a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush, and though the bush was burning it was not consumed. Note the world “behold” in verse 2. The writer draws our attention to how surprising this sight was, even to Moses. He was addressing the miraculous appearance. This is how God appeared – as a burning bush that was not consumed. For those of us that are more familiar with this passage, we tend to gloss over it an refer to it as "Moses and the burning bush". But on closer reading, we are reminded that this was not just any bush that was in flames. This is a reminder for us not to normalise and domesticate God and gloss over these important details! The OT is full of theophanies when God appears and none of them are normal! When God shows up and reveals Himself, it’s always a big deal!
In Exo 3:4-5, God calls his name twice, and Moses responds, yet God’s first instruction in verse 5 was a command not to come near. Isn’t this paradoxical? The Lord is calling Moses, but also telling him not to come near. There was a specific reason -- it was because the ground is holy. Moses was then commanded to take off his sandals. What can we see from here? God wants us to draw near, but because of who we are (our anthropology) we cannot.
God proceeds to explain why He has come, and what His character is like. God wanted to redeem the Israelites from slavery, and wanted to transport them from Egypt into the land He wanted to bring them too (v.7-12). Moses would be God’s tool. Note the sense words in these verses (“seen”, “heard”, “know”, “come down”). God knows their suffering, and His people’s pain in slavery. God did not just randomly decide to pull them out, but was responding to their pain. God came down to redeem and Moses was sent to achieve this. How would you describe this God?
In Exo 3:14-15, Moses asks for God's name, and He replies -- “The LORD”, (which is also) “I will be what I will be”. It is an independent name, highlighting how YHWH stands alone. It is a name that describes not just His holiness, but also his eternal, unchanging nature. Every other being is a contingent being that relies on other beings. Only God is reliant on nothing. Only the God of the Bible is like this. He has no beginning. And this is who you are looking at, who you are reading about every time you see the words “the LORD”. And it is this God that sees, hears, knows and comes down to rescue His people. Is it really possible that this God has called you and knows you by name? Consider that there is a God that has been there from eternity past, before time existed, through all the seasons, and this God knows everything about you, and knows everything that has gone on, and has called you by name. You have been reconciled to this God if you are a Christian. How amazing this is! What, then, would it be like if we lived in a way that shows that we know Him? What could ever scare you or get you down, if you know that it is this God who watches over your coming and going, both now and forevermore? Only then will your heart know real rest and real peace, if you really know who He is.
(B) The God of Leviticus is the God who speaks (1:1b)
In v1-2 of Leviticus, what actions/verbs does God perform? We read of how God “called” Moses and “spoke” to him. What does this mean? It means that the God of the Bible is a speaking God. This is how He has chosen to get things done. He has chosen Himself exclusively to reveal Himself through words, because words reveal thought, and form the basis of relationships. And words can be written down and passed on (c.f. Rom 15:4). The Father has always used words to communicate His love for the Son, and so did the Son to the Spirit (c.f. John 1 and 16 for the relationship within the Trinity), and this is how He chose to communicate with man too.
This is a common picture of God, and elsewhere in the Bible, such as Job 37, we continue to read of the God who speaks. What have we done with what God has to say? How have we treated the Bible? Have we treasured His words because in them is power and life? On days when we find our Bible boring, we need to go back to places like Job 37 and remember that there is a God who speaks, and it is not just any God but the God of the bush that is burning and is not consumed.
(C) The God of Leviticus is the God who dwells (1:1c)
In Lev 1:1, we read of how God addressed the people from the Tent of Meeting. We will study more in the following weeks but in brief, the Tabernacle can be divided into:
- Outer court, with the outer curtains, bronze altar, bronze basin. It wasn’t clean and sterile, but messy and dirty with people all around, making sacrifices for their sins. This was the only place that the people could enter.
- Holy Place with tabernacle tent, veil, showbread table, altar of incense, golden lampstand. This was only admissible to the priests, and only after ceremonial cleansing.
- Holy of Holies with the cherubim veil, ark of the covenant.
The tabernacle was at the centre of their community, and at the centre of it was the ark, symbolizing the presence of God. It's not very different from how our cities are organised today, often around the city hall or business district. Israel was meant to live with God at the centre of everything, and with God's presence in this dwelling, it served as a constant reminder of His presence in their lives. This is how we live today too, and how we organize our societies.
When we look at the arrangement of the Tabernacle, and in subsequent weeks, the law in Leviticus, and when we consider Lev 1:1, we can understand why the words of passages like Matt 1and John 1 is so incredible for the Jews. The Gospel writers were saying that in Christ, we have something better than the tabernacle and glory cloud! God Himself took on flesh and lived among man.
Leviticus, rightly understood, is not a “to-do” list but is a response to His salvation. God did not save them just to do things, but He saved them for holy living according to His character, which He reveals in Leviticus. It is exactly the same for us today! We have been saved from sin, not to live as we please, but for His purposes, in line with His character! And this holy God saves because He desires a relationship with His people. He did not merely want to observe from a distance, but calls and speaks to His people. This is why we are excited about Bible study – because we believe that God speaks, and we have it written down, and we can hear Him through these words. How do you treat His words? And this speaking God also dwells with His people. We have Christ who dwelt among us, and we have the Spirit, given to live in us now. How will knowing this truth about His constant presence in our lives change our relationships, how we use our time and what we dream about? What are we ordering our lives around?