During the month of August, we will examine themes found in the first five books of the Bible: the Pentateuch. These themes will tell us about God, humanity, faith, and the world. Join us each week as we discuss each book in the Pentateuch.
The book of Leviticus needs a makeover.
It needs a re-branding event.
It needs to be reclaimed.
I’m not sure that any other book is more commonly tossed aside than the book of Leviticus. It is a book of case laws and instructions from God. There isn’t much drama, intrigue, or story-telling. It is just 27 consecutive chapters that tell you what you can and can’t do and when you can and can’t do them. And for that reason, our annual reading plans of the Bible typically end when we arrive at Leviticus (that is, if we made it through the instructions in Exodus about the Tabernacle).
But, honestly, the book of Leviticus should be considered a gift. Leviticus tells us how to live so that we can be near to God–that was the original purpose. If God’s people want to be near to God, then they ought to live like this. They ought to do these things and not do these other things.
The book of Leviticus is a book of training the people of God to be near God and to be like God. Now, I will grant you that there are some laws that don’t translate to our day and age very easily–we don’t understand them. Yet, I think we need to understand their purpose and appreciate them for that reason. They are commands that help God’s people to be God’s people. They help God’s people draw near to God as he is drawing near to them. And when read that way, this book can be quite beautiful.
When Jesus was asked what the most important law in the commandments were, Jesus quoted two laws back to the religious leaders. The first is from the book of Deuteronomy, which we will explore in a couple more weeks. The second was from the book of Leviticus. It says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What Jesus does not quote to them, but they certainly would know is what comes immediately after that. In Leviticus, God concludes that commandment by saying, “I am the Lord.”
Essentially, what God wants them to know is that this is bound up in his very nature. In fact, all through Leviticus 19 where this command is found, God is repeating that refrain over and over. The people need to know that this is what God is like. This is how God rules. You should love your neighbor as you love yourself.
And this is one of the reasons I think that we have such a hard time reading the book of Leviticus. Yes, it can be dry. Yes, it can feel like it’s addressing a completely different world. But more insidious than either of those reasons is that we don’t want to be told what to do. More and more, we are moving into a time where the lordship of our lives is controlled only by ourselves. As a culture and society, we are becoming more and more individualistic. Each individual is their own highest authority.
So, when we read Leviticus, we are confronted with a story that says that we are not the rulers of our lives, but instead, God is! God rules and reigns. And when we hear that message, we have two options: to reject it or to accept it. And the book of Leviticus stands where it does so that those who accept the lordship of God in their lives will know how to live as God is. How to be as God is.
The book of Leviticus is a tremendous gift. May we be brave enough to accept the lordship of God. And may we read Leviticus knowing that God rules!