Every Christian should seek to sit under the whole counsel of God. This means, in part, meditating on the entire expanse of the biblical Word. Toward this goal, we all find ourselves naturally attracted to some biblical books and, if we are honest, not as attracted to others. One commonly avoided book of the Bible is the book of Leviticus. Located right in the middle of the Pentateuch, the book of Leviticus is written in such a way that many modern readers find it a difficult book to crack. Yet, despite its seemingly obscure interest in the tabernacle worship of ancient Israel, we should not miss what this book has to offer us.
Here are three things that every reader of the Bible can take away from the book of Leviticus.
1. God goes to great ends to meet with His people.
The tabernacle of the Lord is exactly what the Scripture says it is: the house of God. It’s His sanctuary, His palace, and as such, it is the place where He receives His guests (Ex. 25:8–9). God’s house reflects His character, holiness, glory, perfect righteousness, and role as primary creator. Those who enter the tabernacle, therefore, must be prepared for an audience with the King. Without such preparation, they cannot hope to survive the visit. Leviticus reminds us, however, that no amount of fallenness or finitude can keep our God from us. He made us to dwell in communion with Him, and His will is bent toward that communion. This desire for reconciliation and restoration is, of course, the backdrop to Scripture’s entire story of redemption.
2. God cares about the manner in which we meet with Him.
Another thing that strikes us as we read the book of Leviticus is how meticulous Moses is in his instructions for the priests and Levites. Israelite worship reveals how much God values the manner of worship as highly as the object of worship. He’s not simply looking for fond thoughts, admiring inclinations, or converted pagan practice. The Israelites are not called to simply worship as they please, but rather they are called to conform the manner of their worship to God’s character. The Levitical instructions, the rules for sacrifices, the times and seasons, and the festivals all speak to the way in which the Israelites are called to organize their lives and their worship according to the Creator’s design. We are made in God’s image, so our worship is guided by His agenda, not the other way around.
3. The sacrifices themselves reveal to us God’s purposes for His redemptive plan.
When humanity fell in the garden, our relationship with God was fatally broken in a way that had implications for the whole of human existence. In order to enter into God’s presence, we now need to be made clean, ceremonially appropriate for the presence of God. God’s holiness is to be matched by human cleanness. Therefore, Leviticus instructs that the holiest places of the tabernacle are reserved for those who have been specially prepared for the work: the priests, and ultimately, the high priest (Lev. 16:1–5; 21).
The sacrificial system also reflects the ways in which humanity’s relationship with God has been terribly altered. Each sacrifice illustrates a different way in which God desires to be restored to His people through the work of redemption. The burnt offering (Lev. 1:2–17; 6:8–13), which includes the burning up of the whole animal, provides for the covering over, or atonement of, human sin before God. The grain offering (Lev. 2:1–16; 6:14–23) is associated with a gift or tribute, like those given to a king to ensure an alliance. The peace offering (Lev. 3:1–17; 7:11–21) involves the sacramental sharing of a meal between the worshiper and the priests, reflecting a mended relationship. The purification or sin offering (Lev. 4:1–5:13; 6:24–30) highlights the pollution or the defilement of sin for the believer and the need for purification. The reparation offering (Lev. 5:14–6:7; 7:1–10) foregrounds the need for a debt to be repaid to God so that the divine and human relationship can be made whole.
Each of these five sacrifices highlights a different aspect of God’s plan for redemption for humanity. Our attention is often drawn to the passages about the need for atonement—both in the burnt sacrifice and in the Day of Atonement instructions laid out so clearly in Leviticus 16:1–34—but Christian worship can be deepened by an understanding of the rich ways in which Christ restores us before God, making a way for us to enter His presence (John 14:6). Our sins are atoned for, our alliance with the King is restored, we share a hospitable meal between friends, the defilement is purified, and our debt is repaid in the person and work of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus. We can rejoice that our High Priest is at work to accomplish all these blessings of redemption (Heb. 10:1–18).
This article is part of the Every Book of the Bible: 3 Things to Know collection.