I haven’t posted on my “read-through-the-Bible” the past four days because I’ve been in Leviticus. It’s a difficult book. If I had to give one word to sum it up, it would be holiness. More than anything, God reveals His immutable attribute of holiness and how high the standard is to attain holiness – something we can never do on our own. It reminds us that God has called us to be holy people.
One primary subject in this book is all the laws of how the Old Testament sacrifices were to be carried out, something which is no longer needed since Christ, once-and-for-all, was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world, on the cross. Every detail points to Christ. The sacrifices were a temporary covering, providing the cover of God’s mercy and grace until judgment against sin was accomplished at Calvary. Also, the seven Jewish feasts are introduced. The practice of these feasts is peculiar to the Jewish faith, but the prophetic implications point to Christ.
There are also many laws for the children of Israel regarding social, cultural, and moral issues in this book. These I find quite interesting because they reveal what God defines as sin. There are a few, like restrictions against cutting their beards or getting tattoos, which I believe were specifically meant to draw a clear distinction between God’s people and the practices of the surrounding nations. Cutting or marking one’s body was often practiced in conjunction with idol worship. Cultural practices vary from generation to generation and in particular ethnic groups. These were specific to the Israelites at the time they were living in. As New Testament believers, we are called to examine everything carefully and avoid any appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).
In addition, there are many laws regarding which foods could and could not be consumed. I believe these laws had two purposes. First, to separate the people from the surrounding culture and keep them from unknowingly participating in idolatrous customs, and second, to protect their health. For example, they could eat fish that had scales and fins, but not shellfish. They could eat animals that chewed the cud and had a split hoof (like cows, buffalo, goats, and sheep) but not animals like lions and tigers. We know now that shellfish feed primarily on other decaying creatures; they are the “cleaners” or “bottom-feeders” of the waters. Likewise, animals with paws or no split hooves or that do not chew the cud were carnivores and would eat decaying meat of dead/dying animals. God was protecting their health and while it’s not “law” for us, there are probably some things we could learn from a biblical diet!
There are many other things listed, however, as either commands to obey or practices forbidden, that fall under the category of “moral laws.” These cross historical and cultural timelines and reveal how we should still live as God’s people today; all are reinforced in the New Testament. Many of the forbidden practices had an immediate and severe punishment: the death penalty. This included incest, adultery, prostitution, sex trafficking, homosexuality, beastiality, sacrificing a child to the gods (our modern-day abortion), or cursing your parents. Many others had the consequence of being “cut off” from the people (no longer under God’s protective umbrella). Idolatry, swearing or blaspheming God’s name, withholding wages of a hired man, mistreating the disabled, showing partiality to either the poor or rich (instead of judging fairly), hating your fellow countryman, slander…the list goes on.
The good news is two-fold. First, Leviticus also includes much wisdom that if implemented, would enable society to be fair and equitable, merciful to those in need, responsible toward the poor or immigrant, and respectful to one another. Things like canceling debt, leaving the “gleanings” for the poor, honoring the elderly, and fair business practices would make our societies function in a way that pleases God.
Secondly, and most important to remember, is that we live in the age of grace. Jesus’ death and resurrection has purchased redemption, forgiveness, and pardon for all our sins, and this redemption is available to all who will seek it by faith. While God’s moral laws are still in effect, and sin’s penalty is still death, there is a substitute available. His name is Jesus, and He promises without fail, that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Thank God for grace. Thank God we do not live under the law, but Jesus has fulfilled all the law so that we can walk in His righteousness.