Understanding Leviticus

Understanding Leviticus

If you have been following the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan with the church family, then you finished reading the book of Leviticus. Leviticus is not a book that we tend to spend a lot of time in.  It may have even been your first time reading the book.  As we read through the prescribe sacrifices, temple practices, and the lists of sins, it can easily strike us dry or even boring.  Since the Law has been fulfilled by Christ, and we are no longer under the Levitical temple practices, it can be easy for us to see little value in this book while we move on to more exciting and relevant passages of Scripture.

Yet Paul told us all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16). That includes Leviticus.  In fact, the book of Leviticus is an important book for understanding the gospel, for it presents three themes that point to the work of redemption Jesus accomplished on the cross.

The first theme that comes out in Leviticus is the holiness of God. God is giving His people the Law so that they might know His holy character.  The moral standards presented are not abstract expectations pulled from a hat.  They are given because committing these sins is to violate God’s character.  So the rules and regulations of the book may seem heavy, but they are there to teach us the ways of God.

The theme of God’s holiness is given in this summary statement: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy (Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7, 26).  Everything God was commanding His people to do was rooted in His holiness; and their adherence was intended to demonstrate God’s holiness.

A second major theme in Leviticus is the sinfulness of man. Why did God have to give the Jews all these rules and regulations?  Because they were utterly sinful.  Why were a morning and evening sacrifice needed? Because the people sinned every day.  Why would the scapegoat be offered annually? Because the people sinned.  If they were not sinful, they would not need the Law to tell them what the holiness of God looks like, nor would they need the sacrifices.  But they were sinful, which is why God had to give the Law and the sacrifices.

Paul tells us in Romans 3:19-20 what the purpose of the Law is. Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. So the Law reveals that we are sinners in violation of God’s holy character.

The third major theme of Leviticus is atonement. Leviticus is a bloody book, as sacrifice after sacrifice is described in detail.  Blood is everywhere.  It is splattered on the altar.  It is thrown all over the Tabernacle.  It is sprinkled on all the furniture.  It is applied to the priests and their garments.  It is poured on the ground. It is applied to the mercy seat.  It is the primary element in the sacrifices.  Why?

God tells us why in Leviticus 17:11: For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement

Before Adam and Eve sinned, God warned them that sin would bring death. They sinned and brought death on the entire human race.  Yet through a blood sacrifice God was demonstrating that He would accept a substitutionary sacrifice in the place of the guilty party.  Sin could be forgiven if something died in the place of the sinner.  Thus God commanded His people not to eat the blood because He had reserved it for Himself as a way to atone for their sin.

When we look at these three themes, we see that Leviticus is preaching the gospel to us. It teaches us that God is a holy God who cannot abide sin.  It teaches us that every man is a sinner and therefore in violation of God’s holy character and justly condemned.  Yet it gives us hope that a blood sacrifice could be made in our place, allowing us be restored in our relationship to God.

Hebrews 10:4 says that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  All those animals killed in the Old Testament could not redeem man from their sin.  They were a temporary covering (atonement means to cover) of sin while they waited for the perfect Lamb of God to sacrifice Himself as the full payment of sin.  So Leviticus points ahead to and explains the need for Christ’s sacrifice of Himself for our sin.  Jesus’ death wasn’t just for the sins of the New Testament believer.  It dealt with the sins of the Old Testament saint too.  There was only one sacrifice whose quality was sufficient to deal with man’s sin, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  The Old Testament saints looked forward to it.  The New Testament saint look back at it. But they were all redeemed by it.

Leviticus might not be the most exciting book in the Bible, but if we took it away we would lose the clearest picture of the redeeming work of Christ in the Old Testament and would have a hard time understanding why it was absolutely necessary for Jesus to shed His blood as payment for our sin. We would not understand how much God hates sin or why bloodshed is necessary for sin to be forgiven.  Leviticus helps us understand how God can be just while justifying the sinner (Ro. 3:26).  We praise God for providing us with so great a salvation.