Leviticus

It is unfortunate that all too few Christians in this secular age ever actually read the Bible. Many Christians realize this and make a resolution to read the bible all the way through, from beginning to end. This is the way most books should be read, but it is not a good way to read the Bible for the first time. The Bible is an anthology so it is perfectly acceptable to skip around.

The problem with reading the Bible from beginning to end is that you quickly come to some of the driest and least interesting parts. Genesis is interesting and fun to read, full of great stories like the Creation, Adam and Eve, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and others. The story of Moses and the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt as told in the book of Exodus is exciting too. But, then around chapter 20 of Exodus there is the beginning of the law code as told to Moses at Mount Sinai. Chapter after chapter describes the laws, the building of the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant, the clothes of the priests and their consecration ceremony. There is some relief with the story of the Golden Calf in chapter 32, but soon we are back to law codes and a description of the building of the tabernacle that is a repeat of the earlier passages.

Leviticus is worse. There is no action at all in this book except for the deaths of Nadab and Abihu

English: Aaron's Sons, Nadab and Abihu, Destro...

English: Aaron’s Sons, Nadab and Abihu, Destroyed by Fire; Leviticus 10:2; 1625-30 engraving by Matthäus Merian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

for offering “strange fire” to the LORD Other than that, there is just chapter after chapter of ordinances dealing with offerings and sacrifices, priestly ordinations, clean and unclean foods, leprosy (almost certainly not the disease that is now called leprosy, so modern translations say “skin disease”), mold and mildew, the Day of Atonement, forbidden sexual  relations, festivals, and other such matters. It would not seem as if much of this book is relevant for the modern Christian. We don’t sacrifice animals at the temple anymore. We go to a dermatologist if we have a disgusting skin disease. Perhaps it might be simply ignored.

I think that would be a mistake. The first time Bible reader or the beginning Christian ought not to try to tackle Leviticus, but the more experienced Christian ought to read the book of Leviticus all the way through at least once, for the central theme of Leviticus is one Christians need to remember, especially in these irreverent times. That central theme is God’s absolute holiness.

If you ask any believer what characteristics God possesses they would be quick to mention His omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence. They might also state that He is a loving God and indeed the first Letter of John states that God is love. One attribute that tends to be forgotten is God’s holiness, or goodness. God is entirely good and holy and there is no evil in him. People of modern times tend to overlook God’s holiness and assume that he is a being much like themselves, only grander. The modern image of God seems to be of a kindly elderly man played by George Burns or Morgan Freeman, or of Jesus the hippie. The book of Leviticus shows a different side.

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

“‘Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God.

“‘Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the Lord your God.

“‘When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. Whoever eats it will be held responsible because they have desecrated what is holy to the Lord; they must be cut off from their people.

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

19 “‘Keep my decrees.

“‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.

“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.

“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. (Lev 19:1-9, 19)

God says, “Be holy for I the LORD your God am holy.” Over and over there is the refrain, “I am the LORD your God.” Notice also besides the obvious moral laws, there is the concept of a separation between the holy and the worldly. Do not blend separate things together.

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek. (Lev 20:1-5)

There follows laws about illicit sexual practices, etc, all of which get the death penalty.  Most people would regard these laws with death for so many crimes as barbaric. Perhaps, but the purpose of such severity is to reinforce the seriousness of keeping holy things holy and to worship only the Lord, not turning to other gods.

Here is one more excerpt.

31 “Keep my commands and follow them. I am the Lord. 32 Do not profane my holy name, for I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the Lord, who made you holy 33 and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord.” (Lev 22:31-33)

God loves us but He is much, much more than the popular conceptions of Him. He is holy and He wants us to be holy.

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