Leviticus Part One: Deep Dive
| LUKE HOOPER
Have you ever tried to read your Bible in a year? Genesis and Exodus are a breeze, but then you get to Leviticus. Rituals, sacrifices, impurities, what does it all mean? What is Leviticus trying to say? And how does it affect me today? To understand these questions, we must step back from the individual topics and the book itself to find its place amongst the other biblical texts.
Understanding the purpose of Leviticus aids us in interpreting the individual events within the book. At the end of Exodus we see Moses having just built the tabernacle, speaking to God from outside the tent (Leviticus 1:1). Moses was not allowed into the presence of God and it is upon this basis that Leviticus is built, framing Leviticus as God's plan to graciously provide a way for his people to come into his presence.
God's plan isn’t through mutually exclusive laws and regulations; rather it is a unique arrangement of guidelines that are a reflection of God himself. This is essential in understanding and interpreting Leviticus, lest God appear to be a mean playground bully. Matthew 22:36-40 provides clarity of God's heart on the issue. We observe the disciples asking God what “the greatest commandment is in all the Law?” Jesus responds “Love God and secondly love others… For all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Is this essentially saying that all the Law and what the Prophets have said, is summed up in love? In a sense, I say yes.
But what does this mean when we come back to Leviticus? Well not only is the Law summed up in loving God and others, but that love can be broken down by looking at and into the Law. Meaning, that each law can be viewed, metaphorically, as a unique puzzle piece. A puzzle piece that builds a picture of what it is to truly love. Just as it is unique, each piece relates to another. Within this Deep Dive, I am going to focus in on three major themes found within this incredible puzzle of Leviticus. The first of which are rituals.
Rituals in Leviticus consist of sacrifices and festivals. This begs the question, why does God decree this? Because they are an outward expression of inward confessions. Grain and fellowship sacrifices say thank you to God. Burnt, purification and restoration offerings show repentance. The ritual festivals, on the other hand, are sacred ceremonies. Some are in remembrance of God's goodness (e.g. Passover), and some are a matter of practicality to best maintain the fruitfulness of the land (e.g. Sabbath year). Looking at these rituals as pertaining to love, in some instances, we can quite easily connect the dots. Each sacrifice symbolises an attitude of gladness or remorse, and each festival or ceremony simultaneously benefits the one praising and the praise-worthy one. For example, God's desire for the Israelites to adhere to a Sabbath year was a law that brought further prosperity to Israel, while the Sabbath day shows both humility and thanks to the God of all creation. These rituals thus display God's goodness, wisdom and desire for our actions to speak louder than our words. They are a piece of the puzzle that is fairly clear but also relate to all areas of the law and all the themes, quite like the centre pieces of a puzzle.
The second of the major themes is that of priestly ordinances and qualifications. It was never God's will that anyone or anything get between God and his people, however, after the fall of humanity, sin and impurity came into the world. God being so perfect and pure can not affiliate with death and depravity. That's why God required that special individuals be chosen to stand before him on behalf of the people. It’s here the ordaining of the priests (Chapters 8-10) comes into play. As these individuals were coming before God who is pure, good and perfect, the rules of the priesthood can be seen as an act of consecration towards such Godly characteristics. Such characteristics are outlined in Chapters 21-22. The characteristics on the surface can also seem quite unusual; no blindness, crooked back or broken feet. These all seem to be quite arbitrary, however, seen as part of the greater picture of love (and with some biblical hermeneutic) we can begin to understand these conditions/qualifications. Qualifications are not only physical but symbolic. Blind physically may also be seen as symbolically representing that the priests must look to God and not be blind to him.
Lastly, comes the laws of purity. In Leviticus, the laws of purity are further broken down into “ritual purity” and “moral purity”. But why does God take concern of whether someone is pure or not? God cares because again, it’s what is best. The ritual purity laws are symbolic practices that reminded Israel that God is present in every area of their lives. Some scholars believe that they also kept the Israelites the healthiest of all the nations, aiding them in their conquests. As such these laws set apart the Israelite people from all the other nations, just as God has set us apart as Christians. These laws can, therefore, be seen as omni-dimensional creating a foundation that helps us best love God. The moral purity laws, however, are more direct. Each law takes its place as a boundary on how to best love God, others and ourselves. These could be seen as the edge pieces to the puzzle, clear and pointed. This doesn't make them easy to understand and it can often be hard to see how they fit into our lives today, however through prayer, community and good hermeneutic it starts to become a little clearer.
So today as you Dive into Leviticus I hope I have encouraged you to see the theme of "love" in all of the laws, especially as you venture through the rituals, priestly ordinances and laws of purity.