If you’ve spent any time around Christians, or are yourself a Christian, you’ve probably heard the desperate and panicked cry of someone trying to read their Bible in a year. They “fell off the wagon” once they stumbled into the book of Leviticus. They’re way behind their reading plan now. There’s no hope of catching back up—not if it means trekking through the territory of Leviticus.
Now, we certainly don’t want to guilt or shame any Christians who are struggling to read their Bibles (Bibles.net exists to help you when you struggle!). But we also don’t want to begrudge any of the books in the Bible God has given us.
Granted, Leviticus is a foreign book to us. It is a hard book to read. But, if “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV), then God gave us the book of Leviticus so that we may be able to walk in the good works he has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). We need to rethink how we understand this book.
Leviticus shows how this holy God dwells with his unholy people: through the sacrificial system.
Leviticus answers the question, “How can sinful people live with their holy God?” If you remember, back in Genesis, the world fell into sin through Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Sin is pervasive, infecting everything—including you and me. If we want to have fellowship with God, we must be “like” God. We must be holy (morally pure). God requires holiness of his people because he, himself, is holy. God’s holiness is his wholeness, his moral perfection, his utter uniqueness, his set-apart-ness from everything that isn’t him. Without holiness, God’s people can’t be with God.
Therefore, Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue . . . holiness—without it no one will see the Lord” (CSB). In Leviticus, God says, “For I am the Lord your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy . . . For I am the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God, so you must be holy because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45 CSB). But the Israelites’ problem (and our problem!) is that we aren’t holy. So, what do we do?
Leviticus shows how our holy God dwelled with his unholy people: through the sacrificial system.
Laws and sacrifices, though they seem cumbersome to us, maintained God’s presence among his people. If you’ll remember, humans weren’t allowed in God’s presence after Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden. The laws in Leviticus, then, were a provision and gift from God that allowed his people to live with him. The sacrifices atoned for the sins of the people. In Leviticus 17:11, God reminds us that “I have given it [atonement]” (ESV). God provided atonement for his people.
Of course, animal sacrifices couldn’t fully and finally atone for sin—nor were they meant to. Instead, they were intended to prepare us for how God would finally save and cleanse us from sin.
Leviticus gets us ready to see how God, in Jesus Christ, would atone for his people to make us holy and bring us into a loving relationship with God. God the Father sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins—so perfect that it fulfilled the need for the sacrifices we see in Leviticus. Jesus Christ joyfully, willingly, laid down his life as the once for all sacrifice for God’s people (Hebrews 10:10) to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
God, in Jesus Christ, offers you life and fellowship with him if you trust in the sacrifice of Jesus for your sins. Read Leviticus listening to what God asked of Israel, and looking for what God’s law reveals about his character.