I note that my passage cutoff’s aren’t as even as they should be. At approximately 30 chapters a day I’m overlapping Leviticus and Numbers as books that could almost be read in one sitting. Ah, well that’s alright. Now SHH. It’s time for me to get reading. But not before I make one more observation: Leviticus has become my favorite Old Testament book. So this is a special treat for me today.
As a pastor it is significant to me that the Leviticus reading begins with sacrifices for a priest who sins. Someone once wrote, “If a solitary man sins, he destroys himself. If a family man sins, he destroys his family. But if a Pastor sins, he unravels his whole church.” That’s a sober warning to myself and to any pastors reading this. Men we have got to draw near to Jesus Christ!
As I read through Leviticus it occurs to me that “sin is costly”. My wife and I bought a 1/2 a cow last year which is now only partially remaining in the freezer. It was expensive. It was cheaper than buying all that meat from the grocery store for certain but it was still expensive. The sin offerings were bulls and goats (and birds for the poorest) but the overwhelming sense I get is that sin is costly.
I’ve had to fight through some of my own addictions in the past but it makes me wonder if we had to slay a bull instead of hitting our knees would our addictions find a harder time sticking? – at least once we were truly committed to repenting I mean.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not minimizing the work of Christ in this, instead I see the cost of sin in Leviticus and it causes, for me, the value of the work of Christ upon that horrid cross to rise. I see slightly more clearly the great price my savior paid for me. And here then is the first secret to why Leviticus has become my favorite book in the Old Testament. Leviticus reveals more than any other book the Holy Glory of God and the Deep offense of our sin.
But Leviticus has another side for most people and that is a side of intense boredom. The prescriptions of the law seem to go into nauseating detail. Which bugs are clean, how do you become unclean. What about skin diseases – and don’t forget clean and unclean houses, and a host of very intimate sexual detail which normally are not talked about in our post-Elizabethan Christianity. These things are certainly talked about everywhere else though. It’s on the television it’s at the movies and it’s in conversations everywhere. But we dare not talk about sex from the pulpit today.
Why not? Has it ever occurred that the reason why our culture has such a distorted view of sexuality is because the church has been too embarrassed to discuss it openly? Leviticus pulls no punches. Wet dreams, menstruation, every possible form of sexual depravity including incest and rape you name it – nothing is off limits because there is no part of life no matter how intimate that does not effect our relationship to God and which itself is not affected by our relationship to God. (I’ll bet my blog’s family friendly rating just took a small jolt).
Leviticus continues it’s almost systematic approach to categorizing the requirements for Israel. Clean and unclean, sacrifice and sin find themselves next to priestly ordination and commands regarding Israel’s worship calendar. Even though I do not spring from a liturgical background I can see the beauty of God’s liturgy for Israel. It is meant to remind, to teach and to train successive generations in God’s faithfulness and power as well as what it means to serve, worship and obey a holy God as his holy people.
I note with some disappointment that the literary notes on Leviticus leave much to be desired. This isn’t surprising since Leviticus is one of the most maligned books in the Old Testament Canon. They are for the most part little more than chapter overviews. But the few times when commentary is made it is simplistic and sometimes just plain wrong.
In one example, claims that the clean laws were likely about health concerns (chapter 11) is one example among many that ignores the central theme of separation unto holiness that is required in Leviticus. I do not deny that there were likely some health benefits to the laws in Leviticus but this can hardly be applied as a blanket statement. Moreover, treating medical disease and preventing illness is not the theme. The rules and regulations present in Leviticus serve to train God’s people to be Holy, that is separate from the nations around them.
Having said that I need to counter my complaint with a compliment and just a few chapters after my first example a shining moment breaks in as the editors note (chapter 16)
We can appropriate the theological meaning of the material by analyzing the underlying principles (such as blood sacrifice and the idea of a substitutionary atonement) and then reflecting on how Christ fulfilled them.
If we use Jesus as the filter by which we read and understand Leviticus we will gain much regarding it’s meaning.
I’ve joked for years that I’m so bad at math I won’t even preach out of the book of Numbers. The first three chapters which are part of today’s reading is almost entirely census information which is mind numbing in it’s detail. For personal study, each verse may not reveal a depth of personal information but there are some quick read blessings embedded in the text.
First of all we get a chance to see on a more personal level the people of Israel as a group. Really up to this point we’ve seen whiners, slaves, sinners and a few select leaders. Now at last we get a chance to truly see the breadth of the people of Israel. These are the people whom God loves and whom for the sake of Abraham he has chosen. It behooves us to know and love them as well.
In the first three chapters of Numbers then we meet the army, hear their marching order and become more familiar with the priestly line.
The Psalms between 29 and 35 are beautiful they encompass prayers for deliverance, the blessings of forgiveness, cries for God’s presence and reminders of his glory. But for me the first and the last two hold special significance. The first year I journeyed to Haiti the very first evening we had an enormous thunderstorm. It was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think. I remember joining the rest of my team in one of the houses and reading Psalm 29 at the top of my voice. It was mostly inaudible. That experience rings in my mind every time I get to Psalm 29.
The last two Psalms 34-35 have recently become my absolute favorites. In Psalm 34 the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him. In Psalm 35 we have the image of Jesus grabbing sword and shield and running headlong into battle as our defense. Our God is mighty in battle and these Psalms all echo with his outrageous power against his foes.