In the book of Leviticus, God shows the people of Israel that despite their sin, they can still enjoy God’s presence and display His holiness to the world. In order to heal the damage from Israel’s rebellion against His instructions, God established a way for people’s sins to be covered through a system of sacrifices in the laws of the Covenant.
Leviticus is the third of Moses’ books of the Pentateuch and picks up where Exodus leaves off. God has just freed Israel from slavery in Egypt and made a covenant with them to become a nation of priests (meaning people who show others what God is like) and to dwell among His people in a sacred tent called the Tabernacle.
However, Israel fails to keep the covenant because of their sin. Exodus ends with Moses being unable to enter God’s presence in the Tabernacle because of this broken covenant.
So, how can God dwell among His people if their sinful nature prohibits them from entering into His presence?
Leviticus is God’s answer to the tension between His holiness and Israel’s sin. The entire book is like Israel’s handbook for becoming spiritually and morally holy, or clean, so they can enter into God’s presence.
Throughout the book, the author describes in detail the rituals, procedures and commands for maintaining holiness. These instructions can be separated into three sections: instructions for rituals, including types of sacrificial offerings and annual celebrations; instructions for the priests of Israel, who were responsible for maintaining the Tabernacle and mediating between God and His people; and instructions for proper spiritual and moral living for all people.
These laws serve a three-fold purpose: to forgive acts of sin, to show the world that Israel is God’s holy ambassador to the earth, and to define standards of right and wrong that will fortify immense value to Christ’s sacrifice for humanity.
At the end of Leviticus, God tells Israel that if they follow His instructions, their land will be fruitful and blessed, and if they fail to follow His instructions, they will be exiled from the land God has given them.
The major themes in Leviticus are God’s absolute holiness, Israel’s innate sinful nature and God’s abundant grace. God creates all of these rules for Israel to follow because God hates sin, but He loves His people. Unfortunately, His people choose to sin over and over again. But in His grace, God makes a way for His people to become holy. All of the rituals and instructions given to Israel in Leviticus are not punishments, but God’s gift to enable them to enjoy His presence.
There are two passages that are key to understanding the book of Leviticus.
Leviticus 19:1-2: “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.”’”
Leviticus 26:9-12: “‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.’”
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
It may be easy to look at the book of Leviticus and think, “I have a relationship with Jesus, who covers my sins, so this book doesn’t apply to me,” or “I have to do all of these things in order to have access to God, so I don’t want anything to do with God.”
Neither of these statements could be farther from the truth. Leviticus shows us just how holy God is and just how far removed we are from Him. Israel used to have to maintain their cleanliness to remain in God’s presence, not because God wanted them to suffer, but because this was the only way they could be in His presence without dying in their sin.
Fortunately, on this side of the resurrection, those who put their faith and trust in Jesus no longer have to keep the letter of the law in order to enjoy the graciousness and goodness of God’s presence. Leviticus shows believers just how much Jesus has done for us. His atoning sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to cover our sins, not just temporarily and for the people of Israel, but forever and for all the nations of the world. Jesus is the total fulfilment of the laws we could never keep.