The Only Access to God: Why Study Leviticus
At first glance, it is tempting to skip Leviticus when reading the Bible. It does not have riveting narrative like Genesis or Joshua, nor does it give lofty inspiration like the Psalms or Ephesians.
Skip Leviticus? Don’t do it! The third book of Moses is an indispensable part of the Bible: for starters, it is God’s inspired Word and profitable (II Timothy 3:16). It is a revered book of the Scriptures, known as the Pentateuch (Greek) or Torah (Hebrew), the five books of Moses. Furthermore, it gives some outstanding typology of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, it shows us the only way to have access to God. Therefore, it behooves us to make it part of our study of Scripture.
The original Hebrew calls this book va-yeech-krah, meaning ‘And he called.’ These happen to be the first three words of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible. The Talmud refers to this book as the ‘Law of the Priests and Offerings.’ The ancient Greek translation of Scripture, the Septuagint (LXX) calls it Leuitikon, meaning ‘pertaining to the Levites.’ The Latin Vulgate gave us the name Leviticus. In reality, it speaks about only part of the tribe of Levi, the House of Aaron, who held the priesthood.
Moses. No less than 56 times in Leviticus does it refer to the law given to Moses (e.g. 1:1; 4:1; 6:1,24). Jesus Christ speaks of Moses as the author of the Torah (Matthew 8:2-4 cf. Leviticus 14:1-4; Matthew 12:4 cf. Leviticus 24:9) and for believers His endorsement should settle the issue.
Israel stood at the foot of Mount Sinai. The first passover (Exodus 12:2) was the first month of the first year of the new calendar. The tabernacle was finished one year later (Exodus 40:17). Leviticus commences in the first month of the second year and Numbers begins the following month.
There is a logical progression leading to Leviticus.
Genesis: Man sins and falls.
Exodus: Man is redeemed and delivered.
Leviticus: Man is instructed about the only worship that give access to the presence of God.
What is the only access to God? Worship through holiness.
Leviticus teaches how a redeemed people are to worship and serve God. He is holy and His people must be likewise. This holiness is undergirded by sacrifice, a motif that appears regularly in Leviticus.
KEY POINTS OF LEVITICUS
What become obvious as you study Leviticus is:
God’s Presence: God wants to dwell among His people;
Holiness: Only by being holy can people be close to God.
Sacrifice for sin makes holiness possible: without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:20)
Covenant: We do not have a de facto relationship but de jure (according to law). Covenant, which means a binding agreement between two or more parties, brings great benefits when the terms are met; great disaster if violated.
Holiness is mentioned 152 times in Leviticus, which is 20% of all occurrences in the Old Testament. Sacrifice, which makes holiness possible, is mentioned 40 times; atonement 45 times, blood 85 times, and priest 190 times.
The emphasis here is unmistakable: God demands holiness as the price of entering His presence and dwelling with Him forever. Without holiness no man can see the LORD (Hebrew 12:14).
Leviticus 17:11 ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’
Leviticus 20:7-8 ‘Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them: I am the LORD who sanctifies you.'
PORTRAIT OF CHRIST
In summary, you can find wonderful typology of Christ in the five offerings, seven feasts, and the role of the high priest.
CHRIST IN THE FIVE OFFERINGS
Burnt offering: Where the sacrifice is purged of sin. For Christ, the burning represents the unspeakable and excruciatingly painful suffering He experienced at His passion, culminating at the the cross.
Meal offering: This speaks of Christ’s sinless person and work, a portion thereof was thrown in the fire.
Peace offering: This speaks of reconciliation between a holy God and sinful humanity (Romans 5:1). This was the offering between Laban and Jacob.
Sin-offering: Known also as the guilt offering, this speaks of the Atonement that Christ procured for us. He is our sin-bearer.
Trespass Offering: Christ atoning death totally satisfies God’s righteous requirements. It restores the relationship with God that was severed by Adam’s sin.
CHRIST IN THE FEASTS
Passover: This is clear enough. The passover lamb was young, without blemish, and burnt after the sacrifice. Christ is called our passover lamb: He was young, sinless, and His passion was like fire. Yet because of His atoning death and shed blood, the death angel ‘passes over’ all who believe.
Feast of Unleavened Bread: Israel’s departure from Egypt was so quick, they did not have time to let the dough rise in the bowl. ‘Leaven,’ though necessary for good quality bread, represents pride and sin. During this feast, Israel eats only unleavened bread, known also as matzo. This feast represents the holy walk that Christ modelled and God calls us to.
Feast of First Fruits: This represents the first evidence of harvest from the crops; once you see this, you know the rest of the harvest is coming. Likewise, Christ is called the ‘first-fruits’ from the dead (I Corinthians 15:20-23). His resurrection guarantees our own.
Pentecost: Known also as ‘Feast of Weeks,’ this is an agricultural festival that also commemorates Moses receiving the law on Mount Sinai. Likewise, this feast has a glorious New Testament counterpart: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus in Acts 2. This is considered the birthday of the Christian Church. So as the law given on Sinai brought bondage, the Holy Spirit poured out on Pentecost in Zion gave power and liberty.
Trumpets: This is New Year’s Day and it is ushered in by the sounding of the trumpets. It is also an autumn feast and forecasts the final ingathering from exile of the children of Israel (Zechariah 14).
Day of Atonement: This is the most solemn day of the year, the only authorised fast in the calendar (even though Leviticus does not specifically mention fasting - it speaks merely of afflicting one’s soul). This was the only day of the year that the high priest could enter into the most sacred place on earth: the holy of holies. Christ, our perfect atonement, has given all of us 24/7 access to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
Tabernacles: This autumn feast remembers when Israel dwelt in booths in the wilderness. Though not fulfilled in the New Testament, it most likely will culminate at the second coming of Christ.
High Priest: The line of Aaron, brother of Moses, from the tribe of Levi, held the priestly office. Aaron was a faithful but flawed figure. He contributed to the corruption of the golden calf incident while Moses tarried on Mount Sinai. Furthermore, his sons, Nadab and Abihu, offered unauthorised, strange fire before the LORD and were immediately slain by God’s holy presence. Understandably, the surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar were reluctant to eat of the sin offering that followed for fear of suffering the same fate (Chapter 10). They, and their father, were not totally free from sin in order to eat the sin offering. Christ, who is high priest after the imperishable order of Melchizedek, a higher lineage than Levi, offers a perfect, righteous priesthood that ever lives to make intercession for us and affords complete access to the throne of God.
Part One: Access to God by Sacrifice
I. Laws on how to approach God (5 offerings) 1:1-7:38
II. Laws of the Priest (incl. strange fire 10) 8:1-10:20
III. Laws of Purity (food, childbirth, leprosy) 11:1-15:33
IV. Laws of Atonement (national, reverence for blood) 16:1-17:16
Part Two: Walk with God by Sanctification
I. Laws of Sanctification People 18:1-20:27
II. Laws of Sanctification Priest 21:1-22:3
III. Laws of Sanctification in Worship (feasts/priestly duties/blasphemy dealt with) 23:1-24:23
IV. Laws of Sanctification in Promised Land (sabbatic year, Jubilee) 25:1=26:46
V. Laws of Sanctification though Vows 27:134