Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Principles of Leviticus

I’ve always approached the study of the book of Leviticus with a certain amount of trepidation. All those sacrifices, and I’m a vegetarian! It’s not the first book of the Bible I turn to for inspiration. However, my studies have been greatly enhanced of late by watching some Youtube presentations by the late Pastor Chuck Smith, who has a study series on every book of the Bible online. I don’t agree with all his views, particularly in the area of capital punishment, but the series has provided some solid theological background and is a useful resource.
The following are some of my own insights from reading and studying Leviticus from a Christian perspective.

God is magnificent in His holiness. He alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is worthy of honour and praise for who He is.

The ultimate purpose of our lives should be to bring honour and glory to Him because He is worthy of it. We do this by offering our lives to Him. The whole principle of offerings should be because we want to honour God. So often the Christian life and wishy-washy preaching centres around what God can do for us, when the reverse should be the case.

God created mankind for fellowship and relationship with Him. He created the first humans, Adam and Eve, to live in close fellowship with Him, but created them with free choice, to be obedient to Him or to disobey Him. They were tempted by Satan and chose to disobey, invoking God’s punishment which would be to all mankind- separation from God, sin and death.

By the time we reach the book of Leviticus in Biblical history, Adam and Eve’s descendents are still struggling with this separation from God. They are aware of their sinfulness and want to get right with Him. This awareness of sinfulness and sorrow and regret for it  is called repentance.

God has already given Moses the Ten Commandments, the ten great principles of godly living. Now through Moses, the Israelites are given further instructions on living in a way pleasing to God. They are to make distinctions between what is clean and unclean, or acceptable or unacceptable. God’s instructions cover a range of areas including what to eat and drink, hygiene practices, sexual relations, not consulting mediums or spiritualists, and hospitality to strangers. The treatment of the poor is covered, including the institution of the principle of Jubilee, the forgiving of debts. The principle of tithing is instituted.

Sacrificing animals or foodstuffs was, therefore a way of honouring God by giving Him a gift and a way of making atonement to God for sin – paying a price. It was a way of saying, “I deserve to die for my sins, but instead, You, God, will accept the death of an animal in my stead as payment.  Leviticus contains instructions for a number of different sacrifices, some to atone for personal sins and some for sins of the whole community. As well as personal offerings, at specific times throughout the year the Israelites were to observe festivals where sacrifices were made, God honoured and celebrated and the need for atonement reflected upon.

What was given to God? The first. The best. The result of hard work and effort.

We already see obvious parallels to what was to come. Throughout the ensuing books of the Old Testament, the Israelites were unable to stop sinning and keep God’s laws. Despite the call back to faith and holiness by God’s prophets, the people of God disobeyed and neglected Him, bringing destruction upon themselves.

Finally, God’s love and mercy was so great that he sent Jesus, who honoured and obeyed His Father as none of us ever could. Jesus became the offering to atone for the sins of mankind once and for all time. There can be no other.

Today we still struggle with the awareness of sin and the need for a Saviour. Whether acknowledged or not, each person is sinful,  mortal and needs hope for a future beyond this life, a relationship with God who created them. Without God individuals and communities face breakdown and despair, death and God's judgement.

In the book of Leviticus the priest was to be the intermediary between man and God. Now Jesus completely fills that role. We can come to God directly through Christ. There is still a role for a priest/pastor/ vicar or similar personage to teach and minister to the body of Christ, but we have a high priest in Jesus Christ and can “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16). A prayer of repentance and faith in God sets one’s feet on a completely different journey through life.

In Christ we receive God’s forgiveness, love and grace. We are to honour God by acknowledging his Holiness and His love in sending Jesus to be our redeeming Saviour.  We are to live lives worthy of His calling, by reflecting His holiness, by living as best we are able in accordance with his principles. In Christ this is not an onerous burden or an arduous ritual, but a life-enhancing joy.

As Christmas approaches, the reading of the book of Leviticus reminds us of why God sent His Son into this world. During this Christmas season, maybe we can honour God by adopting some of the principles. Can we :
 Honour God and serve Him this Christmas?
Take time out for prayer and worship?
Offer something to the poor?
Extend hospitality to a stranger?
Cancel a debt?
Create something with our hands for someone?

Reading the book may provide other ideas.

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