Lessons From Leviticus

I don’t know how you feel about the book of Leviticus.

It has a reputation for being a list of tedious rules and regulations and for derailing people’s well-intentioned attempts to read through the whole Bible. It’s certainly not the easiest part of Scripture.

However, it is part of God’s Word and it is included there for a reason. Although I had read through Leviticus before, I had never really studied it, so at the start of this year, I decided it was finally time to get into it, to find out what it was saying, and to look at its relevance for our lives today.

And I discovered that Leviticus has a lot to say and is far more relevant than many people realise. I think getting to grips with it can deepen our understanding of many New Testament passages and of what Jesus did for us. In this post I’ll share a few highlights, a few “lessons from Leviticus,” but I’d encourage you to read it for yourself. I used this plan from She Reads Truth, which takes you through Leviticus over three weeks, linking it with passages elsewhere in Scripture and providing some helpful explanations and reflections.

Here are some of my key takeaways:

Sacrifices and Offerings:

It’s a big deal for sinful people to come to a holy God. The rules in Leviticus remind us not to take it for granted. The offerings and sacrifices provided a temporary way for the Israelites to approach God but it was brutal and there was a lot of blood involved. Now, through Jesus, we can enter God’s presence freely, but we should appreciate what it took to make that possible.

There are lots of regulations regarding sacrifices for those who sin unintentionally – for example, they unknowingly touch something unclean or make a foolish vow which they later realise they are unable to keep. It strikes me how stressful it must have been to suddenly realise you had sinned and that you had to go and make a sacrifice to make things right. I’m grateful that if we realise we have sinned unintentionally, we can go straight to God to be forgiven immediately. There is no need to make a sacrifice – we can simply go in the name of Jesus.

Skin Diseases and Discharges:

The rules about skin diseases are extremely severe. Over the last few years, we have got used to the concept of quarantine and the need to prevent infection from spreading, but this is on another level. The “unclean” person had to tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed; as they walked about they had to cover their mouth and call out, “Unclean, unclean!” Even once a person was finally declared clean by a priest, there was still a purification ceremony, a seven day wait and lots of washing and shaving to do before they could rejoin society.

Against this background, the story of Jesus touching the leper and making him clean (Luke 5:12-14) takes on a whole new significance. It would have been very countercultural for Jesus to touch him, and normally that would make Jesus unclean, but I love that this time the transfer goes the other way. This time the cleanness is transferred and the leper is made whole.

Similarly, the woman with bleeding who touches Jesus’ robe is healed and made clean. (Mark 5:24-34) As I mentioned in a previous post, knowing the rules laid out in Leviticus highlights the size of the risk she took in touching Jesus. It went against all the rules, but, again, his touch made her clean.

The Day of Atonement:

Hebrew literature commonly uses a structure known as a chiasm where the most important idea is found at the centre of the work with the sections before and after creating a mirror effect. The centre, and climax, of Leviticus (also the centre and climax of the entire Torah) is chapter 16 – the Day of Atonement. After making offerings for himself, Aaron, the high priest, had to take two goats. He had to slaughter one as an offering for the sin of the people and then carry its blood beyond the inner curtain to the Holy of Holies. He then had to lay his hand on the head of the other goat and confess the the sins of the people. This goat would then be driven into the wilderness, symbolically carrying away the people’s sins.

Of course this points ahead to Jesus, the Great High Priest, who would make the perfect sacrifice, dealing with sin forever, who would carry away our sins and allow the way into God’s presence to be open, forever, to all who would trust in him.

Rules and Regulations:

As I said, the perception most people have of Leviticus is that it contains a lot of rules – and it does – but I appreciated the sections that highlight the reason for these rules. “Do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life…If you obey my decrees and regulations, you will find life through them.” (Leviticus 18:3,5 NLT)

So often we think of rules as negative – that they are there to spoil our fun – but God encourages the Israelites that they will find life through following his commands. As his people, they (and we) are to be set apart and live lives that are different from those around us.

“You must be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2 NLT)

Festivals and Holy Days:

There are various festivals and holy days described in Leviticus, which the Israelites are called to celebrate each year. Some are to celebrate God’s good gifts, such as the Harvest; others are to remember God’s rescue, such as the Passover and the Festival of Shelters. These festivals are to celebrated from generation to generation, highlighting how important it is for God’s people to share who he is and all he has done with the next generation. The study I read also pointed out that the calendar of festivals teaches us that our time is not our own and draw us back to remember that God is in charge.

I think that is particularly the case with the Year of Jubilee, which is like a reset that takes place every 50 years. The land has to rest as it does every seven years, but in the Year of Jubilee, any land that has been sold is returned to its original owners and anyone who has been sold as a slave is set free. It’s a recognition that the land and the people really belong to God and they are only temporarily in charge of it.

Overall the book of Leviticus highlights God’s holiness but also shows how he cared for sinful people so much that he wanted to make a way for us to enter his presence. A lot of what we find in Leviticus foreshadows Jesus’ work on our behalf and it reminds us what a privilege it is that we can enter God’s presence without rituals and offerings.

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus made a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a Great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”
(Hebrews 10:19-22 NLT)

What about you? I’d love to know what you think of Leviticus and any particular highlights or lessons you have drawn from it.

Linking with: Inspire Me Monday, Tell His StoryInstaEncouragementsLet’s Have CoffeeRecharge WednesdayTune In ThursdayGrace & Truth

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8 thoughts on “Lessons From Leviticus

  1. Lesley, I confess I sorta dread coming to Leviticus in my Bible reading plan, but I appreciate these insights about the importance of the seemingly tedious topics. It also makes me even more thankful for Christ’s sacrifice, once and for all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely not the easiest book but I agree, it definitely makes me so much more thankful for Jesus and that we don’t have to follow all those rules to approach God.

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  2. Lesley, I’ve always found certain OT books to be ponderous. I just want to fast forward to the ‘good stuff’ in the NT. Right now, I’m making my way through God’s Word and Leviticus is right around the corner. Your post was so timely, important, and necessary for me. Thank you for listening to His prompt to share what God’s been teaching you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Last year, our church read through Leviticus together. One man called it “the place where Bible reading plans go to die.” :-). It’s true many who start out to read the whole Bible flounder here. But I got so much more out of it this time than ever before. There are so many pictures of Christ in Leviticus. And its requirements and rituals bring so much to light in the NT, as you mentioned in the examples you gave. Leviticus will probably never be my favorite book, but it is a rich study.

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    1. That’s great that your church went through Leviticus together, Barbara! I’m sure that would have helped people who’d struggled with it on their own. There is a lot of richness in it.

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  4. Thank you for this, Lesley. I found it a fascinating reflection. It has taken me some time to learn that the rules of God are life-giving and that ‘the Lord disciplines those He loves.
    I think to remind ourselves that God is in charge and ownership of our time, possessions and our very breath is wisdom!
    I also felt a sadness that in the UK today, we are losing the importance of passing on and teaching God’s truth to the next generation. I feel sad that the Bible and prayers are no longer part of the education system or the institutions as a whole.
    May God have mercy on us and on our children.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Dawn! I’m glad you found this helpful. I agree, it is sad that God’s Word is not passed down the generations here now. So few parents and even grandparents, have the knowledge of it themselves to pass on. I’m grateful that in Scotland there are still some opportunities within the school curriculum. I don’t know if that’s the case elsewhere in the UK. It’s all done in a very educational way – learning about what Christians believe, as they also learn about other faiths – but at least there is the chance for them to find out something.

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