As one of the main aspects of our "90 days to a new you" program, my sister Meagan and I have been following a plan to read through the Bible in 90 days. For the past couple of weeks, we've been getting reacquainted with the familiar, and not-so-familiar, parts of the first few books of the Bible. (And we've been texting back and forth our discoveries and commentary: "Did you know Abraham got remarried after his first wife died?" "Christian pick-up line: I was reading the book of Numbers last night and I realized that I don't have yours." "Why wasn't that part of Exodus in the Prince of Egypt?" "Riddle for you: Who broke all 10 commandments at once? Moses!")
But when I read the Bible, I don't typically jump right to the book of Leviticus. This Old Testament law treatise has a reputation as being one of the most boring, hard-to-understand books in all of Scripture. Its 27 chapters are dedicated to a very detailed description of the laws the Israelite people were to follow: laws about burnt offerings and sin offerings and guilt offerings, laws about what was clean and unclean, laws about how the priests were to go about their duties. You might think I'd like this book because it's a compilation of laws, and I am, after all, a law student. But following that same logic, I'd also enjoy curling up on the couch with a cup of coffee and the Code of Federal Regulations. (Hint: I don't.)
But despite my hesitation, the reading plan put me in Leviticus this past week. So last Sunday afternoon, I dutifully settled down and started to read. And before I knew it, I was transported back into a different culture and time, a time before Christ. A time when God's people had to continually offer all kinds of sacrifices before the Lord to atone for their sins. A time when the blood of lambs and goats perpetually stained the altars and the stench of the offerings hung over the camp day and night, and when people had to make offerings even for unintentional or unknown sins.
What would it be like if we had lived in that day and time? Leviticus gives us a glimpse into just how burdensome, and even fearful and oppressive, the system of sacrifice could be. This is a dark and heavy book, and I think if it's read without a broader understanding of the big picture, it can engender a skewed understanding of the Word.
But I believe that one of the primary reasons that Leviticus was preserved in Scripture for us today was for us to see that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was intentionally imperfect, and meant primarily to point to what was to come. If it were a perfect system, then there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to come. But the blood of animals could never really cleanse and purify. And it could never truly remove the guilt of the people. It makes us realize that these people needed a real Redeemer and a truly spotless Lamb. Their sin was so great . . . my sin was so great. All the animals in the world couldn't really take it away.
Leviticus shows you the utter magnitude of human guilt, the fear, the true oppression of sin. And the sacrificial system, before Christ, would never be enough. More blood would always have to be shed. Human efforts were always going to be futile. Every evening and every morning, another animal would need to be offered. About halfway through the book, you start feeling the desperation of the people, a sense of futility, and a sense that this system wasn't perfect, and wasn't meant to be. You begin to sense that even though the cost of all of those animal sacrifices would have been very substantial, the true cost of sin was infinitely greater.
Would you have believed at that time that there could ever be a final sacrifice? What if someone told you that one day, the need to sacrifice would be no more? Jesus did what centuries of animal sacrifice couldn't ever do: he saved his people from their sins. It wasn't temporary. It was permanent. Jesus paid it all.
Oh, how I need Jesus. Oh how we all need Jesus so much. I was overwhelmed by my need and by his mercy. And I think that's kind of the point of this book.
Leviticus even includes some rather gruesome imagery of how the sacrificial animals were to be slaughtered, pointing to an ultimate and excruciating brokenness as the real Lamb gave up his life. It made me truly realize the magnitude of what Christ has done for us and how important what He did really was. And even echoes of Exodus and the original Passover celebration come in: "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." God has passed over us in his wrath on sin, because it was poured out on the one perfect Lamb who became the ultimate sacrifice. The one that could really take away guilt, genuinely bring forgiveness, and tear down the walls that separated man from God. Thank you for your mercy. Oh, God, thank you for sending Jesus. And it was finished, and the curtain in the temple was ripped in two. It was FINISHED. Leviticus is worth your time to read because it makes the work of Jesus stand out in bold relief. Even though it's not always explicit, this book points to Jesus almost more than any other Old Testament book. As it does here:
Leviticus 26:12: "I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people."