Leviticus

Appointed Offerings (1-7)

    Priestly Holiness - Consecration/Ordination (8-10)

        Congregational Holiness - Mostly External (11-15)

                                Day of Atonement (16)

        Congregational Holiness - Mostly Internal (17-20)

    Priestly Holiness - Continuing Holiness (21-22)

Appointed Times (23-25)

Conclusion:  Rewards and Punishments (26), Vows (27)

September 22 - Introduction to Leviticus

The book of Leviticus gets its name from Levi and the Levite tribe descended from him.  Levi was one of the twelve sons of Jacob and his mother was Leah.  Jacob had been tricked into marrying Leah before being able to marry his true love, Rachel.  Leah bore Jacob’s first two sons, but she still did not feel loved by Jacob.  She was confident that she would finally be “joined” to her husband after bearing him a third son, so she named him “Levi,” which means “joined” in Hebrew. 

Levi’s name proved to be appropriate because God gave the Levites a unique role of priesthood in the nation of Israel.  Not only did the priests “join” or unite the people to God, they also “joined” or united the people to each other.  Unlike all of the other tribes of Israel, they were not given their own land or territory, but instead they were given cities and land among each of the tribes.  Living in the midst of the tribes, and being the worship leaders of the tribes, they joined the twelve tribes of Israel together around their common worship of God.  They were, in a sense, the glue that held or joined Israel together.

Accordingly, Leviticus continues to teach the church today about how we are to live as those joined to God and to one another.  Leviticus teaches us how to deal with our sin against God and against one another, as the prescriptions for the priests’ sacrificial offerings point us to the forgiveness we have and extend to one another in Christ.  The book also calls us to the purity, holiness, and worship that flows out of our union with Christ.    

 

Leviticus 1

The "burnt offering" is one of five offerings described in Leviticus 1-7, and one of four animal offerings.  Morning and evening, and even more frequently on holy days, the entire animal excepting the hide was offered to the Lord.  This offering does not seem to have been an offering for specific sins, but rather an offering for the sinful nature of humanity, which is deserving of God’s holy wrath.

We see the pursuing, plentiful, and perfect nature of God’s forgiveness in the burnt offering, and in the book of Leviticus as a whole.  We see God’s pursuit of Israel in the very first verse as God calls out to Moses and begins to set the terms of forgiveness and reconciliation.  The plentiful nature of God’s forgiveness may be seen in the repeated expressions of forgiveness throughout the book (e.g. 1:4, 4:20, 4:26, 4:31, 4:35, 5:10, 5:13, 5:16, 5:18, 6:7, 19:22).  This refrain makes it difficult to argue that the "God of the Old Testament” differs from the “God of the New Testament.”   As theologian Mark Futato says, “God provided an abundance of sacrifices to cover an abundance of sins committed by an abundance of people to provide an abundance of forgiveness!”  Finally, God’s perfect forgiveness may be seen in the quality of animal to be brought before him, one “without defect” (1:3) and washed of all impurities (1:9).  

At each burnt offering, guilt and wrath are transferred from the sinner to the pure animal, which becomes an atoning ransom when the sinner lays his hand on the animal (1:4).  Scholar Gordon Wenham argues that “lay” is a weak translation, and that “press” or “lean” would be more accurate (The Book of Leviticus, 61).  To be a believer in Christ is to lean, with all of our weight, on Christ.  He offered up his whole self on the cross and is the fulfillment of God’s pursuing, plentiful and perfect forgiveness (e.g. Mark 10:45, Hebrews 7:27). 

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • In the past, have you understood the book of Leviticus to be a testament to God’s compassion and mercy? 
     
  • Today, are you wholly leaning on Jesus’ pursuing, plentiful, and perfect forgiveness?  Are you trusting in other things to make you right with God or to make yourself pleasing and acceptable to him?  Do you doubt that God is willing to forgive you?  How does Leviticus 1 speak into these things and point you to Christ?

 

Leviticus 2

The grain offering, the only offering not involving an animal sacrifice, helps us to see that we are made for more than a transactional relationship with God, in which we simply exchange some form of cheap belief or ritual for forgiveness and then walk away.  After having one’s sin atoned for through the burnt offering, Israel experiences fellowship with God and worship through the grain offering.  They offer up their finest grain as tribute, an acknowledgement that all good gifts come from God and are under his authority.  The salt in the offering, which God emphatically demanded (2:13), symbolized God’s eternal covenant relationship with Israel (Numbers 18:19; II Chronicles 13:5).  As Gordon Wenham notes, “Greeks and Arabs are known to have eaten salt together when they concluded covenants . . . Salt was something that could not be destroyed by fire or time or any other means in antiquity” (The Book of Leviticus, 71).  The essence of this eternal covenant is repeated in Scripture:  “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”  Finally, oil and incense in the offering (2:2) likely symbolize joy and praise in the Spirit (see I Samuel 16:13; Isaiah 61:3).    Wenham points out that these elements were omitted from special grain offerings for solemn occasions, such as in Leviticus 5:11 and Numbers 5:11-15 (70).

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How have you treated your relationship with God as a transactional relationship in the past?  What does a "grain offering" look like in your life?  In Christ, we have complete forgiveness and immediate access to the presence of God.
     
  • Are you experiencing fellowship with God by offering back to him the best of what He has given you materially, vocationally, spiritually, recreationally, etc.?  Are you experiencing joy and praise in the Spirit of Jesus Christ?  If not, ask God to show you what may be standing in the way.

 

Leviticus 3

Unlike the burnt offering, the “fellowship” or “peace” offering is an optional offering, usually associated with an expression of thanksgiving or a vow to the Lord (see 7:11-18).  The fellowship offering is similar in form to the burnt offering (though it differs in some specifications), but the focus seems to be on fellowship with God rather than atonement.  Yes, there is still a sacrifice and the transfer of guilt to the sacrificial animal (3:2), for all fellowship with God requires the cleansing of human sin, but the worshipper enjoys a portion of the fellowship offering (7:15,18), whereas the burnt offering is completely consumed by fire.  

Gordon Wenham helps us to see the offerings' fulfillment in Christ:  “The last supper was more like the peace offering than a burnt offering in that the peace offering and the last supper were both meals, while the burnt offering never was.  Christ’s death on the cross is a closer parallel to the burnt offering.  His sharing of his body and blood with his disciples forms the closer the parallel to the peace offering . . . As in OT times the worshipper praised God, made vows, and brought his petitions to God at the peace offering, so the Christian should make the communion service an occasion at which he rededicates himself to God’s service and brings his prayers and praises to his Lord” (The Book of Leviticus, 82-83).  Wenham also points out that calls to offer our bodies as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) and to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15) probably find their origin in the fellowship offering.  This makes much sense, considering that the focus of the fellowship offering was not atonement.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Even though the fellowship offering was optional, it was not invented by man.  God set up the fellowship offering as a way for his people to respond to his goodness and mercy and to commune with him.  What does this tell you about God, and the nature of our relationship with him or his desires for our relationship with him?  
     
  • Is there a “fellowship offering,” rooted in your union with Christ and forgiveness in him, taking place in your life (Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:15-16)? 

 

Leviticus 4

While the burnt offering was sacrificed at least twice per day to make atonement or ransom for the sinful nature, the “sin offering” seemed to be more focused on purification from the pollution caused by specific sins.  Much could be and has been said about the nuances of these two offerings, but we will note two important and more obvious aspects of the “sin offering.”  First, the repeated phrase “when they are made aware of their sin” (or “when he is made aware of his sin” — 4:14,23,28) teaches us about the frequency of confession.  As soon as the believer became aware of sin, he or she was to immediately make an offering.  In the same way, we should not allow any known sin to “accumulate” and hinder our fellowship with God, but rather confess, receive and thank God for his perfect forgiveness through the cross of Christ, and ask God to once again fill us with His Spirit.  Second, God speaks of the possibility, or inevitability, of “the whole Israelite community” sinning against him (4:13).  In our individualistic society, most of us do not often think about sins committed by a large body of believers or people.  Yet this passage calls us to be aware of such sins and to take personal responsibility for such sins.  We are not to isolate ourselves, to assume the role of the critic, or to pretend that we that we free of any guilt or responsibility for corporate sins.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Is there any known sin in your life that you are not confessing due to guilt, stubbornness, or the deceit of sin’s promises?  If you are united to Christ by faith, your sin has been washed away and you are a child of God.  Therefore, there is no doubt that fellowship with God will be restored when you bring your sin into the light.
     
  • Are you connected to a community of believers?  Do you neglect commitment to a local expression of the body of Christ because of imperfections and faults?  If you are connected, how do you relate to this body?  Are you a critic, a detached member, or a devoted member?  How can you best pray for and confess on behalf of this body?  Do you think that God calls us to confess the systemic and/or societal sins in our culture?  


Leviticus 5:1-13

The family of God is a family that crosses all socioeconomic lines.  We see the beauty of God’s diverse family in the various sacrifices that may be offered, as the instructions for “sin offerings” continue from the previous chapter.  If an offender cannot afford a lamb or goat, he is to bring two doves or pigeons.  If an offender cannot even afford two birds, he is to bring “a tenth of an ephah” (about two quarts) of fine flour (5:5-7,11).  Each one comes to the same altar and receives the same forgiveness.  Note that it seems Jesus’ family could only afford two birds for their purification offering after his birth (Luke 2:22-24; cf. Leviticus 12:8).  He truly became poor that we might become rich through his poverty.  

Accordingly, we are called to look out for our brother and sister and neighbor, regardless of social status.  We are not to turn a blind eye to injustice, no matter the inconvenience or social pressure to keep quiet.  Leviticus 5:1 one teaches us that failure to speak up and to speak truth about things we have seen or heard, a sin of omission, brings the same guilt as other sins.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Jesus crossed the greatest socioeconomic lines imaginable when we came from heaven to earth.  How have you seen the gospel cross socioeconomic lines in your own experience and Christian community? Are you currently experiencing Christian friendship and community across socioeconomic lines?  What might be the next step in your life in building bridges across these lines?
     
  • Do you sense that your eyes are open to injustices?  Ask the Lord to give you a humble, discerning heart that is willing to enter into the messiness and hostility of injustice, and to humbly seek and speak truth and justice.  

 

Leviticus 5:14-6:7

Some believers emphasize the effects of sin on our relationship with God.  Others emphasize the effects of sin on our relationship with others.  God cares deeply about both.  When we sin against others and bring harm to them, it is not enough to confess our sins to God and move on.  God calls us confess to our neighbor and make reparation* for the harm done (6:4-5; cf. Matthew 5:23-24).  On the other hand, while many (or most) of ours sins against God are also sins against neighbor, all of our sins against our neighbor are sins against God.  It is not enough to confess these sins to our neighbor, we must also confess and receive God’s forgiveness in Christ (6:6-7), for every time we harm our neighbor, we are harming God’s image and likeness as well as defacing the image of God in ourselves.  

The uniqueness of this fifth and final offering, often referred to as a “guilt offering,” seems to lie in the idea of making reparation for the offense committed.  Jesus has not only borne the punishment for our sin, He has also made reparations that we could never make through his lavish love toward our neighbors and his perfect obedience to God's law.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Are you more likely to consider sin an offense to your neighbor or an offense to God?  Perhaps it is different depending on the type of offense.  As you ask the Lord to search your heart, are there any reparations that need to made with others?  Are there sins against others that you need to bring to Jesus?  

 

Leviticus 6:8-7:38

The first five chapters provided valuable information on the offerings for both priests and laymen, while today's passage focuses almost exclusively on the role of the priest in the five different offerings.  We find an exception in the description of the fellowship offering, the only offering in which laymen share in the meal (7:11-21).   This meal reminds us of God’s desire to commune with all of his people, but it also reminds us of God’s absolute purity and unwillingness to commune with sin.  Anyone who was ceremonially unclean was forbidden from sharing the fellowship offering meal, and those who ate the meal while unclean were to be “cut off” from God’s people  (7:20-21).  The ceremonial cleanliness laws in the Old Testament (e.g. Leviticus 11-15) are no longer in effect since Jesus has provided permanent cleansing, but they continue to teach us about God’s holiness.  Only those who had been cleansed through a sacrificial offering were able to eat the fellowship meal.  For those united to Christ by faith, it is only through the permanent cleansing from sin in Christ that we are able to commune with God.  Therefore, we should never casually stumble into fellowship with God carrying known sin that we have not confessed at the foot of the cross.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Take time to reflect on God’s absolute perfection — his perfect love and faithfulness and truthfulness, freedom from all corruption.  Take time to consider the depths and cost of his mercy in Christ, which makes a way for sinful, corrupted people like us to dwell with him.  
     
  • Do you feel that you have been taking sin and its affects on our communion with God seriously, or have you been casual about sin?  Pray for a deeper hatred of sin and continual awareness of God’s rich mercy to us.

 

Leviticus 8-9

Leadership lessons lodged in Leviticus lead us to “lead with a limp.”  Before Aaron and sons are able to lead the people to God, they must first acknowledge their own sinfulness and need for a Savior.  They must publicly reveal their own “limp” through sacrificial offerings and purification for their own sin (8:14,18,22-24,30,33-36;9:7).  By doing so, attention is directed away from Aaron and his sons to the sacrifice for sin, just as their clothing (8:7-9) drew attention away from their own personalities to the priestly office itself.  For Christians who heed the noble calling to lead in various ways in God’s church, we too are called to this countercultural leadership style.  By leading from a place of weakness, publicly admitting our own sinfulness and need for a Savior, we enable people to see through us to Christ, sacrificed for us.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • As you seek to point people to Christ, are you currently allowing them to see your own desperate need for Christ, or might you be blocking others’ view of Christ by pointing them to yourself?  When people see the good things that Jesus has done in your life, would they be able to see this as the merciful, transforming work of Christ, or would they be more likely to lift you up on a pedestal?  

 

Leviticus 10

"Fire came out from the presence of the LORD.”  We see this phrase at the end of chapter 9 (verses 23-24).  It is a holy moment, full of reverence and awe at the glory of God, but it is a joyful occasion.  The consuming fire shows that God accepts the people’s sacrifice, presented by Moses and Aaron, and the glory of God blesses the people.

Nadab and Abihu, however, come to God on their own terms.  Again, “fire came out from the presence of LORD” (10:2), but this time the glory of God consumes the people.  In their sinful state, Nadab and Abihu cannot stand in the presence of the Holy One without the cover of an acceptable sacrifice.

The contrast between the end of chapter 9 and the beginning of chapter 10 provides one of the clearest pictures in all of Scripture of our inability to stand before a holy God on our own terms.  Only in the name of Jesus, who is the fulfillment of "the burnt offering" (9:24), may we dwell and fall on our faces in joyful worship in the presence of God.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Are you approaching God on any other terms than the finished work of Jesus on your behalf?  
     
  • Do you realize, today, that you may approach "the throne of grace with confidence” because you have a perfect high priest who offered up his own blood for you (Hebrews 4:14-16)?

 

Leviticus 11

“Be holy, because I am holy.”  In case we did not catch it in 11:44, it is repeated in 11:45.  To be holy is to be “set apart.”  God is holy in ways that we will never be holy.  Though He is intimately involved in creation, He is distinct and set part from all that He has made and all of his creatures.  He is infinitely greater than all that He has made.  Yet, as his image and likeness, humans are called to reflect his infinite holiness in finite ways.  Like God, we are to be set apart from all that is ungodly, from everything that leads to death.  As those loved by God, our high calling is to be imitators of God, set apart for him (Ephesians 5:1-2; 1 Peter 1:15-16).

The cleanliness laws served as a temporary tutor until the coming of Christ, teaching the Israelites to avoid evil through tangible signs and symbols (see Mark 7).  Various explanations have been given for the distinctions between “clean" and “unclean" foods.  They may have been arbitrary, hygienic, cultic (i.e. avoidance of animals used in pagan religions), or “symbolic."  Under the symbolic view, Gordon Wenham explains that “clean” animals exemplified the normal means of locomotion for land and water animals.  This is why the type of hooves, and fins and scales, are specified.  Birds of prey, eaters of decaying flesh, are then distinguished from other “clean” birds.  He shows several exceptions and holes in the hygienic and cultic views, and believes that the symbolic view summarized above, and espoused by Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger, is the most comprehensive and faithful to “the distinctions emphasized in Leviticus itself” (169ff.).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How do the precise details of the food laws tutor you in regard to God’s seriousness about holiness?  How does God’s desire for your holiness reveal his love for you?
     
  • In what areas of your life do you need set yourself apart from impurity?  As those in Christ, we have been made holy once and for all through our union with him, we are being made holy by Christ (“becoming who we are”), and we will finally be made holy on the last day!

 

Leviticus 12

There is no need to add to Wenham's masterful summary of the significance of the transition from the food/animal laws in Leviticus 11 to the discharge/skin/fungus laws of 12-15.  “Whereas the previous chapter dealt with causes of pollution that are external to man, these chapters deal with internal sources of pollution; they arise from the constitution of man, not from his environment.  Insofar as man can pollute himself through his own bodily functions as well as through his contact with animals, these uncleanness laws reflect the fact that Israel’s status as a holy nation faces challenges inside and outside.  Sin is not merely a matter of environment but of individual failure” (186).  

As with the food laws, the precise symbolism of the discharge laws is a matter of much debate.  Again, Wenham defers to Mary Douglas in her book Purity and Danger.  “For Douglas, a bleeding or discharging body lacks wholeness and is therefore unclean.  Loss of blood can lead to death, the antithesis of normal healthy life.  Anyone losing blood is at least in danger of becoming less than perfect and therefore unclean . . . Holiness in Leviticus is symbolized by wholeness” (188, 203).

Of course, Jesus entered (and continues to enter) into our sinful environment and our sinful hearts in order to bring both holiness and wholeness, of which the Old Testament laws were only a shadow.  Just as He healed the outcast woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and lepers whose skin disease excluded them from fellowship in the covenant community, He enters into our uncleanness to make us clean.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • In what ways have you or do you seek to diminish personal failure and responsibility by assigning blame to the environment or culture around you?  In what ways are you particularly tempted by the sins of the culture (misordered priorities, speech/rhetoric, sexuality, ethics, etc.)?  How has Jesus overcome and how is Jesus overcoming these things?
     
  • In what ways has Jesus called you, or might Jesus be calling you, to enter into dark places in order to bring his forgiveness, power, and hope?

 

Leviticus 13-15

Has your family ever had to tear out a wall in your home?  It’s not fun.  We recently had to go through the costly and messy process of tearing out a portion of a wall in order to check for termite damage.  Thankfully, we caught them before the “eastern subterranean termites” did any significant damage.  

Leviticus 14:40 instructs us to tear out the walls of our home when necessary, and it teaches us how to deal with sin in our lives.  Really, all of Leviticus 14:33-45 provides a tutorial on dealing with sin.  First, we are called to closely examine our lives, often with the help of others (14:33-39).  We are to examine below the surface to find out why we do the things that we do.  Second, we are called to take drastic measures to eliminate the sin in our lives, as drastic and costly and painful as tearing out the walls of our home (14:40-41).  Third, we are called to replace our deceitful desires and actions with godly, life-giving desires and actions (14:42).  We cannot overcome evil with neutrality, but only with good (Romans 12:21)!   Finally, we recognize our new identity in Christ, who was “torn down” for our sin, that we might be rebuilt in him (14:45).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Examination:  are you looking beneath the surface to where your words and actions and concerns are coming from?  Do you have a trusted friend who is helping you?
     
  • Elimination:  where do you need to take drastic measures in order to repent of sin?  Perhaps it’s a major priority/schedule shift, getting rid of something, intentional pursuit of a broken relationship.  Are there any sins you continue to flirt with because elimination seems costly, inconvenient, or drastic?  
     
  • Replacement:  what does it look like to replace evil with good in your life?  How can the love of God fulfill the longings that we seek to fulfill in other places?
     
  • Recognition of our New Identity:  are you finding your significance and identity in your performance, or in the perfection and love of Jesus?

 

Leviticus 16

The Day of Atonement reminds us that we were made to be with God.  It also reminds that our sin creates an enormous barrier between us and God.  In God’s words, the Day of Atonement was provided to atone for “the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites” (16:16,19,21), so that He may continue to dwell with his people in “the Most Holy Place behind the curtain . . . over the atonement cover” on the ark (16:2).  If Aaron were to enter the Most Holy Place “whenever he chooses,” he would die for his sin.  But on this day, once per year,  if Aaron obeys God’s commands and offers up the right sacrifices, he may enter behind the curtain and sprinkle the sacrificial blood (16:14ff.).  These sacrifices provided an annual cleansing so that “you will be clean from all your sins" (16:30).  The Day is somewhat akin to the daily burnt offering in the sense that it is not an offering for specific sins (in fact, the burnt offering is part of the ceremony), but it is a much more thorough cleansing of the entire tabernacle, including the Most Holy Place.  

We cannot go into all of the elaborate details, but note a couple of things.  Wenham points out the priest’s dress on this day was not his normal priestly attire, but rather was closer to that of a servant (16:4).  “Among his fellow men, his dignity as the great mediator between God and man is unsurpassed, and his splendid clothes draw attention to the glory of his office.  But in the presence of God . . . he becomes simply the servant of the King of kings, whose true status is portrayed in the simplicity of his dress” (230).  Jesus is the only high priest fit to wear such splendid clothes in the immediate presence of the Lord, yet He was willing to put on servant’s clothes and take our sins outside of the city gates to be crucified (Hebrews 13:11-12), just as the goat carried "on itself all [Israel’s] sins to a solitary place (16:21-22).  The Day of Atonement only finds its efficacy in that it points to the true sacrifice and priest, who enables us to “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-22).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him. (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1)

 

Leviticus 17

There were no blood drives in ancient Israel, but they knew the power of blood.  To lose blood is to lose life, for life is in the blood.  For this reason, blood plays an (uncomfortably) central role in Israel’s sacrifices, the giving of one life as a ransom for another life in order to provide forgiveness (17:11) Therefore, Israel was to honor the blood of animals by not eating it (17:10-14), and by not shedding it in the wilderness or outside of the tabernacle (17:1-9).  

The New Testament affirms the necessity of shed blood for the forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).  Jesus, however, did not offer his lifeblood for us in a “man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:23-24).  Consider the power of those words.  Jesus appeared in God’s immediate presence for us, having shed his blood for the death brought about by our sin, that we might enter God’s presence.  “Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that his own . . . But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:25-26).

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Now that Jesus has come as the fulfillment of all of the animal sacrifices, the ceremonial laws regarding animal blood are no longer in effect.  But what does it look like for you to honor the blood of Christ, shed for us?  Are you seeking to add any good works or religious performance to Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, or do you believe, today, that his sacrifice is sufficient to do away with the guilt of your sin?  What does it look like for you to die to yourself in order to love God and to love others, today, as He died in love for us?    

 

Leviticus 18

Leviticus 18-19 feel much different than anything we have read so far in Leviticus.  Whereas almost everything in the first 17 chapters pertains directly to Israel's sacrificial system and purity laws, most of the commands in 18-19 reveal the morals by which the Israelites were to live.  One way to think about this is to make the distinction, which Jesus made, between the external and the internal (Mark 7:17-23).  Things outside of the body, such as food, priestly attire, skin infections, household mold, and even animal sacrifices, are unable to make a person spiritually “clean” or “unclean.”  Such things were temporary, God-given signs and symbols pointing to our need for the perfect forgiveness and holiness found in the Messiah, who cleanses our hearts.*   But things like sexual morality, theft, envy, and slander — these come from within.  

It is interesting that the moral code of Leviticus 18-19 begins with the family and God’s intentions for sexual relations.  As the Creator of sex, God lays out the boundary lines for the godly enjoyment of his invention.  In sum, He forbids Israel from sexual relations within the first or second degree of family relations, within the same sex (God adds the word “detestable” or “abominable"), and with animals (God adds the word “perversion” or “confusion”).  Other passages in Scripture reflect more deeply on the significance of sexuality between husband and wife as a reflection of the faithful union between God and his people (e.g. Genesis 2, Ephesians 5:25-33).  

* Insomuch as the symbols pointed to Christ, they provided forgiveness in Christ.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Are you trusting, today, that God loves you and has a good plan for relationships and sex?  Do you question God’s design as the Creator of sex, or are you allowing God to shape your understanding and approach to relationships and sex?  All of us are broken in every way, including sexually.  Where do you need to confess, receive the perfect forgiveness found in Christ, and ask him to make you holy?  

 

Leviticus 19

It feels like a whirlwind account of God’s laws.  The “external” laws pertaining to sacrifice and purity (e.g. 19:5-8,19,22,26-28) blend with the “internal” laws of worship and love and justice.  This is to be expected, as Israel was called to obey all of God’s laws, “external” and “internal,” from the same heart of faith and humble reverence.  They got in trouble when “external” obedience was separated from the heart of “internal” obedience (see Isaiah 1:11-19; Amos 5:21-24).  

But is there any order or structure, rhyme or reason to this chapter?  Gordon Wenham notes that the “diversity of material in this chapter reflects the differentiation of life,” but the Ten Commandments provide some sense of structure, as all ten are either directly quoted or alluded to in the chapter (264).  Of particular note (and length) are God's expositions (19:1) on the commands regarding love of neighbor, which reveal how to “love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18) from the heart.  We see that the command “do not steal” includes generosity toward the poor (19:9-10) and considerate treatment of employees (19:13).  The command “do not murder” includes prohibitions against anything that might endanger another’s life (19:16b), “hatred in your heart” (19:17), and the mistreatment of foreigners (19:33-34).   The command “do not bear false witness,” or “do not lie,” includes avoidance of partiality to the poor or rich in justice (19:15), refraining from any secret slander (19:16a), and complete integrity in business dealings (19:35-26).  Jesus certainly reveals the heart behind the Ten Commandments in greater depth (e.g. Matthew 5:21ff.), but Leviticus 19 shows us that the motives of the heart have always been God’s central concern.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How does this chapter help you to see the vast scope and goodness of the Ten Commandments?  Think through the commands.  In what ways are you tempted to reduce the scope of the Ten Commandments to fit a human standard of morality as opposed to the moral of love?  If we do not feel a deep need for the forgiveness and help of Jesus each day, we are likely reducing the scope of the commandments significantly!

 

Leviticus 20

No new laws are given in this chapter, but punishments for breaking God’s laws are made known.  All sin — private and public -- is taken seriously and judged because God is King and Judge of this people (20:1).  As God repeatedly reminds Israel in this passage, He called them to be holy and made them holy, set apart for him and for his glory (20:7-8,24,26).  Therefore, they were to “purge the evil” from their midst (Deuteronomy 17:7).*

While only the most serious sins, in God’s eyes, were punishable by death through Israel’s system of justice, the passage is a stark reminder that sin against God and neighbor is deserving of death.  Sins of the heart, which did not turn into action, were obviously not judged through human courts, but God still sees (Hebrews 4:13).  We are all forever indebted to Christ, who stood in our place to take the death penalty for our sin (Romans 3:19-26; 14:8).  

The punishments were only to be carried out after careful investigation and upon the testimony of multiple witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15ff.).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Israel was uniquely called by God as a nation under his Kingship.  We are not called to replicate a theocratic system of justice, but we still have a lot to learn from this chapter.  What does this passage teach you about the seriousness of sin and God’s perspective on it?  Remember that God’s disdain for sin always flows from his love of what is good and what leads to fullness of life for his creatures.  
     
  • How does this passage help us to see the necessity of Christ’s death for us, if we are to live with God?

 

Leviticus 21-22

God loves the family.  In the midst of two chapters describing the requisite purity of priest (21:1-22:16) and sacrifice (22:17-33), both of which are perfectly fulfilled in Christ (Hebrews 7:26-27), we see the tender heart of God toward families.*  As seriously as God took ritual purity for priests, He allowed priests to become “unclean” by caring and mourning for a close relative who has just died (21:1-3; cf. Numbers 19:11ff.)  Wenham points out that even though the wife is not mentioned among the examples of close relatives, "the law simply takes it for granted that he would defile himself for her . . . since she is ‘one flesh’ with him” (290).  This exception regarding contact with a deceased relative also reinforces the distinction between external or symbolic holiness and internal purity; God allowed an exception on external cleanness, but God would never grant an exception for actual sin.  

Yet there was one exception to the exception!  The high priest, the one who entered the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement, was never allowed to defile himself by contact with the dead (21:10-12).  Again, this rule points us to the need for an absolutely pure high priest and Savior.  Only one without sin, who did not deserve death, could take the place of sinners.

We cannot say that this is the central theme of these two chapters, but the major themes of purity and sacrifice have been discussed extensively in the previous Leviticus devotionals.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • How should God’s heart for families impact our heart for our families and our respect for the institution of the family?  How have you failed to care for and love your family?  Take to confess, to thank Jesus for taking our sin and to receive his forgiveness, and to ask him to help you love your family.

 

Leviticus 23

Now that we are more familiar with the content of Leviticus, it is helpful to see the big picture.  The following outline shows how the book centers on the Day of Atonement, the one day each year when the entire tabernacle was cleansed and the high priest entered the inner room, the Most Holy Place, where God made his presence known.  

Appointed Offerings (1-7)

     Priestly Holiness - Consecration/Ordination (8-10)

           Congregational Holiness - Mostly External (11-15)

                                                                   Day of Atonement (16)

           Congregational Holiness - Mostly Internal (17-20)

    Priestly Holiness - Continuing Holiness (21-22)

Appointed Times (23-25)

Conclusion:  Rewards and Punishments (26), Vows (27)

Today’s reading begins the section on “appointed times.”  Three festivals occurred in the spring (Passover, Unleavened Bread/Firstfruits, Pentecost or Feast of Weeks) and three in the fall, near the end of the harvest (Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles or Booths).  In total, these festivals contained seven special days of rest.  Gordon Wenham argues that these annual festivals, along with the sabbatical years introduced in chapter 25, underscore the importance of sabbath [23:3].  "Through sheer familiarity the sabbath could be taken for granted.  But these festivals and sabbatical years constituted major interruptions to daily living and introduced an element of variety into the rhythm of life” (301).  In the New Testament, the Passover is transformed into the Lord’s Supper/Good Friday, Firstfruits is transformed into Easter - the firstfruits of Resurrection, and Pentecost is transformed into the outpouring of the Spirit (see Acts 2:1-13 devotional).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • In case we haven’t noticed yet, God is really serious about his people imitating his pattern of work and rest (also see the repetition in recent reading, Leviticus 19:3,30).  The tangible act of rest not only restores us physically and spiritually, it demonstrates our trust that God really is in control of our lives and that we can do nothing apart from him.  Are you working when you need to work, and are you resting from your work?  Are you resting in Christ, who laid down his life, conquered death, and poured out His Spirit to bring us back into life with God?
     

Leviticus 24:1-9

Are you tending your lamp continually?  Olive oil kept the golden lampstand of the tabernacle burning continually (24:2).  We have already seen that the lampstand is a sign of God’s light — the physical and spiritual light that God brings into the world, and oil is a sign of God’s Spirit.  (For this reason, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with oil upon entering their offices — see Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18).  As temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16), Christians are called to tend our lamps continually by yielding to the Spirit of God in regular confession, repentance, and reliance.  We can only burn brightly when fueled by the oil of the Spirit.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Practically speaking, what does it look like for you to "tend your lamp continually” throughout morning, afternoon, and evening?

 

Leviticus 24:10-23

How are we to understand the retribution principle of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth”?  Gordon Wenham notes that this “fundamental principle of biblical and Near Eastern law, namely, that punishment must be proportionate to the offense,” was not literally applied in most cases, with the exception of “life for life” in the case of premeditated murder.  Nor was Jesus likely rejecting this “lex talionis” principle of law when he commented on it in Matthew 5:38-42.  “It is unlikely that our Lord’s remarks were intended to encourage judges to let offenders off scot-free.  The NT recognizes that human judges must mete out punishments appropriate to the offense (Acts 25:11; Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:14,20) . . . What seems more probable is that Jesus is attacking those who turn this legal principle into a maxim for personal conduct.  Christ’s followers are not to live on a tit-for-tat basis” (312-313).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • Are you keeping score in any relationships right now or otherwise operating on a tit-for-tat basis?  How has God shattered this system, in regard to your relationship with Him, through the cross and resurrection?  

 

Leviticus 25

Even the land needs a sabbath!  The Sabbath Year (25:1-7) is a serious exercise of faith in God’s provision, but it is more than that.  This year of rest provides relief for “the hired worker and temporary resident,” who are given equal access to what the land produces.  

Relief and restoration for the poor are also the primary objectives of the Year of Jubilee, a super-sabbatical every 49 (7x7) years, in which land is returned to families who have been forced to sell and servants are released to go back to their original land.  “While the sabbatical year alleviated the plight of the poor, every seventh sabbatical year an attempt was made to give them a new start” (Wenham, 319).  The key principle seems to be, “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear the LORD your God” (e.g. 25:14,17).  We see that love of God and neighbor could not be more closely intertwined.  It is a given that this principle applies to foreigners as well as to Israelites (25:35-38; 25:47ff.).

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus reveals that He is the servant who proclaims “release to the captives and … the year of the Lord’s favor,” in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 61:1ff.).  The word used for “release” in Isaiah 61 is the same as that used in Leviticus 25:10, and it is likely that “the year of the Lord’s favor” is at least partially inspired by the Year of Jubilee (Wenham, 324).  We cannot be sure that the nation of Israel ever actually celebrated the Year of Jubilee, but Jesus certainly brings the year of the Lord’s favor, release for the captives.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • What does it mean for you to participate in the “Year of Jubilee” that Jesus has brought?  How should the massive emphasis on the restoration of the poor impact our lives?

 

Leviticus 26

Life with God (26:1-3) entails fullness of life in every way — material blessing (26:5,10), relational blessing (26:6), vocational blessing (26:7-9), and spiritual blessing (26:11-12).  Life apart from God entails loss of life in every way.  Sometimes the loss is realized slowly and sometimes swiftly, but when we separate ourselves from the Giver of every good gift, there is no other life to be had.  In the case of Israel, a consolidated nation and spiritual kingdom in covenant with God, the realization of blessing or loss for obedience or disobedience is fairly clearcut.  So long as Israel is generally faithful, they are blessed (e.g. I Kings 3-4).  When they begin to go astray, their life as a nation begins to go downhill (e.g. 1 Kings 11).  Nevertheless, God promises to forgive them when they humble themselves and repent (26:40-45).

After the coming of Jesus and the influx of other nations into the church, the link between God’s spiritual kingdom and the physical nation of Israel is broken (e.g. John 4:21,18:36; Acts 15:12-18; Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 2:11-22).  Of course, blessing for obedience remains (e.g. Matthew 6:33) and punishment for disobedience remains (e.g. I Corinthians 11:30), but blessing and punishment on a large scale will not be clear, given that God’s people are scattered throughout the nations.  On a smaller scale, there has never been a precise correlation between faithfulness and blessing, this side of final glory (e.g. II Timothy 3:12; Psalm 49; Job).  Yes, faithfulness often results in blessing even in a fallen world, but it can also bring danger, persecution, and death.  Only when Christ returns will God’s promises of blessing and punishment be fully realized, and only in Christ may we be counted as faithful, made faithful, and receive blessing (Romans 3:19-24).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • This day, where will you find your life?  Will you find life in the goodness of God’s ways and in the love and power of Christ, or somewhere else?  

 

Leviticus 27

Promises of blessing for obedience and punishment for disobedience (Leviticus 26) would seem like a fitting way to end the book of Leviticus.  Why this seemingly random, additional chapter on vows to the Lord?  Gordon Wenham offers two complementary reasons for the placement of this chapter at the end of the book.  In chapter 26, God makes vows to Israel concerning his response to their obedience or lack thereof, and now He provides parameters for their vows to him.  In addition, vows are frequently made when people are in dire situations (e.g. Jacob - Genesis 28:20ff.; Jonah 2:10), and the punishments of chapter 26 describe a number of dire situations.  Since humans are apt to renege on their vows once a situation has improved, especially those that may have been made rashly, chapter 27 provides a safeguard against the breaking of vows.  If an Israelite had dedicated something to God for the use of the sanctuary and priests, whether it be an “unclean” animal (27:11-13) or a house (27:14-15) or land (27:19-20), the possession could be bought back at a 20% penalty.  However, ceremonially “clean” animals that had been dedicated to the Lord for a future offering could not be substituted.  If a person tried to make such a substitute using a lesser animal, both animals must be set apart for the Lord (27:9-10).  

The first part of the chapter covers the dedication of persons.  If an Israelite made a vow to dedicate oneself to God’s service, the person could only be freed from the vow through a significant offering, equivalent to the price that the person would fetch in the market for manual labor.  For this reason, the offering for women was 50-67% of the offering for men.  “That children are included in this table suggests that a man might vow his family as well as his own person to God” (337-342).   

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

  • While vows went above and beyond required offerings, they remind that all that we have and are belong to God.  When we make commitments to the Lord regarding our possessions or service, we are to let our “‘Yes' be ‘Yes’” (Matthew 5:33-37).  Are there commitments you have made to the Lord that need to be revisited?  When was the last time you surveyed your life to consider the ways in which God may be calling you to dedicate your gifts to his service?
     
  • Jesus willingly vowed to enter our world as a servant, offering his whole life to take the death our sins deserve.  He was faithful to fulfill his vow and the Father was faithful to give him his reward — a redeemed and resurrected people (John 17:4-5; Isaiah 53:12; Philippians 2:5-11).  What difference does it make when we see our own vows in light of Jesus’ vow?