So I was in a meeting the other day and I heard someone say (not for the first time!) that the book of Leviticus is boring! If you don’t know, the book of Leviticus is the third book of the Bible and it has a bit of a reputation for being the most dull book in the Bible. So when I heard this again I said, ‘Actually the book of Leviticus is awesome, I only wish we had time right now for me to explain why!” So please, my wonderful St. Anne’s Family, stick with me for a second as I try to convince you that Leviticus really is awesome!
Leviticus begins with extensive (ok, I’ll be honest – boring) instructions on how to offer 5 different sacrifices — the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace-offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. Burnt, sin, guilt — is that a party waiting to happen or what?
To add to that, there’s verse after verse of instructions on what to do with the fat, the loins, the long lob of the liver,and the blood of the animal you’re offering. I mean there’s lots and lots of blood.
But … the book actually begins:
“The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When you bring an offering to the LORD …” (Leviticus 1:1-2a)
The name LORD is the name of God, the God who had just rescued his people from Egypt. And you can bring an offering to this LORD. The word ‘offering’ is the Hebrew word ‘corban’ and it means ‘to draw near’. Draw near!!
Everyone at this time, everyone, knew that the gods were distant, detached, demanding and constantly needed to be kept on side and appeased. You could never know where you stood with these gods.
But the LORD, well you can draw near to this God! Now this was a revolutionary new idea. We’re only one verse into the book and we’re come across a revolutionary idea in the history of humanity. You can draw near to God. You can relate to this God.
Which is actually the point. For example, one of the offerings was called ‘the peace offering’. You present the offering and then (the instructions in Leviticus 7 are clear) you must eat the offering on the same day. In other words, you sit and have a meal with God to celebrate the peace between you! You can be in relationship with the LORD.
You see, you know where you stand with this God. At the time this was revolutionary. What if you suddenly realise that you did something wrong several days ago — how do you make things right? There was an offering for that. What if you did something unintentional that ended up harming someone but you only just now found out about it? There was an offering for that. What if you had a deep sense of anxiety in your conscience from something you felt guilty about? There was an app, I mean, an offering for that as well. (I hope someone got that joke!).
So why all the endless details?
The belief of that era was that the gods could smite you at any moment for an improper gesture or a sacrifice offered carelessly. That’s how people saw the gods. One mistake and you’re done. The details would have had a significant calming effect, reassuring you that you’re doing it correctly and not bringing unnecessary wrath on yourself.
Why all the repetition that makes it so hard to read through the book without dozing off?
Because the culture was primarily oral at this point. The repetition made it easier to memorize and then hand down to the next generation.
But why didn’t they just get rid of the sacrificial system all together?
Wouldn’t that be amazing! If someone announced that the final sacrifice has been offered and there’s no more need to do such things. If someone came along and declared that the temple is going to be torn down. If someone proclaimed ‘It is finished!’
BUT … someone has!!!
This month we have Easter, and at Easter we celebrate that someone did come along and declare that very thing. That the final, the ultimate sacrifice had been offered, and that it was all finished. We can all know exactly where we stand with God and we can all be in relationship with him. This is the radical, awesome message of Leviticus and it is brought to it’s climax in Jesus.
Now come on … how awesome is that!