The God of Leviticus is a just God. What, exactly, do I mean by “just”? I mean He is a fair God. Able to be simultaneously compassionate and firm.
Most people cringe at the thought of dragging themselves through the boring, strange, outdated laws of Leviticus. I myself was uncertain.
But my trusty study bible suggested reading the book in conjunction with Psalms — studying both the sacrifice and ritual style of worship, and the singing and praise style we’re more familiar with nowadays. So I prepared to flick over as soon as Leviticus got too much for me. And then became so enwrapped in what Leviticus revealed, I read straight through.
I think it fortunate that my goal for reading through the bible is to discover more about who God is. Because that meant every law wasn’t some outdated tradition, some vague moral code; it was an insight into what is important to my God.
Equity And Equality
In setting the laws for Israel, God recognised the different circumstances people come from. And He allocated for those differences. He is a God who wants all to be able to come before Him.
First, I’d like to make a quick distinction between equity and equality. The Western 21st century world is all about equality, and everyone getting the same thing. Equity, however, is about giving people what they need — that means some people get more, and some get less. But it’s fair.
For The Poor And The Rich
From chapter 1, the just God gave the poor and wealthy alike a sacrificial way to be close to Him. For the general sacrifice (Burnt Offering, Ch 1) and the two compulsory sacrifices (Sin Offering, Ch 4, and Trespass Offering, Ch 5), God asked for a bull from the rich, a sheep or goat from the middle class, a turtledove or pigeon from the poor, and flour from the very poor.
“But if he is not able to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he who sinned shall bring for his offering one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a sin offering.” — Leviticus 5:11
This truly astounds me. God goes out of His way to ensure all can come to Him, regardless of what they can offer Him. It is the act of offering, rather than the richness of the offering that God desires. Which reminds me of Jesus commenting on the widow’s money offering in Mark 12 and Luke 21.
From Old Testament to New, God always looks to the heart, not the quantity of what we offer. Still think there is no value in reading through the old laws?
It’s worth noting that all sacrifices must be “without blemish”, without sickness or injury. Fair enough. God takes His relationship with us seriously, and wants us to do the same. The quality of the sacrifice is important. Imagine receiving a bouquet of wilted flowers. Not a great look.
For The Man And The Woman
Some laws pertain specifically to men or specifically to woman. And, on a whole, the different ways men and woman become unclean and clean is pretty equal. Which leads me to see a just God who doesn’t view one gender as naturally more superior or holy than the other.
At first some laws seem unbalanced. When a male child was born, the time of uncleanliness for the child and mother was half that of when a girl was born (Ch 12). But, remember, boys are circumcised. So it all evens out in the end!
For The Priest
In a way, the priests were very fortunate. They had the closest relationship with God, and were able to eat of all sacrifices given to God. However, they had extra regulations to live by (Ch 10, 21, 22). Again, the law of God is a balanced one.
Laws Of Compassion
It’s remarkable how many laws were put in place to ensure that kindness was shown to one another. Chapter 19 in particular is full of such laws.
Laws to leave some crops unharvested for the poor and the stranger to eat (Lev 19:9-10). Laws to protect workers’ wages, the deaf and the blind (Lev 19:13-14). Laws against favouritism in court (Lev 19:15). And laws to protect a non-Israelite:
“The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” — Leviticus 19:34
Many struggle to consolidate the lawful God of the Old Testament, and the loving one of the New. But they are the same God. And when you see how God uses law to inspire compassion, you can see that He truly is a just God.
Free The Slave
Like most surrounding cultures, the Israelites practiced slavery. I will say, however, if I’m ever to be a slave, it would be in this culture under the rules of an amazingly just God.
Firstly, slaves aren’t really slaves, but to be treated as hired servants. Secondly, Israelite slaves are not slaves for life.
“For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.” — Leviticus 25:42
Every fifty years Israel celebrated The Year of Jubilee. On this year, all Israelite slaves were freed, and all land bought and sold was returned to the original family owners. In this way, God provided for even the lowest in society.
While God is compassionate, He is also firm. That’s what it means to be just, after all. God was very clear about the consequences of breaking the law. Death by stoning, banishment from Israel were the harsher punishments for an individual.
At one point God smites a couple priests with heavenly fire for trying to worship God in a pagan way (Lev 10:1-7). But that’s nothing like the harsh future God promises if the nation turned from Him (Ch 26).
Even then, even when Israel breaks their side of the covenant, the amazingly just God is compassionate as well as firm.
“Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God.” — Leviticus 26:44
The Ultimate Sacrifice
God Himself if not above the law He sets. When He chose to reconcile the world to Him, He needed a sacrifice, and to follow the sacrifice traditions.
The Day of Atonement was central to Israel’s relationship with God, and is the central chapter of Leviticus (Ch 16). The annual sacrifice was for the whole nation, to cover their uncleanliness and take away their sins.
The high priest was to take two goats. One was a sin offering, its blood sprinkled in the most holy, inner place of the Tabernacle. The second was a scapegoat. The high priest put his hands on this goat’s head, confessed Israel’s sins and banished it with the sins into the wilderness.
“For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.” — Leviticus 16:30
There’s a little more to it, but that’s the fundamentals of the ritual. Fast forward a few thousand years, and Jesus entered the stage.
In accordance with sacrifices, Jesus was without blemish. Chosen by God to cover our sins with His blood and take our sins away from us. Jesus fulfils the role of both goats in His death and resurrection!
Even better, the day Jesus died, the Tabernacle’s curtain ripped (Matt 27:51). The curtain separating us from God, the curtain requiring a priest to intercede, is gone. So now we put our hands together and confess our sins directly to Jesus, who, like the scapegoat, carries them far away.
The Importance of Blood
You may be wondering, what’s the deal with all the blood? Why was a sacrificed animal’s blood sprinkled or smeared over special objects? Actually, why do Christians talk about “being covered by the blood of Christ”, or having our “sins washed away by the blood of Christ”?
“For the life of flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the alter to make atonement for your souls…” — Leviticus 17:11
God is very strict on blood. If you eat or drink it, you are cut off from Israel (Lev 7:26-27, 17:12-14). God says blood is the very essence of life. So when blood is used to clean sin, a life is used. Remember in Geneses when God told Adam and Eve that eating the fruit would lead to death?
“This Bread Is My Body”
The Passover, two thousand years ago. Jesus celebrated with His disciples, remembering when God rescued them from slavery through the blood of a lamb (another foreshadow of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice).
And He took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” — Luke 22:19
According to Leviticus, the priests ate the remaining flesh from sin offerings (Lev 6:26-29) after certain parts had been removed and the body burned (Lev 4:8-12). And Jesus tells us the Passover (or Communion or Eucharist) bread is His body, and invites us, considered priests (1 Pet 2:5,9), to eat it.
Just as the old priests did with sin offerings! How cool is that?
And so the dreaded book of Leviticus has me in awe of God, leaves me shouting out His praises. For who could ever imagine such a compassionate and firm God? Who can compare to His astounding justice? This is the God of Leviticus.