Sometimes the details cause us to miss the big picture. In Seminary I learned to ask important questions of Scripture—not just “What does this Scripture say?”, but “What is the Scripture saying about what it is saying?” That’s a mind-bender at first, but think about your favorite movie, and how you would summarize it. One of my favorite movies is, “Peanut Butter Falcon.” Without giving you a single detail, the movie tells the story of...
acceptance, of outcasts finding one another, and the strength of bonds possible between strangers. The emotional beauty of the film stays with you. Now, this is the message of the film. The details barely matter in this context. However, if all I gave you was a detail instead of the summary, you might assume the entire film carried the vibe of that one detail. One detail of evil might steer you from ever giving the movie a chance. One sad detail might do the same. Segregating a part from the whole distorts the big picture. And this happens too frequently in our reading of the Bible.
Biblical details matter, so very much, but one must learn to ask, “What is Leviticus saying about Leviticus?”, and “What is the summary?” The details will tell you Leviticus lays down the law, and the law can be unappetizing, even to me. But the big picture—the summary—reveals the provision of our Holy God for his pinnacle creation (human beings) to be clean before Him, in His presence. He makes a way for the removal of the stain of sin. He clears the way for do-overs. And for what? Why did He do so? Because He loved them, and, because He is Holy—He cannot be in the presence of unholiness—(Leviticus refers to this as “unclean”). God wanted to dwell with His people, but they had to be cleansed.
Through God, Moses detailed the laws of the sacrificial system in his writings (Leviticus) as God designed. The system provided rituals to result in purification, and nearly always required the blood of an animal, leading to forgiveness of sins. Animal activists might cringe at the thought, but from the beginning, God warned Adam and Eve in the garden that disobedience leads to death, “If you eat of it (the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil)….you will surely die.” The moment they disobeyed, the consequence necessitated the loss of privilege to live forever. (Side note—the word “consequence” is made from “con” (without) and “sequence” (order). The moment disobedience entered the world, order was lost.)
The sacrificial system God established meant to provide a replacement for the sinner. The restoration of cleanliness required bloodshed. God allowed animals to serve as substitutes to make possible for Him to dwell again in the presence of sinful man, to fulfill a desire for closeness. I see this in God’s relationship with Adam before the fall. God walked and talked with Adam in the garden. Even moreso, God created Adam with His hands from the dust of the earth. God blessed Adam. His desire to bless His creation is evident from the first pages of Genesis. And later, in Deuteronomy 28, incredible evidence of God’s desire to bless His children shouts from the pages. God has always, and continually, makes a way to bless His children. The laws and sacrificial system in Leviticus represents a critical part of the overarching story of the love of God. He makes a way for our purity. He provides a solution for the forgiveness that makes us clean before him.
My opinion rests in the belief that we cannot fully grasp the sacrifice Jesus made when offering Himself as the spotless lamb, spilling His blood, to wipe us clean—to make us presentable to God the Father, without first understanding the details and big picture of the book of Leviticus. Because of Jesus, you and I don’t have to go to the altar everyday, lugging an animal on our backs, and confessing our darkness to a High Priest while listening to the screams of an innocent animal being slaughtered to death. Christ offered Himself, once and for all, to restore His children to an upright position, and now is our High Priest. “Once” means once. No other requirements, ever. “For all” means for all who believe in Him (see John 3:16 - “for all who believe in Him”).
When the Israelites brought an offering to the High Priest at the altar, their most perfect animal was required. In other words, they had to sacrifice their most beautiful, healthy, and valuable animal. Anything less would not suffice. They gave their prize animal, (lamb, ram, bird, etc.) to be offered as a sacrifice in exchange for paying the penalty of their sin. When God gave His perfect, unblemished, Son, His self-sacrificing act exchanged His innocence for our guilt, covered the cost of the penalty for our sin, and made us clean before God, forevermore.
The book of Leviticus is special because it ties Jesus to the sacrificial system God established so He can dwell with us. The only other alternative required Him to turn His back on us forever. When considering all the ways the Israelites disobeyed and defiled Yahweh, and worshipped idols and false gods, the book of Leviticus comes in view as a picture of God’s extreme mercy and grace. Rather than allowing them (and us) to find our dead-ends, He opened the road to eternity with Him. I see the generosity of a loving Father, unwilling to give up on His creation.
*I'm curious to know if this post helps you see God, through the Old Testament, in a different light? Please share your comments.