I get it: Leviticus is a tough book. The first chapter is a series of instructions for burnt offerings and atonement sacrifices; a parade of sheep, bulls, and imputed sin. Our western minds have a hard time understanding and appreciating what is found in these pages. And if you’re trudging through a chronological reading plan, you might just give up in February because of this book!
I used to struggle with these same sentiments toward the Pentateuch – those first five books of the bible so full of law (and sometimes confusion!). In my rush to find something I could “apply” in thirty minutes or less, I missed out on beautiful theological truths hidden in this unlikely book.
Many people give up on reading the bible cover to cover because of something similar, but in doing so, they too miss out on revelation about God’s character. Leviticus, and books like it, is not to be skipped over. There are truths contained in its pages that you can both understand and appreciate – if you know how to study them!
Take a Break From Application
When reading through Leviticus, take a break from application. This is a very Western approach to reading Scripture and one we should be cautious with when studying the bible. Not every passage is meant to be immediately “applied” to our current life situation. Many passages of the bible – and the entire metanarrative of Scripture itself – are meant to teach us more about God’s character. When we approach the Word in a rush to find something we can work into our daily lives, we’ll end up concentrating on passages that are “practical”; usually Psalms or NT epistles. While these parts of the Word are absolutely necessary, inspired, and useful to our Christian lives, it is the law of God that acted as the foundation for the early church’s understanding of who God is. Without understanding the “difficult” books of the bible, our understanding of the “easier” ones is shallow and limited.
As you read through Leviticus, look for themes about God’s character and intent. Why did God set up the sacrifices in the way He did? How does God provide for those who are too poor to pay for a typical atonement sacrifice? What do the atonement, sin, and memorial offerings do? Instead of rushing past these chapters, really sit with the questions that pop into your mind.
Look for Foretelling of the Messiah
Leviticus, and the latter half of Exodus (the part that talks about the Tabernacle) are beautiful pictures of the coming Messiah. When Jesus came to earth, He fulfilled the need for perpetual animal sacrifice as we see it outlined in these books. Keep this in mind as you’re reading!
When you remember that Jesus was not just a fulfillment of the OT law but also present when it was issued, you will see a greater connection between the gospels and the Old Testament. God and Jesus are one; Jesus was as much a part of the Old Testament law as God was. Too often we separate God and Jesus into the “old” and “new” versions of our faith, but God has been and always will be the same.
Leviticus outlines the ceremonies and rites necessary for Israel to remain in peaceful relationship with God. It was a lot of work, but that work was a constant reminder of what it took to keep them at peace with the Lord. It was also a significant act on God’s part, because most pagans who used animal sacrifices did so in an attempt to reach their deity. Israel’s God was the one who decided how these sacrifices were to be enacted – Israel didn’t come up with this on their own. This is a beautiful picture of God’s pursuing love for His people! He was the one to show them how to stay in relationship with Him. Later on, Jesus would be the Perfect Lamb, the only way to be in relationship with God. His sacrifice was good for all future saints and all those who came before.
Ask “Who is God in this Passage?”
Lastly, as you read through Leviticus and trudge past those detailed accounts of atonement, ask yourself: “Who is God in this passage?” As previously stated, the Israelite ceremonial law was not an idea of their own. It was God’s plan to keep them in relationship with Him. These rites were also meant to serve as a witness to the lands around them. Unbelieving people were to see Israel’s obedience to God and be drawn to Him through their example – much like our Christian witness today.
That’s one reason why Israel’s disobedience was so grievous. Not only did they offend God, they also tarnished their witness to the people of the Promised Land. By asking, “Who is God here?” We find out attributes of His character and intent that we would miss if we skimmed too quickly.
I am currently working on a study guide for Leviticus which I hope to offer you very soon. If you want a good commentary on Leviticus, check out the ones by George Knight or Gordon Wenham. If you’d like to be notified when the study guide is finished, be sure to enter your email in the sign up box below!