Why read Leviticus? Well, if it weren’t for the fact that you’re part of a bible read through group my guess is that for many people today that answer would be a short one: “Good question!”
As the introduction to Leviticus in the youth bible says, this is a book of guidelines, “many of [which] seem irrelevant to us today.”So why should we read Leviticus and what might we hope to discover as we work through it?
Well, we must begin, similarly to Mitch’s introduction to John’s gospel, not at the very beginning but with the first two verses of the 19th chapter which give us the context for everything else we read:
“The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’””
Thus we might say that holiness – God’s holiness and the Israelite’s need for holiness – is at the heart of what Leviticus is all about. In context Leviticus is a continuation of the narrative detailing Israel’s experience at Sinai. We see this in the opening words of the book which could easily be the start of a new chapter rather than of a new book! As you continue reading through you will no doubt be struck by the cost of the holiness that God calls Israel to – both for Israel, and also for their animals. But I wonder if, as you read, your mind will drift forward to a later sacrifice…
So, as you begin reading, let me leave you with two things to look think on as you read:
First, even when it’s hard, remember that a grasp of this book will help as we continue reading later on: the role of the Levites in the life of Israel and the names of the sacrifices will continue to come up again and again. So, we might say, Leviticus sets the ground work for much that will follow.
Second, spare a moment (or two) to look forward. Because, ultimately, the sacrificial system would be too much – the people of Israel, try (or not) as they might, can’t keep it up. Yet Jesus, God incarnate, enters human history and become our “means of atonement and purification. [Our] great Priest, Prophet, Teacher and King.” In Leviticus the Day of Atonement occupies a central place and “the ceremony of the two goats prescribed for that day reminds us that ‘as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us’.”