Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Most Frustrating Book of the Bible; or, a Chronicle of Unrecorded Miracles as an Act of Grace

I’m inclined to think that not many people have read through Leviticus. What do you think? Ever read it? Ever looked at it—on purpose? Right away the reader is faced with a decision that God was already prepared for. This is hard, legal, ceremonial stuff that we have little or no use for today. So to us, the first six chapters of Leviticus are quite (yawn) dry.[i]

If you have a hard time with it, think with me for a moment: an entire nation of people has just been delivered from Egypt and God Himself, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Covenant making God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has just moved into the neighborhood—right smack dab in the middle of the cul-de-sac, mind you. An entire nation of people gets to worship . . . at this . . . little . . . tent. The courtyard is small. I mean, real small.

The outer court alone was 300 cubits, or 450 feet around the perimeter or 11, 250 square feet. How was a nation of people (around 6 million) to fit in that? That’s like my entire city (or yours) all trying to meet at the same Burger King for lunch.

How many people are able to worship God at any one time and still leave room enough for the priests to work? About as many are reading the book of Leviticus right now in my city and/or in yours.

God knew that.

The first six chapters are instructions about what it takes for the people of God to realize what holiness is: sacrifice. Something must be given out of pocket. The first six chapters are instructions for the giver of the sacrifice. There are different kinds for different purposes to be given different ways. There are:

  • Burnt Offerings from the herd, flock and birds;
  • Grain Offerings of fine flour, unleavened cakes and early ripe things;
  • Peace Offerings from the herd or flock;
  • Sin Offerings, given for the unintentional sin of the priest, leader, congregation and common person;
  • Guilt Offerings of the herd, birds or grain;

Why do all this? Because God is dwelling in the middle of people He came to save. There is no casual acquaintance here—nobody enters God’s presence with sin. Since Israel’s King is Holy (unlike any other, simply put), the nation must be holy in order to enjoy tolerate his presence. The closer to the king, the higher the standard. They understood this when they built the tabernacle. This was all done to show each and every person how sinful they are and how sensitive one must be to conscience.

Honestly, Leviticus is a frustration. It shows why God’s people must be holy and why they can never be holy on their own. That’s why the theme of Leviticus is: “you can’t”, as in, “you can’t read through Leviticus.” (I dare you, by the way—and like it, too).
For these chapters, we will call the theme, “grace” as in, “you can’t, so God will do it for you.”

Here is what I mean, think through with me here: If you were an Israelite, what do you own? Just put together a mental inventory of things you might own having just been given liberty from slavery, just walked with a few million other people into the desert with no food or water—what do you own?

Look around you and see what others have. There are people, stuff, animals and dust.

Imagine for a moment you wanted to be right with God and had to give any one of the above offerings . . . where would you get it? Let’s imagine you own a small flock—how long will it take you to exhaust your flock or herd? Remember, you could not just offer anything—it had to be pure. Let’s say you were giving a burnt offering and exhausted your herd options, you had better make a choice from the flock (assuming you had one). No flock? Grab some grain, then and other ingredients, provided you have them.

Sacrifice is costly. Where does it come from? God had to supply it. You got to give it and claim it as your own. God counted toward you the sacrifice that He provided. This is why I think of Leviticus as a Chronicle of unrecorded miracles. Would it be unusual for God to provide something for His people unexpectedly? They were eating manna and drinking rock-water. Why not?

Are you seeing a familiar picture here?

Is it any wonder that the book begins with the Burnt Offerings, where it is stated, “And he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering. And it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. (Lev 1:4 )”

Oh, and by the way, there is more to the offerings than just giving them. Notice how they are to be eaten before the LORD.

Lesson:

  • People ate what they gave to the LORD. In some cases, they were to invite friends and family. So barbeque is biblical! But if you want to eat it, you had to eat in the presence of God! God gets the best portions.
  • Saying “the blessing” before the LORD was to the Israelites more than just “God is Great, God and good” and etc. It is part of BEING the people of God.

    On Leviticus 6:13 Spurgeon wrote, “God loves to see the hearts of his people glowing towards himself. Let us give to God our hearts, all blazing with love, and seek his grace, that the fire may never be quenched; for it will not burn if the Lord does not keep it burning. Many foes will attempt to extinguish it; but if the unseen hand behind the wall pour thereon the sacred oil, it will blaze higher and higher. Let us use texts of Scripture as fuel for our heart's fire, they are live coals; let us attend sermons, but above all, let us be much alone with Jesus.”

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[i] And if you think reading it is hard, trying to blog it! But since Leviticus is God’s Word, the challenge is worth it because, “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfected, thoroughly furnished to every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

"Amen!" [Thank you brother.]

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