Separate, Yet Present (A Survey of the Book of Leviticus)

INTRODUCTION:

Over the last several weeks, during worship, Pastor Bob has been taking us through his “Church Essentials” sermon series. And in that series, he’s been preaching about those things which identify the local Church. The functionality of it, the importance of membership, and this past Sunday, we saw the role of discipleship within the body. And since we began that study, I’ve had a number of conversations with people about why we would go through such a series. ‘Why spend so much time identifying what the church is, or what it looks like?’ The answer is quite simple. The reason why we want to be so diligent in identifying who and what the church is, aside from it being what the Bible teaches, is because throughout the entirety of the testimony of scripture, God has always divided the world into two categories of people. From the beginning to the end God has distinguished those whom He will deal with in one way, from those whom He will deal with very differently.

We’ve seen this take many forms. Adam and Eve were in the garden, then they were cast out. There were those whom God allowed to enter the ark, and those who did not. There were those who received the promise of Abraham, and those who didn’t. The cursed and the blessed; the clean and the unclean; the circumcised and the uncircumcised; the Jews and the Gentiles. Even on into Revelation, there are the Beloved, and those who dwell on the earth. And that’s just to name a few. God’s word is not bashful about making a distinction between those whom He has chosen from those He has not chosen. God separates, God divides, God chooses.

The book of Leviticus is all about making that distinction. It’s all about God teaching His chosen people to distinguish themselves from those whom God hasn’t chosen. It’s about demonstrating through word, deed and practice that these men and women have been set apart from all others. That these people live by a certain set of rules, and that they are guided by a particular set of principals, and that they worship a unique and holy God. This is, in fact, a book about holiness. If we were to single out a verse or passage that most clearly demonstrates that, I think we would have to look in Leviticus, chapter 11, verses 44 & 45:

Leviticus 11:44-45

44 “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth.

45 For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

HOLINESS (Chapters 1-27):

So that’s the purpose of this book. It’s to instruct the Israelites on how to carry out this command. How to live holy lives; how to consecrate themselves and be holy. Now, if you aren’t already aware, I should warn you that this book has a really bad reputation. It’s almost a punch-line at this point that many a yearly bible reading plan have died a slow agonizing death with the book of Leviticus. People open up Genesis and you read about creation, and the garden and the flood and the patriarchs, then you get to Exodus and Moses and the burning bush and the plagues of Egypt and the Red sea and the commandments, and at the end of Exodus, we read about the tabernacle being built, and then we turn the page, and for the next twenty seven chapters, we read about the sacrifice of animals, and how to choose them, and how to kill them, and how to separate them and what parts can be eaten and which parts cant, then we go into a section about determining whether or not a sore on someone’s skin is to be called leprous or not, and how to clean it. Then we get into these laws that seem, at first glance, to be archaic and awkward, and finally we get into the feasts of Israel, none of which we observe as Christians. Not to mention that there is hardly any narrative in the book of Leviticus. It reads almost like a “Terms and Conditions” waiver that you might see on iTunes.

QUESTION: So I ask then, why should we study this book? What should we expect to gain from the study of the book of Leviticus?

Answers:

(a) A deeper understanding of God’s holiness; and by extension our own,

(b) A deeper appreciation of God’s atoning provision for His people,

(c) God’s mercy in allowing His people to partake in His worship,

(d) God’s goodness reflected in His law which protects His people from the lawless,

(e) The love of God in fulfilling all His law through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So I would pray that we might be encouraged as we go through this study. Not just in this study itself, but in the encouragement that can be gained through the regular study of this book. We’re going to barely scratch the surface here, but my hope is that by the time we finish, that you might just look forward to the next time that you get the chance to read through this book, and also to give you a better sense of how to approach this very meaningful portion of scripture.

So let’s go back for just a moment to get a sense of the context here. In the last chapters of Exodus, we see Moses being instructed to construct the tabernacle. We see that going all the way back to exodus 25, shortly after the law was delivered to Moses. Then at the end of Exodus, we see the tabernacle finally being built, as well as all the items that were to be placed inside of it; and then we finish the book of Exodus with these words:

Exodus 40:34-38

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

36 Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out;

37 but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up.

38 For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

So that’s it. That’s how the book of Exodus ends. The people of Israel were in the wilderness, the LORD was in the wilderness, the tabernacle was in the wilderness. Don’t pass over that. The people were in the wilderness. God was in the wilderness. The tabernacle was in the wilderness. The tabernacle was the means that God used specifically so that He could dwell with His people in the wilderness. That’s one of the most remarkable themes in the entire bible. God dwells with His people. Remember our study in the image of God in man? God placed Adam in the garden (Genesis 2:8); God also walked in the garden (Genesis 3:8). God was dwelling with His people. We see that same thing here. And this continues all the way up until Christ, where the second temple stood, and God dwelled (the temple being a more permanent version of the tabernacle). Christ was an even greater manifestation of this theme, for it says that Christ, being the Word of God; that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As Christians, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). And then, wait for it, in the book of Revelation, chapter 21, verse 3, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,”” (Revelation 21:3).

That’s an important piece of information. As we continue to look at this book, we can’t forget that God isn’t merely an observer; He’s not watching these things from afar, to see if the Israelites follow the commandments. No, He’s an active Participant in every act of worship that’s taking place here. Let’s not forget, that Moses, back in Exodus 3, when God appeared to him as a burning bush, told him, “”Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground”” (Exodus 3:5). Moses couldn’t even wear his shoes in the presence of a holy God, while he spoke with Him. Now imagine dwelling with God, every day, every night, throughout all your journeys, being able to actually see the presence of God as He dwells with you. And let’s also not forget our study in Isaiah. God isn’t just holy, but He’s holy, holy, holy. He’s the most holy. Far above any other, and certainly far removed in His moral qualities from every man, woman and child.

SACRIFICE (Chapters 1-10):

One of the ways in which God demonstrates His separation from, his holiness, apart from the people is through the implementation of the sacrifices; we see that in the first 10 chapters of Leviticus, but it was actually started much sooner. Back in the garden, right after the fall, we read that Adam and Eve, after the fall, ‘that their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings” (Genesis 3:7). But later, after God declared the curses, we read in verse 21, “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). “Garments made of skin”; skin from what? Skin from an animal. God sacrificed the life of an animal in order to properly cover the shame of Adam and Eve. From that moment forward, a sacrifice was required (at least according to instruction), to cover over the sins of men. We see that right away with both Cain and Able bringing their offerings to the LORD in Genesis 4. Likewise, we see in the book of Job (what many consider the oldest book in the bible), we see Job sacrificing burnt offerings to God on behalf of his sons (Job 1:5). Also at the end of that book, we see Job’s friends sending burnt offerings to LORD through Job, to cover their sins (Job 42:7-9). And when Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, at the request of God, that Isaac even asked his father, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7).

So this was no new thing to the Israelites. This was happening all along. But now, God is dwelling along with them. He won’t allow anyone to approach Him who hasn’t been cleansed, or consecrated, or sanctified. The sacrifices were the primary way that this was accomplished. There were many different types of offerings. “The Burnt Offering” was a general sin offering also used in dedications. There was “The Grain Offering” which was a firstfruits offering used as an offering of thanksgiving. “The Peace Offering” was, likewise, a thanksgiving offering which was meant to acknowledge a particular blessing or the fulfillment of a particular promise. It was known as a “Shalom” offering, meaning that whoever offered it was demonstrating that they were in a right standing with, or peaceful standing with God. Next, there was “The Sin Offering” which was made when one was convinced that he or she was guilty of a particular sin and wanted to demonstrate repentance; they would prepare this offering. This offering was also closely related with the purification of the sanctuary itself. And then, there was “The Guilt Offering” which was also offered in response to sin, but this sacrifice was more specific to which sins. Those mentioned are the desecration on something holy (Lev 5:15-16), someone committing an act that was expressly forbidden (Lev 5:17-19), and also in sins that were committed against a neighbor (Lev 6:2-7). Other places in scripture, we see “The Drink Offering”, but that isn’t used in this book, so we’ll just overlook that for the time being. Now, we don’t have the time to go into all these sacrifices, and their meanings; but instead, I’d like to point out a few of the distinct characteristics of these sacrifices.

First, there is the nature of that which is being offered. Whether animal or grain, that which is being offered is expected to be, at least symbolically, perfect. The animals which were offered were generally to be mostly male animals without blemish. Any mark or defect would represent imperfection, or sin. Ultimately, we see that in order to cover the sins of one, requires not just the sacrifice of life, but the transfer of sin from the imperfect to the perfect. When you wash your car do you use an old, dirty rag? No. What would be the point? You use a nice clean rag, and afterwards, after you’ve washed the car, the car would then be clean, and the rag would be dirty. Same goes with the grain. The instruction of the cakes that are prepared without leaven serves the same function. Everywhere you see the word ‘leaven’, just replace that word with ‘sin’. That is what the leaven represents; sin. God will only accept a perfect, sinless sacrifice for the covering of sins.

Second, in regards to the sin offerings, the shedding of blood was required. Blood was very important in the act of sacrifice. It says in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” (Leviticus 17:11). Blood equals life. In addition to the sacrifice being perfect, it must also lose its life. This representation of blood and life is so strong that God even goes further in Leviticus 17 to bar anyone from eating anything which still contains the blood.

Next, the portioning of the sacrifice, and the provision for the Levitical priesthood. The Levites were a tribe without an earthly inheritance. These men had no land. Nothing which they could leave to their children. God had set them apart as a holy tribe, specifically for the working and keeping of the temple and the things of worship. They ate portions of these sacrifices that were made. They didn’t tend flocks of their own; they didn’t work in the field. When people would bring their sacrifice to the tabernacle, the priest would make the sacrifice, and then take the portion that God had left them to eat. God was providing for these men when they really had nothing to call their own.

Then, the penalty for mis-practicing the sacrifice. Chapter 10 is one of the few narrative portions of Leviticus, in which we read about the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, who burned strange fire in the temple, and were instantly consumed. It’s a bit jarring to read of such an account after reading all these chapters about sacrifice and then, out of the blue, these men get killed for burning strange fire. But when you consider just how much time God has spent detailing every nuance of worship, right down to the types of animals to be used, and the parts of them that could and could not be eaten; it’s no wonder why God would be so vengeful. God only allows particular types of worship to be given to Him.

And on that note, finally, there is the true sacrifice. All that we’ve seen up to this point is but a picture. An image of the one true Sacrifice that God would make for Himself for the washing away of sins. We’re told that in the book Hebrews that, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). But then were told about the sacrifice that does:

Hebrews 10:10-12

10 By this we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;

12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,

CLEAN vs. UNCLEAN (Chapters 11-15):

Now, in these next chapters, 11 through 15, we come to the section on cleanliness. These chapters begin to distinguish the things that are clean from the things which were unclean. And I would hope, by this point, that you might have a sense as to why. So why would God spend five chapters describing the things which are either clean or unclean? Well, He does so because wherever we see the word ‘unclean’, we should see sin. The phrase, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” is a stupid saying, but I think here it’s a rather apt one. To be unclean didn’t just mean you were dirty. It meant that you were corrupted by sin all the way to the core. It meant you were defiled, cut off, separated from God. If you were declared unclean you were cast out of the city. To be unclean meant you were no longer holy. So it was a very important thing to be clean in the presence of God.

One of the first things to receive this distinction is animals. There are a number of animals that are listed as being either clean or unclean. The Israelites were only to eat the clean animals. If you ate an unclean animal, you were defiled, you were unclean, and you needed to be cleansed. So, there are two things that we should note about the clean and unclean animals. First, there are a number of people that say that these instructions were only to protect the Israelites from disease. If you ate an animal that was more likely to carry disease, then you may become infected and die. That has nothing to do with it. Most of these animals were unclean because of their nature. Some of these animals were scavengers, like vultures, which ate the dead. It was an unclean act to touch or handle the dead. That made these animals unclean. Other animals were those who hunted their food, like wolves, those that had paws. They ate the things which they hunted, that still had the blood inside of them. To eat anything with blood was also a defiling act. Likewise for the fish in the sea; things that scavenged like lobsters, that ate the dead things were unclean. These animals were unclean because their actions were unclean. Therefore to eat or touch one would make you unclean. And two, once again, these were restrictions that were put in place for a people who were always present with God. All diligence had to be carried out to ensure that no unclean thing came anywhere near the dwelling place of God. After Christ’s sacrifice, something changed. The Apostle Peter, when he had his vision in Acts 10, saw unclean animals, and was told to eat. But he said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean” (Acts 10:14), but then the voice responds, and he hears this, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15). There is no longer any such thing as clean or unclean animals.

After the animals we read a lot about things on or within the body which could make someone unclean. It talks some about women and the cycles they go through, often with a discharge of blood, or the same which is noticed through childbirth would make the woman unclean, and she would have to be cleansed. But then it goes on for some time about leprosy. And this is another instance where we should see the word sin. Not that it represents the sin within an individual, but that it represents the sin that came into the world through the curse. Man was not created to be a host to disease and plagues and deformities. We were created as clean creatures, without spot or blemish. It’s sin that has corrupted us and left us exposed to these things which attack us and destroy us and even kill us. Leprosy wasn’t a guaranteed death sentence by any means, but those whose skin would start to show these sores were, in fact, displaying the very curse of sin, and they were declared to be unclean. And God was very specific about how to declare someone unclean with leprosy, or if they were declared unclean, how to then cleanse them and declare them once again clean.

To be clean or unclean isn’t about cleanliness. As I said, it’s a way that God separates people from the whole in order to bring them closer to him, or drive them further away.

THE DAY OF ATONEMENT (Chapter 16):

In chapter 16 we read about The Day of Atonement. This was a very important sacrifice that happened in Israel. It only took place once a year and with it the sins of the entire camp of Israel were covered. It was also the only time in which the High Priest was allowed to actually enter into the most holy place. The holy of holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was, and he would make a sacrifice for him and his household first, to cover his own sin which would then allow him to go one step further, and offer up a second sacrifice that could atone for the sins of the people. And he would take the blood and sprinkle it on the mercy seat of the ark, and that would represent the covering of sins.

The other interesting thing about this “celebration” is that there were two goats used. And one was sacrificed and offered to the Lord, but the other goat was taken by the priest, and he would lay his hands upon it, and he would confess the sins of the people, transferring the sins to that goat, and then they would release that goat into the wilderness, and out of the camp. Just another picture of that which is declared to be sinful, or unclean, being cast out and away from the presence of God.

THE HOLINESS CODE (Chapters 17-22):

Now we come to the chapters that are often referred to as The Holiness Code; chapters 17-22. They’re called that because of what they contain; various rules and laws and commands for the people of Israel, but also how often the term holiness is used, as well as how often the Israelites are commanded to do these things unlike the nations around them who were practicing these things quite a bit. It’s in this section that we read about the blood as we looked at earlier. We read about children that were being sacrificed to Molech. We read about men who were practicing homosexuality and other sexual sins. And we read a number of laws which were given regarding neighbors. It’s here where we actually receive the command to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18). That’s what true holiness should produce, love. Love towards our neighbors, but also towards God.

Now , there is so much application found in any one verse of this portion of the text, that I could be here til next week. But our purpose isn’t to go into homosexuality, or abortion, or incest. Our goal is to see why these things are written in this book. And there is one passage that I think does that very well, and also, is very applicable to us here, today.

Leviticus 18:24-30

24 “Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled.

25 For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants.

26 But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you

27 (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled);

28 so that the land will not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you.

29 For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people.

30 Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am the LORD your God.”

It is possible for us, as a nation, to become defiled with sin. God has allowed judgment to come upon the nations mentioned here. He has allowed judgment to come on nations since, and He may very well allow judgment to come upon this nation for the sins that we call good, and even legalize in this country. If there’s any question on whether or not we should evangelize, and share the gospel with others, well, I don’t really see any question at all. Our country needs it.

THE FEASTS OF ISRAEL (Chapters 23-25):

The holiness of God was also demonstrated through the use of The Feasts of Israel; that begins in chapter 23. Among those being the weekly Sabbath, The Passover, The Feast of Unleavened Bread, The Feast of Trumpets, and The Feast of Firstfruits. The Day of Atonement was another, and then there was the Year of Jubilee. And though we could teach an entire lesson on each of these, we aren’t going to have time for that, so let’s just think thematically. Every one of these festivals has one thing in common; God. These were holy feasts, that God Himself appointed. They were created for a purpose, and that was to get the people of Israel to have a proper attitude toward God. We’ve seen what happens in this country when a feast isn’t observed with reverence anymore. Look at Christmas, or Thanksgiving for that matter, the day that we begin shopping for Christmas. Each one of these feats was to direct the people of God toward God, with thanksgiving, for some work or provision that God had made on their behalf. Either through God providing the means for atonement, or the protection from judgment, or by providing them with harvest and food; by providing them with rest, and ultimately, redemption. Christ can be readily seen in all of these feasts; you just need to look.

THE BLESSINGS & THE CURSES (Chapters 26-27):

Finally, we come to the last chapters, 26 and 27, in which God declares His blessings and curses on the people. And there are far more curses here than blessings, I can tell you that. But there is so much mercy as well. We’ll start with the promise of blessing:

Leviticus 26:3, 9-12

3 If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them,…

9 For I will look on you favorably and make you fruitful, multiply you and confirm My covenant with you.

10 You shall eat the old harvest, and clear out the old because of the new.

11 I will set My tabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you.

12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.

Wow! That’s quite a blessing. That’s some of the strongest language I’ve ever seen in the bible. That’s almost Eden type language. Also reminiscent of what we read in Revelation.

Verses 14 through 45, just about to the end of the chapter, are where we find the curses. But I don’t want to look at the curses themselves (which, as you’d expect, all contain the promise of wrath, disease, judgment, slavery, etc.); but rather, I want to focus on the opening line of each part of the curse, and there are seven of them:

Leviticus 26:14, 18, 21, 23, 27, 36, 40, 44-45

14 “But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,..

18 If also after these things you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins…

21 If then, you act with hostility against Me and are unwilling to obey Me, I will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins,..

23 And if by these things you are not turned to Me, but act with hostility against Me,..

27 Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me,..

36 As for those of you who may be left, I will also bring weakness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. And the sound of a driven leaf will chase them, and even when no one is pursuing they will flee as though from the sword, and they will fall…

40 If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me—

44 Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God.

45 But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the LORD.”

Despite these people being described as unfaithful, and disobedient, and hostile against God; He still offers them mercy. He gives them chance, after chance, after chance. And even then, when they still refuse to repent, He is still patient, and willing give them even another chance. He is still wiling because He is faithful, and He is loving. And He is not like man that He should lie, but He keeps His promises.

CONCLUSION:

So, we can conclude this study by summing up the book of Leviticus, much the same way in which we defined it. It is a book about holiness. It was God’s instructions for God’s people for how they were to act and interact with those around them, in order to show themselves as being set apart. Not just set apart from the world, and its inhabitants; but as a people who were set apart for God. A people who dwelled with God, and worshiped God, and depended on God. If I were to encourage you in only one thing through this study, I would hope that you would be encouraged to seek to make yourselves holy as the Lord is holy. Show that you are truly set apart from this world and towards God, and to, “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Luke 10:27).

Amen.

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