Friday, February 3, 2012

Thoughts on Leviticus

I've heard many people tell me that they can not imagine a pastor preaching through the book of Leviticus.  To be quite honest, I have thought the same thing myself for the 6 years that I have been a Christian.  All of the repeated instances of offering sacrifices and then the descriptions of clean and unclean and how to deal with them.  It seems to be quite repetitive and preaching through it seems like it would be monotonous and might get boring for the congregation.  However, I have been reading through a book that has changed my perspective on the book of Leviticus. The book is a commentary on Leviticus by Andrew Bonar and I highly recommend it to any Christian.  In fact, my hope is that a few good pastors will take up reading this book and be encouraged to preach/teach through the book of Leviticus.  I now think that Leviticus might be one of the most important books for people to be studying and fed on in order to have a greater appreciation for their sinfulness, the call to holiness, God's grace and our dependence upon it for salvation, and the sacrifice that Jesus made in order to save His elect. 

The book of Leviticus actually shows us much about the depths and multitudes of areas of our sinfulness.  Bonar works through looking at the sacrificial system to show how many different areas of sin there and how personal they are.  People had to lay their own hands on the animal to be sacrificed, acknowledging their personal sinfulness.  This provides a strong connection between the sinner and their sins because they see right in front of them the need for the death of the animal in their place because of thir sin.  Bonar doesn't miss the fact that this is a type of Jesus...I'll address that towards the end of this post, though.  There are sacrifices specified for all kinds of sins...even those that people do without knowing of it until after the fact.  So people are made aware of their sinfulness through the sacrificial system and the different areas of sin that are defined.

We also see that Leviticus has much to say about the call to holiness.  When we look at the priests offering the sacrifices, they have to make sure they first offer sacrifices for themselves before they intercede for the people.  And they continually have to be washed and cleansed before approaching the holy place.  And the high priest has to especially be cleansed before he goes into the Holy of Holies once a year to present the sin offering.  This is because he is entering into the presence of God.  But the priests aren't the only ones who have the call to holiness.  God establishes various ways that people can become unclean and offers a framework by which the people of Israel are to show that they are called out from the world into a system of holiness.  This includes dietary restrictions, as well as contamination by various items or people with illnesses that are considered unclean.  Bonar makes the point that the uncleanness represents sinfulness and that this was a way to show that we are called to identify and avoid sin.  He shows that everywhere the people of Israel would look, they could be reminded of something clean or unclean...just as we can with sin and holiness.  He especially hits on the call to identify and avoid sin with reference to the areas concerning leprosy.  I find the comparisons he makes between sin and the various conditions and examinations of leprosy defined in Leviticus to be very helpful when thinking about the condition of my own spiritual life.  He compares the spread and depth of leprosy to the spread and depth of sin in our own lives and how we should examine ourselves in this regard.  I think that this is the type of thinking that the world needs to engage when examining their spiritual state and that could lead to many nominal Christians realizing their true spiritual condition.  We can easily see that Leviticus shows that God calls His people to live a life of holiness.

Leviticus also has much to say about God's grace to the sinner and our dependence upon His grace for our salvation.  Let us return back to the sacrificial system.  The animals offered for the burnt offering, sin offering, and peace offering, and the bread/flour offered for the grain offering are all provided by God as he showers His people with grace.  The people lay their sins on the animals by laying their hands on their heads and then the animals are offered as a sacrifice to God for their sins.  The burnt offering is totally burnt on the altar to take the wrath of God...this represents Jesus taking the whole wrath of God for our sins in our place ont he cross (again we'll cover this later).  Bonar makes the point that the grain offering "represents the offerer's person and property, his body and his possessions" and that when the offerer sees that the priests eat of this offering, it shows that his sacrifice has been accepted.  This surely is an act of grace by God to provide assurance to sinners offering themselves to God.  It also exemplifies again the call to holiness for Israel.  In the peace offering, we see that part of the sacrifice is for food.  Bonar paints a wonderful picture of this representing "God as one at table with his people; they feast together.  He is no more their foe."  This would make sense for this to then be called a peace offering and again shows God's grace to the sinner.  The sin offering is to be offered for unintentional sins and again the whole animal sacrficed is to be burnt.  However, part of the sin offering is burned on the altar, then the ashes and the unburnt part (skin, flesh, head legs, inward, and dung) to be taken outside the camp.  The ashes are dumped in a clean place and the remainder of the sacrifice is burned on the ashes.  Bonar makes the point that this is a clean place "because, when reduced to ashes by consuming fire, all guilt was away from the victim."  In all of the various types of sacrifices defined here, we can see God's grace being showered upon the people of Israel as He provides forgiveness of their sins and assurance that the sacrifice has been accepted.

And a Christian definitely can not come away from a faithful reading of the book of Leviticus without a good appreciation for the sacrifice that Jesus made for His elect.  Here you see all of the details of the sacrificial system and one can only imagine how often a person would have to offer these sacrifices.  The priests didn't have a seat in the tabernacle...probably because they were too busy offering sacrifices all the time.  And when we see the sinner laying his hand on the head of the sacrifice, we are reminded of how we must lay all of our sins upon Jesus and have faith in His paying the price for our sins.  As the sin and burnt offerings were totally burned, Jesus was fully exposed to the wrath of God.  Bonar also makes the point that when Leviticus describes how some flesh was to be flayed, it shows how deeply exposed our sins must become, as well as the depths of pain and anguish that Jesus faced upon the cross.  And when we see the ashes and remainder of the flesh of the sin offering being taken outside the camp to be fully burned, we can make a clear connection to the fact that Jesus was tortured inside Jerusalem and crucified outside of Jerusalem.  It is very clear that the book of Leviticus provides a type of Jesus' sacrifice for His elect and reading the book of Leviticus will provide an even greater appreciation for this sacrifice.

Before I close, let me say that I have only read halfway through the commentary by Bonar at this point.  I am sure that I will have more to add to this when I finish...and I know that even in what I have read so far, there is a lot more talk about types and how Bonar points out that Leviticus is all about pointing to the anti-type, Jesus.  I just felt the need to write this to encourage people to read Leviticus and even go obtain a copy of Bonar's commentary on Leviticus.  It is lengthy and takes a while to work through, but it is well worth the effort.  And I even got it free by shopping for it on my Nook tablet.  So I'm sure that you resourceful types can find a free copy for yourselves.  I certainly do hope that pastors will be encouraged to preach and teach on Leviticus...I think the church today really needs it.

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