Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

21 February 2010

Loving Leviticus

I remember sitting in church one day a good ten or more years ago.  One of the readings was, from memory, what I regarded at the time as a tedious description of some apsect about how the tabernacle was to be constructed.  After the reading I jokingly whispered to the minister's wife sitting next to me, "Not much devotional juice in that."  To which she gently rebuked me by commenting that if it was in the Bible it must be important and so there must be something for us to learn from it.  Ouch!!

If you started a Bible reading plan on the 1st January that gets you through the Old Testament once in the year then there is a fair chance that like me, you reached Leviticus this week.  Leviticus, I'd be pretty sure, has been the undoing of many a resolve to read through the Bible in a year.  Even a resolve to just get through the Bible from cover to cover regardless of how long it takes.  You've done the hard yards in the back half of Exodus.  And then BOOF! - you hit pages and pages of Levitical law.  And beyond that looms lots of census material and long lists of genealogies to wade through in Numbers and more laws in Deuteronomy.  For those in the southern hemisphere, add to this that the holidays are well and truly over and the busy year is up and away.  For those in the northern hemisphere, it is the end of a long, cold winter. (Especially this year, it seems.)  It all just gets too hard.

So it may be surprising to learn that there is someone out there who really enjoys Leviticus.  And that would be me.  And yes, that astonished, shocked, quizzical, amused look that you're giving me through the computer screen...I've seen it before.  But yes, I love reading Leviticus.  So if you are up to Leviticus in your reading plan and you're finding yourself floundering, or if you tend to skip over it altogether, let me give you some hope.  It is really worth persevering through this book of the Bible. 

If you are one who marks up your Bible, take a new colour (maybe it doesn't need to be new...maybe you haven't underlined all that much in Leviticus before!) and underline every repetition of "...because the LORD commanded it" and "Be holy because I am holy" or words to that effect.  If you don't mark your Bible, make a mental (or written) note of every time you strike these phrases. 

What comes forth is a picture of a God who commands.  A picture of a holy God who has every right to command.  And whose commands deserve to be fully respected and observed because of His holiness.  It is easy to get lost in the detail of the Levitical laws.  But riding over the top and right through the middle of these long, long lists is a truly magnificent portrait of God's holiness.  Watching this theme grow and develop helps to make sense of the detail.

And it is worth keeping Leviticus in its bigger context as the middle book of the Pentateuch.

In Genesis we meet God - the God of eternity who creates, sustains, judges, shows mercy, deals with humanity in a personal and loving way.  This is amplified in the first half of Exodus as we see His dealings with the Israelites in Egypt and as He delivers them out of slavery wondrously. 

The second half of Exodus is where it all starts to get hard...twenty chapters of law and extremely detailed instruction regarding religious observance and the building of the tabernacle. 

But something really amazing happens in the middle of this part of Exodus too.  After eleven chapters of detailed description, just as we are beginning to get a little bored, it turns out the Israelites were getting bored too and got tired of waiting on God and Moses.  So instead instead of waiting any more, they built themselves a statue of a golden calf and started to worship it.  The statue is roughly hewn - thrown together in a matter of days. It is striking that after chapters and chapters of minute detail about the tabernacle where God would dwell, the golden calf incident is covered in one short chapter - all that it is worth. There is no careful detail.  And then we return to more careful detail of the actual construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings, following to the letter all the instructions that were given beforehand.  Why? This God's tabernacle and He is worthy of the care and the detail.  It is really worthwhile pushing through the second half of Exodus, just to experience the flow of the writing and the jarring golden calf incident in the midst of the precise beauty God commands for His tabernacle and for the exacting worship that will take place within it.

And so we reach Leviticus.  More detail about religious observance and also personal and civic conduct.  Why the detail?  Because God is holy and He is worthy of being worshipped appropriately.

In Numbers we see these themes further amplified - God's holiness, the attention to detail in honouring and worshipping God, the Israelites thriving under God's rule and being punished when they failed to observe it.

And if you keep tracking these themes of following God's commands because He is holy - and keep underlining them as you go - it will have built up to such a crescendo that it will just take your breath away in Deuteronomy.

These are hard books to read.  But they are magnificent and foundational in knowing God.  Ask Him to help you as you read through these books.  Ask Him to help you get through them. Ask Him to help you learn more about Him and His holiness.  Ask Him to help you to love these books.  You won't be disappointed.  And for now, stick with Leviticus. 

Keep my commands and follow them.  I am the LORD.  Do not profane my holy name.  I must be acknowldeded as holy by the Israelites.  I am the LORD, who makes you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God.  I am the LORD.  Leviticus 22:31-33

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I read the pentaceuch recently as part of the theological unit called Old Testament 1 which I'm studying. It was my first time reading Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy from beginning to end and I did find some of the passages hard going at times. But they're in the Bible so they must be there for a reason, even if the reason isn't direct application (such as not trimming our beards....not that I have a beard BTW LOL) but I have learnt a lot about God's character and holiness and how the OT points to the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus.