I must admit, so far in my Bible marathon, this book was my least favourite and the question is why didn’t I enjoy it as much as Exodus and Genesis?
Once I am done each book I usually browse some study guides or websites to help wrap my head around what I just read and ensure I am getting the entire picture while not missing out on any themes or key messages. I found this book didn’t have as much of a storyline to it and I think one person put it in perspective for me. Leviticus is basically a set of instructions for God’s people that elaborates on holy living and reverence since all aspects of our daily lives are important to God. He rescued the Israelites from slavery and now he has the giant task ahead of him to clean house, body and soul. The best way to look at it is, picture God as the parent and the Israelites as his children. Leviticus explains God’s expectations for His children and at the same time, He goes over rules and consequences if the rules are broken. I will warn you, some of them are extreme, but let’s not jump too far ahead yet!
The main themes addressed in Leviticus are holiness, worship and sin, all concepts that are foreign to me. Apparently “holiness” is referenced a whopping 152 times in this book and sacrifice is mentioned an estimated 300 times. God needs the Israelites to learn from the handbook and be sin free in order to worship him with open hearts, completely and without hesitation.
The 5 types of sacrifices discussed are: burnt sacrifice which represents dedication to God; meat offering or meal offering which represents a gift offered to God; peace offering which represents fellowship; sin offering which represents atonement needed for unintentional acts; and trespass or guilt offering which was needed for disregarding property of another person. A sacrifice is defined as an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure. In God’s eyes when the Israelites sinned, He required a life for a life. This sacrificial offering had to be perfect and free from defect and the end result was atonement or a clean slate for the sinner. The fact that all sacrificed animals had to be free from defect to me demonstrates that God has high standards and also wants sacrificial animals to be perfect, clean and pure, just like his expectations for his people. God also leads by example for the Israelites by constantly re-enforcing “be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” The worship part is about creating a relationship with God and letting him into your life, hence the reason for the handbook. Rules are established for the Israelites and guidelines given so they are aware of God’s expectations. The only problem is not all Israelites figure they need to follow “the rules” and you guessed it, this makes God angry.
From what I understand to worship God in all His glory, you must be minty fresh and scrubbed squeaky clean of your sins, which is where the sacrifices come into play. God basically uses the same fear tactic as in Exodus where he attempts to deter bad behaviour through the threat of punishment. Chapter 19 God lists various laws that are applicable to daily living and I have to say He covers quite a bit of ground in this chapter.
Some of the laws that grabbed my attention are the following:
- Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
- Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.
- Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.
- Do not mate different kinds of animals
- Do not eat any meat with blood still in it
- Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.
The first one is easy, basically do not take the Lord’s name in vain demonstrates be respectful. The others I think also shows he has the expectation of respect, but also encourages a person to treat others as you would like to be treated, which brings us back to the “golden rule.” The one about mating other animals I think is pretty self-explanatory for everyone and I hope we can all agree “ewwww!” You are not permitted to eat any meat containing blood because the blood is the life of the creature and it represents atonement for your soul. Chapter 17 verse 11 states, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” God doesn’t want us to put tattoos on our bodies because then in his eyes we are unclean and free from perfection, which He highly values. I guess I am too late on the one!
Other rules issued to the Israelites are:
- If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he is to be put to death, and you must kill the animal.
- Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death, because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head.
- A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.
- You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.
- If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire.
If you analyze this further God did not approve of the Israelites general lifestyle in Egypt and this is what he is trying to alter in Leviticus. He is attempting to weed out the bad behaviour and rehabilitate the ones that can be saved. You may also notice that God says, “Their blood will be on their own head.” He is absolving anyone who enforces His rules of the death penalty and they will remain free from sin, despite killing another person. So a free pass so to speak! It sounds to me like God is bringing capital punishment to the table as a major deterrent. I have mentioned previously how God inflicts fear on his people, well what better way to keep people in line than with the threat of death? Our society does it all the time with capital punishment; just the rules vary in each country.
He also talks about stoning a spiritist or medium to death; this also makes sense because they cause a potential threat for God, with their ability to influence his people down the wrong path by altering their belief systems. Basically they are competition for God, but selling a different product. It does sound harsh at first to inflict death on them, but in our time that is what Starbucks does. If they are threatened with a competitor, Starbucks buys them out and wipes them out. Death in a business sense, but metaphorically represents the same thing.
God sentences anyone to death that uses blasphemous remarks and why, because it is disrespectful and gives His people the wrong impression. Another rule is if you kill a human being, then you are to be put to death as well. All of these specific rules lead me to another question, what happens to those that cannot be saved and mirrored in God’s image? Well, to be blunt, they all die!
I am sure much of this appears negative and you are wondering if there are any positive affirmations or influence offered by God in this book. God says “if you follow his decrees, he will reward people by sending them rain so they can yield crops, grant peace in the land without war, and look on people with favor by increasing their numbers and keep his covenant with them. He will walk among you and be your God, and you will be his people.” Towards the end of the book I read the following passage which struck me as the harshest statement by God, which demonstrates He means business and do not cross him! Talk about scare tactics set to maximum!
“But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring on the sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plan seed in vain because your enemies will eat it. If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile towards me, then in my anger I will be hostile towards you and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings.”
In summary this book didn’t appeal to me as much as Genesis and Exodus because it was more about rules and parameters for the Israelites, but from another perspective if you are creating a society and starting from scratch, guidelines are needed for order and to prevent chaos so this book was a necessity. God is basically a single parent dealing with his disobedient children while trying to keep the peace and raise them into responsible adults. He had Moses lead the Israelites from Egypt ensuring their freedom and offering them a promise land and instructed them how to build and craft the Tabernacle as a place of worship and sacrifice. God did all this out of love and devotion for His people and hoped like any parent that His children would reflect his attributes. Things do not goes as planned and He gets angry and frustrated, which is understandable. I am secretly hoping the Israelites get on board with the program; otherwise I am not sure this will end well for anyone.