Any law or set of laws reveals something about its author—his priorities, morality, ethics, and character. God’s laws for Israel’s worship do not apply directly to believers today, but they do enlighten our understanding of our God, the one who gave these laws to Israel.
I have read that the average person on the street has never read an entire book from cover to cover. Even though people buy books every day, surveys indicate that most people never read past the third chapter of the books they buy.
If you consider the Bible as a book with sixty-six chapters, most people don’t get past the third chapter—in this case, the book of Leviticus. This is where the pages start sticking together.
People want to read the entire Bible. And they often start with Genesis, make it through the book of Exodus, and then hit the wall at Leviticus.
I admit, Leviticus appears to be slow reading—with laws and sacrifices and rituals. It’s easy to think it’s just for people way back then. But God says that all of His Word is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16).
So, Leviticus is profitable for today. In fact, PQ - if you’ve ever wondered how to approach God—how to worship God—you’re going to discover some answers in Leviticus. And by the way, no other book in the Bible contains more direct quotes from God than the book of Leviticus.
The title Leviticus means, “belonging to the Levites.” The Levites represented the priestly system in Israel, and the book of Leviticus is their working manual.
In the Hebrew Bible, Leviticus 1 and verse 1 literally begins with the Hebrew word for and—and then “the Lordcalled Moses and spoke to him.” So, you need to understand that Leviticus is the sequel to the book of Exodus. The book of Exodus closed with the glory of God descending on the finished tabernacle. Leviticus tells us what happens next and, most importantly, how to receive forgiveness from God.
How in the world do you think you’re going to get along with God? How do you think you’ll ever be allowed to live forever with a holy God when you can’t get through one day without sinning against Him?
Well, God is going to give the Israelites the answer here through these laws, sacrifices, and offerings—all of which represent spiritual truths. Hebrews 10:1 says that this Old Testament sacrificial system was a “shadow of the good things to come.” Leviticus is a book of illustrations, so to speak, of the coming, sacrificial death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who will be introduced later in the New Testament as the Lamb of God who came to pay the final sacrifice for your sins and mine.
In the first seven chapters of Leviticus, we’re given five offerings, and the first one is the burnt offering. The details are given beginning here in verses 2-3 of chapter 1:
“When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish.”
I know these instructions sound strange, especially if this is a new subject for you. The main point here isn’t so much about a ritual but about rebellion. Sin is rebellion against a holy God, and the penalty for sin has to be paid if we’re to be right with God; sin has to be atoned for.
By presenting the burnt offering, the person is agreeing with God that he has sinned; he’s taking the initiative in bringing an innocent, unblemished animal to die in his place, just as God instructed.
According to verse 9, this animal becomes “a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” Now obviously God doesn’t need anything to eat, and He doesn’t need to smell the aroma of a good steak down there on the grill. What God wants is an honest admission of sin.
True confession takes place when we agree with God about sin. When the apostle John writes, “If we confess our sins” (1 John 1:9), that word “confess” means “to agree with.” When we agree with God that what we did was sinful, He forgives us.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who don’t think they’re sinners. “Somebody else is the sinner, not me. I’m not a bad person.” They will never agree with God that they’ve sinned. And beloved, that’s why they remain unforgiven—they won’t admit their sin to God.
You’ll notice here that the offering needs to be an animal without blemish—without any defect. And this points ahead to the sinless Lord Jesus, who died for us.
Here in Leviticus chapter 2, we have the second offering called the grain, or meal, offering. In verses 1-3 we read:
“When anyone brings a grain offering . . . to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it and bring it to Aaron's sons the priests . . . and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar . . . But the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons.”
This meal offering was an act of gratitude, and it accomplished two things. First, it became food for the priests; this was their paycheck. Second, it gave someone a way to thank the Lord for accepting the earlier burnt offering for sin.
In verse 2, we’re told that the offering had to be made of fine flour. It was ground up and sifted multiple times, which made it the finest flour available. Then it was to be sprinkled with frankincense, an expensive, fragrant oil. This sweet-smelling offering was a thank-you to God, who had accepted their offering for sin.
You might remember that Jesus was given gifts by the wise men, and one of the gifts was frankincense. This was a prophetic gift that pointed to the fact that Jesus would become the sweet-smelling sacrifice to God the Father, who had accepted the offering of Christ for our sin.
There’s one more element involved in this grain offering. Here in verse 13, we find this command: “With all your offerings you shall offer salt.”
Salt pictured cleansing and preservation; the relationship between a forgiven sinner and a holy God was clean and preserved. God isn’t going to forget these atoning sacrifices—He doesn’t throw us away without any hope.
I remember growing up with my three brothers, and just about every Sunday afternoon we had to take a nap—which I later figured out wasn’t for us at all but for our parents. After that nap, we would hop in the car with Dad and drive about eight blocks down Johnson Road to an outdoor basketball court next to an elementary school. One afternoon we finished our game and headed home, only to realize after we climbed out of the car that our youngest brother, six years old, had been left down there by accident. So back we went. I remember my little brother’s question, over and over on the way back, “Daddy, why’d you forget me? Why’d you forget me?”
Well, whether you’re six years old, or sixty-five, the last thing you want to be is forgotten by God the Father.
Leviticus is telling Israel—and us—God hasn’t forgotten you; He’s made a way for you to approach Him, to be forgiven by Him, to be cleansed and remembered by Him. And today, that comes through the final sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who paid for your sin and mine.
So, let’s unstick the pages of this great book. The question isn’t, “Why should we study the book of Leviticus?” The question is, “How can we afford not to?”