How do you feel when your read through the Bible plan hits Leviticus? My guess is that, for many of us, that can be met with a sigh. If we are not careful, we feel that reading Leviticus is a duty. It’s like eating some sort of vegetable that is not your favorite; it’s good for you, but you’d prefer to skip it—all things being equal.
How I wish these thoughts were not the way that we often feel as Christians. Our lack of understanding of the offerings and our lack of imagination regarding the look and feel and smell of what was going on prevents us from seeing the glory of God, the seriousness of sin, the uniqueness of biblical faith, and so much more.
I recently read through Leviticus 1-3 in my daily reading. Those three chapters of Leviticus give us the rules for 3 kinds of offerings: the burnt offering, the grain offering, and the peace offering (chapters 1, 2, and 3 respectively). In our culture, 3 chapters on 3 offerings feels like a big list of rules, things to do and to avoid that have nothing to do with us. And we fail to see the difference in the offerings.
So, let’s think together for a moment about those offerings to see just a few glories. First, consider how gracious it is that God gave these rules. Would you have been able to guess how the right way would be to make a burnt offering? Would you have known that it was your job to lay your hands on the animal’s head while the priests held it still, and then it was your job to cut the animal’s throat? Would you have known that it was your job to wash the animal while it was only the priests’ jobs to apply the animal’s blood to the altar? Would you have known how to rightly divide the animal and burn its parts? Would you have known what animals were acceptable and what animals would dishonor the Lord?
It is gracious of God to tell you the rules. He did not have to. The Lord did not have to tell people how to please him. He did not have to show us how to be forgiven. He could have left us to flounder about on our own, failing and never knowing it. He could have not allowed any sacrifices. He could have just cut us off for our sin. Leviticus 1 is full of grace.
Another consideration is the import of the 3 offerings. In chapter 1, the burnt offering has to do with our sin. In chapter 2, the grain offering is an offering of gratitude to God for his provision. In chapter 3, the peace offering, again an animal offering, was an offering of fellowship with the Lord. The offering in chapter 3 was one that the offeror would share in. People would make the sacrifice, and burn the select portions of the animal on the altar, but they would also keep parts of the animal to eat. Thus, the peace offering was symbolically sharing a meal with the Lord. See the progression: Once sin was covered, grace was evident, and we could rejoice in a new, loving and kind relationship with our God.
There is also a polemical element to these 3 chapters. Much of the offerings parallel the kinds of offerings made in pagan religions. But, The Israelites were not borrowing from those religions. Instead, the offerings are intentionally different to show the difference in the Israelite understanding of the Lord and of sin. The Israelites did not use honey or Levin in their grain offerings, contrasting with Canaanite religions. The Israelites never believed that their offerings fed their deity. But, realize that the neighboring nations believed that their gods were relying on the offerings for sustenance. Leviticus, quite subtly, shows us that the worship of the Lord is unlike anything in the neighboring nations.
And, as one last thing to mention this morning, how much does this remind us of Jesus? The animals sacrificed for sin had to be perfect, unblemished. Jesus had to be our perfect offering. The one making the offering had to lay his hands on the animal’s head, symbolically transferring his guilt to the animal. Jesus took our guilt upon himself. The sinner had to cause the death of the animal, spilling its blood as if it were guilty of his own sin. Jesus shed his blood as a sin offering for all he would ever forgive. The smoke of the burnt animal was a pleasing aroma to the Lord. That was not about physical smell, but it was about the Lord being satisfied by the offering so that he could again look upon the one making the sacrifice with favor. Only through Jesus’ sacrifice can the Lord look at us with favor. The burnt offering was totally consumed with fire. That would have looked like hell. But Jesus went through the wrath of God on our behalf so as to prevent our going to hell.
Or how about seeing Jesus in the fellowship offering. The offering was made, and it centered, at the end, around a meal. In a symbolic way, the people were eating with God. They ate the flesh of the sacrifice as a way to commune with the Lord. And what did the Lord Jesus institute on the night he was betrayed? The Lord Jesus called on his disciples and the church to follow to regularly participate in a ceremony in which we symbolically consume his flesh as an act of fellowship with him and with one another.
Friends, Leviticus is beautiful. May we learn not to turn our noses up at the repetition or at the unfamiliarity. God’s word has great value if we will but look and let ourselves see. Yes, it may cost us some study and some discipline. But the reward is very much worth it.