The makers of the Bible Project tackle a subject few preachers dare preach on. It’s the book of Leviticus and, as they so keenly observe, “We know you’ve been avoiding it because it’s weird. So let’s fix that.”
If you’ve seen Bible Project material before, you know the producers have a gift of explaining incredibly complex issues in layman’s terms that not only help us with understanding the text, but they also relate each book to an important meta-narrative thread throughout the entire Bible: God is good and can be trusted. He loves us and spares no expense for us (even giving his one and only son for our salvation).
You might wonder—this theme is present even in Leviticus? Yes indeed, it is.
All good exegesis starts with understanding the context, which brings us straight back to Genesis chapter 2. The story of the Bible begins with humans in God’s presence. However, they were banished because of their rebellion. But God still wants to have relationship with us, so he chose one family to restore the world back into his presence.
Because God wants to be with us, his presence comes to inhabit a tent in the midst of the Israelites’ camp. The problem, though, is that God’s presence is like the sun; it is both good and dangerous at the same time. Something corrupt cannot come close to God, which is why some people perished in God’s presence.
So the whole point of Leviticus is to show how corrupt Israelites can live near God’s presence without being destroyed.
The book offers three solutions for the problem Israel faced:
These focus on ways of saying sorry to God and also remembering all that God has done in the past. These things help us recollect who God is and that he wants to be in relationship with us.
The priests were people who were given special permission to enter God’s presence. These men had to hold themselves to higher standards than others because they were allowed to go into God’s presence.
These are instructions to know when you are in a pure and impure state. Because you can’t enter God’s presence in an impure state. However, it’s important to note it’s not wrong or sinful to be ritually impure. God has provided steps to purify yourself again. What is inappropriate, though, is going into God’s presence in an impure state.
Leviticus is broken into seven sections, and each of the solutions listed above is given two sections of the book. In the very center of the book is a ritual called the Day of Atonement (perhaps included as foreshadowing to the ultimate sacrifice that would come—Jesus). This ritual is given special attention over the other rituals as it’s given its very own section and speaks of God forgiving Israel’s sin.
One of the more interesting tidbits of context mentioned in the video is about the surrounding cultures’ approach to sacrifices. Sacrifices were not uncommon when the book was penned, but the gods these sacrifices are offered to are not always accepting. The makers of the video describe the gods of the day as “fickle” and “unpredictable”—even vindictive or unresponsive. Israel’s God, however, is a character foil for the gods of the day. He not only accepts their sacrifices, he provides a clear way for people to know with confidence that they are forgiven, and despite the corruption that they are safe to live near his presence.
It is this provision and the picture of a concerned God who wants to stay in relationship with man (despite his faults) that makes the book of Leviticus a revolutionary statement in its day.
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