The book of Levitucus frequently gets criticized as the boring and outdated section of the Bible that just lists too many demanding rules. The entire Old Testament law has 613 laws, 247 of which are listed out in Leviticus. Just as a comparision, I tried to find out how many laws are on the books in the the United States. The answer is no one actually knows. I did find out that there are there are at least 5,000 federal criminal laws, with an additional 300,000 regulations that can be enforced criminally. According to the Library of Congress website, the US Law library houses 2 million different texts on the laws in the United States.
I'd say God was pretty concise.
Last week I was sitting in my office working on a quarterly report. I counted up employee hours, filled out the required form, clicked on to pay and frowned at myself. I had forgotten to write down how much tax was due and this particiular report doesn't self populate. I clicked back and the website informed me that I didn't have access to view the report which I'd just completed. I spent the next half hour ranting about dumb government regulations. I growled at the help desk guy as he tried to sort out the mixup. Turns out the reason I couldn't view my report was that my maiden name was still on file with this sub-bureau of the state. Mr. Help Desk took his time and walked me through the two forms required to update my last name and twenty minutes later I was granted permission to pay my tax. I called my mother and started in complaining and whining. She listened a while and then gently reminded me that the state has laws and rules to protect us from identity theft and that maybe I should breathe a little before I had a beaurocracy driven melt down. She also pointed out that I didn't see the good intent of Mr. Help Desk who was trying to help me through the system. Sigh. She's right.
Sometimes I react the same way when I read through Leviticus. I focus on the laws I don't understand and ignore the history. I get overwhelmed by requirements and ignore the provisions built in for grace. I kick and grumble and mock and ignore the heart of the text. When I look at the laws from rebellion and bitterness I get sideways. When I focus on the good and loving God who is walking all through the book making a way for relationship then I submit to rules from a right place. I seek to understand. I accept and give grace. And when I read about the sacrificies and priesthood I'm overwhelmed in gratitude.
The law was created to show my need for a savior who can fulfill the holy requirements.
The book of Leviticus outlines the expectations of holy and perfect God. But it's a God who recognizes right from the start that the people can't meet the expectations. And so the book outlines the path back to right balance. That path involves offerings and sacrificies, rules and consequences, priesthood and celebrations. In the grand story its also a picture hinting at the future Messiah (Savior).
One of the hard things about Leviticus is the frequency with which it gets used as a weapon. And ever notice that people tend to get hung up on the rules for other people and give themselves a pass? I am challenged by classic American pastor, A W Tozer:
"Be hard on yourself and easy on others.
Carry your own cross but never lay one on the back of another".
I know, I know. Really I get it. I've watched situations develop around me that have caused me to wince and wonder where our society was headed. Times when the idea of yelling on a box on the corner seemed morally imperative. "Hey stop! It says so in Leviticus! If I don't yell...then people will think it's okay".
Take a breath. Don't isolate this beautiful book (or any of them actually) from the full story. Context is imperative. The full story of the Bible is about justice and mercy. Both. So I believe that the soap box on the corner is less effective than an invitation to coffee. And I think it's more likely that if I introduce people to God in a friendly conversation one of two things will happen;
My friend will either say no thanks, I'm good. In which case what I say about their behavior has no relevance on their life anyway.
My friends will find that the journey with Jesus is worth the adjustments He will make clear are necessary.
And those changes are typically much bigger issues than may have hit my judgmental radar. For God asks his followers for love that looks like sacrifice. For laying down your life, loving your enemy, enduring persecution and running a race to the end. A relationship with God is everything and total. Its worth it. Completely. But what about all those rules? Truth is that God is plenty capable of communicating to other people what messes in their lives He's concerned about dealing with first. I know because I am frequently asked by God to move His direction. To change habits. To grow. To give.
The rules work themselves out when the relationship is right.
"I will also walk among you and be your God and you shall be my People" Leviticus 26:12. Sometimes Leviticus challenges me. Mostly it makes me grateful. You see Leviticus is all about relationship. That's never outdated or boring. The best relationships have some groundrules. And lots of grace.
I love this blog post from Pastor JD Greer about The Day of Atonement in Leviticus. Be sure to check it out. It's All about Jesus
This beautiful book by Francine Rivers brings to life the story of Aaron from Leviticus. If you are looking for a fun way to remember this part of the Bible this is a great option.
Here is another great installment from The Bible Project. Here is the link to the YouTube walk through of Leviticus.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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