Studies in Leviticus: Hope Beyond Leviticus

LeviticusThe book of Leviticus gets somewhat of a bad wrap. Don’t get me wrong it can be dense reading. Yet the book is fully evidences of God’s grace and mercy. It is bent towards the cultivation of a meaningful relationship between Yahweh and His people. It is a book full of hope. But Leviticus communicates that hope with shadows and longings. Hope within the book of Leviticus is ultimately only found beyond Leviticus.

The two major themes of the book are regularly assumed and illustrated: God is holy and man is sinful. Stephen Dempster believes that the book as  a whole has a negative bent. He writes:

The provision of the sacrificial system and the annual ritual of the Day of Atonement presuppose sin and transgression. (Dominion and Dynasty, 109)

God takes sin seriously and His holiness requires that the people approach Him in very precise ways with a commitment to His prescribed rituals. The two major narrative sections of the book also illustrate these themes. The first describes the installation of the priesthood, but it ends in disaster when two of Aaron’s sons violate the covenant  (10:1-2). The second narrative section recounts a man who breaks the third commandment and ends up stoned to death (24:10-23). The book even concludes with a list of the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience, yet the curses far outweigh the blessings (chapter 26). The ultimate curse being exile (26:33-39)! It’s a rather bleak future in some regard for the people of Israel. Yet there is still hope to be found. Dempster writes:

Hope is held out for Israel in a foreign land, however, and that hope is grounded not in the Sinai covenant bu tin the Abrahamic covenant which is repeated three times in one verse (Lev. 26:42). If the people confess their sins and have a change of heart, the covenant with the patriarchs will be remembered, and the end of the exile is implied. (110)

Hope, in other words, points beyond Leviticus itself, beyond the law, beyond the sacrifices, and beyond their efforts. These elements of a changed heart, the remembrance of the covenant with the patriarchs, and the end of the exile are ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

Leviticus points beyond itself to the fulfillment of Christ. Christ is the ultimate sacrifice. Christ is the perfect law-keeper. Christ is the giver of true rest. Christ through his Holy Spirit grants to the people of God a new heart. The ideas behind the sacrifices too are ultimately fulfilled in Christ. We have fellowship with God, once and for all, through the blood of His Son (Rom. 5:1). We have forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ (John 1:29). We know too that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for all time. So, the author of Hebrews writes:

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14)

Leviticus holds out hope to the people of Israel. It assures them that though God is holy and they are sinful they can have a right relationship with Him. The sacrifices make a way for God to dwell among His people. But ultimately it is Christ who “tabernacles” among us (John 1:14), whose sacrifices makes it finally possible for God to dwell with man. It is He who is Immanuel, God with us (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23).

Leviticus has hope to offer, but it is not ultimately hope found within the law and the sacrifices. It is hope beyond Leviticus. As such, it is the kind of book that can bring great encouragement to believers who are willing to read it.

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