As I write this, we've been reading Leviticus and other parts of
the Mosaic Law in our daily readings. " I just can't cope with
Leviticus!" was the comment from a sister, as we pulled out
the Bible Companion to 'do the readings'. It seems impossible
to extract any spiritual lessons from Leviticus. I guess we've all
had that feeling as we read through the Law, and indeed other parts
of Scripture which just seem so remote from our twentieth century
lives. When we're relatively new to Bible reading, this kind of
thing can be a real turn off. So following are a few thoughts to
help us cope with Leviticus- and other Scripture.
- There are a number of references in Scripture to books like
the book of Jasher (e.g. Josh. 10:13) which we no longer have
available to us. Whether they were inspired or not, we don't know;
but the point is, they are no longer available to us because God
knows that we do not need them. By contrast, the elaborate rituals
of the Mosaic Law have been preserved for us; God would
not have inspired and preserved books like Leviticus unless they
were important for us.
- The Law constantly emphasized the sinfulness of man. Thus a
woman had to offer a sin offering after menstruation, even though
she hadn't sinned. The idea of being 'unclean' when you hadn't
personally done anything wrong would have taught the Israelites
that having done all, they were still unprofitable servants. Therefore
God wishes us to go through life, not with personal self-doubt,
but with a constant awareness that so many things can
defile us, and knowing our total inability to be saved by our
own efforts. The Israelite was being taught to have a real faith
in God's grace- hour by hour in their daily experience of life.
Would that we had something or somebody to nudge our conscience
in this spiritually dead world of ours.
- It might help if we try to visualize the practical benefits
of keeping the laws. " In keeping of them is great reward"
, David commented (Ps. 19:11). Moses likewise: " The Lord
commanded us to do all these statutes...for our good always"
(Dt. 6:24)- not for their irritation, or as a pointless test of
obedience. Perhaps this is why the giving of the Law is described
as an expression of God's love for Israel (Dt. 33:2-4).
Have you ever thought of the Law like that? It was the loving
marriage contract between God and Israel. We must see the keeping
of the law by the faithful Israelite as being done within a certain
spiritual atmosphere. It would have been impossible to keep all
those laws from a series of deliberate acts of the will. The truly
obedient Israelite would have developed a way of life and thinking,
a culture of kindness to others, which achieved obedience to them.
This was surely how Jesus was able to perfectly fulfil the Law.
" If a man do (the commands) he shall even live in them"
(Lev. 18:5) seems to refer to this atmosphere of obedience. Indeed,
Dt. 4:2 suggests that God had given them just the right commands
" that ye may keep" them. In other words, obedience
to one command would lead to obedience to another, so that a whole
way of life could be developed which was in accord with God's
laws. Successful keeping of the commandments of Christ is similar.
Viewed one by one, they can seem just too much to cope with. David
found that keeping God's laws made it even easier to keep them;
there was an upward spiral of conformity to God's mind. Thus he
asks God to give him any other commandments which God desired;
rather than thinking 'I can't cope with all these, so no more,
- The whole of the Law points forward to Christ in some way.
This is the greatest of the lessons from Leviticus. We desperately
seek to understand Him more closely, to appreciate the intricate
beauty of His character. The Gospels give us the cold facts about
the man Jesus of Nazareth. There is little interpretation or insight
given into the inner man of Jesus (except possibly in John's Gospel).
Yet the New Testament speaks as if we ought to know Jesus as a
person, a real close friend. How are we to do this? The answer
lies in learning from books like Leviticus. So, don't be frightened
to see echoes of the spirit of Jesus throughout the Old
Testament. For example, a woman was unclean for 33 days after
the birth of a son (Lev. 12:4). It can be no accident that the
Lord lived for 33 years- in such close association with unclean
humanity that He was identified with our uncleanness. The
exalted Lord therefore knows what it feels like to be 'unclean',
even though He didn't sin. So when we sin, and feel Christ doesn't
know what it feels like: well, Leviticus teaches us that He does
appreciate it! Nowhere in the Gospels do you get such depth of
insight into the relationship we really can have with
our Lord. Hebrews is really an exposition of the Law with reference
to the Lord. The writer uses phrases like " seeing then....let
us...." - the argument, and the positive encouragement, is
built upon an assumed familiarity with the Law.
- Talking of women getting unclean, it's easy to mutter to yourself:
'Unclean if you did this, unclean if you did that! Just touch
a bed and you were unclean, had to go and wash in water, sometimes
wash all your clothes...when you hadn't really done anything wrong.
Enough to send me up the wall! What a bind, what a pain in the
neck! What sort of lessons from Leviticus are these?'. But this
was exactly the attitude of unfaithful Israel: " Ye said
also, What a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it"
(Mal. 1:13). The book of Malachi is full of words like this. What
a contrast with David! The whole of Ps. 119 describes how he rejoiced
at God's law, staying up late at night, straining his eyes into
the candlelight to read it, getting up first thing in the morning
to read some more (Ps. 119:147,148). He obviously saw something
in it that perhaps we don't. Perhaps he appreciated more keenly
the prophecies of Messiah than we do. Peter makes the point that
David knew so much about Jesus, although he wasn't even born then,
that David could say: " I foresaw the Lord (Jesus) always
before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not
be moved" (Acts 2:25). David " foresaw" the coming
of Jesus at all times; the only source of knowledge he had was
the Law of Moses (remember David lived before the time of the
Old Testament prophets like Isaiah). Jesus was ever present in
David's thinking; thanks to his meditation upon the Law of Moses.
The key to his deep insight is found in Ps. 119:18: " Open
thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law"
. He prayed before he unrolled those scrolls, recognizing that
if he read those words in his own intellectual strength, they
would just be black print on white paper. Perhaps this
is why we find the Law hard to cope with; we don't pray enough
before 'doing our readings'. In my own study, sometimes I find
a chapter of the Law opens up beautifully, at others I find it
hard to get anywhere with. The fault is in my attitude of mind,
not in the Law itself, which is totally perfect (Rom. 7:12), and
a superb expression of the ways and mind of God (Is. 42:24).