Leviticus. The English title is from the Greek word which is based on the Hebrew, torat kohanim, meaning “instruction of or for the priests.” The actual first word of the book is “and” because Leviticus is the sequel to Exodus. It is the continuation of the same story, with the same characters, in the same setting. A sequel is usually not as compelling as the original story. Leviticus may suffer from neglect because it is perceived to lack the drama of Exodus. In its defense, its dogma is the drama. Leviticus impresses upon us the absolute nature of God’s holiness and our need for His forgiveness. Which is to say, if we ignore Leviticus, because it’s not as melodramatic as Exodus, we are in danger of losing the depth and significance of what God expects of us and what Christ has done for us.
In Leviticus, the people of Israel were still at Sinai. In a theophanic cloud, the glory of God hovers over the Tabernacle. The cloud is the visible manifestation of God’s presence right in the middle of His people. The system of sacrifices and the code of ceremonies found in Leviticus, represents God’s prescribed means for His people to enjoy His presence. So, unlike the ending to Exodus, Moses was now permitted to enter the tent and meet with God. Aaron, the High Priest, and the other installed priests, are fulfilling their sacred duties. The first seven chapters describe a series of five offerings from two different viewpoints. In Chapters 1-5, the offerings are viewed from the perspective of the worshipper. In Chapters 6-7, the very same offerings are viewed from the perspective of the priests.
As it happened, the first three offerings were a voluntary and personal expression of worship. The first offering, and the most common, was the burnt offering (3-17). It was brought from either the herd, the flock, or birds. The different animals were based on God’s provision for every Israelite, whether rich or poor, to afford a burnt offering. A burnt offering cost everyone something. Whether the offering was from cattle, sheep, or fowl, it was acceptable to the Lord. If the offering was from the herd (i.e. bull or ox), or from the flock (i.e. sheep or goat), it had to be an unblemished male. A deformed animal was an offense to Him. The worshipper would lay his hand on the head of the offering, symbolizing his identification with the animal. The animal also became his formal substitute in order to make atonement for sin. In addition, the burnt offering belonged entirely to the Lord, except for the skin (cf. 7:8). It was fully consumed on the altar. The Hebrew word olah or “burning” refers to the offering going up in smoke and becoming a pleasing aroma to the Lord, indicating His approval and acceptance (9, 13, 17). The second voluntary offering was the grain offering or offering of thanksgiving (2:1-16). If it was unbaked flour, the priest would take a portion of the flour, enhanced with oil and frankincense, and burn “the memorial portion” to the Lord. The rest of the offering would be for the priest as a stipend for his service. If the flour was cooked, according to the worshipper’s preference (no frankincense required for the poor), the priest would burn a portion on the altar while the rest would be kept for the priest. The grain offering was to be without leaven and from the firstfruits of the worshipper’s harvest. The primary ingredient in the grain offering was salt (11-13), both for flavor and as a reminder of the permanency of the Lord’s covenant with His people. The third voluntary offering was the peace offering or an expression of praise for deliverance from a specific incident (3:1-17). It was the only offering that both the worshipper and the priest ate. It was a food offering to the Lord and a shared meal. The worshipper could choose an animal from the herd or flock. The worshipper was actively involved in slaying the animal, removing the kidney, liver and fat which were burned to the Lord as a food offering. The priest would sprinkle the blood on the altar as a sign of atonement being made. The rest of the animal was eaten as an expression of fellowship with the Lord in a communal meal.
A fourth offering, unlike the first three which were voluntary, was the required Sin Offering or the Purification Offering (4:1-35). This offering was given, “if anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them” (2, 13,22,27). God has an entire section for unintentional or inadvertent sins (i.e. the “I didn’t mean to do that or say that” kind of sin!). They were unpremeditated acts which required purification when the offense was discovered. There was an offering for the priest who sinned unintentionally (3-13). There was the offering for the whole assembly when they had sinned against the Lord (13-21). And finally, there was the sin offering for the individual worshiper (27-35). These sacrifices were bloody but after the blood was shed and atonement was made forgiveness was granted.
Our Lord God, we never outgrow the need for forgiveness. We run to Jesus for the full and free forgiveness of every sin we’ve committed. We also know that the presence of sin affects genuine fellowship with You. Forgive us today on the basis of Christ’s shed blood for sins both intentional and unintentional. Forgive us for things that we dismiss as no big deal, knowing that Jesus gave His life for every sin, so that we might be right with You. In Jesus’ Name, we pray, Amen.