Lessons from Leviticus
The book of Leviticus can look so dry, but once deeply explored, it bursts to life. You can read each of the following lessons in just a couple minutes, but they’ll teach you about the heart of humans and the heart of God. Each lesson may plunge you into deeper study. Plus, you’ll more deeply understand and appreciate the teachings of Jesus. We pray that your life will be transformed by Leviticus – God’s Word.
1 – Leviticus Matters.
If you’ve ever committed to reading the whole Bible, there’s a good chance you sailed through Genesis and Exodus, but then came to a screeching halt when you arrived at Leviticus. But whatever you do, don’t write it off. There are big reasons to love this book:
- When Jesus commanded, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he was quoting Leviticus.
- It’s among the most cited books by other Biblical authors.
- It helps us understand the backdrop of significant concepts like sacrifice, offering, atonement, redemption, holiness, and priesthood.
Following Jesus’ resurrection, but when most people hadn’t seen him yet, Jesus joined two believers on the road to Emmaus. Not realizing it was Jesus, they told him all about what had transpired. Jesus listened a lot and then taught. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). When we look closely, we find truth, depth, and Jesus in the pages of Leviticus.
2 – God wants our best (Lev. 1).
If God is going to move into our neighborhood, he requires that we recognize His kingship of our lives by giving our best. “Present a male without defect” (1:3). God does not desire our second-hand gifts, half-baked efforts, or leftover time. He wants our best.
We tend to shortchange God by giving him something less than our best. An expert in the law carried this mindset when he essentially asked, “How small of a circle – how few people – can I love and still keep the law?”
Don’t give to God with the thought, “What can I live without?” Instead, listen to what Paul says: “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom 12:1).
Is God getting your best, or have you relegated him to the leftovers? Does he get the choice hours of your time, or does he have to fight to get penciled into your schedule? Does your giving reflect that he is #1? Do your moral choices honor Him or are they something less? God gave us His best in Christ. Is reciprocating too much to ask?
3 – God invites us to dinner (Lev. 3).
The fellowship offering was the only offering for which the average Hebrew could participate. A meal was a covenant expression of welcome. The Fellowship offering was their opportunity to gather as guests around God’s table to witness once again his divine provision.
We have an opportunity weekly to gather around a table at the invitation of God to witness once again the provision of God through the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf. Jesus established this new covenant feast … the Lord’s Supper. Jesus sets the condition of table fellowship in him. It is his blood, his body, his sacrifice that draws us back to him. This table is about covenant. It is about relationship with God. It is about Him inviting us to dine with him, to spend time with him, to get to know him, to love and be loved by him. Everyone is welcome!
4 – Offerings are intended to draw us close.
The word “offering” could be translated as “the come-near-me thing.” Our gifts are intended to God draw us close. Jesus knows that our hearts become attached to the recipients of our gifts. It’s why the more you give to a church, charity, or child, the more you love them. “For where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Some might have complained that offering livestock or grain was a pointless waste. Some would be just as wrong as those who criticized the woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus. “Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). As she gave a valuable offering to Jesus, her heart drew close.
5 – God provides a way for the poor to participate without shame (Lev. 5:7).
“I’d like to come to church, but these are the nicest clothes I have.” I’d just met Kevin in our Food Pantry. Hearing him assume that God or our church would not accept him based on his clothing was heartbreaking. Lots of people assume that their best will never be acceptable to God.
While Leviticus gave precise instructions for what is acceptable for each offering, God provided relief for those who cannot afford the costly offerings. For instance, if one could not afford a lamb, they could bring two pigeons. God doesn’t turn the poor away simply because they are unable to pay their “fair share”. He seeks presence with them too.
In the same way, Jesus spent most of his time with the outcast, the poor, and despised. While the Pharisees gloated about their position, Jesus demonstrated that God still has a heart for nearness to the poor and oppressed. Paul even acknowledges that the early church had a particular reach for including the poor in the gospel proclamation (1 Cor 1:26).
6 – Apologizing isn‘t always enough (Lev 5-6).
Apologizing is a necessary beginning, but it’s not always the end.
God required the Israelites to pay restitution when they wronged another person, plus twenty percent. Why? Because God wants us to make every effort possible to restore peace with others. Paying restitution does not guarantee they will accept an apology, but it sure does help.
Repentance as an inward experience often needs an outward expression. If I were to steal someone’s wallet with their last dollar in it, would apologizing to them and asking God for forgiveness be enough? What if I were to spread a rumor that destroyed someone’s reputation? Would asking God’s forgiveness restore that person’s reputation? Real repentance will authenticate itself by seeking to make things right for those who have been wronged.
The scheming ways ways of Zacchaeus drove many to poverty and him to great wealth. But before his dinner party with Jesus ends, he’s determined to make things right. He declares that he’s going to pay back everyone four times the amount he wrongfully charged them. Jesus declares, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). Repentance without change isn’t repentance at all. Repentance without restitution can be highly questionable.
7 – We’ve all been ordained as priests (Lev 8).
During Aaron’s ordination, he stepped through a variety of stages that mirror the steps to becoming part of the family of God (Acts 2:38). He needed to repent and undergo a ceremonial washing. Moses performed an offering for Aaron’s sins and anointed him for his priestly duty. Do you see it? “Repent and be baptized [washing] for the remission of sin [sacrifice] and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit [anointing].” This ordination anticipates when Peter would later say, “You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” If you are a Christ-follower you have a priestly role to fill in helping others bridge to God.
8 – Do everything the Lord commands.
Pay Pay Pay Pay Pay Pay Pay attention to the repetition.
Seven times – that’s the number of times a section from chapter 8 ended with something like, “And they did everything the Lord commanded” (vs. 4, 9, 13, 17, 21, 29, 36).
They did not pick and choose what to obey. They did not do some of what the Lord commanded. They did it ALL. Daily we find ourselves at crossroads. May we do all the Lord commands today.
9 – There is complete joy and reverence in God’s presence.
When you show up at your friend’s house, you might be the life of the party. Or you might just blend in. Or you might be a party pooper. But there is nothing like what happens when God shows up! After following all of God’s commands (see previous lesson), “The glory of the Lord appeared to all the people…When all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown” (9:24). When they experienced God’s presence, they tasted his goodness and they shouted for joy. They also tasted his holiness and they fell facedown. A proper response to God includes both joy and reverence.
10 – Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
You are probably familiar with the phrase, “snatching victory from the jaws of defeat”. It describes those instances when certain defeat is overcome by a unbelievable come-from-behind victory. Israel witnessed its greatest victory – God demonstrated his acceptance of the priestly offering in Leviticus 9. That gave the Israelites reason for joyful celebration. However, immediately afterwards, Aaron’s sons blew it (10:1). They disregarded God’s commands. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
I shouldn’t be quick to condemn Aaron’s sons. How often have I done the same kind of thing, like starting an argument with my wife immediately after worship, or praying a concern into God’s hands only to pick it back up again? Or I may promise God that I will leave a sin behind only to find myself its victim once again. I am too often like Aaron’s sons, seeing a tremendous move of God only to put his plan in reverse.
11 – Jesus is The Perfect High Priest.
After Aaron’s sons are turned to toast because they thought they could make the rules, God gave Aaron a new set of rules for performing his duties. These rules include a prohibition from entering God’s presence except on a determined time and a prohibition against drunkenness. Human priests will always have a problem with imperfection and sin. That is why the High Priest would have to present an offering for himself before he could present an offering to remove the guilt from the people. In recent years, we have been witness to a number of high profile ministers who have fallen to sin to the dismay of their churches. In contrast, Jesus is our perfect High Priest: sinless, perfect, and holy. Because of his sinlessness, he is able to adequately and appropriately deal with our problem with sin once and for all (Hebrews 4:16).
12 – Our souls need Christ’s atonement.
If someone’s crazy bull had a habit of goring people and then killed someone, they could face death (Exodus 21). God’s intention with this law was simple: all people must view every human life as eternally precious. He instituted a strict, divinely-appointed system to assure that innocent people would not be wrongfully killed.
However, there was a twist with this law. The victim’s family could, instead of demanding the death of the guilty person, choose for a payment to be made to them. This payment was called “atonement.”
Our sin means we deserve death (Romans 6:23), but Christ’s death is sufficient payment – atonement – for our sins. All of us need Christ’s atonement. Have you expressed your gratitude to Him today?
13 – Our surroundings need Christ’s atonement.
God made a way to atone for not just people, but a place. “He will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been” (16:16). Our sins don’t just pollute our souls, they pollute our homes, our cities, our planet. We need Christ’s atonement. The work of the church addresses spiritual, physical, emotional, and financial needs. We pray for God’s Kingdom to come, and we work to help our world become the place God intended.
14 – Look for the principles.
What are we to do with all of these strange laws about open sores, mold, food restrictions, human bodily fluids, childbirth, and carcasses in Leviticus 11-15? Should we observe them? Are we duty-bound as the people of God to tear down our house if we have a recurring mold problem? Must we still avoid shrimp and pork chops?
Here is the hinge point: Principle over practice. These rules were given to the Israelites to define them as distinct from the people who surrounded them. They were given to a specific people at a specific time. Yet there is a principle to observe in all of the laws. While the particular practice may no longer be an issue, God wants us to live in a way that keeps us pure and distinct from the unbelieving world around us.
15 – Jesus reverses the curses.
The purity codes can cause more confusion than any other section of Leviticus (11-15). People would be deemed impure if they got a bad rash, touched a dead body, or ate certain foods. Then they’d have to go through a process before they could re-enter normal society. The impure could infect the pure.
Fast forward to the book of Luke. Jesus starts engaging with people who would’ve been classified as impure (consider the man with leprosy, the woman with the issue of bleeding, a dead body, etc.) But guess what? They don’t infect him with impurity. He infects them. He spreads his holiness, grace, and love. If you run to Jesus, your sins won’t infect him. Rather his holiness, grace, and love will infect you. What are you waiting for?
16 – God is good and dangerous.
The world doesn’t agree on much, but we can all agree that the sun is good. Very good. At the same time, we recognize its danger. Walking across the Sahara is a bad idea. Sitting on the parking lot outside of my office as I type this is a bad idea (it’s currently 90 degrees outside). The sun is simultaneously good and dangerous.
So is God.
He’s good because…well, he’s good. He’s dangerous to us because we are not good. Approaching him in our unholy state is like flying a rocket into the sun.
“The Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die'” (16:2). We have become so comfortable thinking of God as an affectionate lover that we have forgotten that God can still be scary. Just because He is loving, we ought not to take God’s holiness lightly. God isn’t like a permissive parent that just smiles when his children misbehave. This is the same God who prepares a lake of fire for those who disregard his direction. It is not safe to trifle with a “raging fire” (Hebrews 12:29).
17. We need to be washed.
Aaron’s ordination began with a sacred washing. He was told to bathe himself before performing his duties (16:24). Washing was for more than cleaning off dirt. It was a means of ritually cleansing oneself of the common and corrupt with which one came into contact. I Peter says baptism isn’t about making our bodies clean (although the symbolism is intentional), it’s about God removing our sins. The priest was bathed in water to be clean. We are baptized in Jesus to be saved – to die to our old selves, raised to life, born again, united with Christ (Acts 2:38, Romans 6).
18 – Take a posture of humility.
How would you present yourself in the presence of someone of imminent authority? If you were to be presented before a global dignity, someone would meet with you beforehand to spell out for you the appropriate protocols. One way of approaching Leviticus is to understand it as a description of the protocols Israel was given for meeting her King. Humility is critical to be in good standing with God. Aaron had to dress down from his formal priestly attire to the dress of a servant when he presented the Day of Atonement sacrifice in the Holy of Holies. Any pretense of being a person of power and privilege needed to be shed in the face of God. When presenting myself before God I should not presume upon Him. God is God, and I am not.
19. Something greater is here.
Do your sins seem too great? Does your past seem insurmountable?
The Israelites understood that all of the rituals were incomplete. Something greater was coming. Someone greater was coming – a perfect priest, a perfect sacrifice, a perfect temple. Perfect Jesus.
Jesus removes our sins, makes us clean, gives us the opportunity to draw near to him, and is given to us so we can have eternal life. Your sins don’t get the final say. God gets the final say. He can make you clean. Your sins don’t keep you from being with God. He makes a way for you to be with Him. Will you accept God’s gift?
20 – Works don’t save, but are necessary (Lev 17-20).
Christianity has long been embroiled in a battle over the place of our behavior in the scheme of redemption. One side says that our behavior (works) are necessary for salvation. The other side argues vehemently that we are saved by faith (and faith alone). I think the battle is over the wrong matter. In Leviticus, the Israelites are told to be obedient to the commands of Yahweh. To be disobedient put them at risk of being “cast out”. So one might ask if living by the law saved them as God’s people. The answer is a profound NO. They were already God’s covenant people. Observance of the law didn’t make Israel God’s people. Observance of the law demonstrated they were already in covenant relationship.
Likewise, works do not save us. The redeeming sacrifice of Jesus makes us a covenant people. However, obedience does provide a pretty good indicator of whether or not we are in a covenant relationship with God.
21 – God is the primary giver.
In the sacrifices and offerings of Leviticus, who is the primary giver? I’d always thought the people were. I was wrong.
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar” (17:11).
God gave them the creatures, grain, or whatever it was so that they could give the offering. Like a child who puts a quarter in the offering (which is awesome & good), we realize that the quarter may have come from mom or dad. Likewise, the person who gives $100 ought to recognize that all resources (and the ability to earn them) are gifts from God.
He’s always been the primary giver. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
22 – Bow not to the culture of your past or the present.
Some of us get nostalgic and elevate the culture of our past above the culture of God. Others swallow the trends and teachings of the current day without discernment. God has a warning for both: “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices” (18:3).
God delivered Israel from the brutal slaveholders of Egypt, and soon they’d be surrounded by the godless people of Canaan. God warned them of idolizing either culture. We too should realize that the cultures of our past and present can shape us. Neither deserve our hearts. Instead,God calls us to be transformed by him – part of His Kingdom, His culture. So let’s submit our lives to be fully formed by Christ.
23 – God cares about morality and justice.
Some people, churches, and politicians talk a lot about morals, but say nothing about justice. Others do the complete opposite. God covers both in consecutive chapters, not letting anyone off the hook. Chapter 18 describes a litany of out-of-bounds sexual conduct. Chapter 19 commands God’s people to take special care of the most vulnerable in society. Jesus quoted this text when he commanded, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Bible clarifies that “your neighbor” includes the poor, disabled, foreigner, widow, orphaned, and enemy.
Many ignore the sexual ethics of Scripture. Others ignore Scripture’s call for justice. Choose the narrow path that follows them both.
24 – God longs for us to rest in Him.
Each of the holy days in Leviticus 23 are described in terms of Sabbath Rest. “Do no regular work” (23:1, 7, 21, 25, 35). Sabbath is the rhythm that God designed for us to live by.
People tend to run at breakneck speed. They have so filled their schedules that they dare not push the pause button. If God wanted to interrupt your schedule, would you have the time?
Don’t be too busy for Sabbath Rest. Take the time you need to revitalize, renew, and relax. But also, take your Sabbath to repent and remember. Soak it in. God designed you for this. God has done this. As I saw on a meme recently, “It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.”
(“The Deeply Transformed Life” by Rich Villodas has an excellent section on Sabbath. We highly recommend it.)
25 – God cares about our calendars.
Leviticus 23 lists seven festivals/sacred assemblies that were to be prioritized above anything else on their calendar. Some lasted a full week. They involved food, fellowship, hospitality, worship, remembrance, offerings, and celebration. God told them to set aside one day per week (Sabbath), multiple days in the Spring, more days after Harvest, and then even more in the Fall.
God had something in mind: “A ritual calendar for Israelites to structure their lives so that big chunks of their time were dedicated to meet with God” (The Bible Project).
When you look at your calendar, what does it say about your priorities? What would it take to make sure your calendar reflects devotion to God, realizing we need to constantly re-center our hearts on Him? God cares about how we order our time.
26 – Party like it’s 3300 BC.
Every 50 years the Israelites were to push the restart button. Those who had experienced economic hardship, forcing them to sell their family’s land inheritance had the land returned to their family. Those who sold themselves into servitude would be set free. Debts were canceled. Everyone got a reset. Doesn’t that sound great?
Once every half-century they could taste Eden. Once every fifty years things would be restored as they should. It is suggested, though, that the Israelites never employed these rules which protected their society from an ongoing cycle of generational poverty. What a shame.
Jubilee was to be a taste of heaven on earth, when God’s “kingdom would come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). That’s how our Bible ends … Eden restored. We still anxiously await the time when Eden is fully restored, and all is made right. Jubilee.
27 – Good news or bad news – it’s up to you.
As Leviticus draws to a close, chapter 26 introduces us to an extended list of blessings and curses. The blessings are those things God would do on behalf of Israel if they remained faithful to their covenant relationship with Yahweh. The curses are defined in terms of the withdrawal of blessing if they are unfaithful to the covenant. Notice, God left it in the hands of the Israelites whether or not they would be blessed or cursed. The determining factor would be their faithfulness. As long as they were faithful, God would be faithful to his promises. When they break the covenant all bets are off. Israel throughout the Old Testament lived in an ongoing cycle of covenant unfaithfulness, curse, repentance, and blessing.
But, what about now? In Jesus has the curse been alleviated?
Well, yes and no. The curse of sin and death has been defeated, but God still does not accept unfaithfulness. Jesus tells one of the churches in Revelation that he will remove their lampstand from his midst if they continue in the way they are going. Repeatedly, the church is warned to stand strong in covenant faith because to falter places them under judgment. Unfaithfulness still has frightening consequences … so be careful to live as a covenant follower.
What lesson did you need to hear?
Leviticus by Jay Sklar (Tyndale)
Leviticus-Numbers by Woods & Rogers (College Press)
The Bible Project https://bibleproject.com/
Leviticus by Richard Hess (Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised)
Teaching Leviticus by G. Geoffrey Harper