Leviticus: Relating to a Holy God

Reflection: Leviticus, Hebrews 9

Leviticus is a formidable instructional book, as it reads somewhat like the mundane dos-and-don’ts of a Social Etiquette Guide. In the Torah (the Teaching), the early scribes placed Leviticus at the central panel of the first five books of the Bible, and the arrangement implied that it is to be read together with the Pentateuch as a whole and not in isolation. The narrative setting of the book is between Exodus 19 to Numbers 10, when Israel encamped at the base of Mount Sinai for two years. Although the initial directives are addressed to the newly inaugurated Hebrew priesthood, Yahweh’s foundational charge to the whole fledging Jewish nation is “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (19:2). Man has not the slightest clue what His holiness entails if God did not elaborate on it!

The focus on covenant and its maintenance (26) is paramount for a nation, whose distinctive identity is being moulded in the desert. Documenting the criteria for a sustainable association with a holy God, Leviticus constantly emphasizes the preservation of purity within the covenant community; whether they involve sacrifices, dietary taboos, diseases, sex, tithing, worship/festivals or daily life. This is imperative, as holiness is not an intrinsic quality man can possess of his own accord, as it is a characteristic of God that cannot be shared, only imitated. Furthermore, it embraces separateness from the created order that is specifically what the ancient Israelite community was called to be – a holy people, a priestly nation, and a witness to the world of God’s holiness. An impossible responsibility but nevertheless a high calling.

It is obvious that Leviticus is all about a relationship, describing the boundaries of that unique and holy affiliation; its modus operandi being through the institution of sacrifices; for forgiveness had to be purchased for each misdemeanor. In fact, the process into Divine fellowship is so critical that the book is formulated as groups of laws and commandments. Reflecting it, Hebrews 9 summarizes for us how God Himself in the end had to bridge this chasm, in place of those sacrifices that had to be made continually to Him, to maintain that covenant relationship. Jesus is both the high priest and the sacrificial lamb ‘whose blood cleanses us from all sin,’ restoring permanently right relationship with God for us today – a potent, relevant and efficacious sacrifice.

Our Lord clears the path so that you and I may enter the equivalent of the Holy of holies, the very presence of God. I recalled one evening as I was running down the day and quietly worshipping and reading about God’s holiness, when all of a sudden I sensed a presence in the room. His invisibility nonetheless betrayed His whereabouts. His holiness was pervasive, and immediately I was overwhelmed with my own sheer unworthiness, as tears flowed, as I pled for His blood covering. Then an unfathomable peace prevailed as I closed my eyes and bowed in silence – reverencing His holy presence for a few minutes. And He was gone. As you can imagine, He left an ache in my heart. But He has not left us!

Leviticus informs us of the process of holiness that God required of His peculiar people, set apart for Himself. Yet this system was incomplete, casting a long shadow until the advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. He reversed Levitical uncleanliness in whomever He touched. Rather than being made unclean Himself when He touched the lame, the blind, the lepers, and the woman with the flow of blood, they became clean. In Christ, the Levitical prescriptions had been fulfilled, and in Him we ‘embody’ holiness – a fearful status and awesome responsibility!