Leviticus is hard.
To be honest, I still have some questions that I continue to wrestle with and ask God for insight and wisdom. Some of them I’ve pondered for years and probably won’t understand until Heaven.
It’s easy to focus on a few sweet, beautiful passages about God being their God, making a way for them and try to ignore the rest.
But these are also in the book:
- “…That person is to be cut off from his people. (19:8)
- “…they are to be put to death…” (19:20)
- “…Both of them must be put to death…” (20:10)
- “…you are to kill the woman…” (20:16)
- “…They will bear their guilt and die childless…” (20:20)
- “…They are to be stoned… (20:27)
- “…she must be burned to death…” (21:9)
It also can feel a bit confusing at times. First we read:
“Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners….” (19:33-34)
But then a few chapters later, I ponder what to do with this:
“You may purchase male and female slaves… purchase the children of temporary residents who live among you… treat them as your property… treat them as slaves…” (25:44-45)
A few months ago I was on a university campus in a forum where students could ask a panel of ministry leaders and pastors questions they had about Christianity. While this is not really my type of thing normally, I sensed that God was calling me to say “yes” to the request to be on the panel. One question that came through was whether each of us really believed every word in the Bible was true and from God. While I don’t know for sure, I’m wondering if these are some of the passages that student was struggling with which prompted the question.
While I can theologically use some “book-smarts” to explain what’s happening with these various moral laws, ceremonial laws, ethics, rules and rituals, my heart still struggles a bit. But, in answer to that student’s question, I still have to believe that God’s Word is true. If I don’t believe any little part of it is true, how can I trust any of it?!?
A related question surrounded how the loving God Christians portray could literally destroy everyone on earth in a flood except one family. This is where the importance of the whole of Scripture comes into play. If I pull out just one little verse here or there, or even one book, I get a completely different picture of God’s character, purpose, and plan.
Do I completely understand God flooding the whole earth? No. But I do know that God’s heart was grieving and it was not a decision he made flippantly.
“So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.” (Genesis 6:6)
Do all of these laws in Leviticus seem “right” in my mind? Not really. But God’s ways and thoughts are far beyond my own.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” (Isaiah 55:8)
So how do I see all of this and still desire to follow God? As I said before, it’s because I can read the hard verses within the context of the whole book of Leviticus and I can read Leviticus in the context of all 66 books. I can see where God enacted a perfect plan so all this death and hatred didn’t have to overtake us. I can see where God’s mercy triumphs over judgement. I can see that our God is good and a good God must also be just and fair. Justice must include a punishment, and yes, that punishment is death. Here in Leviticus this was the institution of the sacrificial system. And ultimately now we have a Savior who came to earth, lived, died, and rose again to take that punishment.
Near the end of this book we get a glimpse into that heart of God that grieves over sin so much that he couldn’t just let it be:
“But despite all this, I will not utterly reject or despise them while they are in exile in the land of their enemies. I will not cancel my covenant with them by wiping them out, for I am their God. For their sakes I will remember my ancient covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of all the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.” (26:44-45)
He still claims us as his people despite the messes we get ourselves into.
The laws we find in scripture can guide our actions and help us make wise decisions. They serve a purpose in helping us see the ways we don’t measure up and what a huge gift God’s grace is. Sin really is a big deal and God desires 100% complete holiness, however, the laws aren’t to be some burden we carry around in guilt and shame, far from God. They are here so that we can actually be near to Him. They lead the way and show us how to live in FREEDOM, not bondage.
“I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so you would no longer be their slaves. I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high.” (26:12-13)
Yes, what Romans 6:23 says is true and echoes page after page of Leviticus: the punishment for sin IS death.
Praise be to God that the verse doesn’t stop there…
“BUT THE FREE GIFT OF GOD IS ETERNAL LIFE THROUGH CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD!”
That is some truth we can cling to… something worth lifting our head and keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Have mercy on us!