“If the offering is a Whole-Burnt-Offering from the herd, present a male without a defect at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting that it may be accepted by God. Leviticus 1:3 (MSG)
My grandfather was a court bailiff and as a child I spent my spring break with him at the courthouse. I still remember the long bookshelves, stacked floor to ceiling with an important set of leather bound books entitled “Code of Iowa.” It was the “book of law” for the state of Iowa. Call it the rule book for our society. It prescribes the rules by which we live together and on which our judicial system judges those who break the rules.
Leviticus is not an inspirational book of song lyrics (like Psalms). It is not a devotional book of wise sayings (like Proverbs). It is not a biographical story (like Matthew). Leviticus is an ancient book of law. Like the Code of Iowa sitting on the county courthouse shelf, Leviticus is the “Code of (ancient) Israel.”
We also have to remember the time and historical circumstance in which the book of Leviticus was given. A couple of million Israelites had just left slavery in Egypt. An entire nation with their flocks and herds now found themselves wandering in the desert together. There was no system of government. There wasn’t an agreed upon set of rules. It was a law-less nomadic society; Imagine the entire population of the state of Iowa (complete with farmers taking their livestock) grabbing everything they could carry and making their way on foot toward Canada [Canadians will appreciate that I made them “the promised land” in this metaphor]. Leviticus was God’s attempt to provide some basic rules for life and worship to an ancient people whose daily life we can scarcely imagine in a time and culture very different from our own.
Besides being mindful of the historical context, there are two things I always try to keep in mind while wading through the Code of (ancient) Israel. First, the common link we have to that people is our sin nature. We all blow it and fall short of God’s holy perfection. The sacrificial system prescribed by Leviticus is an initial attempt in history to deal with the core spiritual problem: man is sinful, separated from God, and therefore stands condemned to die.
Second, God is a God of metaphor, so the Code of worship and conduct prescribed in Leviticus is going to provide word pictures and foreshadowing to the larger story God is authoring. For example, the first sacrificial offering prescribed is a “male without defect.” Picture Jesus, God’s own Son, a male without defect, dying on the cross. Two thousand years before Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross, God was trying to give people a word picture of the ultimate plan in the sacrifices He prescribed.
Today, I’m mindful of an epic story of grand design which is still being authored, of which I am a part. And, I’m thankful for a God of detail who has a master plan, even though my finite mind can’t completely comprehend it.