As I said in the last post, there is gracious provision supplied by God at the beginning of the “holiness code” we find in the book of Leviticus. A Christian reading of these texts is usually filtered through Paul (or, perhaps more precisely, a particular way of reading Paul) and often leads to easy reductions, such as, “The old covenant was all about law while the new covenant is about grace.” Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is that kind of statement wildly off base — it completely overlooks the tremendous grace God repeatedly extends to Israel, while also overlooking the harder teachings of Jesus relative to discipleship — it is actually theologically harmful. Perhaps I’ll write more about that sometime.
For now, it’s enough to note the merciful provision supplied by God. Again, as I noted in the post about chapters 1-2, you get the idea here that God can work with almost any sacrifice. A variety of different offerings are found throughout Leviticus and these offerings are “for” a variety of different purposes. But taken as a whole, they undoubtedly point to a gracious law-giver, one who provides detailed instructions for these offerings because he (1) takes sin very seriously but also (2) because he wants us to understand the lengths to which he is willing to go to remove the stain of sin.
To that end, a careful reading of Leviticus 3-4 leaves us with a great awareness of the power of blood. Our minds will rush to the old hymn, “There’s Power in the Blood” and rightly so — the sacrificial system prescribed in Leviticus ultimately points beyond itself to the atoning death of Christ, the Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). But Leviticus also affirms the blood’s power to restore community. Sin — failure to image God — not only impairs one’s relationship with God, but it also damages our relationships with one another. It has been well documented that the Ten Commandments are ordered along the lines of commands regarding right relationship with God (#1-4) and commands regarding right relationship with others (#5-10), in keeping with the great teaching of Jesus about love for God and love for others (Matt. 22). We should not forget that the command to love your neighbor as yourself was first found in Leviticus.
Sin is regarded as such a threat in the Scriptures because it disrupts the shalom of God’s creation. God decrees his creation to be “good” as everything dwells in right relationship. But sin mars this good creation, perverting it, warping it into a sub-standard world far removed from God’s original intention. By the end of Genesis 3, creation has been subjugated by humanity’s rebellion and the balance of the Scriptures delineate God’s mission to reconcile his creation back to himself.
The shalom of creation is restored through atonement, one of the primary themes of Leviticus. Thus shalom is restored between God and man in the redemptive work of Christ. Sin and its penalty have been removed by the blood of Jesus, which cleanses us of all sin (1 John 1:7). But the power of the blood extends to also restore shalom between you and me. Leviticus points to this with the provision of peace/fellowship offerings as well as offerings for sin. And Jesus reinforces this by calling us to be a forgiving, reconciling people (Matt. 6:14-15; 2 Cor. 5).
God is concerned about both the horizontal and vertical dimensions of our lives. This theme is found in Leviticus and repeated throughout the Scriptures. The commands help us live in right relationship, not only with God, but also with one another.