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Loving Leviticus

Friday I talked about my favorite verse, so today I thought I would answer the inevitable question about my favorite book of the Bible: "WHY do you love Leviticus?!".

It's a fair question. I'm not sure even the people who write entire commentaries and other books on Leviticus would claim it as their favorite book. For the average reader, the seemingly endless priestly laws are worse than even the "begats" of the genealogies. Surveys have shown that when someone sets out to read the Bible from cover to cover, they frequently stall at Leviticus and simply abandon the attempt. (Me, I get bogged down exactly one book later in Numbers, my personal least favorite book in Scripture.) We all handle stories fairly well, but in the age of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it's difficult for most to muster both energy and interest to read twenty-seven chapters of rules governing sacrifice, leprosy, and various purity laws. Didn't Jesus fulfill all that anyway?

My love for the Bible's most hated book came from being forced to analyze it in minute detail. A seminary professor assigned a survey of Leviticus, telling us to take 10-12 hours to read and dissect it. By the end of hour one, I wanted to change professions. By the end of hour three, I still felt like I was caught up in a hostage situation. By the end of hour twelve, however, I found a relational God of grace and love in the midst of law and punishment.

For example, chapters 1-7 are the sacrificial system, telling the priest things like how to perform a sin offering and what to mix for a proper grain offering. The primary concern of each offering and sacrifice is a right relationship with God. God wanted His chosen people to be close to Him, to show their love for Him as He showed His love for them. Even the Mosaic Law is about God's relationship to His people.

But it becomes obvious in how chs. 1-7 relate to chs. 8-27 just how deeply God cares for His people. The ritual purity laws, also known collectively as the Holiness Code, come after the sacrifices. God in Leviticus is saying, "This is how to maintain Our relationship, even when you mess up. Now let Me show you how you'll sin against Me -- but remember, you can always be forgiven. I told you that up front." It's a beautiful image of grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, and hope. Then you can look at the actual content of the Holiness Code and understand it's based on God's care for the people. Why so many verses about mold? So the people would remain healthy. Why mandate sabbath? Because human beings need rest. Incest is destructive on several levels, so God established a variety of rules governing sexual immorality. It's a holistic relationship. God cares about every aspect of your life, both body and soul. Yes, slavery is permitted, but it is softened greatly compared to other Ancient Near East cultures, just as women are granted many more rights than those in other ANE religions. This is truly a book of love and compassion.

So even if you never have a shining moment of "I love Leviticus!" I hope I've given you some insight as to why it's my favorite. Even in the law of the Old Testament we find a God of love who wants a relationship with us -- and that's good news!

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