As I write this, we've been reading Leviticus and other parts of the Mosaic Law in our daily readings. " I just can't cope with Leviticus!" was the comment from a sister, as we pulled out the Bible Companion to 'do the readings'. It seems impossible to extract any spiritual lessons from Leviticus. I guess we've all had that feeling as we read through the Law, and indeed other parts of Scripture which just seem so remote from our twentieth century lives. When we're relatively new to Bible reading, this kind of thing can be a real turn off. So following are a few thoughts to help us cope with Leviticus- and other Scripture.
- There are a number of references in Scripture to books like the book of Jasher (e.g. Josh. 10:13) which we no longer have available to us. Whether they were inspired or not, we don't know; but the point is, they are no longer available to us because God knows that we do not need them. By contrast, the elaborate rituals of the Mosaic Law have been preserved for us; God would not have inspired and preserved books like Leviticus unless they were important for us.
- The Law constantly emphasized the sinfulness of man. Thus a woman had to offer a sin offering after menstruation, even though she hadn't sinned. The idea of being 'unclean' when you hadn't personally done anything wrong would have taught the Israelites that having done all, they were still unprofitable servants. Therefore God wishes us to go through life, not with personal self-doubt, but with a constant awareness that so many things can defile us, and knowing our total inability to be saved by our own efforts. The Israelite was being taught to have a real faith in God's grace- hour by hour in their daily experience of life. Would that we had something or somebody to nudge our conscience in this spiritually dead world of ours.
- It might help if we try to visualize the practical benefits of keeping the laws. " In keeping of them is great reward" , David commented (Ps. 19:11). Moses likewise: " The Lord commanded us to do all these statutes...for our good always" (Dt. 6:24)- not for their irritation, or as a pointless test of obedience. Perhaps this is why the giving of the Law is described as an expression of God's love for Israel (Dt. 33:2-4). Have you ever thought of the Law like that? It was the loving marriage contract between God and Israel. We must see the keeping of the law by the faithful Israelite as being done within a certain spiritual atmosphere. It would have been impossible to keep all those laws from a series of deliberate acts of the will. The truly obedient Israelite would have developed a way of life and thinking, a culture of kindness to others, which achieved obedience to them. This was surely how Jesus was able to perfectly fulfil the Law. " If a man do (the commands) he shall even live in them" (Lev. 18:5) seems to refer to this atmosphere of obedience. Indeed, Dt. 4:2 suggests that God had given them just the right commands " that ye may keep" them. In other words, obedience to one command would lead to obedience to another, so that a whole way of life could be developed which was in accord with God's laws. Successful keeping of the commandments of Christ is similar. Viewed one by one, they can seem just too much to cope with. David found that keeping God's laws made it even easier to keep them; there was an upward spiral of conformity to God's mind. Thus he asks God to give him any other commandments which God desired; rather than thinking 'I can't cope with all these, so no more, please!'.
- The whole of the Law points forward to Christ in some way. This is the greatest of the lessons from Leviticus. We desperately seek to understand Him more closely, to appreciate the intricate beauty of His character. The Gospels give us the cold facts about the man Jesus of Nazareth. There is little interpretation or insight given into the inner man of Jesus (except possibly in John's Gospel). Yet the New Testament speaks as if we ought to know Jesus as a person, a real close friend. How are we to do this? The answer lies in learning from books like Leviticus. So, don't be frightened to see echoes of the spirit of Jesus throughout the Old Testament. For example, a woman was unclean for 33 days after the birth of a son (Lev. 12:4). It can be no accident that the Lord lived for 33 years- in such close association with unclean humanity that He was identified with our uncleanness. The exalted Lord therefore knows what it feels like to be 'unclean', even though He didn't sin. So when we sin, and feel Christ doesn't know what it feels like: well, Leviticus teaches us that He does appreciate it! Nowhere in the Gospels do you get such depth of insight into the relationship we really can have with our Lord. Hebrews is really an exposition of the Law with reference to the Lord. The writer uses phrases like " seeing then....let us...." - the argument, and the positive encouragement, is built upon an assumed familiarity with the Law.
- Talking of women getting unclean, it's easy to mutter to yourself: 'Unclean if you did this, unclean if you did that! Just touch a bed and you were unclean, had to go and wash in water, sometimes wash all your clothes...when you hadn't really done anything wrong. Enough to send me up the wall! What a bind, what a pain in the neck! What sort of lessons from Leviticus are these?'. But this was exactly the attitude of unfaithful Israel: " Ye said also, What a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it" (Mal. 1:13). The book of Malachi is full of words like this. What a contrast with David! The whole of Ps. 119 describes how he rejoiced at God's law, staying up late at night, straining his eyes into the candlelight to read it, getting up first thing in the morning to read some more (Ps. 119:147,148). He obviously saw something in it that perhaps we don't. Perhaps he appreciated more keenly the prophecies of Messiah than we do. Peter makes the point that David knew so much about Jesus, although he wasn't even born then, that David could say: " I foresaw the Lord (Jesus) always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved" (Acts 2:25). David " foresaw" the coming of Jesus at all times; the only source of knowledge he had was the Law of Moses (remember David lived before the time of the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah). Jesus was ever present in David's thinking; thanks to his meditation upon the Law of Moses. The key to his deep insight is found in Ps. 119:18: " Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" . He prayed before he unrolled those scrolls, recognizing that if he read those words in his own intellectual strength, they would just be black print on white paper. Perhaps this is why we find the Law hard to cope with; we don't pray enough before 'doing our readings'. In my own study, sometimes I find a chapter of the Law opens up beautifully, at others I find it hard to get anywhere with. The fault is in my attitude of mind, not in the Law itself, which is totally perfect (Rom. 7:12), and a superb expression of the ways and mind of God (Is. 42:24).