A sin-stained, defiled, and corrupt man.
A sacrifice, blood-drained, and consumed by flame.
It is a story literally thousands of years old, and it is found in the place where all read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plans go to die.
The world of a people, Israelites, so foreign to us. Priests and altars.
Burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, and ordination offerings.
There will be blood.
You come to Leviticus, and think, "It all seems, well, so....gruesome."
As one who, a few years back, developed a problem with fainting at the sight of someone bleeding, I can relate to your sentiment. For so many years, Leviticus - and its codes, procedures, and graphic details - has stopped my Bible reading cold. Caused me to skim quickly through to make my way to brighter stories.
But not this year.
This year I am reading as much as I can, as fast as I can. Getting the whole story.
That means no skipping.
Consuming each word and entering the story.
So I've stepped into this strange world, tried to imagine what it would be like to go to the priests, carrying the sacrifices, and going through the process. I've been paying attention to all the details: trying to hear the sounds, smell the smells, and imagine...listening to the words that Yahweh demanded Moses tell the priests, so that they could care for his people.
His sin-stained people.
His corrupt and defiled people.
And then, there it was.
Something so encouraging.
Something I hadn't noticed before, likely because I hadn't even read it due to all my skimming quickly through Leviticus in the past:
Then Yahweh said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. This is how you are to deal with those who sin unintentionally by doing anything that violates one of Yahweh's commands... (Leviticus 4:1-2, NLT)
What was that?
"...those who sin unintentionally..."?
Have you ever done that?
Done wrong - in some way, maybe against someone - but you were unaware, only to realize later that you had, in fact, sinned?
So, does that "not realizing," that ignorance, get you off the hook?
“If the entire Israelite community sins by violating one of Yahweh's commands, but the people don’t realize it, they are still guilty." (Lev. 4:13, NLT)
So now what?
When they become aware of their sin, the people must bring a young bull as an offering for their sin and present it before the Tabernacle. The elders of the community must then lay their hands on the bull’s head and slaughter it before Yahweh. (Lev. 4:14-15, NLT)
When he becomes aware of his sin, he must bring as his offering a male goat with no defects. He must lay his hand on the goat’s head and slaughter it at the place where burnt offerings are slaughtered before Yahweh. This is an offering for his sin. (Lev. 4:23-24, NLT)
When they become aware of their sin, they must bring as an offering for their sin a female goat with no defects. They must lay a hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place where burnt offerings are slaughtered. (Lev. 4:28-29, NLT)
There will be blood.
God had decreed that a sacrifice of blood, a sacrifice of something living, must be made for the one bearing sin (a kind of dying), to bring life again.
To cleanse and purify. Over and over again in this section of Leviticus, Yahweh instructs the people through Moses with these words:
Through this process, the priest will purify the people,
making them right with Yahweh,
and they will be forgiven.
(Lev. 4:20, 27, 31, 35)
So as I enter this world, the world of the Israelite, the world of priests, animals, sacrifices, altars, and blood, I am amazed at the kindness of a gracious God and loving Heavenly Father. And here's why.
Do you remember Leviticus 4:13? Scroll up for a minute and read it again. I'll wait........
Did you catch that little phrase?
"...but the people don't realize it," and then,
"...when they become aware of their sin..."
Note: God doesn't respond, "They sinned, and they didn't offer a sacrifice. So I'm going to smoke them. I don't care if they knew it or not."
Our Father does not respond that way. He has thought this through, aware of the multiple ways that they could (would) screw up and sin - like doing so without knowing it! - and he makes provision for it. He says something like this,
"I know there are times when you sin and don't even know it. But I am patient and kind. Steadfast in love. I wait. And when you do finally become aware, then you need to come to me. Then you need to render the payment of life (the blood) that will pay for your sin."
Yahweh stuns me! This. Is. Mercy. Haven't you ever stopped to think, after a long day, or long week,
"There are probably a whole stack of sins I've committed that I am not even aware of. If I really thought of each reaction, each interaction, each conversation, each thought, each behavior, there are probably a whole host of ways I've done things I shouldn't have, or not done things I should have."
And I can imagine little ol' Joe Israelite, coming to the end of a long day, or long week, and reflecting the same way. And because of this word from Yahweh, he knew that when such sins did come to mind, there was a process.
A process by which God would use a priest to stand there and take care of a sinner's purification.
A priest who would help a sinner get right with Yahweh, his God.
A priest who would walk a sinner through the steps so he may rest in the sweet and deeply peaceful reality of forgiveness.
There will be blood.
OK. You've hung with me, and are beginning to wonder, "So, what's the point? I'm still not sure how reading all this in Leviticus helps me today."
The first piece of advice we would like to give you for reading a story is this: Read it quickly and with total immersion. Ideally, a story should be read at one sitting, although this is rarely possible for busy people with long novels. Nevertheless, the ideal should be approximated by compressing the reading of a good story into as short a time as feasible.
Otherwise you will forget what happened, the unity of the plot will escape you, and you will be lost.
(Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book, compliments of my friend Melissa Lindsey)
You see, knowing Leviticus helps you understand the whole story of the Bible.
For, haven't you ever wondered at the gruesome nature of the cross?
God using men to grab the Lamb of God, Jesus, and slaughter him on the altar of the cross.
God using men to create the way by which we would forever be made right with him.
God using men as his hands to crush his Son (Isaiah 53:4, 10; Acts 2:23-24) so that we may rest in the sweet and deeply peaceful reality of forgiveness.
There will be blood.
The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. 2 If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.
3 But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. 4 For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 That is why, when Messiah, Jesus, came into the world, he said to God,
“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
But you have given me a body to offer.
6 You were not pleased with burnt offerings
or other offerings for sin.
7 Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
as is written about me in the Scriptures.’ ”
...our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand.
(Hebrews 10:1-7; 12, NLT)
So now, when we become aware of our sin,
maybe we know right away,
maybe we realize our guilt later, even much later,
there is a process. But we need only One Man, One Priest.
"if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7, NLT)
"If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." (1 John 1:8-9, NLT)
My dear friend,
"I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus, the Messiah, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world." (1 John 2:1f, NLT)
Hallelujah, what a Savior! What a Father!
There is blood.
And it can take away all your sin.