Brief Reflections on Leviticus 1

I am currently reading through the book of Leviticus (yes, on purpose) with a good friend of mine. We usually read a chapter each week with an accompanying commentary and then come together to talk about our findings. Here’s what we took away from this week:

God Sets the Parameters for Our Relationship to Him

The first thing that we took away is that God establishes how His people are to relate to Him. The book of Leviticus presupposes that God’s people are sinful and in need of a mediator if they are to be in a right relationship with God. That’s why God “called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them . . .” (vv. 1-2). The people didn’t have unmediated access to God; they had to hear of God’s requirements through Moses, their mediator.

The same is true for Christians today as well. We cannot go before God without a mediator. The good news for us is that we have a better mediator than Moses; we have Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 3:5-6), who intercedes for us. The encouragement for us is that our relationship with God is not ultimately established by us. It’s established by God in Jesus Christ. So God not only sets the parameters for our relationship to Him, He also establishes it through the person and work of His Son.

Takeaway: God determines how we are to relate to Him, and He has made His people have a right relationship with Himself through Jesus Christ.

Sin and the Sufficiency of Atonement

The second thing we gleaned from our reading of Leviticus 1 is that sin is a tragic reality, even amongst the people of God, yet God accepts His people by virtue of atonement. The very fact that God made stipulations for burnt offerings leads us to conclude that the people of God were not perfect; they needed a way for the holy God to forgive their sin and to accept them as righteous before Him. God’s answer to this problem is atonement.

In Leviticus 1 there are three different kinds of burnt offerings: bulls, sheep or goats, and turtledoves or pigeons. As someone makes their offering, “he shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” (v. 4). This is a visible way for the person to identify with the offering. It is as if they are saying, “this offering represents me. I should be the one being offered up on the altar.” Yet God accepts the substitute atonement on behalf of the one offering it. In three places, these atonements are called “a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD” (vv. 9, 13, 17).

This points out the sufficiency of each atonement. God “accepts” each atoning sacrifice on behalf of His people, really in spite of what they’ve done. Of special importance here is that the bulls and sheep/goats were to be “males without blemish” (vv. 3, 10), which is an obvious pointer to Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The daily atonements in Leviticus all point forward to the “once for all” (cf. Hebrews 7:27) atonement made by Jesus Christ. The sacrifice he made is, as our older brothers confessed, “the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world” (Canons of Dort, II.3).

Takeaway: Though we are corrupted by sin and deserve only God’s condemnation, Jesus Christ has taken our sin away through his death on the cross, which was foreshadowed by each burnt offering in Leviticus 1.

Economic Status and Our Status before God

The third thing we took away from our reading was the reality that our economic status has absolutely nothing to do with our status before God. The three types of burnt offerings mentioned in Leviticus 1 (bulls, sheep/goats, birds) each relate to persons of different economic status. Male bulls without blemish would be by far the most expensive kind of animal to offer, meaning only the richest amongst God’s people could afford that. Sheep/goats would probably relate to what we would call the “middle class,” while birds related to the poorest people. In other words, the richer you are, the more costly your offering must be.

This helps us understand that neither the rich, nor the poor, nor the middle class have a special advantage when it comes to relating to God. All people are sinful and require not only a mediator, but also an atoning sacrifice in order to relate to God. This reality should make us question the various versions of the “poverty gospel” that are taught today. It simply is not the case that having less possessions makes you somehow worthier to stand before God. The Bible never condemns having more or less material wealth; all of its condemnations in this area relate to what we do with our wealth (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).

Takeaway: It is neither better nor worse to be rich or to be poor; what matters in relating to God is not material wealth, but faith in Jesus Christ by God’s grace.

I hope these three takeaways will prove helpful to those of you who read this. Let me know if you’d like me to continue this series in the coming weeks as we keep reading through Leviticus. I think the book is generally viewed in a negative light, so one of my hopes is to present the book in a more positive fashion, for the edification and encouragement of God’s people.

Thanks for reading. Have a question or comment? Leave it below!

(P.S., my good friend Austin Gravley deserves equal credit for the good ideas in the post. The bad ones are all mine.)

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