The Centrality of Leviticus

Leviticus is right in the middle (3rd out of 5 books) of a section of scripture called, in the original Hebrew language, the Torah, or in English we usually say the Law (although it could also be translated teaching or instruction).

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It’s a book that get’s overlooked because it is so foreign to most of us, but if we follow the overall story line of the Torah we will see that it’s no coincidence that Leviticus is in the middle, as it is the climax of the story.

Creation

The story of the Torah begins…in the beginning.

God created the world, by speaking everything into existence and declared it all good. He did this for 6 days and on the 6th day, he created man. Man, as his crowning act of creation, was said to be made in God’s image. The first man’s name was Adam, and God made him a helper to complement him and be a companion to him, named Eve. The man and woman were naked and unashamed.

God’s rested on the 7th day and completes his creation.

The man and woman were placed in a garden of paradise, called the garden of Eden. God walked, talked with them, and was is in unhindered relationship with them. All there needs were provided for and they lived under God’s care and protection.

They were charged with the mission to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, to care for the animals and all of God’s creation, and to take the resource God put in the earth and make civilization that glorifies God. All of the trees in the garden were given to them to eat…except for one.

In the middle of the garden were two special trees. One called the tree of life, another called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God commanded them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that if they eat of it they would die.

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Fall

A talking serpent came to them and told them that they wouldn’t actually die if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but instead they would become like God knowing good and evil for themselves. Eve listened to the serpent, and ate of the fruit, and then gave some to Adam who did the same.

Immediately they became aware that they were naked and sowed fig leaves to cover themselves. They heard God coming and hid. God confronted Adam, but he blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. God told them that because of what they did they would have to leave the garden.

He cursed the ground, making it so that man would have to toil by the sweat of his brow to get food from the land, child bearing was also cursed now being painful for the woman, man and woman who were meant to live in harmony together, would instead see man try to domineer over woman (chauvinism) and woman will try to rule over men (feminism) and the serpent was cursed to crawl on his belly.

Man would now be subject to sickness and disease and as God had warned there end would now be death.

God also told the serpent that there will be enmity between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent, and that from the woman’s line would come a rescuer who would crush the head of the snake, although he will have his heal bruised.

After this God himself performed the first sacrifice and used the animal skin as clothes to cover Adam and Eve.

Life outside the garden

Outside the garden things were horrible. Adam and Eve had two sons Cain and Able. Cain become jealous of his brother and committed the first murder.

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After that people become wickeder and wickeder until God got to the point that he regretted even making man and decided to wipe out every living creature by a flood.

However, one man named Noah still love God, and God called chose him and called him to build an ark of which he used to save Noah and his family along with 2 of every animal.

After the flood it didn’t take long for things to go bad again though. Noah got drunk and one of his son committed some sort of sexual sin against him.

One of Noah’s descendants became the first tyrant on earth and started a world wide kingdom where man came together to build a giant tower to the sky and engage in idol worship.

God came down and saw their wickedness and confused their languages, recognizing that if the people could be unified together there would be no end to the evil they will accomplish. The people were scattered over the earth into 70 nations each speaking a different language.

Abraham and his family

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In all this, however, God has not given up on his desires to be in relationship with man and began initiating a rescue plan.

He called a man named Abram to leave his family and home town and go to a land that he would show him.

Abram listened to God and went out by faith to the land God called him to.

God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (Abram means the father is lofty, Abraham means I have made you a father of a multitude of nations), and promised that his descendant would inherit a land plot called Canaan as an eternal possession, that his offspring would be as numerous as the sand in the see, and that through his family all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

God also told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign land for 430 years before receiving, the land, but that he would rescue them and be faithful to his promise.

Abraham believed God and God counted him righteous for his faith.

There was only one problem though, Abraham didn’t have any children and was almost 100 years old.

God, however, promised Abraham that he would miraculously provide a son for him, and that he would inherit the promise through his very own offspring.

After trying to take matters into his own hands and knocking up his maidservant, Abraham’s own wife Sarah conceived, and gave birth to their son Isaac, when Sarah was nearly 100 years old.

Abraham’s family was a bit dysfunctional, but God was faithful despite the mistakes they would make.

Isaac gave birth to 2 sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau was the older, but God chose Jacob, to carry on Abraham’s promised seed. After a wrestling match with God Jacob would have his name changed to Israel (which means struggles with God because he wrestled with God and prevailed). God blessed him and confirmed his promises that he had made to Abraham would continue through him.

Israel gave birth to 12 sons, who would become the original 12 tribes of Israel.

Favoritism by their father, Jacob, led the other brothers to become jealous of Joseph, and they were originally going to kill him, but then Reuben, the oldest son, talked them into just selling him into slavery.

So they beat him and sold him to some slave traders that took him to Egypt. Joseph would go on to serve as a slave in Egypt to one of Pharaoh’s chief officials, but then got thrown in prison after being falsely accused of trying to sleep with his master wife.

While in prison, however, God allowed Joseph to interpret a dream given to Pharaoh that indicated there was going to be 7 years of plenty, followed by 7 years of famine. Pharaoh was so impressed that he made Joseph 2nd in command in all of Egypt, and put him in charge of gathering grain during the famine, so that they would be able to provide grain to the people during the famine.

During the famine, Joseph’s brothers came up to Egypt to get grain, and Joseph recognized them, though they didn’t recognize him at first. Joseph eventually, revealed himself to them, they were scared that he would be angry and punish them, but he forgives them and declares that God used what they meant for evil for good, for the saving of many lives.

After this Joseph secured a place in Egypt for his father, brothers and their children and they all move to Egypt. At this time they number 70 people.

Egypt

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After Joseph and his brothers became old and died, God was faithful to multiply Abraham’s family as he had promised and after some time they became so numerous they numbered around a million. By this time there was a new Pharaoh that didn’t remember Joseph and his kindness to Egypt and he began seeing the Israelite’s as a political threat.

He forced them into slavery, and treated them harshly, making them work none stop building bricks and working in the fields.

When they didn’t stop multiplying, he resorted to killing every male child born to an Israelite woman.

During this time, a woman gave birth to a baby boy name Moses. She hid him in a basket and placed it in the reeds in the Nile so that he wouldn’t be found and killed.

Pharaoh’s daughter, however, found him and had pity on him because he was crying. She decided to take him to be her son. She found Moses’ mom and had him nurse him, then Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s palace.

When Moses had grown up he saw one of his fellow Israelites being beaten by an Egyptian, he struck and killed the Egyptian. The next day, however, he saw two Israelites fighting and when he tried to break up the fight they said “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 3:14)

Moses, being scared that the news had got out of him killing the Egyptian fled to the wilderness to avoid being found out.

After several years being in the wilderness, God spoke to Moses through a burning bush and told him that he had heard the groaning and cries of the Israelites and was going to rescue them from slavery as he had promises Abraham about 400 years ago.

Exodus

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Moses, with his brother Aaron as his spokesman went to the Pharaoh (a new Pharaoh by this time from when Moses grew up in the palace), and demanded that he let God’s people go.

When Pharaoh refused, however, God began sending a series of terrible plagues on Egyptian, including turning the Nile river into blood, sending a swarm of gnats and flies on the land, giant hail falling from the sky, terrible boils breaking out on everyone and finally darkness over the whole land.

When Pharaoh still refused to let the people go, God told Moses to tell him the final plague would be the death of every firstborn son in Egypt. Moses was to instruct the Israelites, however, to slaughter a lamb and smear the blood on their doorpost.

The angel of death would pass by the homes with the blood on the doorpost.

Just as God had said all of the firstborn sons in Egypt died, except for the Israelites who had but the blood of the lamb on their doorpost.

Pharaoh finally had enough, and let the people go. Shortly after he changed his mind, however, and charged after the people.

The Israelites got up near the Red Sea and were cornered by the charging Egyptians. Moses prayed to God, and God told him to raise his staff. As he did the Red Sea parted and a cloud came down hiding the Israelites from the Egyptians.

The Israelites crossed on dry land and then the cloud lifted and the Egyptians tried to follow, however as they did the Red Sea collapsed on them and killed them all. The Israelites had been freed from slavery!

They were commanded to keep a festival of Passover remembering their freedom from slavery and how God passed over their sons from being killed by the angel of death.

Law and Covenant

God then brought them to Mount Sinai and delivered to Moses the law, with the 10 commandments being engraved by the hand of God onto 2 tablets (one for the people one for God).

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He told them that he had delivered them from slavery now this is how they were to live. God then entered into a formal agreement, with the people, called a covenant, where the people agreed to follow all of the laws given to Moses, and if they did God agreed they would be his people, and that he would dwell with them in the land he had promised to Abraham and their forefathers.

The people almost immediately broke their agreement though, as they got impatient with how long Moses was up on the mountain and built a golden calf that they bowed down and worship.

Moses was angry and destroyed the two tablets and commanded the people to kill the people who had instigated the building of the golden calf.

The Levites killed 3000 people and because of their zeal and obedience God would enter into a covenant with them to be his priests in the tabernacle/temple, which we will get to next.

Moses went back up the mountain and got a fresh set of tablets, and the covenant was renewed.

Tabernacle

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After that God gave Moses extremely detailed instructions to build a tabernacle (a big tent that could be carried with the people) where God would dwell and live with his people (which when Israel later got into the promised land would be built as a permanent structure and be called the temple).

This was a momentous event as for the first time since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden of Eden, God was going to begin dwelling with man again. You could think of the tabernacle as a portable Garden of Eden.

The people followed the instructions exactly as he had given to Moses and built the tabernacle. God’s spirit filled the builders and they completed the work.

The book of Exodus ends with God’s presence filling the temple.

Entering into the presence of God, however, is not something to be taken lightly, as it is a dangerous thing for sinful man to come into the presence of a holy God.

Because of this, God needed to give the people detailed instructions for how they could enter into his presence, and how they were to live if they were going to be in relationship with him.

…And that is what the book of Leviticus is all about.

In the next post we will look at one of the main themese of Leviticus, sacrifice.

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