What Value Is There in Old Testament Books Like Leviticus?

Michael A. Rydelnik
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I’m sure you remember how exciting it was to start that Bible reading program; maybe it was on January 1st this past year. I’m guessing Genesis was fine for you, and Exodus seemed pretty good, at least more than half of it did, but then you came to Leviticus. Now you want to quit reading because your progress has come to a grinding halt.

Why do we find it so hard to read the book of Leviticus? One reason is that the Old Testament book is about sacrifices and rituals that no longer seem to matter to us. We no longer have a tabernacle or a temple. And, since there are no more sacrifices today, why should modern-day Christians bother reading Leviticus at all?

Understanding the Holiness of God

The key to reading Leviticus is to remember that Leviticus is the Word of God. The book is not just filled with rules for ancient Israel, but it has transferable principles for our lives today. Leviticus contains truth that transcends time and culture. For example, one great aspect of Leviticus is that it reminds us of the holiness of God. Even though God desired a close fellowship with Israel, they couldn’t enter His presence as if the Lord were their buddy or pal. God is the Creator of the universe, the king of the world, and His essence is glorious purity and total holiness. When we read the expansive list of rules about approaching God in Leviticus, we are reminded of just how holy He is. Most of us know that Peter’s first New Testament letter reminds believers to be holy because God is holy. But do we realize that 1 Peter 1:16 is actually quoting from four separate verses from (you guessed it!) Leviticus (11:45; 19:2; 20:7, 26)?

The book of Hebrews reminds us that the Old Testament sacrifices never really took away sin but merely foreshadowed the coming sacrifice of the Messiah Jesus.

Understanding the Sin Offering

Another example of a transferable truth from Leviticus is found in the entire sacrificial system. There are principles involved in all the different kinds of sacrifices, but the most foundational teaching is in the sin offering. Leviticus 4–5 shows how a sinner is to present an animal sacrifice (Lev. 4:28), by placing his or her hand on the sacrificial animal as a symbolic identification with the animal (v. 29). By this action, the sin was transferred from the person to the animal. The animal’s death would follow (v. 29) and the sinning person would be forgiven and live (v. 31). This is a divine transaction—an exchange of life. The reason it is so important for us to understand the sacrifice is that without it we cannot fully understand the meaning of the Messiah Jesus’ death for us. Jesus presented Himself to God as our sacrifice. Jesus identified with our sin while remaining sinless Himself (2 Cor. 5:21). Then the Lord Jesus died for us, paying the penalty for our sin (and rose again, proving He’s God). If we have faith in His death and resurrection, then a great transaction takes place, His exchange of life. He died so that we might live.

The book of Hebrews reminds us that the Old Testament sacrifices never really took away sin but merely foreshadowed the coming sacrifice of the Messiah Jesus. Hebrews 10:4 declares: “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Those sacrifices pointed forward to the death of Messiah Jesus on our behalf. This whole idea of the Messiah Jesus’ substitution is derived from the sin offering, as Paul states: “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3 niv). This concept of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice, that “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:21 nlt), wouldn’t even be comprehensible without understanding the sin offering found in (surprise, surprise) the book of Leviticus.

We Are Consecrated Priests

Here’s one more example of the value of Leviticus for today: when the High Priest was consecrated to serve God, Moses took the ram of ordination, slaughtered it, and put some of its blood on Aaron’s right earlobe, right hand, and the big toe of his right foot (Lev. 8:22–23). While this might seem weird, there was a purpose. The ear represents hearing; the thumb, doing; and the toe, walking. Basically, it was saying that the High Priest was to be consecrated to serve God every day in every way. He was separated for God’s service, not just when he went into the tabernacle, but every minute of every day.

That’s a great reminder to us because in Revelation 1:6, followers of Jesus are called “priests to [our] God and Father.” We are mediating God’s love to this world not just when we are at our congregations or serving in some ministry, but like Aaron, our whole lives—whether at work, school, or play— are to be consecrated to serving God (Col. 3:17). And this great principle is found in . . . wait for it, Leviticus.

Final Thoughts

There’s so much more to Leviticus than can be addressed in this short space. But let’s say this: Leviticus is God’s Word and it can transform our lives. My own personal paraphrase of Proverbs 16:20, says, “He who gives attention to the Word, even the more challenging parts of it, will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” So, I would encourage you to keep these key values in mind as you go back and read Leviticus.

For Further Reading:

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