If man is so sinful that they must constantly seek forgiveness, how could they ever be holy enough to measure up to God’s standard? God’s solution cuts the Gordian knot in a way man’s pride would never allow him to invent: God makes his people holy.
Are Christians hateful? Bigoted? Ignorant? Do they “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them”? Do they stubbornly retain discredited beliefs, while the world has passed them by, entering into a more enlightened age? You may have heard these criticisms of Christianity, or others like them. You may have heard them go unanswered, or even applauded. You may have heard Christianity mocked until your face stung with shame.
We live in a world where those who reject God, his Word, and his law have convinced themselves they have the moral high ground. “Love is love,” they intone tautologically, and they insist that the argument ends there. Any attempt to distinguish love for what is good from love for what is bad is met with instant, often violent scorn. When Christians won’t get on board with the world’s vision of love, the world feels justified in viewing them with intolerant hatred.
This is especially true in politics. When Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) quoted Deuteronomy 22:4 on the House floor last year, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) responded with what he evidently thought was an epic takedown, “what any religious tradition describes as God’s will is no concern of this Congress.” In other countries, the stakes are even higher. Finnish Member of Parliament Paivi Rasanen faced criminal hate crime charges this spring for authoring a pamphlet that quoted Leviticus 18:22, “Do not lie with a man as with a woman; for it is an abomination.”
Lest we overstate the argument, some self-described Christians are not derided by the world. Just this week, The Washington Post ran a lengthy story promoting the podcast of a “former Christian parenting blogger” who left her husband to “marry” a U.S. women’s soccer star. Some politicians, religious leaders, and even some churches have managed to find favor in the eyes of the world. But what is the difference? Is there a common distinction between the Christians the world hates, and the Christians the world loves? There is, and a good place to see that distinction is in the book of Leviticus.
Introduction to Leviticus
Leviticus is structured in a chiasm (KAI-asm), with the second half of the book mirroring the first half, in reverse order (imagine the reflection of a stick if you held it at an angle into the lake). The climax of the book comes in the middle, with the laws concerning the Day of Atonement in chapter 16. Before and after this centerpiece are laws concerning ceremonial purity (chapters 11-15) and moral purity (chapters 17-20). Then come regulations about how the people can come near to God, including instructions about priests and offerings (chapters 1-10) and about various reminders to keep the people from turning away from God (chapters 21-25). Throughout the book are promises of blessing for obedience and warnings against disobedience, which the concluding chapters of the book (chapters 26-27) punctuate with an exclamation point.
Narrative is sparse in Leviticus, with only brief sections in chapters 8-10 and 24 (the children of Israel remain encamped at Mount Sinai for the entire book). This, combined with seeming repetitiveness and dullness of many long passages, cause many Christians to treat Leviticus as the dreaded doldrums of their yearly Bible reading plan. I am not immune from this flaw. (I have found that it helps to intersperse the more difficult books with New Testament readings, such as reading Leviticus and then reading Luke.) But if we wish to say, “Oh how I love your law!” (Psalms 119:97), then we must learn to love God’s law.
The point of Leviticus is holiness — God’s holiness, and the holiness of his people. If you ever find yourself at a loss to understand the relevance of something in Leviticus, consider how it relates to holiness, and the pieces will likely fall into place.
Drama of Leviticus
Despite the lack of narrative, Leviticus has its dramatic moments. When Aaron is consecrated as high priest and makes his first offerings, “fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:24). The priests offered the sacrifices God prescribed, and God responded by confirming them by this sign from heaven. Furthermore, the Lord had commanded, “fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out” (Leviticus 6:13). Then the Lord himself lit the fire; this divine fire continued burning on the tabernacle’s altar as long as it was in use.