Did you know that there is a book in the Bible that bans you from eating rock badger? And owl? And catfish? And pig?
I was with you at “owl.” You lost me at “pig.” So the Bible bans BBQ? That’s going to be a struggle for me.
If you walked into your local drug store and asked the pharmacist if he had leprosy and consulted this book, he wouldn’t give you a skin cream. Instead, he would kill a live bird over fresh water, dip another bird in its blood and let it go (Lev. 14). And then by the way, shave your beard, hair, and eyebrows – and give it seven days. Quite the prescription!
If you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Leviticus, book 3 in the Bible.
Leviticus is 27 chapters of weird. If you’ve never read it, give it a shot. You’ll figure out how strange it is in 10 verses. It’s like a horror movie for vegans. There is bull blood flying everywhere and meat cooking on the fire . . . all for God . . . as an act of worship.
Ever been to a Chris Tomlin concert in a slaughterhouse? I didn’t think so. But when the Levites get together for a night of worship, there will be blood.
Famous Sayings from Leviticus
As weird as it is, Leviticus is foundational to the Bible. It’s the book that first gives us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s right, not technically an original “Jesus saying.” Leviticus records it first.
It’s also the book that Peter quotes in 1 Peter 1:14-16 when he says
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:14-16
“You be holy, for I am holy.” That comes from Leviticus 11 and 19.
And how many times have you quoted Romans 12:1-2 or heard a preacher preach on it?
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Great passage! But I would contend that you’ll never truly understand the concept of “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” until you spend some time in Leviticus.
Faith in the Raw
And that’s what I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Leviticus, the Bible’s weirdest book. I’ve been reading it and meditating on it. I’ve been reading both Christian commentaries and books about Leviticus/Vayikra written by Jewish Rabbis. I’ve been taking notes and journaling my thoughts and questions.
Here’s what I’ve found. Leviticus is our faith in the raw.
My youngest daughter drinks coffee black. I “man up” on it and add cream and sugar.
If you “man up” on your coffee too, then you’ve probably been in a coffee shop and seen those brown packets of “Sugar in the Raw.” Sugar in the Raw is less processed. It still has some things in it that the refining processes that give us white sugar take out.
Leviticus leaves some things in faith that the processing of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection has refined. Don’t get nit-picky theological with me here; allow me to explain what I mean.
At the time of Jesus, the Temple sacrificial system was in its last days. In AD 70 the Temple would be destroyed. The synagogue system would solidify itself in the scattering of the Jews. When this happens, the ways Jews worship will become more mystical/spiritual.
So instead of “making an offering”, they would talk more about “being an offering.” We saw the precursor to this coming with the prophets. Especially with Jeremiah 1 when the prophet condemned what sacrifices had become – rote, empty rituals.
I’ve been to synagogue service. There were no blood sacrifices, but there was sacrifice. The ways we refer to our spiritual relationship with God in the church are not that far from how they speak of it in the synagogue.
And I think we all get that. We all get that worship should be meaningful, from the heart – not ritual, dutiful, religion.
Jesus quotes one of those prophets who condemns the dutiful, sacrificial system in Matthew 9:13, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I get what Jesus is saying, why he said it, and to whom he said it. They were Pharisees. They were very much into observances of laws and religious ordinances. Jesus, like Jeremiah, was telling them to get to the WHY behind all of it. They needed to get back to God’s heart in it. They needed to remember WHY sacrifices transformed sinners.
I’m no Pharisee. I’m not Jewish. And so when I read what Jesus said, there’s a part of me that wants to “learn what this means”, in reverse. I would like to know what it was like actually to offer a blood sacrifice. There is something in me that makes me wonder if I had to bring “my best lamb” from “my flock” because of “my sin.” And if I heard it cry as the priest slit its throat; if I saw it draw its last breath; if I saw its blood slung all over the altar and watched its lifeless body burn while the priest prayed – I wonder – if I would have a greater appreciation for what mercy means?
If I saw them take the coals from the fire beneath that altar where my lamb died, smoking in a censer, igniting the incense, laid before God . . . if I saw that . . . would it help me better understand why prayer and praise are considered sacrifices?
If I could taste a grain offering, just once, and I had to take the time to sit before God and eat it . . . would I better understand thankfulness or what the Psalmist meant when he said in Psalm 34:8, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.”
If I could taste it and see it – could I better understand it?
I’m a Gentile 3000 years and a million miles from Leviticus. Reading it is as close as I’ll ever get. But if I can somehow see our faith in the raw, I may appreciate the sacrifice that Jesus has made for me so much more.