Three days from today we begin with Leviticus in the Legacy Reading Plan. So if you’re in the Legacy Reading Plan, you should be finishing up Genesis and starting Exodus right now. Of course, Genesis and Exodus are full of intrigue. All kinds of interesting stories, but in Leviticus, most people begin to bog down. In fact, this is when they abort their Bible reading. I hope that will not be true of you this year, because I know many a year went by when I would get to Leviticus, I’d bog down too. But then a number of years ago I read a note by Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford in their Student Bible series, and it put Leviticus in a brand new light for me. I want to share some of those insights because Leviticus is strange to modern ears.
Leviticus’ pain-staking ritual is quite similar to the procedure surrounding nuclear technology. You have the specialized clothing, the concern for purification, the precise handling of crucial materials. To move radioactive material in fact, there are specially trained handlers. They put on white protection overalls, special breather masks, and never touch materials, except through a sealed glove box. If an accident occurs, the entire area has to be cleaned. They have to do a lot of laborious scrubbing with soap and water. Carefully trained workers dispose of the dirty water in specially protected toxic waste areas, and anyone contaminated must be cleansed. The rigid rules grew through hard experience, because for decades no one knew the dangers of radioactivity. For example, workers who used radioactive materials to hand paint the first glow-in-the-dark watches, would lick their paintbrushes to get a fine tip. To these early women in the workforce, their supervisor said that they would gain sex appeal. Well instead, they got cancer. And gradually the scientists realized, if you are going to use the atom, you have to adopt procedures to fit its power.
So Leviticus reads like a training manual for atomic plant workers. It’s dangerous material. However, the dangerous material in handling an atom is not like Leviticus. Leviticus is even more powerful than the atom, because Leviticus gives exhaustive detail on how to live with God. A pamphlet on how to survive a nuclear accident is dull, if you read it on vacation; however, it’s gripping, if you read it in a vibrating nuclear reactor. In the same way Leviticus is dull, if you fail to realize the wonderful news behind it. A powerful God, the one who spoke and the universe leapt into existence, He has entered the lives of a small and insignificant tribe. The Israelites could not merely fit this God into their lives. They needed to restructure their lives because they had to fit His, and it was essential not just for the priests but for the priesthood of all believers.
Today, because of Jesus Christ, we don’t live in the world of Leviticus. Jesus’ perfect self-sacrifice made the daily sacrifice of animals unnecessary. He replaced the high priest as our representative before God. Jesus cleanses the real source of contamination, not nuclear toxic waste, but our sinful nature.
Leviticus was meant to teach people some basic truths about God, and when their lessons were complete, they could go on to bigger and better things. Yet we need to be reminded of the principles Leviticus taught. It tells us that God was then as He is today a consuming fire. He has taught us how to live with that fire not because we deserve to know, but because He wanted our company. So we dare not treat Him lightly for he is holy.
Again these insights by Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford completely revolutionized the way I looked at the book of Leviticus, realizing once again that every Word of Scripture is efficacious. It is necessary for us to consume, to internalize, so that we recognize the holy God with whom we have to do. Again Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford make this beautiful analogy. Toxic waste has to be handled carefully. If you’re going to deal with plutonium like U-235, you have to do so carefully. And we’re dealing with a holy God. On the one hand, yes, we can call Him “Abba Father”, but never forget that He is the infinite creator of the universe. When the holiest man of Israel got but one glimpse of him, he came apart at the seams. On one hand, He is our Papa, He is our Father; on the other hand, He is altogether holy.
Again my prayer this year is that you will take seriously the admonition to get into the Word of God and get the Word of God into you, as together we tackle the problem of biblical illiteracy. Again if you do not have the Legacy Reading Plan or the Legacy Reading Plan place markers, please remedy that woeful condition. You can do that by checking out these resources on the World Wide Web at equip.org, by writing me at P.O. Box 8500 Charlotte, NC 28271, or by talking to our resource consultants at 888-7000-CRI.