Delighting in Leviticus

Image © Steve Creitz, Creitz Illustration Studio

An artist’s impression of the camp of Israel in the wilderness at night. The Tabernacle is in the centre of the camp. Above the Tabernacle is the pillar of fire, which was the visible manifestation of God’s presence.

Dr Jay Sklar, professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, and who has written an excellent commentary on Leviticus (see the publishers’ description HERE), said this: “What happens when you study Leviticus for more than 10 years? I know the types of answers many people would provide:

“You get to know your psychotherapist really well.”

“People stop inviting you to dinner parties.”

Or perhaps the most common: “Is this a serious question? Who in the world would do this?”

I did. And it changed my life in ways far different from those just named. In my experience, at least four profound things happen when this book begins to seep into your soul.”

Read the whole article HERE.

And in the brief video below, Dr Sklar also introduces his commentary on Leviticus:

But why exactly would anyone study Leviticus for such a significant period of their life? Why is it so important?

We’ll begin by setting out the background to this book. After the Exodus from Egypt, God’s people Israel didn’t go straight to the Promised Land. They went through the wilderness to Mount Sinai to meet with God (Exodus 19.4). A few weeks’ journey from where they crossed the Sea of Reeds, God’s people were encamped at the foot of this mountain.

There at Mount Sinai, God brought His people into covenant relationship with Himself. This covenant was like a marriage. God became their Husband (see, for example Isaiah 54.5, Jeremiah 31.32). And, in Peter Leithart’s words, “Moses is the minister officiating at the wedding.” Firstly God made a solemn covenant with His people – just as a man and a woman make vows to each other at a wedding. Then God and representatives of His people ate and drank together – just like a wedding reception. And after their marriage ceremony, a husband and wife live together. Accordingly, God made arrangements to live together with His Bride, Israel.

God showed Moses the blueprint for a beautiful new home where He planned to live among His people. This home was a tent; it was called the Tabernacle. God Himself was going to live there. When all was complete, God moved into His new home: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40.34-35 and see Numbers 9.15).

The tabernacle was God’s home among His people. One of the two primary designations for the Tabernacle is the Hebrew word miškān, which means dwelling place. Jay Sklar, in his commentary on Leviticus, imagines an Israelite asking this burning question: “How in the world can the holy and pure King of the universe dwell among his sinful and impure people? How can he live here, in our very midst, without his holiness melting us in our sin and impurity?” ”

But there’s more. God also called His Tabernacle “the tent of meeting” (for example Exodus 27.21, 30.16, 31.7). He said to Moses: “There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites . . . “ (Exodus 29.42-43, NIV). God – as far as possible under that covenant – welcomed people into His home. Only selected representatives could enter, and they had to be prepared and, where necessary, offer the appropriate sacrifices. But they could come. Once a year Aaron was even able to enter the Most Holy Place, the very presence-chamber of God (Leviticus 16.11-15, see Hebrews 9.7).

It was astonishing that God could live among His people at all. But how in the world could He go one step further and actually allow people to come into His home and meet with Him there? In other words, how could the dwelling place of God become “the tent of meeting” – a place where the holy God met with His sinful people?

The Book of Leviticus answers these questions. In his commentary, Jay Sklar writes: “Leviticus . . . . . . . begins by explaining the sacrifices that address sin and enable the Israelites to worship this King rightly (Leviticus 1-7). It provides the people with priests to intercede on their behalf and lead them in worship before the King (Leviticus 8-10). It gives them laws to teach them how to deal properly with impurity (Leviticus 11-15). It provides a yearly ceremony to remove every last ounce of sin and impurity from the kingdom (Leviticus 16). It provides a whole series of laws in other areas to direct them in living as a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (Leviticus 17-27), that is, in setting up a society where God’s character and wishes for humanity can be seen in the corporate life of the nation.”

But the Book of Leviticus goes even further than this. Sklar explains: “But Leviticus does more than answer questions raised by its immediate literary and historical context. It also casts a vision rooted in the Bible’s larger story and, in particular, in creation. Indeed, God’s purpose for his people in Leviticus is in many ways a return to his purpose for humanity in creation. This may be seen in terms of separation, blessing and calling. . . . . In Leviticus, the Lord once again brings order to the world by ‘separating’ . . . things into their proper place and calling his people to do the same (Leviticus 10.10; 11.46-47; 20.25). Indeed, he separates his people from the rest of the world (Leviticus 20.24,26) and promises to bless them as he did Adam and Eve, whether by shining his favour on them to make them fruitful (Leviticus 26.9; cf. Genesis 1.28), placing them in a lush land where all their physical needs will be met (Leviticus 26.4-5,10; cf. Genesis 2.8-25), giving them Sabbath rest (Leviticus 23.3; 25.1-7; cf. Genesis 2.3), or, most of all, ‘walking’ . . . with them as their God (Leviticus 26.11-12; cf. Genesis 3.8). And, as in creation, the blessings are again accompanied by a calling. He has separated them from the peoples of the earth in order to reflect his image in the world: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy’ (19.2; see also 11.44-45; 20.7,26). The Israelites are the ones who are to represent the Lord in this earth, thus fulfilling the purpose the Lord had for humanity in creation, as well as showing the rest of the world what that purpose is, how to live in keeping with it, and therefore how to experience the abundant life God intended for his creation . . . . Simply put, the Israelites are not only to be a signpost back to Eden; they are to become a manifestation of it and a people who extend Eden’s borders to every corner of the earth.”

In the video below, Dr Sklar explores why should we think more highly of Leviticus (it’s one of a series of seven available HERE):

Covenant Theological Seminary has also uploaded seven free audio talks by Dr Sklar on Leviticus. As well as an introductory talk, he teaches about atonement, the burnt, grain offering and fellowship offerings, purity and impurity, and curious laws found in Leviticus. Dr Sklar is an engaging speaker and these are very much worth listening to. The talks can be accessed HERE. The first two are available without creating an account. To access the other five, you just need to create a free account.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2018 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (other than those in quotations) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.

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