Handfuls on Purpose

Some time ago I learned that a friend of mine was preaching through the book of Leviticus. I was at once both excited and convicted. Excited because this book (along with so many other portions OT Scriptures) has been too long neglected in the Church, and convicted because I have for too long neglected the book myself. While I have not planned a detailed exposition of Leviticus, from time to time I would like to drop handfuls on purpose from my own gleaning in its rich fields. There is certainly much fodder from which we might prepare many fine meals.

These meager droppings will not rise to the lever of full-fledges expositions but I hope that might spur the reader on to further study. One should expect these thoughts to be disjointed, incomplete, and random. Perhaps they will be a bit like the archer who shot his bow “at a venture.” But then again, he did strike his mark in the end.

Vaykira!

One thing that is immediately apparent when one first opens the book of Leviticus is that the author has not been trained in the inflexible laws of English grammar. Those of us who were so schooled were taught that one should never begin a sentence with a conjunction, and that there should only ever be one conjunction in a sentence. This is a convention that the Holy Spirit often set aside as he breathed out the literary structure of sacred Scripture.  The book called Leviticus in our English Bibles actually opens with such a connective device, though this particular feature is lost in many modern translations. (This rhetorical device is known as a polysendton. It is a literary device commonly used in the Scriptures. One of its purposes is to establish an “anticipatory rhythm.” It slows the reader down by energetically enumerating the subjects of the text thus building up the reader’s expectations. One striking example of this is in the text of Genesis 1 where the word “and” occurs more than one hundred times. This was no accident.)

“And the LORD called unto Moses, and spoke to him from out of the tent of meeting, saying…” (Lev. 1:1)

Before pondering why this is the case, it is helpful simply to note that it is the case. The Hebrew Bible calls this book, “Vaykira,” literally meaning, “And the LORD called…” This seems a much more appropriate designation for the book as a whole than the common title by which we know it. “Leviticus” means “pertaining to the Levites.” This seems an unsatisfactory title. While there is much said in its pages concerning the Levites, there is much said that does not pertain to the Levites. It is a book for the people of God; a kingdom of priests.

But why does the book begin in such a fashion? There are a host of reasons that I am, undoubtedly, yet to uncover but I offer a few initial observations. The first, and probably most obvious, reason is that God wants us to read this book in tandem with the book which immediately precedes it. Vaykira is not the commencement of a new story, it is the continuation of a story already in progress. It is the Exodus 2.0.

The book of Exodus is a record of God’s call; out of Egypt God called his son. It chronicles the redemption of Israel from bondage to liberty, from slavery to sonship, from peasants to priests. This battered band of pilgrims was called out by God to be a “holy nation” of priests, kings, and prophets just as the first Adam was and just as the Last Adam would be.

As Exodus informs us what they were called from, Leviticus informs us what they were called to. In Exodus, God called unto Moses so that he might bring the people out; in Leviticus, God called Moses so that he might bring the people in. This call was not merely  concerned with bringing the people out Goshen. In a very real sense it was about bringing the people into glory. God was establishing for them a way in which they could “draw near” to his presence through the ministrations of the various sacrifices and offerings. Not since Eden had God dwelt with his people in such a way on the earth. And even though they could not all fully enter into his presence as of yet, this was to be a foretaste of the of the glory that would eventually follow when God tabernacled with men in the person of his Son.

This call was a call to communion. Almost every word of the book of Leviticus comes from the mouth of the Lord himself. God called his people out that he might speak to them once again. Once he walked with Adam in the cool of the day, now he comes to converse with those who dwell east of Eden. So whenever we read these various “laws” we should be keenly aware of the fact that they are, in reality, great graces to a banished race.

Exodus records the call by which God separated his people; Leviticus records the code by which God regulated his people. If Exodus shows us the institution of a people then Leviticus shows us the constitution of that people.  All of this is done so that they might, as true sons, come to the tent and “meet” their estranged Father on sacred ground once again. This is good news; this is gospel—the gospel according to Leviticus.

More to follow…

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