My daily Bible reading plan recently took me to the front door of Leviticus. Oh the venerable wasteland of Leviticus and its neighboring partner in crime Numbers. The battleground where so many great Bible reading intentions met their end. If someone is able to survive Leviticus the chronology of Numbers will surely put them out of their misery.
Now we would never say this out loud (we are all too churchy for that), but the Book of Leviticus seems to be a mistake. The Israelites, they needed Leviticus to help them get everything up-and-running after the Exodus from Egypt, but do we in the 21st century really need this book? Has it been a waste of time, energy, ink and perfectly good sheep skin to preserve this book for over 3,000 years? Is Leviticus a mistake?
As I stood staring once again at the front door of Leviticus I considered three options. Option #1: Skip it. Keep my momentum going and move on over to Deuteronomy. Option #2: Open the door and read it with my nose plugged. I know it’s going to taste bad, I’ve been here before, but I’m going to take it anyway. Option #3: Read it again and hopefully not hate it.
In the last year I’ve taught many times about the Bible. I frequently mention 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Whenever I teach through these two verses I always emphasize a few key points. First, I always lay heavy into the word “All.” I usually say something like, “All does not mean just the New Testament; All does not mean everything except the Minor Prophets; All means All. All, every bit, of Scripture is intentionally breathed out by God.” I then eventually spend time hovering around the words “competent” and “equipped.” I have some faithful jokes I usually insert at this time giving the idea that no person grows up hoping to become incompetent and ill-equipped. We all want to be competent people. In order to all be competent we need all of the Bible.
Which of the three options did I take with Leviticus? Taking a deep I need to practice what I preach sigh I chose Option #3: Read it again and hopefully not hate it.
It doesn’t take too long until I’m at those chapters. If you’ve read through Leviticus you know what I’m talking about. I refer to them as the gross chapters. Here’s a snippet:
“If there is in the skin of one’s body a boil and it heals, and in the place of the boil there comes a white swelling or a reddish-white spot, then it shall be shown to the priest. And the priest shall look, and if it appears deeper than the skin and its hair has turned white, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean. It is a case of leprous disease that has broken out in the boil. But if the priest examines it and there is no white hair in it and it is not deeper than the skin, but has faded, then the priest shall shut him up seven days. And if it spreads in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a disease. But if the spot remains in one place and does not spread, it is a scar of the boil, and the priest shall pronounce him clean.” – Leviticus 13:18-23
Can you imagine reading this jewel of Scripture to your little kids before sending them off to bed? Have some sweet dreams kiddos! If this section didn’t give your kids a nightmare you could always slide over to chapter 15. Yes, this is the only chapter in the Bible entirely devoted to bodily discharges.
Something happened, however, in the middle of these “gross chapters.” I decided to turn to a commentary with the hope of a fresh perspective. My Bible study was going no where fast. My Option #3 was quickly turning into Option #2: Read it with my nose plugged. The commentator brought two things to my attention leading me to permanently change my view of Leviticus.
It has now become to me a beloved book. I’m actually looking forward to read it again. The book has become similar to a movie that messes with your mind causing you to continue thinking about long after the moment has passed. I need to spend a little bit of time, however, unpacking this before you think I’m crazy. Here are a couple things I learned from the commentator.
First,the Israelites would have their children memorize Leviticus before any other Old Testament book. What?! You gotta be kidding me. Second, God speaks the most in Leviticus. Nearly the entire book is a direct quotation from God. Frequently a chapter will begin, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying…” Those gross chapters where boils, discharges, puss and hair are the center of attention, God is the one doing the talking. As I pondered these two realities I remembered a gross moment in my life.
More than 10 years ago I was a single seminary student. I lived in a men’s dorm full of guys in their twenties and thirties. One day a guy named Chris knocked on my door. I won’t mention his last name since he’s at the center of one of the gross moments of my life. (Chris, you owe me one brother). Chris had this pained expression on his face. I could tell something was bothering him. Maybe he saw me as a godly counselor and wanted me to share all my wisdom.
Chris went on to tell me he really needed my help. What was wrong? I want to help. Slowly, he explained this gigantic pimple he had in the dead center of his back. It was really starting to hurt. He had tried to reach it but couldn’t. He asked if I could do him a favor and pop it for him. Before I could respond his shirt was off and this nasty pimple on his hairy back was displayed before me in all its glory. My response, “Chris, that is absolutely nasty. I think I’m going to throw up. There’s no way I’m coming near that cesspool. It’ll go away eventually!” He walked out of the room and I went back to learning about God and preparing myself for ministry.
All of us guys ate breakfast, lunch and supper together. That evening I was digging into my meal when my good friend Michael sat down to eat. “Tim”, he said, “you can’t believe what Chris asked me to do.” Before he explained it I quickly asked him, “You didn’t do it did you???” His response, “Yes, of course I did it, Chris was in agony. Dude, it was so gross.”
You see, in Genesis and Exodus we predominately encounter a transcendent God. This all-powerful majestic God who is able to create, judge, destroy, redeem and save at a macro level. As I chewed on the book of Leviticus tears flooded my eyes. I felt sorrow for thinking, never saying it, but thinking Leviticus is a mistake.
Yes, our God is transcendent. He exists and operates outside of our little world. Our God, fortunately, is also immanent. He is near. How near? When guys like me think it’s too gross to pop the zit in the middle of a hairy man’s back, God walks into the room while I’m walking out. He has no issues helping the grossness of humanity. This is God, let that reality move into your neighborhood.
The mistake of Leviticus is ever thinking it to be a mistake. God could have easily prevented His people from having boils, infected hairs and gross bodily discharges. In Deuteronomy 29:5 we are told, “During the forty years I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.”
For 40 years God supernaturally kept the clothes and shoes of the Israelites from wearing out. He easily could have kept their bodies from wearing out as well. Save the ink used to write Leviticus. Save the tedious and expensive process of preserving this book for 3,000 years and counting. Supernaturally keep the people from getting puss-filled wounds and Christians for centuries will rise up and thank you for saving us all the gross details.
God, instead, decided to speak most through this book. In Leviticus we first see an immanent God who is very comfortable discussing and helping the grossest moments of humanity. In Leviticus we start to see early ripples of the Gospel. When I look intently at the mirror I realize I am just as gross as my friend Chris. I am just as gross as an Israelite with a boil that has led to a reddish-white spot with white infected hairs inside. When everyone is disgusted and walking out of the room of my life, my God is walking in. He is ready to do business. For 3,000 years He’s had no problem taking care of nasty gross stuff. The Israelites didn’t hide their grossness from the priests. They are repeatedly instructed in Leviticus to show it to the priest. Uncover it, bring it to the light. Why would we want to hide anything from our High Priest?
The second person of the Holy Trinity did the most gross thing in history; He became a man. As the only God-man He took on and paid for the sins of humanity. The Son of God became the Son of Man so the sons of man can become sons of God.
Let’s stop skipping over Leviticus. Let’s stop ridiculing the book. It gives us incredible insight into our God who is near and saves. Through it we should tear down the white washed fences of our life and worship our God through every gross verse because without this immanent God we have no hope.