Monday, March 3, 2014

Why Study Leviticus?

Leviticus 1:1-17

Many today believe that the Old Testament Law is irrelevant to Christians.  After all, Romans 6:14 says, “…for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”   Romans 10:4  declares, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness...”   Based on these two verses, and others, the Law definitely would seem irrelevant, but such a conclusion brings us into a direct contradiction to Christ’s statements in Matthew 5:17-20.

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)

Was Jesus wrong?  Was Paul wrong?  If Jesus was right and Paul is wrong, the law will still be in effect as long as the earth remains, and we will be in trouble for ignoring it.   If we go back and examine the complete verse of Romans 10:4 we find it says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”   It doesn’t say he is the end of the law for everybody, just for those who believe.  Galatians 5:18 says, But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”

In I Timothy 1:8-10, Paul said, “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;” 

 The law was never for those  who did what was right.  It was for those who didn’t.  Galatians 3:24-25 says, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”  Its purpose was to make us understand we were sinners and needed a savior, not to provide salvation.  Romans 3:20 tells us, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”  It only told us what sin was, not how to get rid of it.

One of the scribes and Pharisees questioned Jesus’ teaching about the law in Matthew 22:36-40.  “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

In other words, all the law can be summed up in having a proper relationship with God and a proper relationship with those around us.   Romans 7:6 says, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”  We have been set free from the mechanical actions of the law so we can concentrate on the spirit, the intent or attitude of the law.

For the Jews, Leviticus was a set of rules they had to follow to avoid punishment.  For the Christian, it shows how to properly demonstrate our love for God, and our love for the people around us, but it is not a set of rules we have to follow.   As such, it is a valuable study for those who wish to please God.

The book of Leviticus starts out with the various sacrifices to God.  Each of them portrays some aspect of what Christ has done for us, and of what our attitude should be toward God in giving them.

“And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock. 

If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD.  And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.  And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.  And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces.” (Leviticus 1:1-6)

The first thing we notice is that it didn’t matter whether the offering was a sheep or a cow, but it had to a male without blemish.  In Malachi 1:6-8 God warns that anything less than the best is an indication of disrespect to God.  “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. 

And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible.  And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts.”  

By offering less than our best, we imply God isn’t worth as much to us as some political or business leader.  Secondly, the offering had to be completely voluntary.  It would be meaningless if not given of his own choice.  God loves a cheerful giver according to II Corinthians 9:7.

The third thing we see is that it has to be a personal offering.  He was to place his hand on its head signifying it was for him personally,  then he was to kill the animal in front of the priests to make atonement for him personally.  He was to personally skin the animal and cut it up ready for the sacrifice.

“And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire: And the priests, Aaron's sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.” (Leviticus 1:7-9) 

This offering was not for sin, but was solely a demonstration of love and appreciation for What God had done.  As such the entire carcass was burned on the altar as a sweet smell to God showing the givers love.

“And if his offering be of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice; he shall bring it a male without blemish.  And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall sprinkle his blood round about upon the altar. 

And he shall cut it into his pieces, with his head and his fat: and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: But he shall wash the inwards and the legs with water: and the priest shall bring it all, and burn it upon the altar: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.” (Leviticus 1;10-13)

The process for a sheep or goat was exactly the same as that for a bull.  Some people would find it impossible to give a bull or a sheep.  In that case, a pigeon or turtledove could be caught instead, and offered as a sacrifice.

“And if the burnt sacrifice for his offering to the LORD be of fowls, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves, or of young pigeons.  And the priest shall bring it unto the altar, and wring off his head, and burn it on the altar; and the blood thereof shall be wrung out at the side of the altar: And he shall pluck away his crop with his feathers, and cast it beside the altar on the east part, by the place of the ashes: And he shall cleave it with the wings thereof, but shall not divide it asunder: and the priest shall burn it upon the altar, upon the wood that is upon the fire: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.” (Leviticus 1:14-17)

A turtledove or pigeon was small enough the body could be held up and the blood allowed to sprinkle the altar without being caught in a container.  The crop and feathers were to be disposed of along with the ashes.  The body did not need dividing up before being burned.

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