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Leviticus Sermon Outlines

The following outlines are based on the application sections of my Leviticus commentary in the ZECOT series (2023). In that commentary, I end each chapter with a lengthy discussion of the practical points of application that flow from that chapter. The summaries below are not meant to replace that discussion but to give the preacher an overview of the types of points that could be addressed when preaching on the relevant chapter. (For examples of sermons preached on various chapters in Leviticus, see here.)

You may jump to a chapter by clicking here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5:1-13, 5:14-6:7, 6:8-13, 6:14-186:19-23, 6:24-30, 7:1-7, 7:8-10, 7:11-21, 7:22-27, 7:28-36, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13-14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21:1-22:16, 22:17-33, 23, 24:1-9, 24:10-23, 25:1-7, 25:8-55, 26, 27.

Jay Sklar Leviticus Commentary ZECOT Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament

Leviticus 1

Laws on Whole Burnt Offerings and Their Goals: Favorable Acceptance and Atonement before the Lord

 

Main Idea of the Passage

The Lord is now dwelling in the midst of his people as covenant King. As in Exodus, he will continue giving his people covenant laws through his servant Moses. The first laws explains what the Israelites needed to do to present a whole burnt offering properly. They make clear that Israelites presented whole burnt offerings in order to be favorably accepted by the Lord and, in particular, to make atonement for themselves.

 

 

Main Points

 

By providing a system of offerings, the heavenly King shows his desire for us to draw near to him and enjoy his loving presence

  • The book of Exodus ends with the Lord coming down to dwell in his tabernacle. How could the Israelites draw near to him? Address their sin and impurity? Present their requests to him properly?

  • The Lord answers these questions by beginning Leviticus with a series of laws about offerings, which enabled the Israelites to do the things they were wondering about. The fact that the Lord provides them shows us his heart for his people to draw near to him.

 

To experience the Lord’s favorable acceptance, we must come to him on his terms

  • The first offering is the burnt offering. As with all offerings, the offerer brought this to experience the Lord’s favor. And since the Lord provided the laws about the burnt offering, it shows the burnt offering is not a bridge the people had to build to draw near to God but a door he set before them to enter his presence.

  • At the same time, it was necessary to follow the procedures the Lord had set down. He is the King and a king must be approached on his terms not our own.

 

The Lord wants us to be able to deal properly with sin

  • The Lord’s favorable acceptance was a general goal of the burnt offering, but a more specific goal was to “make atonement.”

  • “Atonement” means that God in his love has made a way to deal with our wrongs so we can be made right with him.

  • The need for atonement is related to the Lord’s holiness and our lack of it.

  • The Lord provides a means of atonement out of his mercy and love; this shines all the more clearly in the sacrificial death of Jesus.

 

The Lord wants us to draw near to him with prayers of praise and petition  

        

  • While Leviticus 1 focuses on atonement as the burnt offering’s purpose, other texts show us it could also serve as an exclamation point to an offeror’s prayers, whether prayers of praise and thanksgiving or of supplication.

  • If for praise, such praise was costly (the burnt offering was the most expensive offering to give). Christians are likewise exhorted to costly obedience (Rom 12:1).

  • If for supplication, the costly gift emphasized the seriousness of the request and made clear the offerer was completely dependent on the Lord for help.

  • Whatever the reason for presenting it, when offered in faith, offerers could be assured of the Lord’s favor and pleasure. We know this is an ultimate way if we have put our faith in Jesus, the far greater burnt offering on our behalf.

Leviticus 2

Laws on Grain Offerings and Their Goal: Favorable Acceptance before the Lord

 

Main Idea of the Passage

Leviticus 2 teaches the Israelites how to present a grain offering properly so they may be favorably accepted before the Lord. The rite served several purposes: to remind the Israelites of their covenant obligations to the Lord and of his covenant promises to them; to ask the Lord to “remember” his covenant obligations and to show them his care; and to underscore to them the importance of providing for their spiritual leaders.

 

 

Main Points

 

The salt of the covenant reminded the Israelites of their covenant obligations to the Lord and his promise of covenant faithfulness to them

  • As a symbol of their covenant with the Lord, salt reminded the Israelites of their covenant obligations, thus requiring their obedience.

  • As a symbol of their covenant with the Lord, salt reminded the Israelites the Lord would be faithful to his covenant promises, thus enabling their obedience.

  • The Lord’s presence with believers today is what also enables their obedience (Matt 28:19 – 20).

 

The memorial portion was a request for the Lord to “remember” his covenant obligations to the worshipper and to show them his favor

  • The Lord’s “remembrance” refers to his favor and care towards the believer.

  • To request his remembrance is to acknowledge our need of his favor and care.

  • We can make such a request boldly because the Lord has made clear his delight in caring for his children.

 

The priests’ portion of each offering showed the importance of providing for the needs of the community’s spiritual leaders

  • The remainder of grain offerings went to the priests and provided for their care.

  • This reminded them of the Lord’s care for them and also freed them to focus on tabernacle duties so the Lord’s worship could continue.

  • The New Testament applies this principle to spiritual leaders in the church, commanding that we provide for their needs so they can focus on caring for the Lord’s people and leading them in his worship.

Leviticus 3

Laws on Fellowship Offerings and Their Goals: Covenant Fellowship between the Lord, the Priests and the People, and Favorable Acceptance before the Lord

 

Main Idea of the Passage

The purpose of Lev 3 is to teach the Israelites how to present a fellowship offering. This offering functioned as a shared meal by which Israelites celebrated and reaffirmed their covenant relationship with the Lord and with one another. By giving the Lord the best portion—the fat—they honored him as the one worthy of all glory and praise.

 

 

Main Points

 

The fellowship offering was a reminder of the Lord’s covenant promises to his people and of their covenant responsibilities to him and to one another

  • As a sign of covenant fellowship, the fellowship offering was a chance for the Israelites to reaffirm and celebrate their covenant relationship with the Lord and their covenant relationship with one another.

  • In the New Testament, the Lord’s Supper functions in the same way.

 

The fellowship offering was a reminder that the Lord is to be honored above every other thing in our lives

  • The fat was the best portion of the sacrifice; by giving it to the Lord, the Israelites honored him as the one most worthy of praise.

  • The New Testament likewise affirms that the Father (Rom 16:27; 1 Tim 1:17; Jude 1:25) and the Son (Luke 14:26; Phil 2:9–11) are to be honored above all else in our lives.

Leviticus 4

Laws on Purification Offerings and Their Goals, Part I—Cleansing Defilement Caused by Sin and Making Atonement before the Lord: Five Different Offerors

 

Main Idea of the Passage

The purpose of Lev 4:1–35 is to teach the Israelites how to present a purification offering (traditionally translated as “sin offering”; see commentary for details). The purification offering addressed sins considered to defile the Lord’s home. The Lord provided this offering so his people could have their sins cleansed and be restored to fellowship with him. These laws also reminded the Israelites that suffering can function as a loving warning of the need for repentance, and that leaders of the Lord’s people must seek to live godly lives.

 

Main Points

The main points all speak to the seriousness of sin and the Lord’s love in providing cleansing for it.

Although suffering is not a necessary sign of sin, it can be the Lord’s loving warning of sin in our lives that we need to repent of

  • The sins addressed in this chapter are unintentional, meaning the sinner was not always aware of having committed it. One way awareness of the sin comes is through suffering.

  • Suffering is not an automatic sign of sin but it can be an indicator that the Lord is disciplining us—a reality the New Testament also underscores (1 Cor 11:30).

  • But this is a mercy insofar as it alerts us to our wrongdoing and can help lead us to repentance—and back to the Lord’s lifegiving ways.

 

Leaders of the Lord’s people are especially responsible to live godly lives

  • Those in greater positions of authority have greater responsibility to live godly lives.

  • One reason for this is that leaders influence those they lead; where the head turns, the body follows.

  • Not surprisingly, in the New Testament the list of qualifications for leaders thus focuses on character above all else (1 Tim 3:1–13; 5:22; Tit 1:5–9)

 

Jesus is both the perfect high priest and the perfect atoning sacrifice

  • Jesus is both the perfect leader (unlike Old Testament priests or New Testament spiritual leaders) (Heb 7:26–27) and the perfect sacrifice who atones for our sin (Heb 10:22)


In Jesus, the Lord provides cleansing for our sin so we can experience forgiveness and have fellowship with him

  • One of the pictures the Bible uses for sin is that of impurity: something that defiles us (Lev 18:24–25a; Ps 106:39; Ezek 14:11). This does not surprise us. Sin often makes us feel dirty.

  • The Lord graciously provided the purification offering in order to cleanse the Israelites’ sin so they might be in close fellowship with him.

  • This happens all the more powerfully through the cleansing blood of Jesus (1 John 1:9).

Leviticus 5:1–13

Laws on Purification Offerings and Their Goals, Part II—Cleansing Defilement Caused by Sin and Making Atonement before the Lord: Three Specific Sins and Two Alternate Forms of the Offering

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter’s opening verses name three specific sins that require a purification offering, emphasizing that the Lord’s people must participate in matters of justice, deal properly with impurity, be true to their word, and that repentance involves turning from the wrong and correcting it wherever possible (5:1–6). The verses that follow describe two alternate purification offerings for those with less means, in this way teaching that the Lord loves all, whether rich or poor, and that his people must do the same (5:7–13).

 

Main Points

These mains points all relate to the theme of living faithfully as the Lord’s follower.

The Lord’s people must be full participants in matters of justice

  • The Israelite justice system was especially dependent on witnesses and the Israelites were expected to partake as such when they could so that justice could be served. Those who know the Lord is just want to see justice done in his world.

 

The Lord’s people must deal properly with impurity

  • Dealing properly and promptly with ritual impurity was a way to show respect to the Lord’s holiness in your midst.

  • Reminders about dealing promptly with ritual impurity were to serve as reminders about the far greater importance of dealing promptly with moral impurity so that the Lord’s people could reflect his holiness.

 

The Lord’s people must be true to their word

  • When making promises in the Lord’s name, we must honor those promises in order to honor him.

  • In speech more generally, a believer’s words should always be trustworthy since they follow a God whose words are always trustworthy.

 

Repenting of sin involves turning from the wrong, correcting it wherever possible, and walking in the Lord’s ways instead  

        

  • Proper confession of sin involves acknowledging the wrong as well as correcting it were possible.

  • Proper confession of sin should also lead to a lifestyle change in which one turns away from committing such sin again.

The Lord shows his love to all, whether rich or poor, and his people are to imitate him by doing the same

  • By allowing for a purification offering of birds (5:7–10) or flour (5:11–13), the Lord made a way for even the poorest among his people to be forgiven and restored in their relationship with him.

  • His people should reflect that same generous love to all people, thus testifying to God’s generous love towards us.

Leviticus 5:14–6:7

Laws on Reparation Offerings and Their Goals: Repairing Damage Caused by Sin and Making Atonement before the Lord

 

Main Idea of the Passage

Covenant disloyalty to a king was a serious offense in the ancient Near East, but offenders could atone by admitting their wrong and paying a penalty. Lev 5:14–6:7 describes the reparation offering (traditionally translated as “guilt offering”; see discussion in commentary). The Israelites were to bring reparation offerings when they had committed a serious breach of covenant loyalty against the King of heaven by disrespecting his holy property. This offering was the ransom payment that atoned for the sin, repaired the damage between the sinner and the Lord, and led to renewed fellowship.

 

 

Main Points

 

Because the Lord is the King of power, purity and love, he is worthy of respect

  • When we disrespect someone’s property, we disrespect them.

  • These laws emphasize the seriousness of disrespecting the Lord’s holy property, whether his physical property (such as food offerings) or his name (which represented his person).

  • Note how Jesus emphasizes the importance of showing respect to the Lord’s name/person: “Hallowed be your name” (Matt 6:9) is a prayer asking that we and all we know would treat the Lord as the holy person that he is.

 

There is no such thing as secret sin

  • The law of 6:1–7 makes clear the Lord is aware of so-called “secret sins.”

  • There is actually no such thing as “secret” sin since the Lord sees all (Prov 5:21)

  • The Lord may not always bring immediate justice to bear for secret sin, but he can and does cause us to “suffer guilt’s consequences” for it (6:5), a New Testament reality as well (Acts 5:1–11).

 

True repentance involves seeking reconciliation with those we have wronged and correcting the wrong where possible

  • When we sin against someone, we must seek their forgiveness. Compare Lev 5:24–26, where confession precedes sacrifice, with the pattern Jesus emphasizes in Matt 5:23–24.

  • Repentance involves not only apologizing but correcting the wrong where possible, going above and beyond to make things right.

 

In his love for sinful people, the Lord makes a way of forgiveness possible  

        

  • In his love for his people, the Lord makes a way for them to atone for these sins.

  • The focus of atonement in these laws is on ransom; the New Testament uses this concept and applies it to Jesus, who came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). In Jesus, the Lord once more shows his love for his people by providing a way for them to atone for their sins.

Leviticus 6:8–13

The Law of the Continual Whole Burnt Offering 

 

Main Idea of the Passage

Priests were to maintain an altar fire for a continual whole burnt offering. By this, the Israelites constantly acknowledged the Lord’s greatness and their need for his forgiveness, favor and help.

 

 

Main Points

 

In light of our sin and weakness and the Lord’s love and greatness, we are to live in a posture of prayer, seeking his forgiveness and help, and joyfully expressing our worship and praise

  • The burnt offering functioned in many ways: making atonement, expressing costly worship, serving as an exclamation point to prayers of praise and supplication.

  • Since the offering in these verses was to be continual, it showed the Israelites their constant need of the Lord’s help and that they should constantly be in a posture of worship before him.

  • Our prayer life is a good indicator of whether we have a posture of constant dependance on the Lord and constant worship before him.

 

For faithful worship of the Lord to continue, the leaders of the Lord’s people must be faithful in their duties

  • Since this passage is addressed to priests in particular it is a special exhortation to them to be faithful in their duties so that Israel’s worship can continue.

  • In the New Testament, the spiritual leaders of the Lord’s people are likewise commanded to be faithful in their duties for the sake of God’s people (1 Tim 4:12–16), including praying regularly for their people (Rom 1:9–10; Eph 3:14–19; Phil 1:3–4), and in this way following the example of Jesus who “indeed is interceding for us” (Rom 8:34).

  • Since pastors have weighty responsibilities and are imperfect, they are especially depending on their flock to pray regularly for them.

Leviticus 6:14–18

The Law of the Grain Offering 

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This law provides instructions for the proper treatment of grain offerings, which were most holy, and emphasizes that priests, in particular, treat them properly. By respecting the Lord’s most holy property, priests demonstrated respect for the Lord himself and modeled for Israel the importance of doing the same.

 

Main Points

Like 6:8–13, this law is for priests in particular, and its major lesson is directed at them.

In both their words and their lives, the leaders of the Lord’s people are to model what it means to live reverently before the holy Lord

  • This law strongly exhorts priests to treat the ritually holy grain offering with full respect. Because the Lord was sharing these most holy items with them (6:17), to disrespect his property would be to disrespect the Lord himself.

  • This also applied at the moral level: priests were to carefully maintain the ritual and moral distinctions the Lord had made between the holy and non-holy and teach Israel to do the same (10:10–11).

  • While distinctions between “holy” and “pure” and “impure” no longer apply in terms of ritual purity, pastors must still maintain the moral distinctions the Lord makes between the holy and non-holy and teach his people to do the same (1 Tim 4:12–16), especially by modeling such distinctions before them (1 Pet 5:1–4).

Leviticus 6:19–23

The Law of the Priests’ Continual Grain Offering

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This passage explains how the priests’ continual grain offering is to be made, and underscores that the priests, like everyone else in Israel, were in daily need of the Lord’s favor and grace.

 

Main Points

 

Spiritual leaders need the Lord’s daily favor and grace as much as anyone else 

  • Just as priests began and ended each day with a continual whole burnt offering to seek the Lord’s favor for the nation (Exod 29:38–42; Num 28:2–4), so the high priest began and ended each day with a continual grain offering to seek the Lord’s favor for the priests.

  • In this way, the Lord reminds leaders of their continual need of his help, thus counteracting the spiritual pride so often inherent in leadership. John the Baptist models the appropriate humility for leaders today in his famous sentence, “I am the not the Christ” (John 1:20). Spiritual pride is impossible for those who keep Jesus’ magnificence clearly before them.

  • This law also reminded leaders he wanted to help them since the Lord is the one who required this regular seeking of his help. He longs to provide the grace and strength leaders need. Cf. Jesus’s promise to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9a). 

Leviticus 6:24–30

The Law of the Purification Offering

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This law provides instructions on the proper treatment of the purification offering, emphasizing the priests’ role in particular. When the priests showed respect for the Lord’s property, they demonstrated respect for the Lord himself, modeling for Israel the importance of doing the same.

 

 

Main Points

See at 6:14–18.

Leviticus 7:1–7

The Law of the Reparation Offering

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This law provides instructions on the proper treatment of the reparation offering. Like the purification offering law (6:24–30), this law emphasizes that priests in particular must ensure the sacrifice is treated properly. When the priests respected the Lord’s property, they respected the Lord himself and modeled for Israel the importance of doing the same. 

 

Main Points

See at 6:14–18.

Leviticus 7:8–10

Related Matters on Distribution of Offering Portions among Priests

 

Main Idea of the Passage

These verses continue the theme of respecting the Lord’s holy things but focus on how to divide offering portions among the priests. They underscore that the Lord is using these offerings to graciously provide for the priests.

 

Main Points

 

By providing for his priests, the Lord reminded them of his goodness and care

  • Priests did not have the same opportunities to make income as the Israelites; the Lord thus graciously makes sure their needs are being met through the offerings at the tabernacle.

 

By providing for his priests, the Lord reminded his people of the importance of providing for their spiritual leaders

  • See at 2:1–16.

Leviticus 7:11–21

The Law of Fellowship Offerings

 

Main Idea of the Passage

These verses explain proper sacrificial procedure for different types of fellowship offerings. They focus especially on how to treat the various sacrificial portions properly, emphasizing again the importance of respecting the Lord’s holy things as a way of respecting him.

 

Main Points

 

The Lord’s holy property must be treated with due respect

  • This requirement applies to the fellowship offering as a holy covenant meal and meant that offerers had to eat it in a state of ritual purity.

  • Since the Lord’s Supper functions today as the believer’s holy covenant meal, it is important that we do not partake of it in an “unworthy manner” (1 Cor 11:27), that is, to partake of the covenant meal as though we are believers while treating other members of Christ’s body with disdain.

Leviticus 7:22–27

Related Matters: Prohibitions against Consuming Fat or Blood

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This passage emphasizes Israelites must never eat the fat of sacrificial animals or meat with blood in it. By obeying these commands, the Israelites declared the Lord is most worthy of honor and is sovereign over all life.

 

Main Points

 

Israelites honored the Lord by not eating an animal’s fat

  • See at Lev 3:1–17, second main point.

Israelites honored the Lord by not eating meat with the animal’s lifeblood still in it

  • See at Lev 17:1–16, first two main points.

Leviticus 7:28–36

Related Matters: Fellowship Offering Portions for Priests

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This passage focuses on which fellowship offering portions the Israelites must give to the priests: some of the very best. In requiring this, the Lord communicates to the priests that he will care for their needs and to the Israelites that they must have high respect for their spiritual leaders. 

 

Main Points

 

The Lord generously provides for his priests needs, modelling for Israel they are to do the same

  • See at 2:1–16.

 

The Lord gives the very best portions to the priests, teaching the Israelites to give honor to their spiritual leaders

  • Assigning someone the best portion of a meal was a way to show them honor. By doing this for the priests, the Lord showed the Israelites they were to give honor to their spiritual leaders.

  • The New Testament also emphasizes the importance of showing honor to spiritual leaders in the church (1 Tim 5:17).

Leviticus 8

Preparation for Public Worship: Consecrating the Priests and the Tent of Meeting

 

Main Idea of the Passage

Leviticus 8 recounts how the Tent of Meeting and the priests were set aside as holy. The Tent would serve as the Lord’s holy dwelling, and the priests would serve as holy mediators before the Lord on behalf of his sinful people. By providing these things, the Lord made clear his deep desire for his people to know and have fellowship with him.

 

Main Points

 

In his desire for relationship with his sinful people, the Lord sets apart priestly mediators to be holy and to mediate on their behalf

  • In his love, the Lord provides shepherds to care for his sheep.

  • He sets those shepherds apart as holy so they could minister in his holy tabernacle on behalf of his sheep.

  • The Lord’s provision of shepherds shows that he is the one who takes the initiative in providing mediators for his sinful people. Salvation is not about us earning our way to God but about God making a way that we might be saved. We see this ultimately in his provision of Jesus, our great and final High Priest.

 

Priests are just as much in need of atonement as the people

  • The fact that priests have to present atoning sacrifices for themselves shows that they are themselves sinners in need of mediation.

  • Jesus is entirely different: he is a priest who needs no mediation because he is without sin (Heb 7:26–27), and because he is without fault he is able to atone for the sins of others by offering up himself as a sacrifice for sin (9:12, 14, 28; 10:19–22; cf. Isa 53:11–12).

  • His cleansing of our sin is so deep it now makes us like ritually holy priests and thus “have confidence to enter the holy place” as those cleansed of all sin (Heb 10:19).

 

The Lord’s people, and especially their leaders, must obey the Lord’s commands

  • In this chapter, the people do everything “as the Lord commanded” (8:4, 9, 13, 17, 21, 29, 36), and then see his presence dwelling physically among them (9:23b–24). The point is clear: to have fellowship with this King, it is necessary to walk in his ways.

  • Jesus emphasizes the same: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10). He is not saying that we obey in order to earn his love but that the only way to stay close to him is to walk with him in his paths.

  • Aaron and his sons especially do everything as the Lord commanded in this chapter, modeling for the Israelites the type of obedience they should have. This is in keeping with the Lord’s call of all spiritual leaders to serve as models of godly obedience for their people (1 Tim 4:12; cf. Mal 2:4–6; 2 Thess 3:9; Tit 2:7; 1 Pet 5:3).

Leviticus 9

The Start of Public Worship and the Lord’s Appearance in Glory

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter recounts how the Israelites prepared for and responded to the Lord’s appearance among them in the Tent of Meeting. It emphasizes that the proper response to the Lord requires us to deal properly with our sin and impurity and worship him with both reverence and joy.

 

Main Points

 

The proper response to the Lord’s holiness is to deal properly with sin

  • Because the Lord is utterly distinct in his moral purity, he is repulsed by sin. If he is to live in the midst of his people, they must deal properly with their sin.

  • Sin does not only offend the Lord’s character, it undermines his good and holy purposes for his creation.

  • When Israelites dealt properly with their sin, it showed respect for both his character and for his world.

The proper response to the Lord’s glorious power is to worship him with reverence

  • Because the Lord is unique in terms of his sovereign power, showing himself to be the ultimate King, his people are to show reverence before him.

  • There is all the more reason to do this because he is not simply a king of raw power but one of absolute goodness.

  • Jesus is this same type of king, both completely powerful (Phil 2:9–10a) and completely good (Phil 2:5–8; Heb 12). Indeed, because this King has died for his sinful subjects, the proper response is to fall before him in wonder at such absolute power wrapped in such absolute love.

 

The proper response to the Lord’s glorious presence is to worship and serve him with joy

  • When the came to live in their midst and watch over them, the Israelites responded with reverential worship and with joy (9:24).

  • They also understood he had given them the privilege of advancing his kingdom in this world as his “kingdom of priests and holy nation” (Exod 19:6). The Lord blesses his people that they might be a blessing to his creation.

  • The same is true for believers today. The Lord has made believers a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9). Our joy worship of the Lord should spill over into joyful service.

Leviticus 10

A Story of Contrast: Priestly Unfaithfulness during Worship Versus Priestly Faithfulness during Worship

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter contrasts the disobedience of certain priests with the obedience of others and highlights commands for priests to be faithful in their duties. It thus emphasizes that priests must be faithful in the tremendous responsibilities with which they have been entrusted as the spiritual leaders of the Lord’s people, modeling for Israel that the Lord is honored as the holy and glorious king when his commands are obeyed.

 

 

Main Points

 

The Lord’s judgment is a mercy when it prevents the further spread of sin and brokenness

  • We flourish when we walk with God in his good and life-giving paths.

  • When we rebel against him, we bring all manner of harm on ourselves and into his world.

  • When the Lord brings judgment for such rebellion, it can be a mercy if it leads those who behold it to turn away from rebellion and back to his life-giving ways.

 

Spiritual leaders must take their job seriously because their responsibilities are so important

  • The priests are forbidden from drinking while on duty so that their judgment is in no way impaired. Leaders are like the captain of a ship: if the captain makes a mistake, everyone on the ship can be put in harm’s way.

  • Three results would follow: protection of the priests’ lives, who as leaders are to model reverent obedience (cf. James 3:1); the ability to make proper ritual distinctions, which was a reminder as well of the importance of making proper moral distinctions; and the ability to teach the Israelites the Lord’s laws, which is the responsibility of his spiritual leaders to do.

  • As the story of redemption continues, the Lord provides Jesus as the perfect high priest who faithfully teaches the Lord’s law and also perfectly embodies it.

Leviticus 11

Covenant Laws for the Lord’s Holy People on Pure and Impure Creatures

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter’s laws teach the Israelites which animals are ritually pure and therefore edible and which are ritually impure and therefore inedible. They also describe how to address ritual impurity that comes from contact with animal carcasses. In doing so, they teach the Israelites to set themselves apart in these areas as the followers of a holy God and also remind them to distinguish between purity and impurity at the ritual and moral level.

 

Main Points

No rationale has been identified with certainty that explains why certain animals were regarded as ritually pure and others as ritually impure. At the same time, the Lord’s purposes in giving his people laws about them can be discerned.

By avoiding ritually impure animals in their diet, the Israelites set themselves apart as the followers of a holy God

  • Just as a diet can mark someone as a vegetarian, the Israelites’ diet marked them as followers of the Lord.

  • Because the Lord put the Israelites on an impurity-free diet, it showed that he wanted them to make avoiding impurity a priority. This testified to the fact that he was a holy God.

 

Laws commanding the Israelites to make distinctions between ritual purity and impurity were to serve as reminders to make distinctions between moral purity and impurity

  • The Lord often gives his people physical signs or tasks to remind them of other obligations or promises, e.g., the Sabbath, circumcision, the Lord’s Supper. They are all physical reminders of deeper spiritual realities.

  • Laws on ritual purity and impurity work the same way. By commanding the Israelites to distinguish between purity and impurity at a ritual level and to deal properly with ritual impurity, the Lord was reminding them to make such distinctions at a moral level and to deal properly with moral impurity.

 

While the New Testament no longer requires the Lord’s people to make ritual distinctions, it emphasizes they must make moral distinctions and thus embody the Lord’s holiness

  • In the New Testament, laws about ritual purity and impurity are set aside.

  • But Jesus does emphasize the intent of these ritual laws when he commands his followers to reflect God’s moral purity in all of life: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

Leviticus 12

Covenant Laws for the Lord’s Holy People on Ritually Defiling Bodily Fluids Lost Due to Childbirth

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter teaches Israelite mothers how to become ritually pure after the birth of a child, emphasizing that dealing with ritual impurity shows respect for the Lord’s holiness. In the chapter’s final law, the Lord models that the poor must be loved and cared for just as those with greater means.

 

Main Points

While many moderns reading this chapter might assume that it speaks negatively of the worth of a baby girl, that is the one conclusion we may not draw from this passage (see commentary for details). In terms of lessons to take away, two come to the fore.

Out of respect for the Lord’s great holiness, impurity must be properly addressed

  • The new mother would address her ritual impurity out of respect for the Lord’s holiness and so that she could rejoin the community in worship at the tabernacle. This reminded the Israelites of two principles.

  • First, just as ritual impurity must be dealt with properly out of respect and love for the holy Lord, so must moral impurity. The New Testament emphasizes this last point as well (2 Cor 7:1).

  • Second, it was important to stay connected to the community of worship, which, from a moral perspective, calls for showing love and kindness to our brothers and sisters in Jesus (Eph 4:31–5:2); without this, community becomes impossible.

  • These two principles cannot be separated. Holy living before God and holy loving of one another, are always to go hand in hand (Heb 12:14).

 

The Lord makes his atonement available to all, no matter their financial circumstances, so that all may enjoy relationship with him

  • In keeping with the emphasis throughout the Bible on the Lord’s love for all people, including the poor, the Lord allows for a less costly sacrifice (v. 8) so that all have equal access to his atonement and purification. He is the God of humanity, and so desires all humanity, rich or poor, to be able to enjoy relationship with him.

  • The only biblical narrative describing someone bringing this offering is the one telling the story of Jesus’s family (Luke 2:22–24), meaning Jesus himself not only entered this world, he chose to come and live among the poor. His followers are to love all people, including the poor, just as much as he does.

Leviticus 13–14

Covenant Laws for the Lord’s Holy People on the Ritual Status and Treatment of Various Skin Conditions and Garment or House Infestations

 

Main Idea of the Passage

These chapters teach Israelites in general, and priests in particular, how to identify and address ritually defiling skin conditions and garment or house infestations. In doing so, they also teach that matters of purity and impurity relate to all of life, that dealing properly with impurity matters more than comfort, that the Lord provides spiritual leaders to instruct in matters or purity and impurity because of his love for his people and the world, and that only the Lord can cleanse severe impurity.

 

 

Main Points

 

Matters of ritual purity and impurity are related to all aspects of life and serve as reminders of moral purity and impurity in all aspects of life

  • Previous chapters showed how ritual purity and impurity relate to the Israelites’ entire lives, from food (Lev 11) to natural life processes (Lev 12). Lev 13–14 now expand that to include diseases or infestations affecting their bodies, clothing, and homes.

  • The more these ritual laws touched on all aspects of life, the stronger their reminder that in all aspects of life the Israelites were to be people who reflected the Lord’s own moral purity into the world.

 

Dealing properly with impurity is of greater importance than personal ease or comfort

  • These chapters demonstrate the Israelites had to deal properly with ritual impurity, even at the cost of destroying a garment (13:52), tearing down a home (14:45), or living outside the camp (13:46). Addressing impurity was more important than personal ease or comfort.

  • This was to protect others from potential harm that could come from impurity and as a way to show respect to the presence of the holy Lord in Israel’s midst.

  • At a moral level, the lessons are that we must deal properly with moral impurity so as not to harm others by it and so that we show respect to the holy Lord who lives among his people (1 Cor 3:16–17) and within his people (1 Cor 6:18–20). This means dealing properly with our sin even if it is personally costly to do so.

 

In his love for his people and the world, the Lord provides spiritual leaders to instruct his people in matters or purity and impurity

  • In Israel, the priests were the ones who were to instruct in matters of ritual purity as well as moral purity.

  • In the church, elders are to instruct the Lord’s people in matters of moral purity.

 

Only the Lord can cleanse severe impurity

        

  • The ritual impurity in these chapters is cleansed only by means of the Lord granting atonement for the defiled person, which is a picture of the same reality when it comes to moral impurity.

  • When Jesus healed those with the disease of these chapters that resulted in ritual impurity, he showed he is the great High Priest who can also cleanse us of our moral impurity (Heb 10:22).

  • Jesus once healed a man with a ritually defiling skin disease. The man immediately began praising God and “threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him” (Luke 17:16a). His was the proper response when Jesus cleanses us: worship and praise to God for his provision of Jesus, and worship and praise to Jesus for removing our defilement and leaving in its place cleansing and wholeness.

Leviticus 15

Further Covenant Laws for the Lord’s Holy People on Ritually Defiling Bodily Fluids

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter teaches Israelites how to cleanse themselves of ritual impurities related to certain bodily fluids. In doing so, it teaches them a series of related lessons: that ritual purity and impurity are related to all of life, that they serve as reminders about moral purity and impurity, that all impurity must be properly addressed out of respect for the Lord, that the Lord provides cleansing for all impurity, and that the Israelites must seek purity and deal properly with impurity in their sex lives.

 

 

Main Points

 

Matters of ritual purity and impurity are related to all aspects of life, and serve as reminders about moral purity and impurity in all aspects of life

  • In previous chapters, ritual purity and impurity were related to matters such as food (Lev 11), natural life processes, such as giving birth (Lev 12), and diseases or infestations that affected the Israelites’ bodies, clothing, and homes (Lev 13–14). This chapter extends this to matters related to the sexual organs. Taken together, Lev 11–15 make clear that ritual purity and impurity relates to all aspects of life.

  • Because these ritual realities were reminders of moral realities, the Israelites are taught to distinguish between moral purity and impurity in every aspect of life.

 

Impurity must be properly addressed out of respect for the Lord’s great holiness

  • Keeping ritual impurity separate from ritual holiness was a way for Israelites to show respect to the Lord and his holiness.

  • Failing to deal properly with ritual impurity was a sign of great disrespect to the holy Lord.

  • At the moral level, the Israelites were to keep themselves, as the Lord’s holy people, separate from moral impurity. Failure to do so was a sign of great disrespect to the holy Lord.

  • The New Testament similarly emphasizes that the Lord’s people today are to live morally holy lives (2 Cor 6:16–7:1) and that failure to do so is treasonous disrespect to the holy Lord (1 Cor 6:9).

 

The Lord provides cleansing for impurity in all its forms

  • The Lord provides cleansing for all types of impurity, including major impurities, which required the work of a priestly mediator and atoning sacrifice.

  • He provides such cleaning so that he may remain among his people.

  • The Lord similarly provides moral cleansing for his people (Lev 16). As the New Testament emphasizes, he does this ultimately through the sacrifice of Jesus: “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). 

 

These laws emphasize the importance of seeking moral purity and dealing properly with moral impurity in our sex lives  

        

  • By encouraging the Israelites to seek ritual purity with regard to their sexual organs, the Lord reminds them to do the same at the moral level. Practically speaking, this meant seeking to honor the Lord in their sex lives by avoiding sexual immorality.

  • Because our bodies belong to the Lord, we must respect them as holy, one application of which is sexual purity. The New Testament in fact exhorts believers towards sexual purity in light of the fact that our very bodies are tabernacles of the living God (1 Cor 6:18–20).

  • It is important to remember that the Lord provides cleansing for impurity in all its forms, meaning that even when we sin sexually, it is not beyond the cleansing power made available in Jesus, whose blood “purifies us from allunrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Leviticus 16

Dealing Properly with Sin and Impurity before the Holy Lord: The Day of Atonement

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter teaches that the sins and impurities of the Lord’s people must be properly atoned so they can continue in fellowship with him. It emphasizes that they must deal seriously and regularly with them, that the Lord provides cleansing for defilement and a third party to remove the lethal burden of their sin and bear its responsibility, and that his people must humble themselves before him to experience the benefits of the atonement he so graciously provides.

 

 

Main Points

 

We must take our sin and impurity seriously and deal with it regularly

  • Sin offends God because it destroys the good world he intends for humanity. Until sin is addressed, relationship with him is impossible, and his justice against our evil remains an imminent threat.

  • Sin is also defiling by its very nature. For the Israelites to leave such defilement unaddressed would be to treat their holy King with contempt.

  • God’s people must therefore deal seriously and regularly with their sin and impurity. Doing so showed the people’s reverence for God and their desire to embody his holy character in the world.

  • God’s people today must address sin and impurity for the same reasons: as a sign of our reverence for God (2 Cor 7:1) and our desire to embody his holy character in the world (1 Pet 1:15–16).

 

The Lord provides cleansing for the defilement of our sin and impurity

  • Sin and impurity are pictured in Lev 16 as a defiling substance that must be cleansed. The Lord provides an elaborate ceremony to accomplish this goal by means of the mediatorial work of priests.

  • In the New Testament, Jesus is presented as the far greater priest who accomplishes far greater cleansing (Heb 9–10, esp. 9:25–10:10).

 

The Lord provides a third party to remove the lethal burden of our sin and bear responsibility for it

  • Sin and impurity are also pictured in Lev 16 as a lethal burden that must be borne away. The Lord provides a scapegoat to do this.

  • The scapegoat language is applied in Isaiah to the suffering servant (Isa 53:5, 8, 11–12), which is in turn applied to Jesus in 1 Pet 2:22–25. He is the one who bears away our sin on himself in an ultimate way.

 

We must humble ourselves before the Lord to experience the benefits of the atonement he so richly provides  

        

  • The Day of Atonement ceremony required the people of God to come before the Lord with humble hearts as they sought his cleansing and atonement. When they did so, they could be assured the Lord would do so.

  • In Jesus, the Lord has provided the ultimate Day of Atonement. Because of Jesus, our sin and guilt may be dealt with fully and finally. But this only happens as we turn humbly to him, with our whole heart, acknowledging our need for his forgiveness and cleansing. When we do, we have every reason to rejoice, knowing our sin and impurity have been fully cleansed, the burden of our guilt fully removed, and that the Lord receives us as his very own, the children of his special love and care.

Leviticus 17

Acknowledging the Lord as the Sole Focus of Worship and as the King of Life: Covenant Laws on the Proper Slaughtering and Eating of Animals and on the Proper Use of Their Lifeblood

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This chapter explains the way Israelites must slaughter and eat animals and handle their lifeblood. By using lifeblood as the Lord directed, the Israelites acknowledged him as the King of life; by offering it only to him, they acknowledged him as the sole focus of worship. The chapter also underscores that the Lord allows them to use an animal’s lifeblood only for atonement, which is as an act of justice and mercy, motivated by love, that removes guilt and restores a sinner’s relationship with the Lord.

 

 

Main Points

 

Because the Lord is the King of life, we must show respect to life in all its forms

  • Just as a sculptor owns a sculpture, so the Lord owns the world he created. This means that all that is in it—including all life—is his and must be used only as he directs. In doing so, we acknowledge he is King over all life and that it belongs to him.

  • Israelites equated the blood of an animal with its life. This chapter teaches them to acknowledge the Lord as King of life by using sacrificial blood only as he allowed, namely, to place it on the altar to make atonement for their sins (see at 17:11).

  • The application of this point extends beyond the proper use of sacrificial blood. The Lord’s followers are to care for life in all its forms as a way of saying, “This has value because it belongs to my King!”

 

Because the Lord is both King and covenant partner, he alone is to be worshipped

  • The Israelites were not only to show respect to the Lord as King by valuing life, they were to do so by worshipping him alone. Leviticus 17 emphasizes this in two ways using two different images: the Israelites as subjects bringing tribute to the Lord their King, and Israel and the Lord as covenant partners.

  • Taken together, these two images underscore that because the Lord is both King and covenant partner, he alone is to be worshipped. Jesus makes this same point when he warns, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt 6:24a). 

 

Because of his great love for us, the Lord makes a way of forgiveness possible when we have betrayed him

  • In his love, the Lord allows the sacrifice of an animal to ransom those who have rebelled against him and faithlessly betrayed him (17:11).

  • While we often think of ransom today as a payment made by the innocent to the guilty to secure the release of a kidnap victim, in the Bible it was a guilty party that paid a ransom to the innocent (and offended) party in order to be delivered from a just penalty.

  • This latter picture of ransom is at the heart of the atoning sacrifices, which the Lord provides, as an act of sheer grace, that guilty sinners might be forgiven.

  • This leads to the following understanding of atonement: it is an act of both justice and mercy, motivated by his love, that removes the guilt of the guilty, restores their relationship to the Lord, and propels them to serve him whole-heartedly. In short: Atonement is what happens when God in his love makes a way to deal with our wrongs so that we might be right with him.

  • Jesus’s death on the cross is the ultimate act of atonement. Jesus describes his mission in terms of ransoming the guilty: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And significantly, in a stunning reversal that can only be brought about by love, the one who was wronged pays the penalty for those who have committed the wrong so that we might again have fellowship with him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Rom 5:8).

Leviticus 18

Covenant Laws against Various Sexual and Worship Practices

 

Main Idea of the Passage

The Lord commands the Israelites to follow his laws, not the nations’ practices, so they might experience his blessing and avoid his judgment. More specifically, they must obey his laws in order to embody his values, show the world his goodness, enjoy life-giving relationship with him, and avoid the justice he brings on those who destroy the world of blessing he desires for humanity. This obedience must be especially manifest in proper worship, sexual purity, and protecting the sexually vulnerable. 

 

 

Main Points

In the biblical understanding, human flourishing happens as we align our lives to the design that God has for humanity. The Lord’s laws sometimes describe activities we should do to live in keeping with this design; in other cases, they describe activities we should avoid. This chapter focuses on the latter.

In place of evil behavior, the Lord calls his people to obey his laws in order to embody his wisdom so they might show the world his goodness and enjoy life-giving relationship with him

  • The chapter opens giving the reason for obedience and then gives general commands and the benefits of obeying them. The reason is given in a statement of identity repeated three times in the passage: “I am the Lord (your God)” (18:2b, 4b, 5b).

  • On the one hand, this statement reminds the Israelites of who the Lord is: a God who has delivered them in great power so that he might dwell in their midst.

  • On the other hand, this statement reminds them of who they are: children adopted in love by this great King of power and mercy.

  • As a result of the Lord being their God, the Israelites are to avoid the evil behavior of their past land (Egypt) and their future land (Canaan) and are to walk instead in the ways of their King, which would lead to flourishing and life.

 

The Lord will bring his justice to bear against those who destroy the world of blessing he desires for humanity

  • The chapter opens by describing the benefits of obeying the Lord’s commands and ends by describing the negative results of disobeying them (18:24–30).

  • Such warnings must be viewed in light of the life that he desires people to experience (18:5). He warns to protect from harm and so that humanity might flourish.

  • This desire for human flourishing also explains the severity of the warnings since he fights against those who do the deeds that undermine it. We long for leaders who fight against evil; the Lord shows here that he engages in that very fight.

  • The warnings also show he would rather not have to bring such judgment to bear; he has created us for life, not for judgment.

  • Jesus came that we might avoid God’s judgment for the ways we have destroyed the world of blessing he intends. We avoid this judgment because Jesus took it on himself (Rom 5:8; 2 Cor 5:21). At the same time, Jesus calls us to follow him (Matt 10:38; 11:28–30; John 15:5). He is the one who walked perfectly in God’s good ways, demonstrating what it means to bring his blessing of peace, goodness, justice, and mercy into the world. When we follow him, we begin to live out God’s wisdom, making this world a place where humanity can flourish.

 

The Lord’s people must embrace God’s vision for sex

  • The majority of this chapter’s commands identify how the Israelites can follow God’s wisdom concerning sex. Many other biblical passages in both the Old and New testaments do the same (Exod 20:14; Prov 5; 1 Cor 6:18; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 4:3).

  • This emphasis in the Bible makes sense in light of the Lord’s larger vision for this world and how sex relates to that vision.

  • His vision for this world is one in which humanity can flourish. Stable families are central to this, and sex is his gift to be exercised in the context of marriage.

  • This is because marriage is a covenant relationship and sex is meant to function in the context of that relationship alone for three reasons: 1) it is a physical way to express the covenant relationship that has already been entered into; 2) it is meant to renew and strengthen that relationship; and 3) when children enter the world, they enter into a stable family.

 

The sexually vulnerable must be protected

        

  • The Bible consistently teaches that the Lord’s people are to care for those most vulnerable to injustice, in this way reflecting God’s own justice into the world.

  • While this call is seen most often in the Lord’s commands to care for widows, orphans, the poor, and resident aliens, in this chapter the call is to protect the sexually vulnerable.

  • This is especially clear in the prohibitions that forbid a man from having sexual relations with close relatives who would likely live with him, or close to him, and who would thus be vulnerable to unwanted advances.

  • The implication is that the people of God today should be at the forefront of protecting the sexually vulnerable in our society. This applies to sexual mistreatment in general, such as child-trafficking and child-pornography or prostitution and pornography in any form. (These evils often prey on those in desperate situations.) It also applies to sexual mistreatment in the home and workplace. Jesus came to bring good news and justice for the vulnerable (Luke 4:18; cf. Isa 61:1); he calls his followers to do the same.

Leviticus 19

The Lord’s Holy Practices for His Holy People in All of Life

 

Main Idea of the Passage

The Lord casts a vision for the life of his covenant children that focuses on holiness. He emphasizes that holiness lies in obeying his commands in order to embody his character in all of life. This means that holiness is not an abstract idea but a way of living that impacts all activities and relationships, a calling to fill the world with the Lord’s goodness, justice, and love so that all might come to know their Creator’s beauty.

 

 

Main Points

This chapter addresses a wide range of subjects, and one could do a mini preaching or teaching series on this chapter alone. Various themes to cover could include the following (for details, see the commentaries on the verses indicated; I try to identify the practical significance of verses as I explain their meaning):

The Lord’s Holy Practices for His Holy People: Family (vv. 3a, 29)

The Lord’s Holy Practices for His Holy People: worship (vv. 3b–8, 26–28, 30–31)

The Lord’s Holy Practices for His Holy People: Business Practices (vv. 9–10, 13b, 19a, 23–25, 34b–36)

The Lord’s Holy Practices for His Holy People: Proper Treatment of the Poor and Disadvantaged (vv. 9–10, 13–14, 33–34)

The Lord’s Holy Practices for His Holy People: Courts of Law (vv. 15–16, 35a)

The Lord’s Holy Practices for His Holy People: Loving our Neighbors as Ourselves (vv. 11–12, 17–18, 20–22, 32

Those wanting to do just one sermon or teaching time on Lev 19—or those looking for an introduction to a Lev 19 series—may consider the following main points.

The Lord calls his people to live out his holiness in the world

  • “Holy you must be, for holy am I, the Lord your God” (19:2). This verse identifies both the model and the mission of holiness.

  • To be holy is to be set apart as distinct. The Lord is the one who is ultimately distinct in terms of his goodness, justice, mercy and love. The Israelites are to follow his model.

  • In doing so, they will be carrying out his mission: filling the world with his character and kingdom. When he calls us to himself, he always does so with this mission in mind.

 

Holiness involves all of life

  • Sometimes in the Christian world we minimize the demands of holiness since we think it only concerns certain spiritual activities or only involves avoiding certain behaviors.

  • This chapter shows that holiness applies in all of life, from our families, to our worship, to our business practices, to how we treat the poor and disadvantaged, to our systems of law. The New Testament recognizes the same when it quotes Lev 19:2: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15–16).

 

Holiness happens by obeying the Lord’s laws

  • Since the Lord’s laws reflect his values, we embody his values as we obey his laws.

 

Holiness is practical love  

        

  • The Lord is holy—utterly unique—in terms of his power, in terms of his moral purity, and in terms of his love. We sometimes miss the last of these but it is one of the main aspects of his character the Lord mentions (Exod 34:6–7; cf. 1 John 4:8).

  • The Lord demonstrates his love towards us in very practical ways: forgiveness, material provision, protection. If we are to embody his love towards others it must be in similarly practical ways.

  • This call to practical love becomes all the stronger in the light of Jesus. The New Testament repeatedly states the Lord sent Jesus, in the ultimate act of love, to rescue us from our sins (John 3:16; Rom 5:8; 1 John 4:10). Our experience of the Lord’s love and forgiveness in Jesus is to change us in profound ways and spill over into a practical love towards others that is characterized by kindness, compassion and forgiveness (Eph 4:32–5:2).

Leviticus 20

Covenant Laws against Various Sexual and Worship Practices and Divination

 

Main Idea of the Passage

In Lev 20, the Lord explains to his people the penalties for disobeying his holy and life-giving ways and commands them to bring their sexual and spiritual practices in line with those ways. Thus he makes clear that his people must embody his holy values into the world, filling it with his good and holy kingdom, so that all might come to know the goodness of their maker.

 

 

Main Points

This chapter closely parallels Lev 18, thus many themes identified there apply equally here. However, Lev 20 does detail a few themes, which are worthy of further comment.

Sin is a very serious matter

  • Since this chapter focuses on penalties for breaking God’s laws, it is clear that sin is a very serious matter.

  • But sin is not simply breaking a law. Because God’s laws are intended to promote human flourishing, the breaking of those laws is ultimately to undermine such flourishing, making sin extremely personal (it impacts us) and extremely harmful (it denies for us and others the good world that God intended for us to enjoy).

  • God does not simply leave sin as a problem for us to solve. He knows we cannot solve it, and so in his love, he sends his own son to defeat sin and deliver us from it.

 

Among the Lord’s people, sin must be treated seriously

  • The Lord calls his people to be agents of his goodness, justice, mercy, and love. It is thus especially important that sin be treated seriously when committed by God’s people since sin is taking them away from the very mission to which they have been called.

  • This chapter focuses on how the Lord’s people must avoid sin in their spiritual practices and their sexual practices.

  • It can be tempting not to deal seriously with sins among God’s people in these areas but we must avoid such temptation because failing to deal properly with sin neutralizes our effectiveness as God’s agents for good in this world. Paul provides an example in 1 Cor 5 of how to deal properly with sin among the people of God.

 

In their spiritual practices, the Lord’s people are to obey his commands in order to embody his holy values in this world and to show that he can be trusted

  • Lev 20 opens and closes with a special focus on the Lord’s people obeying his commands with regard to their spiritual practices.

  • This includes who they worshipped (it must be the Lord alone) and who they consulted for spiritual guidance (they must look to the Lord, not to mediums or spiritists).

  • This whole-hearted focus on the Lord is the same that Jesus emphasizes in Matt 6:19–34.

Leviticus 21:1–22:16

Covenant Laws for Priests to Revere the Lord’s Holy Things

 

Main Idea of the Passage

The priests had the most contact with the Lord’s holy property and had themselves been set apart as holy. This section focuses on the different ways they must avoid defiling the Lord’s holy property and their own holy status so as not to disrespect him. In doing so, it emphasizes that spiritual leaders have a greater responsibility to live holy lives and are responsible for the holiness of those they lead.

 

Main Points

This section focuses on not defiling that which the Lord has set apart as holy, and its themes may be grouped under four headings.

 

We acknowledge the Lord’s holiness by maintaining the boundaries he has set up between the holy and the non-holy

  • To disrespect the Lord’s ritually holy things is to disrespect the Lord himself since these things belong to him in a special way.

  • The Israelites avoided this when they took care to keep that which is ritually holy separate and distinct from the non-holy.

  • Making such distinctions at the ritual level is meant to remind the Israelites to make such distinctions at the moral level. We respect the Lord’s holiness by maintaining his boundaries between good and evil.

 

Spiritual leaders have a greater responsibility to live holy lives

  • Priests had great privileges in terms of their access to the Lord’s holy things, but this also meant they had greater responsibilities in terms of not defiling such things.

  • They were meant to model such respect for holiness not only in the ritual realm but also in the moral realm, both in terms of what they taught and in terms of how they lived.

  • The New Testament takes the same approach when speaking of church leaders, who must hold correct doctrine (1 Tim 3:2, 9; Tit 1:9) and model godly living (1 Tim 3:2–10; Tit 1:6–8).

 

The higher up in leadership we go, the more responsibility for living a holy life we have

  • While regular priests had to carefully guard their ritual holiness, the high priest—whose ritual holiness was at an even higher level—had to be even more diligent (21:10–15). The higher along the spectrum of holiness the Lord places an object or person, the greater disrespect is shown to the Lord when that person or object is treated like an ordinary thing. 

  • This again applies outside the ritual realm. A high priest’s role as holy leader extended beyond ritual matters to all of life. Their responsibility to model the Lord’s holiness is greater because their potential to cause harm is greater should they lead his people astray.

  • The Lord knows his leaders will not be perfect and thus provides atonement for them, atonement which comes today through our perfect high priest, Jesus.

  • Jesus not only provides cleansing from sin and failure, he also helps us in our struggle to live godly lives (Heb 4:15–16).

 

Spiritual leaders are responsible if negligence in their duties leads to sin among the people  

        

  • Priests are not responsible for every sin the Israelites commit, but they are responsible if sin comes as a result of priestly negligence.

  • Paul emphasizes the importance of spiritual leaders being faithful in their responsibilities for the good of their hearers: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16). The sense is not, “Timothy, you will be their savior!” but, “Timothy, in the absence of faithfulness, great harm may come—harm to you for being unfaithful and harm to them because they will follow you in unfaithfulness! So guard yourself, and lead faithfully, because by faithfulness, you will stay close to the Lord, and you will lead his people to him not away from him!”

Leviticus 22:17–33

Covenant Laws for Priests and Lay People to Revere the Lord’s Holy Things

 

Main Idea of the Passage

The Lord provided the Israelites on offering system so they could come before him and know his favorable acceptance, help, and love. To experience these things, the Israelites were to honor the Lord by bringing only the types of animals he specified and by following the sacrificial procedure he outlined. This section makes clear that the Lord delights for us to enter his presence and know his favor, but we must do so using the means he has provided.

 

 

Main Points

 

The Lord delights for us to enter his presence and experience his favor

  • A certain protocol exists when entering before the presence of a significant ruler.

  • The Lord provided such a protocol for his people in the sacrificial system so that they could come into his presence and enjoy fellowship with him.

  • He has now done this in an ultimate way in and through Jesus.

 

In order to experience the Lord’s favor, we must use the means he has provided

  • In order to enter a king’s presence, one must follow the protocol the king provides. As applied to the Lord, this means we enter his presence today only through Jesus.

  • Some today reject this understanding because they reject exclusive religious beliefs. However, this very rejection makes religious assumptions (e.g., all religions are equally valid), which is itself a religious belief that excludes other religious beliefs.

  • In addition, by “exclusive,” Christians mean we can only come to know God through the means he has provided: Jesus. We do not mean that Jesus came to exclude people. He himself makes clear, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). Note also how he compared the kingdom of God to a wedding banquet where God himself is host and, on seeing empty seats, commands: “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full!” (Luke 14:23). That is the Lord’s desire, and in his love, he has sent his only son with the invitation.

Leviticus 23

Covenant Laws for Observing the Lord’s Holy Times

 

Main Idea of the Passage

In this chapter, the Lord describes special times he has set apart as holy throughout the year. By observing them, the Israelites were continually reminded of his character, his actions in this world, and what it means to be his people. And by observing these times as a community, they were continually reminded of their obligations, not only to the Lord but to one another as brothers and sisters in his family.

 

 

Main Points

This chapter addresses a range of holy times the Israelites were to observe. For the practical significance of each, see discussion in the commentary. The following discussion focuses on two general themes from the chapter.

 

The Lord’s people are to set aside special times so they can remember who the Lord is, how he has acted in this world, and what it means that they are in relationship with him

  • This chapter concerns “the Lord’s appointed times” (23:2). Just as we regularly celebrate anniversaries to remember those who are important in our lives, so the Israelites were to regularly celebrate these appointed times to remember the Lord and what he had done for them.

  • One reason this was important is because the link between forgetting and disobedience is strong (Deut 8:11–20). The sooner the Israelites forgot the Lord’s character and deeds, the sooner they rebelled against him (cf. Judg 2:10–12a). These appointed times would help to prevent this.

  • The lessons of the different appointed times (and the Sabbath) center around who the Lord is, what he has done for Israel, and who the Israelites are in relationship to him. This meant that their calendar was effectively a classroom.

  • While New Testament believers are no longer called to celebrate Israel’s appointed times, their celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the New Testament equivalent of the Passover feast, was to function in a similar way to the appointed times.

  • The church calendar that has developed throughout the centuries is another way that Christians might remember who the Lord is, what he has done for his people, and who his people are in relationship to him.

 

The Lord’s people are to remember and celebrate the Lord, and their relationship to him, as a community

  • The Lord’s “appointed times” are also called “holy gatherings” since they were a time for the people of God as a whole to come together. The Lord had called them to be a covenant community and, as such, they were to remember and celebrate him together and also remember their covenant commitments to one another.

  • In the New Testament, the Lord’s Supper is also to be a communal event, in which we remember our covenant Lord together and in which we reaffirm our commitment to one another as covenant brothers and sisters.

Leviticus 24:1–9

Two Continual Rites at the Lord’s Holy Palace

 

Main Idea of the Passage

These verses teach the Israelites to carry out two rites at the Tabernacle continually: the burning of the lamps and the offering of bread. Because their symbolism emphasized the Lord’s presence, they reminded the Israelites of the importance of continually living holy lives before him. And because the bread rite, in particular, symbolized their covenant with the Lord, its performance reminded them of the need for continual and whole-hearted service.

 

 

Main Points

 

The Lord’s people must live holy lives in light of his constant presence among them

  • The continual lighting of the lamp and placing of the bread were symbols of the Lord’s continual presence in the tabernacle.

  • The Lord’s people acknowledged his holy presence in their midst by living holy lives.

  • The New Testament picks up on this theme and takes it one step further, noting that the Lord is present in us as his holy tabernacle, meaning we should be especially careful to live holy lives (1 Cor 6:18–20).

 

The Lord’s people must serve their King continually and whole-heartedly

  • The priests are to do the tabernacle work continually, which reminds them and his people that they are to serve the Lord continually.

  • The twelve loaves in particular symbolized the people’s covenant relationship with the Lord and their commitment to that relationship and all its obligations.

  • In the New Testament, Jesus makes clear that following him is also a continual, whole-life commitment. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matt 16:24–25).

 

Mundane service, when done to the Lord, is holy and pleasing to him

  • The activities of this chapter can seem very ordinary, even mundane, e.g., trimming lamps, bringing oil and wheat.

  • And yet because the Lord had called for these things, they were holy tasks and well pleasing to him. Anything done in faithfulness to the call of a holy King becomes a holy task, no matter how ordinary it may seem.

  • When daily living is seen as an opportunity to be faithful to the Lord’s calling, the whole of life becomes an opportunity to bring him glory in carrying out daily tasks—no matter how ordinary. God himself will reward us for it. In his eyes, even lighting a lampstand does not go unnoticed.

Leviticus 24:10–23

Revering the Lord’s Holy Name: A Case of Blasphemy and Principles of Justice 

 

Main Idea of the Passage

This story warns the Israelites not to rebel against the Lord with treasonous speech and, by implication, exhorts them to honor him as their King in their words as well as their lives. It also provides principles of justice for their courts to help ensure they treat all human beings with the fairness and dignity due those who bear the heavenly King’s image.

 

 

Main Points

 

We are to honor the Lord as our King and to pray for others to do the same

  • Sometimes a negative example offers an invaluable lesson. That occurs here.

  • This story concerns a man who did everything he could with his speech to defame, dishonor, and reject the Lord. In the historical context of ancient Israel, the man would have done so knowing the penalty would be severe.

  • The wrong is amplified when we consider what a rejection of the Lord as King means. To commit treason against this King is to turn away from the very source of humanity’s blessing and model for others to do the same.

  • The lesson for the Israelites would have been clear: Instead of following the blasphemer’s negative example, they were to honor the Lord as King by living obediently before him.

  • Jesus emphasizes this when he teaches his disciples to pray, “Hallowed be your name” (Matt 6:9). To curse the Lord’s name is to reject him as the King who is holy, utterly unique in his power, purity and love. To hallow his name is to treat it with the full respect it deserves. 

 

In courts of law, justice must recognize the ultimate value of human life, the importance of penalties fitting the crime, and must be applied equally to all

  • Crimes against humans are far more serious than crimes against property (v. 21; cf. also vv. 17 and 18). This fits well with the biblical teaching that humans are created in God’s image and therefore of special worth (Gen. 1:26–27; 9:5–6).

  • Penalties must be appropriate to the crimes (vv. 19–20). The “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” principle was taken literally in ancient Israel in cases of murder (the murderer was put to death), but in other cases it was likely viewed as a guiding principle that made clear that punishments should correspond to the crime.

  • The penalty must not only fit the crime, it must also be applied equally to all, whether resident alien or native citizen, and, by implication, whether rich or poor, slave or free. This is again in keeping with the biblical teaching that all humans are created in God’s image.

 

Jesus has taken the penalty we deserve for our treason against the Lord

  • At some level, each of us has committed treason against the Lord. In small and large ways, by words and actions, we have all said to him: “Someone else deserves to be king instead of you; someone else sits on the throne of my heart.”

  • The Bible’s unbelievably good news is that Jesus, the King’s son, takes the penalty for our treason. In his death, Jesus says, “Let me die that they might live. Let the penalty for their treason fall on me that they might be accepted in your courts, become citizens of your kingdom, and enjoy all the benefits that come to those in good standing with you.”

Leviticus 25:1–7

Covenant Laws on the Sabbath and Jubilee Years and on Redeeming People and Property

 

Main Idea of the Passage

The Sabbath and Jubilee laws had several goals: to teach the Israelites the importance of deep and sustained rest, to foster economic equity and opportunity, to strengthen families, and to remind the Israelites who the Lord is, what he has done on their behalf, and what hope he gives them for the future. By keeping these laws, the Israelites would honor him as King of the land, demonstrate covenant faithfulness, and establish a society that was a reminder of Eden and a foretaste of heaven.

 

 

Main Points

The idea of these opening verses may be simply stated: The Lord loves his creation and wants it all to experience the blessing of deep and sustained rest.

 

Sustained rest is important for his world and the good of those in it

  • The Lord has made us as creatures that need rest.

  • Work without rest leads to an imbalance for which neither we nor the world have been made and which can only have negative effects.

 

Reflecting the Lord’s love means showing care for all of his creation

  • The Bible celebrates the Lord’s care of the earth and its creatures (Ps 104:10–17); those made in his image are to show this same care.

  • This is our Father’s world; to love the Father is to love all he has made and to show it his care.

Leviticus 25:8–55

Covenant Laws on the Sabbath and Jubilee Years and on Redeeming People and Property

 

Main Idea of the Passage

The Sabbath and Jubilee laws had several goals: to teach the Israelites the importance of deep and sustained rest, to foster economic equity and opportunity, to strengthen families, and to remind the Israelites who the Lord is, what he has done on their behalf, and what hope he gives them for the future. By keeping these laws, the Israelites would honor him as King of the land, demonstrate covenant faithfulness, and establish a society that was a reminder of Eden and a foretaste of heaven.

 

 

Main Points

 

The Lord’s laws of Jubilee foster economic equity and opportunity

  • In Israel, prosperity was closely tied to ownership of land, on which crops could be grown and animals pastured. Debt could lead to its loss, and if severe enough, to the loss of personal freedom, as Israelites would eventually have to sell themselves into servitude in order to cover their debts.

  • The Jubilee laws were meant to prevent this. At the start of the Year of Jubilee, debts were forgiven and people restored to their land, enabling them to begin providing for themselves once more. The Lord desired economic equity and opportunity that would enable all to flourish through hard work and the support of a loving community.

  • Significantly, the Lord himself is Israel’s model in releasing people from burdens too great to bear. Verses 25:54–55 draw a parallel between the Israelites releasing a servant in the Jubilee (25:54) and the Lord releasing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (25:55). 

  • The New Testament also emphasizes caring for the material needs of covenant members, so the New Testament does the same, describing how early church members sold excess property and possessions to share with needy fellow believers (Acts 2:45) and how even those who were poor earnestly sought to help other poor believers (2 Cor 9:1–4).

  • Such generosity was not to be limited to believers. Just as other pentateuchal laws emphasize providing for the material needs of those outside the covenant community (Deut 14:29; 16:11; 26:12), so, too, does the New Testament (Matt 5:42; 19:21; James 1:27).

 

The Lord’s laws of Jubilee encourage strong families

  • The Bible puts an emphasis on strong families, and the Jubilee laws were aimed at strengthening families both economically and socially.

  • Economically, these laws helped by cancelling debt and by returning families to their own land where they could support themselves.

  • Socially, by returning families to their ancestral lands, they reconnected families with larger social networks for support.

 

The Lord’s laws of Jubilee remind us who he is, what he has done on our behalf, and what hope he gives us for the future

  • In terms of who the Lord is, these laws emphasize he is both King and provider. Because he is King over the land, the Israelites were to release it in the Year of Jubilee along with their fellow Israelites, the Lord’s servants. Moreover, to let the land lie fallow during the Jubilee would require the Israelites to trust that the Lord would provide for their needs. Christians today are to recognize Jesus as King over all they have and to obey him by trusting that the Father will indeed provide for all their needs.

  • In terms of what the Lord has done on our behalf, these laws remind the Israelites of the redemption he has granted in the past and the forgiveness he extends in the present. The Lord’s redemption of his people from servitude in Egypt became the model for the Israelites to release one another from servitude in the Year of Jubilee (25:54–55). Meanwhile, that Jubilee began on the Day of Atonement made it an especially appropriate day for Israelites to show mercy and grace to others since it was on this day that the Israelites received atonement for their sins before their merciful and gracious Lord. In Jesus, we have received in greater redemption and forgiveness and thus should be the first to express these things to others.

  • In terms of the hope the Lord paints for his people’s future, the laws of Jubilee were to create for the Israelites an experience of life that is a foretaste of that great and final day when Eden is restored and where people live in perfect peace and fellowship with God, trusting and worshipping him as their King, and enjoying his bountiful care and protection. This day will come when Jesus returns.

 

Jesus fulfills and deepens the Lord’s laws of Jubilee 

        

  • As Jesus began his public ministry, he boldly proclaimed that he had come to fulfill all the Lord intended by the Year of Jubilee (see Luke 4:21, which cites Isa 61:1–2, which in turn uses the language of Lev 25).

  • On the one hand, this meant embodying the Lord’s practical love for the physical well-being of people, which is exactly what we see in Jesus.

  • On the other hand, Jesus took the principles of these laws to far deeper levels by “releasing people from physical sickness (Luke 7:22), demonic oppression (Luke 4:31–37; 8:1–2), and above all, the debt of their sins, giving them present peace (Luke 7:36–50; 19:1–10; 24:47) and a future hope that they were members of the family of God (Luke 15:11–32).

Leviticus 26

Covenant Blessings and Curses

 

Main Idea of the Passage

Those who obey the Lord’s covenant commands will experience the covenant blessings humanity was created to enjoy; those who disobey will experience the covenant curses humanity was not created to endure. Even the curses, however, are meant as discipline for deliverance, not destruction, and the chapter ends with the Lord’s gracious promise to receive those who turn back to him—like a father welcoming back a long-lost child. The Lord’s ultimate desire for us is not curse but blessing.

 

 

Main Points

 

The Lord desires his people to walk with him in faithful obedience and therefore to remain in the sphere of his blessing

  • The picture of blessing painted in the opening verses is a picture of Eden: humanity dwelling on a fruitful land, receiving blessing from God, and walking in close fellowship with him (26:3–12).

  • Such blessing is experienced by obedient faith in the covenant King. This is because God’s law marks out his kingdom’s boundaries, and those who stay within those boundaries not only proclaim their allegiance to the King, they also stay close to him, enjoying the life-giving consequences he loves to shower on his children.

  • Jesus, who has now come as King of God’s kingdom, emphasizes that obedient faith is required to experience the blessings of relationship with him. “If you keep my commands,” Jesus says, “you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10). He does not say you will earn his love but, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love.” Obedience is not about earning but abiding in relationship with him.

 

The ultimate blessing we can experience is fellowship with God himself

  • While the blessings of 26:4–10 would make the land of Israel as lush and fruitful as Eden, the blessings of 26:11–12 would fulfill the Lord’s ultimate desire for his people there: walking with him as their God.

  • Physical blessings are certainly not unimportant. The Lord has made us as physical creatures and speaks freely of physical blessings in this passage (26:4–10). But what matters above all is relationship to our Maker. This is why the blessings culminate in the Lord’s people enjoying relationship with him (26:11–12).

  • This goal has found its ultimate fulfilment with Jesus, the God-man who “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a). Indeed, Jesus established God’s temple in an ultimate way, with himself as the chief cornerstone, his followers as the rest of the building, being perfectly fitted together to be a dwelling for God in the Spirit (Eph 2:19–22). The experience of blessing today is thus found in him. 

 

The Lord will discipline his covenant people in order to bring them back to him

  • Those who reject the Lord and his ways do not experience the blessings of 26:4–12 but the curses of 26:14–39.

  • The curses are not meant to be an end in themselves. They are meant as discipline to lead his people back to his life-giving ways.

  • The same type of discipline continues into New Testament times as a continued sign of the Lord’s fatherly care for us (Heb 12:5–11).

  • Such discipline is not only for the good of his people but also for the good of his world insofar as it leads his people back to their mission of embodying God’s character into the world so the world might come to know him.

 

The Lord graciously welcomes back his sinful people when they turn from their sin and turn to him

        

  • The Lord has not created humanity to experience his punishment and death but his fellowship and life and therefore gladly receives them back when they turn from their sin.

  • He has made an ultimate way of forgiveness and return possible in and through Jesus, who has borne the penalty our sin deserves that we might be accepted into God’s family as his beloved adopted children.

Leviticus 27

Further Covenant Laws Related to the Jubilee Year and to Redeeming People and Property

 

Main Idea of the Passage

The Lord is the Israelites’ redeeming King and is to be shown the honor and love due one so gracious and great. The Israelites can demonstrate these things by honoring their commitments to him with whole-hearted obedience.

 

 

Main Points

 

The Lord’s people must honor their commitments to the Lord with whole-hearted obedience

  • The focus of this chapter is especially on vows and remaining true to them (27:2–24, 28).

  • The New Testament does say that New Testament Christians could make and were required to keep them (Acts 18:18; 21:22–24), though whether the practice was common in the early church is unclear. Note the Bible itself suggests vows are best avoided (Deut 23:23 [22]; Eccl 5:1–5 [2–6]).

  • But the New Testament does emphasize, in the general context of discipleship, that we must keep our commitments to the Lord whole-heartedly. Following him involves whole-hearted obedience (Luke 9:62; 14:26–27). To do otherwise is to say he is unworthy of costly love and obedience. We cannot accept Jesus as gracious savior and reject him as Lord of Lords.

 

The Lord’s people must joyfully provide for the needs of their spiritual leaders and the poor

  • The Lord entrusts us with resources and commands us to obey him in using them. For example, he commands the Israelites to give a tithe of their resources to provide for the needs of their spiritual leaders and the poor.

  • While the law on tithing was part of the Sinai covenant and does not automatically apply to believers today, the principles behind it do.

  • First, Christians are to give of their resources to support their spiritual leaders and the poor, especially the poor among their brothers and sisters in Jesus.

  • Second, giving of our resources requires us to trust God to provide for the future.

  • Third, giving was to be done cheerfully (2 Cor 9:7).

  • Indeed, because of the bountiful mercy and love we have experienced in Jesus, we are to show the same to others, especially in giving (2 Cor 8:9). The question for Christians today is not, “Do you give 10 percent of your income to God?” The questions are, “Do you give generously and joyfully to those entrusted with your spiritual care and to the needy? Do you do this as an act of joyful worship to God, your provider?”

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