Tomorrow morning, a lot of you will begin a Bible in a Year reading plan. You’ll probably do this with an app, a study guide, a calendar in the back of your Bible, or even a church-wide campaign schedule (if so, hug your pastor for such bold corporate encouragement). Whole Bible reading plans almost universally start on January 1 of the year, and they almost universally begin with Genesis, chapter 1. This means that you’ll spend January and February progressing through the Patriarchs and Exodus. Those books will be somewhat familiar to you if you’ve spent a lot of years in church. Around the first of March, however, you will be asked to start reading the book of Leviticus, and that is where the first speed bump generally hits.
My testimony (the story of how I became a Christian) is all about the book of Leviticus. You can read the whole story in my article about it, which I entitled, “Yeast.” It’s long, but if you’ve been here before, that won’t surprise you. Leviticus was the vehicle that God used to bring me home. Leviticus is special to me in the way that the Gospel of John might be to other Christians. It’s the text that introduced me to Jesus, and for that reason, it will always be my favorite book of the Bible.
It troubles me that so few Christians I encounter have read Leviticus. Most confess they don’t know anything about it, or they say, “I know it’s got all the sacrifices in it.” A few people have heard single verses from Leviticus about tattoos or sexuality or food; verses that were plucked from the text to make some kind of point, stripped out of all context, purpose, and meaning.
“Most New Year’s resolutions fail in February, and most resolutions to read the Bible from cover-to-cover fail in Leviticus.”
I heard this joke from the pulpit in February of 2017. I read Leviticus for the first time the following month and was saved.
If the jokes from pulpits in the coming weeks are to be believed, you’ll fail to complete your Bible in a Year plan because you won’t finish Leviticus. You’ll put your plan aside and other things will take over because Leviticus is so hard to read, so foreign in its imagery, and so irrelevant to modern Christianity…that any attempt to read it will derail your Bible literacy goals.
It’s also untrue and deeply damaging for Christians to ingest this kind of message about any part of our Holy Bible.
Here’s my advice to all of you getting ready to embark on a reading plan for the entire Bible (and for any of you who just want to study Leviticus because you’ve never “gotten it” before): Remember that Leviticus is just as God-breathed and useful for our learning and correction as the Gospel of John. Pray, in the weeks leading up to your Leviticus reading, that God will help you see it and understand it. Take comfort in knowing that a person who hadn’t read the Bible and didn’t know Jesus found Him in Leviticus…on her first trip through the book. God is in this Word, and there is fruit for you in this Scripture. Finally, set aside what you think you know about Leviticus, and approach it with fresh eyes, ready to learn.
Tips for Understanding Leviticus Before You Read It
There are some concrete things you can do before reading the Book of Leviticus that will help you when you finally get there to dig in.
- Read the book of Hebrews. You don’t have to study it (although that would be amazing). Just read it. Know what it says, and refresh your memory of the book of Hebrews before you embark on a study of Leviticus. The two are very tied together.
- Read the book of Exodus just before you enter the book of Leviticus so that you have some narrative context for where we are and what we’re looking at as we get introduced to the Tabernacle system of worship.
- Think of Leviticus as an Invitation. Go into your reading of Leviticus with the image of “an invitation from God” in your mind. Everything in the book of Leviticus is about drawing people back into God’s house–his holy presence. God has chosen his people in Genesis. He has rescued his people in Exodus. He is going to invite his people into fellowship with him in Leviticus.
- Watch the Bible Project Video on Leviticus before you enter your reading plan. It will frame out the shape and themes for you ahead of time, so a lot more of it will track for you if you get this framework in your mind before diving in.
Leviticus is love. Leviticus is an invitation into God’s presence. Leviticus is an illustration of Christ’s work–what Jesus was actually doing for us–on the Cross. Leviticus is a list of vivid and visceral imagery that tells us who God is, who we are, and what the Gospel means. Don’t fear it. Don’t skip it.
Happy New Year!