I’ve spent the last several months circling the idea of how to talk to people about Leviticus in a way that will demonstrate something of what I was shown in its pages. Many scholars and bible nerds who love the Lord have written about Leviticus. There are commentaries and excellent summaries for anyone who wants to understand what Leviticus is talking about in all of the sacrifices, rules, and talk of yeast, mold, and body fluids. My complaint with all of that commentary and explanation isn’t that it’s not “good enough.” It’s all very good, and I have more appreciation for published scholarship and teaching on Leviticus than for any other Christian “help” texts I can think of. The only exceptions might be my little orange apologetics book or C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Those two books kept me from descending into total atheism, but Leviticus led me to Christ.
No, my trouble with the way Leviticus is explained by mainstream writing and teaching is not that I don’t like it or agree with it. I’m not qualified to disagree in the first place, and in the second place, I think most of what’s out there for laypeople to read is correct and helpful. My problem is that none of it conveys the emotional depth of Leviticus. None of it seems written to sweep you off of your feet with the grace, mercy, and joyful affection that Leviticus is all about. Every line of Leviticus demonstrates God as a Father who will do anything to love his children (yep, even the lines about menstruation and mold).
That is my struggle, but how can I show it to you differently than all of these very smart people who spent a lifetime in serious learning on Leviticus? It’s very much a feeling of, “Who do you think you are, Missy, that you think you can do better?” I think that feeling must have been sent by the enemy because I stopped writing about Leviticus for more than two years after I first had that thought. Who do I think I am to start writing about the Bible and telling people what I think it means? Well, it’s not about being “better” than anyone, I promise.
This text saved me. Leviticus saved me. That’s who I think I am. This is the scripture that God used to bring me home. Who would I be if I didn’t try to share it? I’m not entirely sure how it will go, yet, but I have faith that God will help me if I keep doing the work.
I’ve chosen the theme of stained glass for artwork illustrating the series on Leviticus. I wrote last week about my intention to cover Leviticus in 2020 on this blog, and I wrote about my personal image of Leviticus as the light behind stained glass. I said:
The New Testament, to me, is like a stained glass window, and Leviticus is the sunrise that makes all of those colorful images light up and make sense. Of course the glass is beautiful on its own, and you can make out the most important pieces without any help. But when you put that light behind it? You will finally see it in the way it is meant to be seen. The explosion of color and clarity that Leviticus brings to the Gospel will drop you to your knees.
I meant that, and it’s an image I’ve carried of what Leviticus is, almost since the beginning. My daughter, who is 16 and enjoys editing my blog posts (no one loves detecting my grammar and punctuation errors more), came to this quoted part of my post and said, “Mommy! This is the best explanation I’ve ever heard you give. I love this.” If it made a 16 year-old want to read Leviticus, I figure it’s worth a try with you, as well. Light behind glass it is, then.
As I go through Leviticus, which I will do one chapter at a time (see my series on the book of Judges to get an idea of how I envision the structure), I will constantly be asking you to think about what part of the Gospel each section of the text is illuminating. I will be asking you to think about what attributes of God that text might be putting on display for us. The reason for my approach to this–Leviticus as a light behind the stained glass of the Gospel–is that this is how Leviticus was shown to me. I was all alone, not looking for revelation of any sort, just reading my Bible and trying to understand it. The imagery and structure of Leviticus built up and built up, and when I got to the center of the book, everything became a clear, ordered image for me. All at once.
Leviticus lit up the beauty of what Christ Jesus has done, and it was breathtaking.
As a book of priestly laws and morality practices, Leviticus can seem like a dry, alien book of rules. It is that, of course, and that’s important, but Leviticus isn’t only a dry, alien book of rules. It is also an utterly ingenious and deliberately crafted interweaving of symbols and shapes that were made to prepare Israelites for the concept of Messiah. Leviticus points to Jesus, and if you’ve been in church for a long time, I’m sure you’ve heard it explained that way. Leviticus doesn’t just point, though; it paints. Leviticus illustrates the work of Jesus, adding color, depth, and understanding to the work he accomplished…and why.
You can read the Gospel, understand its message, and know that Jesus is Lord without Leviticus. That’s true. You don’t have to study it to be saved, and you don’t have to study it to love God with everything in you. You don’t have to know Leviticus to be a Christian, but if you do get to know Leviticus, it will light up everything you know.
It has not been lost on me that my plan will mean reading through Leviticus with you during Lent and the Easter season. I chose March because that’s where Leviticus falls on most “Bible in a Year” reading plans, but it literally could not happen at a better time of the liturgical year. The blood of our Lord Jesus is the key to absolutely everything we believe as Christians.
I sincerely hope you’ll come with me on this one. So get into your Bible for the new year. Start reading whatever it is that your reading plan has in store for you. Just set aside some time in March for Leviticus. We’ll do Leviticus for Lent, and I will be praying for God’s help to pass along some part of the excitement and understanding I was given in its pages. I want everyone to have that.
I will likely post more preparatory articles for Leviticus in January and February as I work through figuring out how to write all of this down. There are attributes of Leviticus–its structure and literary forms, its patterns of symbolism–that can be explained beforehand to help you look for things instead of banging your head against the desk repeatedly for inspiration. Ha ha. So, when I come across stuff like that in my organizing process, I’ll share it to the best of my ability.
Remember that I’m not a bible scholar, I beg you. Remember that I’m not an authority. I just want to share what I think I know, and I hope that it helps somebody. I hope that it brings people into fellowship with me about the Bible, and I hope it will be a use of my time that pleases God.
Happy Sunday. See you next time.
6 thoughts on “Leviticus is a Light Behind the Glass”
I’m really looking forward to this. Thank you for being willing to do it.
You are so very welcome, and thank you for the encouragement. I surely need it from time to time. 🙂
Just started reading Leviticus so looking forward to hearing your insights.
A few years ago on Twitter I saw that a pastor friend had started a new sermon series. I replied, “You’re doing a whole series on Leviticus?” He said, “I’m starting a movement!” I was reading a book on Leviticus at the time called “The Beauty of Holiness” by Philip Eveson, and reading that and listening to his sermons helped me to have a whole new appreciation for this often-neglected book. I’m glad to see you’re continuing the movement here 🙂
In addition to my regular Bible reading plan, I’m planning on camping out in Hebrews for most of this year. So I guess that’s kind of a reverse Leviticus….
It’s a real joy to see someone engage so thoughtfully with Scripture in this format. Thanks for the encouragement to press on!
Thanks, Joe! I can’t not do it. /grin
I love your pastor friend’s response, “I’m starting a movement!” I’m happy to join his movement.
I’m really enjoying your blog. I’m doing a one year Bible plan and found you by Googling “yeast and honey Old Testament.” Thanks for this!