Leviticus 1:1–2

Third Avenue Baptist Church

Louisville, KY

Leviticus 1:1-2 — Leviticus Series

August 15, 2021

Well, what an honor to study God’s Word together for the time we have this morning. We are going to begin in the book of Leviticus and a study that will take us some weeks, many weeks, and with so much for God to teach us, let’s begin with prayer. Our Father, we come before you, just in all the fact, you allow us to study your word. The word that you by your grace spoke to us. Spoke first to Moses for Israel, and by your word, through Moses, to Israel, to us ever living, ever fresh. Father, we pray that we will be faithful students of your perfect word. May you bring yourself glory and faithfulness to your church by this study, we pray in Christ’s name, Amen. 

The reality is that most Christians never hear any kind of study of the book of Leviticus. Most have not heard certainly any sermon series or expository series in the book of Leviticus. Most preachers, at least in Christian history, would’ve been quite scared of Leviticus. Evidently they are because they stay away from it. And it is because Leviticus will take a lot from us in terms of study. It will require a lot of us.  This is foreign territory, in sense, for us as Christians, we are entering into the very heart of the cult. That is the worship, the sacrificial system of the Jewish people. A world because of Christ so different than our own. But the book of Leviticus is one of the most cited books from the Old Testament in the New Testament, because the very purpose of the mission of Christ was to fulfill what was in part in Leviticus and in full in himself. 

By the time you get to the book of Hebrews, you’ll be looking backwards again and again to the book of Leviticus because it will be this, that Christ is now fulfilling. For even as in the book of Hebrews tells us it is impossible for the blood of goats and bulls to take away sin. That is exactly what Christ has done for us forever in his atonement. The book of Leviticus is of course, in the Torah, the Pentateuch in the first five books of the Bible, these are the books of Moses. And by that we mean they are the books of Moses, because one of the things we shall see is that the role of Moses is in the book. And we’re going to see that in the text of the book, we’re going to see it affirmed not only by other writers of the Old Testament, but we’re going to see affirmed by Jesus himself as well as by the apostles. 

In other words, when you have Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, they’re not just the books of Moses. You will have others in the Old Testament, you will have Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. And you have the faithful church say, as God said to Moses, as Moses said, the book of Leviticus is the third in the Pentateuch, the five books, the Torah, and that puts it right at the center. And there’s a reason for that. You really cannot proceed to Numbers and Deuteronomy without Leviticus. The theme of Leviticus is actually found in Leviticus chapter 19, verse two, “you shall be holy, even as the Lord, your God is holy.” How may a holy God have a holy people? What would that holy people look like? What would they do? What would make them holy? What would keep them holy? It’s a huge question. 

It’s a question that we have to follow in its context with only two books before Leviticus. The first of course is Genesis. Genesis tells us of the perfection of God’s creation. Genesis tells us of the fall of humanity into sin. Genesis tells us of the covenant that God made with Abraham. The book of Genesis tells us of the promise that God gave that through Abraham and his seed, all the nations of the world would be blessed. In the Old Testament, there are sacrifices that we’re not sure exactly how they were to work. In the Old Testament, there was a priest, Melchizedek and there were other priestly figures who appear in the text. In the book of Exodus, the children of Israel, having grown numerous but having fled to Egypt in a time of famine are now growing too numerous in Egypt for Pharaoh. Pharaoh believes that they will then be soon as an internal threat, able to threaten his own rule, the rule of the Egyptians. 

And so you have Pharaoh’s oppression of the children of Israel. And then at one point, even Pharaoh attempting to put an end to the future generations of the children of Israel, but they’re God’s covenant people and you know that they will not find the end of their story in some kind of extinguishment in Exodus, but rather God will do this miraculous work of rescuing his people. And he rescues the people, not just because he had chosen them, but he rescues them because they are his covenant people. He made covenant with them. And because of his faithfulness to the covenant, Israel will survive. 

It is an Exodus that Israel having been rescued by God’s outstretched arm and mighty hand, rescued from Pharaoh in Egypt, in the wilderness, receives the law, but receives the law through Moses. God does not merely give Israel the law. There are not two stones that are as tablets given to Israel. They’re given to Moses for Israel. Israel is the one who receives only after Moses goes up into the mountain. It is Moses who is then a model intercessor. And of course the very existence of Israel after the great disobedience is possible because Moses pled with God to allow him to intercede for them and elsewhere and Exodus, the people will plead with God from their side to accept Moses, to intercede for them. Moses plays a mediatorial role. In some sense it is he who receives God’s judgment for them. 

It is two Moses that God will speak and will reveal himself. It is not a mediatorship like with the AFLCIO and management. It is a mediator between a sovereign and his people, not two equal parties with a mediatorship. And thus you see pictures of course, of the mediatorship of Christ that will come as not only a mediator, but the mediator. Intercessor. Priest. Prophet. In some sense, Moses has to be all of this. He’s not a part of the Levitical priesthood, but he is himself priesting on behalf of the entire nation. 

When you look at Leviticus and you look at verse one in verse one, we read, “the Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, speak to the people of Israel and say to them when any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock from the herd or from the flock.” Now, the first thing you might notice is just how quickly we are immediately into the details of the law that will be given for offerings. This where it begins, but of course, this is the beginning of a conversation between God and Israel through Moses. This is the continuation of that revelation but notice the first words. “The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting.” A couple of interesting things there that we ought to notice. The Lord summons Moses and Moses having been summoned goes. Where? To the mountain? No, to the tent of meeting, but between then and now God has by his own sovereign plan devised this tent of meeting, which is where in the tabernacle he will meet with his people. 

And that’s where mediation intercession will be done. It’s kind of a prototype in some sense. It’s a pre-figuration of the temple that will come. There is no temple, but there is this tent of meeting and the Lord called Moses into the tent of meeting. And in an interesting expression, spoke to him out of the tent of meeting. 

Now, how do we think of the speech here? That is what do we refer to? Well, numerous points in the book of Leviticus, including the very first verse as we see, and the very last verse, as we shall see, we’re told that God spoke to Moses, God commanded Moses, God instructed Moses. And so, this is going to come up again and again and again. So, there’s direct speech from God here, basically all of it. We don’t have Moses speaking back to God. It’s God’s direct speech to Moses, but it is through Moses and perhaps to an extent that we’re really not accustomed to thinking about. So, if we’re reading from say, Romans chapter eight, well, who wrote Romans chapter eight? Well, Paul, but the Holy Spirit. And so, it’s the Holy Spirit says through Paul. But it’s not wrong to say, as Paul says if we’re preaching or doing Bible study, and we’re comparing what James says in his epistle to what Paul says. It’s not wrong to say James and Paul. We speak of Paul the Apostle with great reverence and appreciation, not to mention authority. 

So, when we say Paul, that’s saying something. It’s a greater sense of authority in the church. Interestingly enough, given our Catholic neighbors than if one was to say, Peter said, now the Lord spoke through Peter in two epistles, Peter appears in the book of Acts etcetera, the Holy Spirit used Peter. Peter also comes as apostolic authority, but it’s Paul that has so much in the New Testament. God has spoken so much in the New Testament, through Paul, that liberals who blame Paul for so much in the New Testament, rightly so, say that it was a mistake of the early church to stake so much on Paul. As if it was your church’s plan. 

But in the Old Testament, everything’s really staked on Moses. Everything’s staked on Moses. It begins even here in this third book with Moses being summoned to the tent of meeting. Second Chronicles, chapter 23, verse four, you find the expression “as written in the law of Moses” reference here to Leviticus. So it’s the law of Moses. Now, Israel didn’t believe it was the law of Moses as if it belonged to Moses, but rather Moses is so much the mediator of this law. He’s the one to whom God gave it for Israel that is referred to as the law of Moses. Jesus himself will tell the leper once he has been healed to go and present himself to the priest in order, those things may be done. Those things, which Moses commanded that’s in Mark nine. Pretty amazing. 

Here’s Jesus, this is very significant, you’re talking about covenant history, here’s Jesus telling the man he has just healed. Now he healed. So, this is God and incarnate. He’s healed the man. And he tells him to go to the priest to fulfill the law of Moses. Of course, it’s a tiny picture of the fact that Christ himself perfectly fulfills the law of Moses, but it’s just a reaffirmation of the fact that the law and in specific the law as revealed in Leviticus, but the totality of the law is referred to as the law of Moses, not just in Old Testament habit. The prophet is Ezekiel will refer back to the law of Moses repeatedly. Ezekiel 10. Ezekiel 22. Ezekiel 18. Ezekiel 20. It’s going back and back continuously, even as the prophet centuries later saying, this is the law of Moses, the law of Moses. In Romans chapter 10, Paul will write, “for Moses writes about the righteousness, which is of the laws,” contrasting that with the righteousness of Christ, that is a greater righteousness than the righteousness of the law. 

But again, the righteousness of the law, the old covenant is here, basically summarized as Moses wrote. It’s called the book of Leviticus in our English translations because of its content. That is the instructions for the Levitical priesthood. And so thus Leviticus is coming from the Latinized reference to the Levitical priesthood. And there it is. In the Hebrew Torah, it’s just like every other book in that pattern. The name of the book is the Hebrew word that begins the book. And so in the Hebrew mind, this book is not called Leviticus, the book is called “and God called Moses” because that’s exactly how it begins. “And God called Moses.” So in the Jewish tradition, this third book of the Torah is not called Leviticus. They of course know the Levitical Priesthood is what’s in it, but they just begin as the book of Genesis does with the “in the beginning.” And this is just “and God called Moses. “

When we speak of Moses, in this sense, we’ve talked about his mediatorial role. Israel’s disobedience repeatedly puts Moses in the position of interceding before God that he not destroy the very people he has brought out of Israel. Brought out of Egypt, established as Israel, his chosen people. In Exodus chapter 20 verse 19 it’s made very clear that Moses is functioning as a prophet. And of course, in Deuteronomy 34:10, we are told that a greater than Moses, a prophet like Moses, but greater than Moses is coming. In Hebrews chapter three, we hold that Jesus as prophet has more glory than Moses. Is worthy of a greater glory than Moses. You know, we read that, and we go, well, of course, but understand what that means in light of well, the first audience of the book of Hebrews. Hellenized Jews who come to Christ. This biblical theology that is the book of Hebrews, they are told “Do you wanna understand Christ, just understand this. In times past God spoken many in various ways, but in these days he has spoken in his son. And his son is not only the radiance of his glory and the exact representation of his nature, but he’s a glory greater than Moses.” 

I brought Moses to church one day. Put him up on the pulpit. Pope Julian’s grave, Moses, the famous Michelangelo Moses. Moses with horns. If you’ve seen him as one of the most famous statues in Christian history, and Moses is sitting on a throne and he is got horns. And it is because the artist misunderstood the rays of light and put horns on Moses, supposed to be the radiance of his glory. Some horns don’t exactly communicate that to me. But the point is glory. Moses had glory as represented in the scripture is having a glory and not the Shekinah glory of God, but he came down, bearing it. Remember he and his body bore the Shekinah glory of God for a time after he had been with God on the mountain. Jesus is the ever infinitely eternally glorious one. 

As we look at the book of Leviticus and again, we recognize it in the heart of the Pentateuch. We recognize it as the necessary link between Genesis and Exodus and what will come is Numbers and Deuteronomy. We recognize that we’re going to be confronting a lot of laws. And when I say a lot of laws, I mean a lot of laws and it is going to sound just like a law book. It’s going to be just like a lawyer in one sense, taking a law book off the shelf, because you look up and say, under this circumstance, what sacrifices needed and how exactly must it be done. The next time we’re together, we will be right into sacrifices for sin. And we will look right the fact that for this, it has to be that, for the other sin, it has to be something else, for the people it is this, for an individual it is something else. 

The sacrificial system was so precise. The Levitical priesthood was called to a precision priesthood because their priesting was necessary for the survival of Israel. And this is one of the great themes of biblical theology we are going to be looking at, because even as we’re together this first day, looking Leviticus, we say, where is the gospel in this? What’s it pointing to? How do we, as Christians read this? We understand how the Jewish people read Leviticus, the Levitical priesthood. We understand how they would read, how do we read it? 

As it has already been said, the scripture is clear that the blood of goats and of bulls cannot be taken away, they cannot take away sin. Sin cannot be fully atoned for by the blood of an animal, but the blood of an animal is what is constant in Leviticus, the blood of this animal or another animal? What does that mean? One of the things we’re going to see is that the atonement that comes up again and again, through the sacrificial system in the Old Testament made so complete and clear in the details of Leviticus is a covering for sin. It’s important to think it’s a covering for sin. There’s something very different about a total erasure of sin and a covering for sin. In Romans chapter three, that pivotal text, that really is in many ways, the fulcrum of Protestantism that we, we would say, it’s the fulcrum of the gospel. Roman chapter 3:21 and following about justification by faith alone. But you’ll recall Paul speaks of the previous times as God passing over sin. Just to look specifically at the text, Romans chapter three, the passage says it only makes sense because of Leviticus. 

Let’s just read the whole text because it’s just so important to have it as a whole thought. Verse 21. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law through the law and the prophets, that is although the law and the prophet bear witness to it, the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe. For there is no distinction for all of sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ, Jesus, whom God put forward as a perpetuation by his blood.” You’ll notice as we go through Leviticus, this is kind of Levitical language. This is familiar language. Paul knows exactly what he’s doing here. 

Verse 25. “Whom God put forward as a perpetuation by his blood to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance, he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time so that he might be just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” God is demonstrating that Christ is both just, and the justifier because it is the Father who is just, and the justifier. And putting Christ forward as the perpetuation sacrifice for sin, God, the Father is showing himself to be both just in requiring the sacrifice because of sin and then the justifier by forgiving sinners because of this sacrifice of his Son. But what about all those sacrifices that had taken place before? The writer of the book of Hebrews will come back to this. What did that mean? And it’s actually impossible to imagine the quantity, the number of animals who were sacrificed through centuries, as we shall see, many of these were daily sacrifices. Daily. There are a lot of days. 

Some of these were massive sacrifices where just about every household had to make a sacrifice. There were a lot of sheep, there were a lot of bulls. There were a lot of goats. There were a lot of animals that were sacrificed, a lot of birds. What did that amount to? Well, Paul says in his forbearance, God passed over. Notice the specific language here, “he had passed over former sins.” Well, he didn’t pass over by saying, I’m not goanna worry about that. No, all those sacrifices in the Levitical system, all those Old Testament sacrifices held back God’s wrath that was eventually poured out on Christ. 

They did not fully atone for sin. And we don’t have to make that by inference. That is the book of Hebrew’s very emphatic statement. Only the blood of Christ can wash away sin, but the blood of all these animals held back the wrath of God. It was a blood sacrifice. And we’ll be seeing this the next time we’re together. What’s the nature of a blood sacrifice? It was a graphic demonstration of the horrible nature of sin and of the children of Israel’s inability to remove that stain themselves. It would have to be done by another, that’s a key point. It would just have to be done by another. And that other would be an animal, but only as something of a down payment only to hold back, God’s wrath a time 

We’re in the center of the Pentateuch. Christ is very much at the center of Leviticus. When we speak of Christology and relate it to the Old Testament, I think of Genesis where in the prologue to the gospel of John, John tells us that Jesus was the Word through whom the world was made. So, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” it’s parallel by “in the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.” Christ is right there in the very first sentence of the Bible. Christ is there in theophanies in the Old Testament. Christ is there in the covenant that God made with Abraham that threw Abraham and his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. That can only happen through Christ. And it’s Abraham is pointing to Christ, not Christ who’s pointing to Abraham. In Exodus, of course, the great picture of our salvation, where there is a rescue, and even as it becomes the great Old Testament picture of the New Testament of our salvation, Exodus becomes the great historical sign that God will accomplish his covenant. He will save his people. He will not leave Israel in captivity to Pharaoh. He will not leave us in captivity to sin. 

And it’s right after Exodus. It’s just right after Exodus that we’re at Leviticus and it’s detail. It’s kind of like that for the Christian Church, right? Study the scriptures. You got to get this right. We are a biblical people. We are a scriptural people. We’re a people of the book. Israel was a people of the book because it had to be a people of the book. You can’t pass down Leviticus by oral tradition. You can’t trust that. What if you get that little sacrificial point wrong? What if it’s supposed to be a, this rather than a, that, what if you’re supposed to do it this often, rather than that often, how do you do this? As we shall see, all kinds of technical, personal issues, when someone does this and what do you do when this violation of the covenant takes place, what do you do? We’re also going to see that the holiness of God has made very, very clear in every single word, because the background to the holiness that is Israel’s call is the fact that they have been created by called by made covenant with redeemed by preserved by a holy God. Therefore they must be holy. This is where we must end for this morning. As Leviticus begins, God summons Moses to the tent of meeting 

And in a very real sense, we’re now summoned through the book of Leviticus. I promise you, it is going to be an adventure. We are together going to learn things we would never know if we did not study this book. What most Christians have been raw robbed of for two millennia. we will not allow ourselves to be robbed of, by God’s grace, now. So I look forward week by week to going through Leviticus with you. It will be as if we are going into the tent of meeting with Moses by God’s grace. What an adventure that will be. Let’s pray. Father, we’re just so thankful for all you’ve given us in your word. Thank you. Thank you for every word of scripture. Thank you for the Pentateuch. Thank you for the Torah. We too are those who look and must look continuously to the books of Moses to understand the book of Christ. Father, open our eyes that we may see. Open our hearts to find joy in this and deepen our understanding of Christ. It will be to your glory. We pray in the name of Christ. Amen.