Jason L. Kortering is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Grandville, Michigan.
7. Holiness expressed in the keeping of specific feasts (Lev. 23:1-24:23). The first one mentioned is the Sabbath, no work is allowed on the seventh day in order that they may gather before the Lord (Lev. 23:1-3). Then we have the Feast of the Passover mentioned, the fourteenth day of the first month (Lev. 23:4, 5), the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the fifteenth day of the same month for seven days, no work is to be performed during this time, the beginning and ending of the feast is to include a public convocation to the Lord, (Lev. 23:6-8), the Feast of the Firstfruits, at harvest time, they were to bring a sheaf of the Firstfruits to the priest and he would wave it before the Lord. The people were to bring a lamb as a burnt offering presented to the Lord as both a meat offering and a drink offering, (Lev. 23:9-14), the Feast of Pentecost, they were to count out seven Sabbaths up to fifty days from the time they brought the offering for the Firstfruits, and bring another meal offering. This time they were to bring baked loaves of bread (not sheaves of grain), and offer various animals as burnt offering (with meat and drink offerings), sin offering, peace offering, accompanied by a day of holy convocation. They were specifically instructed to leave the corners of the field for the poor to glean (Lev. 23:15-22). We then have theFeast of Trumpets, on the seventh month. The first day of the month was declared a Sabbath. The unique feature for this feast was the blowing of trumpets to call the people to come together for a holy convocation. They were to avoid servile work and present offerings before the Lord, (Lev. 23:23-25). The Great Day of Atonement is mentioned. During this time, the tenth day of the seventh month, special mention is made of “afflicting their souls”, so necessary that if one did not humble himself before the Lord and come with an offering that soul was to be cut off from the people. To do this the people had to avoid work and busy themselves in worship, (Lev. 23:26-32). Finally mention is made of the Feast of Tabernacles. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month for seven days, the people would offer sacrifices to the Lord, dwell in booths, and wave branches before the Lord as expression of their joy. The week was to begin and end in a holy convocation, a Sabbath. In this way they would properly commemorate their exodus from Egypt, (Lev. 23:33-44). We then have some general instruction about the maintenance of the tabernacle. The oil must be brought so that the lights burn continually, (Lev. 24:1-4), the loaves of shewbread were to be baked and set before the Lord not only, but also be used for food for the priests (Lev. 24:5-9). The incident of the young man, the son of an Israelitish mother and Egyptian father, when he cursed the name of the Lord and was stoned to death upon the direct instruction of the Lord, is recorded. Reminder is given also that anyone who kills another person must be killed, blemish for blemish, beast for beast whether this involves an Israelitish person or a stranger, (Lev. 24:10-23).
8. Details are given on the Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:1-55). When the children of Israel come to the land of Canaan they are to plow and harvest for six years, and the seventh was to be a year of rest for the Lord. What grew of itself in their fields was not to be harvested. All belonged to God and they were to live day by day as He provided (Lev. 25:1-7). The Year of Jubilee was to be every fiftieth year. It began when the trumpet was blown on the Day of Atonement. This year also was marked by no laboring for harvest nor cultivating of grapes. Rather they had to eat from the land as God provided, (Lev. 25:8-13). We receive further details as to how the observance of this Year of Jubilee would affect their property. Value of land was determined by its acquisition according to Jubilee. Fear of not having enough food for a year, or even two in the event of Jubilee, was quieted by the promise that Jehovah would bless them with enough in the previous year for three years if they needed it. They were forbidden to sell the land, and if poverty necessitated their having it redeemed, this would be returned on this year. Distinction is made between walled property and open fields as it relates ‘to redemption (Lev. 25:14-34). We then receive information on how the Year of Jubilee would affect the people themselves, especially the poor. Usury was forbidden, and they were to help the poor. Even if a man were sold for debts, he was not to be a slave, but a hired servant. Bond servants were to be taken from the heathen. On Jubilee all debts were canceled and all freed with certain exceptions stated. Canceling of debts on Jubilee would be proportionate to the years of service, (Lev. 25:35-55).
9. Pronouncements of blessings and curses from Jehovah (Lev. 26:1-46). The key-note of the entire law is worship Jehovah alone, idols forbidden, keep the Sabbaths and reverence the sanctuary (Lev. 26:1, 2). Then we have a series of blessings which are promised if Israel will be faithful to God, for example rain, abundant harvest, chase away their enemies, give them many children, God will dwell among them and keep them free (Lev. 26:3-13). This is followed by a series of judgments for the opposite: if Israel will not keep God’s commands and breaks His covenant, He will slay them before their enemies, dry up the land so no harvest will come, plagues will come, wild beasts will destroy them, the enemy will .destroy them, they will even eat their children for hunger, their dead bodies will be strewn about, desolation will be in the land, they will be scattered among the heathen. If they confess their sins, God will remember His covenant, no matter how bad things are, (Lev. 26:14-46).
10. In conclusion, specific instructions relating to previous teachings is given (Lev. 27:1-34). Details concerning vows are mentioned. As voluntary obligations they were not included in the previous requirements. Specific amounts of money to be pledged are stated for each age group, male and female, (Lev. 27:1-8). This is followed by the value and kind of animals that may be pledged (Lev. 27:9-13), a house (Lev. 27:14, 15), land (Lev. 27:16-25). Specific instruction is given concerning those things which belonged to the Lord and how they were affected by the vow, such as the firstlings of animals (Lev. 27:26, 27), devoted things (Lev. 27:28, 29), the things tithed (Lev. 27:30-34).
As we pointed out before, the great contribution of Leviticus to our spiritual understanding rests in the sacrifice. In this book we have both the way of being right with God (covering of the blood which is basic for our righteousness) and the joy of being right with God (expressed in our walk of holiness). Even though this gospel truth is here set forth in the Old Testament form of type and shadow, its message is as true for us today as then. As we examine the details in which Israel had to bring the sacrifices to God, we thankfully gaze by faith upon the perfect sacrifice God gave us in His Son. What a privilege it is for us not to lay our hands upon the head of a goat, but by faith to place our faith upon the Son of God. We do not look upon the fire on an altar. We bow silently before the cry, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Through blood we are reconciled to God, not by the blood of animals, but by the precious blood of His Son.
So also for our joyful response. Israel was instructed to show its joy in dwelling in booths, waving palm branches, carefully keeping minute details of the law. We do it from the spiritual response of thankful worship and a daily walk in holiness unto the Lord. The law is now written in our hearts. Justification and sanctification are forever joined together by our merciful Father.
Questions for Reflection
1. How does Leviticus fit into the canon of Scripture, especially that of the Pentateuch?
2. The keynote of Leviticus is holiness (occurs some 87 times). What is the difference between justification and sanctification? How is this difference indicated in this book (the two main divisions) and how is this distinction important for us to keep in mind?
3. Reflect on the method of sacrificing. Trace the history of sacrifice as a form of worship. Here in Leviticus, sacrifices are distinguished as burnt offerings, meal offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, trespass offerings (first 5 chapters). What was the main difference between these offerings and what special meaning was there in each?
4. The Old Testament saints expressed the following elements in their sacrifices: a form of approach unto God (both of reconciliation and renewal), they dedicated themselves and their possessions to God, they gave to God of their possessions, they expressed praise to Him. Consider how our worship of God includes these same elements.
5. Discuss how Christ was present in the Old Testament sacrifices and illustrate by referring to specific elements of the sacrifice.
6. Show from this book that God
a. Instructed Israel in how to express their holiness in response to their forgiveness of sin.
b. Expected them to live a holy life, with the appropriate warnings of punishment.
c. Does this apply to us, even though we are in the New Testament?
7. Describe the feasts and explain what their purpose was in the holy life of Israel. Include the feasts of Sabbath, Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Tabernacles.
8. Reflect on the holy life of Israel and our holy life. What were similarities and differences?