On one Christian radio program I listen to, the pastor did a “fly by” of the entire Bible so that listeners could get the panoramic view of Scripture. Not only do we need to see the particulars of an individual passage or its immediate context, his reasoning is, we also need to see how it fits in with the big picture.
No disagreement. But far better than listening to someone else sketch out the whole, in my view, is to read Scripture in its entirety and see the big picture for myself.
Hence I find myself reading in the book of Leviticus, that portion of Scripture I used to skip lest it defeat my entire journey through the Bible. The fact is, as I’ve put in various other pieces to the grand view of God’s revelation, without realizing it, I was laying the necessary framework to understand, at least in part, this book of Israelite laws for living in community as God’s chosen people.
From the kinds of sacrifices and how they should be performed, on through to the treatment of “leprosy” (which may have included the disease we know as leprosy today, but was not limited to it) and the religious cleansing from handling anything unclean like a dead body or human waste to the same cleansing after sex or childbirth, Leviticus is regulatory.
In reading the book, it doesn’t take long to realize that no one was ever going to be exempt from the need to perform cleansing sacrifices. In other words, Leviticus shows how inescapable sin is.
No, having an infection wasn’t sin, and neither was childbirth. But these human conditions required cleansing–not just physical but religious. They stood as reminders that God is pure and Man is not.
Eventually we come to the passage about bodily discharges and the process of cleansing for each. Then this verse: “Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean” (15:25). Unclean people were forbidden to be a part of worship activities. Anything they sat on or lay on would become unclean, anyone who touched them would become unclean.
Flash forward hundreds of years to a dusty Judean street where crowds pressed in around Jesus as He made His way toward Jarius’s house and the little girl who lay dying. From among all those people, a woman with a hemorrhage, who had sought help from the physicians for twelve years, reached out and touched the fringe of Jesus’s cloak.
Twelve years! This woman didn’t just have a medical condition. According to Levitical law, she was cut off from worship and isolated from normal community activities. Anyone touching her would become unclean.
But what happens when that human contact has a reverse effect and instead of the other person becoming unclean, she becomes healed, whole, and clean? Is the other person still unclean? This, I suspect, was one of the dilemmas the Pharisees grappled with when it came to Jesus, because He was constantly touching people that by Levitical law should have made Him unclean, and yet the diseased became well.
What a vivid picture of Jesus imparting His righteousness to those who stand before Him helpless and hopeless and forever cut off from worship because of our uncleanness. What we cannot accomplish, He does with a touch.
At the cross, however, He bore our sins.
Back in Leviticus, a chapter after the law about discharges, God instituted an atonement ritual that involved two goats–one to be sacrificed and one to be released bearing the sins of the nation:
Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities (Lev 16:21-22a)
Christ imparting righteousness, Christ bearing our sins in his body on the cross (see 1 Peter 2:24)–it’s all pictured in Scripture. Leviticus sets it up, the gospels take it home, and the epistles explain it all.
Sixty-six books, but one grand story of God redeeming a people for Himself.
This post first appeared here in September 2012.