The book of Leviticus is written to communicate the holiness of God. The purpose was not to scare people about his holiness but to recognize that God desires to dwell with his people but we are unholy. The reason we cannot approach God is because we are completely unholy while the Lord is high, lifted up, and immense in his holiness. The first eight chapters of Leviticus taught the people that they needed sacrifices and priests in order for God to be in fellowship with them. These laws were the grace of God so that they could be in his presence. But in Leviticus 10 we read two people who did not honor the holiness of God. They did not offer the sacrifice according to the directions God gave. Therefore, God needed to uphold and defend his holiness. So fire came out from before the Lord and consumed these two priests, Nadab and Abihu. The holiness of God must be upheld and we must see ourselves as unholy people.
Unclean Animals (11:1-47)
This is the point of Leviticus 11-15. This is a section that we commonly skip over yet its message is very important. These are laws to dictate what is clean and unclean. The people need to know how to remain clean in the presence of God. Leviticus 11 begins with the food laws. God declared that eating certain animals made a person unclean. Many have tried to give rationale as to why some foods were clean and some food were not clean. But we must simply accept that there is not an answer as to why a pig was unclean but a cow was clean. God did not say why. I think this is an important truth for us to accept. We do not have to be able to explain the reason why something is sinful or not. It is sin because God says so. It is clean because God says so. It is holy because God says so. That is all that we need. We are not gods who must be able to explain why the laws are the way that they are.
God gives one explanation and this is all that matters. Look at Leviticus 11:44-45: For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44–45 ESV)
The message is simple: God is holy. Therefore you must be holy. This is why God gave Leviticus 11-15. God is holy and you must be holy also. God must tell us what makes one holy and what makes one unholy. God must tell us what makes us clean and what makes us unclean. These laws are a life preserver to the people so that they will do what they can to remain clean before the Lord.
Notice something interesting about chapter 12. This section reveals that bearing a child makes the woman unclean. Further, depending on the gender of the child, the length of the days of her uncleanness varied. What is the point of these instructions? God is teaching the people that even every day living will cause us to be defiled before God. This shows the extreme holiness of God. Our problem is not simply that we do not stay way from sins. Our problem is also that just living life on earth defiles us. Obviously, God is not teaching for women to never bear children so that they would not become unclean. Such a thought would be the end of the human race. God is simply teaching that life defiles. God is so holy that even our daily interactions cause us to become defiled. You do not start as holy, but as defiled and in need of cleansing.
People have again tried to explain why having a girl would make the time of uncleanness for the mother longer than if having a boy. God does not explain why. I would contend again that the point is simply to show that we do not define holiness. We simply listen to what God says is holy or unholy, clean or unclean.
Before we leave this chapter we need to notice something. Even though the woman has not sinned by giving birth to a child, the scripture says she needs atonement (12:8). Atonement carries with it the idea of purification. She needs purifying, that is, atonement. In our overview lesson on Leviticus we looked at how the concept of atonement includes ransom and purification.
Skin Diseases (13-14)
Chapters 13-14 gives the regulations regarding skin diseases. Your translation may say “leprosy.” But do not be misled by that word to think of what we think of leprosy today. When we speak of leprosy we are usually referring to Hansen’s Disease. Rather, when you read in the scriptures about “leprosy,” just think about all kinds of skin diseases. This is what is in view here. Discolorations of the skin, rashes, bumps, and the like are all dealt with in these two chapters. Notice again that God declares that atonement is needed (14:19), even though having a skin disease has nothing to do with sin or morality. The picture is that God restores the diseased. There is healing available. The person with a skin disease was not forever separated from the community because of the uncleanness. There was restoration after contamination. The Lord provides the way for someone restored to health to enter full participation in the covenant community through atonement. Atonement becomes the picture of restoration. Atonement allows a person to return to God’s family.
Bodily Discharges (15:1-33)
Leviticus 15 deals with discharges from the body. Whether the discharge was blood or from reproductive organs, these also made a person unclean. Again I want us to notice that a person became unclean, not necessarily because of immorality, but just from daily life. In the same way, atonement is needed for the person who has a bodily discharge (15:30).
But verse 31 gives the reasoning behind these laws and the necessity for atonement. The people had to remain separate from the presence of the Lord because of their uncleanness. Again, God is communicating his immense holiness. His holiness is violated simply by us being human, not necessarily because of our sins. Sin not only defiles but life on earth defiles also. The flesh keeps us from God’s presence. This gives us a sense of what God was saying to Moses when he said, “Man cannot see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
The Need For Holiness
Here is the great point from these regulations in Leviticus 11-15. Being like the world is not the holiness of God. We have the tendency to use the built in excuse that we are “only human.” But this is not an excuse before God. He is not going to say that we are human so it is acceptable. The message of these five chapters is that being human and living the human life is defiling. So we cannot just live life and be with God. We cannot just be human and think that we can be in his presence. We need holiness if we are going to be in God’s presence. Remember that this is the very point with which we began this series:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 ESV)
I hope our study in Leviticus is giving us a greater appreciation of this truth. Without holiness we cannot see the Lord. We are defiled, even just by being human and living life, and therefore cannot see the Lord. This is the apostle Peter’s message in the first chapter of his first letter.
Peter begins in 1 Peter 1:3 teaching that because of God’s great mercy we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The only reason we have hope to be with the Lord is because of the mercy of God who gave us Jesus. Now jump down to verse 14.
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:14–21 ESV)
Notice that Peter’s message is the same. You cannot live how you were before because that life is defiling. The one who called you is holy and you must be holy in your life also. Peter quotes Leviticus 11 to validate his point. You know that God ransomed you from your futile ways with the precious blood of Jesus. Remember that we have learned in Leviticus that there are two aspects to atonement: ransoming the guilty from condemnation and purification from uncleanness. Notice that the ransom aspect is dealt with by Peter in verses 14-21. But then notice Peter goes on to deal with the purification aspect of atonement in the next paragraph.
22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 1:22–2:3 ESV)
We need purification if we are going to be in the presence of God. Peter teaches us how we will be purified: “By your obedience to the truth.” Think about how this fits the Exodus/Leviticus message. In Exodus we see the Israelites redeemed/ransomed from Egyptian slavery. They are set free and brought to Mount Sinai. Because the God who called them and delivered them is holy, the people were to be holy in their conduct as well. Leviticus shows the people that just being human is defiling and they must consider their ways and change to match what God defines and holy and clean. In the same way, we can have ransomed/redeemed from our slavery to sin. Because the God who called us and delivered us is holy, we must be holy in our conduct also. We must listen to the laws of holiness and cleanness just as Israel did so that we can be purified from our ways and from the things that keep us separated from God. We must listen to the living and abiding word of God because it is our hope for holiness. Seeing what our Lord has done for us by ransoming us from our futile, sinful ways, we must strive for holiness. We want to be holy when we look at the cross of Jesus. We desire to purify our souls when we think of the immense sacrifice our Lord has made for us. We will refuse to love the world (1 John 2:15-16) and be separate from the world (2 Corinthians 6:14-17) because the call for holiness is our hope! Be encouraged and strengthened to turn away from sin because the pursuit of holiness is the good news given to us. The Lord has provided the way for us to be restored and enter into full participation into the covenant community of Christ because of the atonement made through Jesus. Our efforts for living holy lives only have value because Jesus has made atonement for us.
13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13–16 ESV)