Picking up our Story of Everything from two Friday’s ago we find ourselves this week in Leviticus 16. It is sometimes said that Leviticus is the place bible reading programs go to die. The book is indeed full of practices and rituals that seem distant to modern readers, at least on first appraisal. But this is where it is most helpful to remind ourselves that, above all, the bible is a book firstly about God not us. Leviticus’ history and theology is vital to God’s story, and foreshadows some of our faith’s most precious truths. The structure of the book is fairly easy to follow: chapters 1-7 present the laws on sacrifices, chapters 8-10 tells us who is responsible for making them (the priesthood), chapters 11-16 covers uncleanness of various forms, whilst the closing chapters consider issues of practical holiness.

Leviticus 16 centres the book, and kipper (atonement) is the key theme. “And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins (16:34).” The chapter begins with a reference to the death of two sons of Aaron. This recalls 10:1-2, and God’s judgment of Nadab and Abihu for the “strange fire” they offered to the Lord. God is reminding his people that priests are to approach God in the right way and with proper preparation, lest they die. Moreover all of the nation, as we read in chapters 11-15, may come in contact with “uncleanness” through: animals, food, bodily discharges, disease, death etc. Not all uncleanness made one morally responsible, and as such not all uncleanness required a sacrifice; but all forms made one unsuitable for God’s sanctuary and his presence. These rules were so far reaching that most would inevitably cross them at some point, and thus make the tabernacle unfit for God. The annual Day of Atonement was God’s way to cleanse the sanctuary and his people, allowing for the ongoing conveyance of his presence to the people, and the people to his presence.      

Something to See:

Under the Sinai covenant God promised to make Israel, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6)”. In this light, is it easier to see God’s purpose for Leviticus, and its place in God’s Story of Everything? I love two words God uses to close chapter 16: “for you”. The Day of Atonement statute was not to be seen as mere religious obligation, but an expression of God’s steadfast love for his people; the atoning sacrifice for their sins so they may be “at one” with him.