Down a Mine Shaft
A Pocket Paper
Today I’d like to begin a series of sermons that some preachers would view as homiletic suicide—preaching through the Old Testament book of Leviticus. I happen to like Leviticus, but I’ll admit that it is a recently acquired taste. As I’ve been studying for this series of messages in recent months, I’ve developed a much greater love and appreciation for Leviticus. This book will never be our favorite book in the Bible. It doesn’t have the loftiness of Ephesians, the practicality of Proverbs, or the engaging narrative of the Four Gospels. It doesn’t contain inspiring poetry like the book of Psalms, nor intriguing information about the last days like the book of Revelation. It’s just—well, it’s just Leviticus. But it has a vitally important message that we have got to hear and heed.
I feel like a man leading a tour down a mineshaft. Think of the book of Leviticus as a diamond mine or a gold mine. If you were to study the surface of the earth above a gold or diamond mind, it would appear unremarkable. Perhaps it would be boring terrain or difficult to traverse. To really see the wealth of this land, you have to descend into the depths and chip away at the rock; and there you would find the jewels. For reasons known only to Himself, the Lord put gravel on the surface of the earth, readily available to all. But He put diamonds and rubies down in the bowels of the earth to be found by those who really dig for them. Bible study sometimes resembles mining; and for the next several weeks, I’d like to take you down the mine shaft of Leviticus to see some of the diamonds and rubies that it contains.
There’s more than meets the eye to Leviticus. This morning’s message is simply a survey of the theme of the book of Leviticus as a whole, and tonight’s message will be a survey of it’s remarkable plan and outline. These are the introductory studies for us into Leviticus.
The first thing to notice is that Leviticus is simply an unbroken continuation of the book of Exodus. In the book of Exodus, we read about Moses, the Man of God, delivering the children of Israel out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and into the desert on their way to the land God had promised to give them. Their first major stop was at Mount Sinai. There God called Moses to the top of the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Moses was also given a rather lengthy set of instructions for the building of a portable worship center called the Tabernacle. As we progress through the book of Exodus, we read of the construction of this Tabernacle; then notice how the book of Exodus ends:
Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the Tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the Tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was above the Tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him from the Tabernacle of meeting, saying… (Exodus 40:34 – Leviticus 1:1).
…and what God said to Moses here at Sinai from the Tabernacle of Meeting is our book of Leviticus. In other words, this book is basically a continuation of the book of Exodus, telling us what happened while the Israelites were encamped at Mount Sinai. Here at Sinai, God was going to tell the Israelites two things in the book of Leviticus: First, that He was a holy God; and second, He had delivered them from Egypt that they might be His holy people, His priestly nation to the world. The theme of Leviticus is: Be holy, for I am holy.
Why is it called Leviticus? Well, that wasn’t its original title. The Hebrew name of the book is simply the first word of the book, which is one word in Hebrew but three words in English: “And He called…” When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, into the Septuagint Version, the translators choose to call this book λευιτικον (Leutikon) which meant “Pertaining to the Levities.” The Levites were the descendants of the patriarch Levi (one of the sons of Jacob) who served as the priests of Israel. Much of Leviticus pertains to the priesthood, and so this title stuck. It was carried over into the Latin Vulgate and then into our English translations. The book of Leviticus contains 27 chapters serving as the bridge between the books of Exodus and Numbers.
A Monotonous Book
First, Leviticus is, quite frankly, a monotonous book. In fact, it has a reputation of being the dullest, most boring book in the entire Bible. My friend, Neil Gilliland, calls it “One Hundred and One Ways to Kill a Bull.” You know as well as I do that a good many people decide they’re going to read through the Bible and they make good progress until they come to Leviticus. Then they get bogged down. It has a lot of repetitious language and rather tedious information to sort through. But there’s a second thing I want to say about Leviticus.
A Meaningful Book
I’d like to convince you today that Leviticus is a meaningful book. The best thing I ever read about Leviticus was a quote by J. Sidlow Baxter who said: “Obviously, (Leviticus) was not meant just to be read, but to be studied.” He goes on to say, “It yields little of its treasure as a mere reading; but a reasonable concentration transforms it into one of the most intriguing articles in Scripture.”
Do you realize: (1) Leviticus was the first book studied by Jewish children. (2) It is quoted about forty times in the New Testament. (3) There are parts of the New Testament, particularly in the book of Hebrews, that cannot be understood without knowing something of the book of Leviticus.
A Methodical Book
Third, the book of Leviticus is a methodical book. Its theme is very easy to find, and its outline is easy to detect. It is an organized, well-structured, well-arranged, methodical book. Let’s deal first with the great theme of Leviticus, and then tonight I want to show you its remarkable outline.
The theme of Leviticus, as I have indicated, is holiness. The holiness of God, and the holiness that God requires of us. We see this in several ways. First, the word holy occurs over and over in Leviticus—95 times! Let me give you some examples:
Leviticus 10:1ff: Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.”
There you have the theme of Leviticus in a nutshell. By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy. That meant Nadab and Abihu, and that means you and me. No one can approach God or know Him or serve Him without regarding Him as holy. Look down at verse 10 in the same chapter. What does God desire for you and me? …that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean.
That’s exactly what’s wrong with our world today. People have lost the ability to distinguish between the holy and the unholy, between what’s right and what’s wrong. Do you remember the old story of the boys who broke into a department store one night? They didn’t steal anything; they just changed all the price tags. The next morning, fur coats were selling for a buck and a half, while little pieces of costume jewelry were priced at thousands of dollars. The value of everything was reversed. We’re living in an age in which the devil has changed the price tags on everything, and moral values have been reversed in this world.
To be a Christian with a sense of morality is viewed as being bigoted and blighted and puritanical and extreme; but to have an open attitude toward same-sex marriage and an “anything goes” society is to be healthy, unbiased, and open-minded.
This was why the ancient rabbis taught Leviticus to Jewish children at a very early point in their synagogue education—to help them know from their earliest days the difference between right and wrong. The purpose of Leviticus is to give us a sense of the holiness of God that we might be able to distinguish between holy and unholy, between the clean and the unclean.
Look at the next chapter—Leviticus 11:45: For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Turn over to Leviticus 14, a chapter devoted to the theme of leprosy. Here we have a set of instructions for the doctors—who were the Levites—to detect cases of leprosy. Look at the way the chapter ends in Leviticus 14:54ff: This is the law for any leprous sore and scale, for the leprosy of a garment and of a house, for a swelling and a scab and a bright spot, to teach when it is unclean and when it is clean. This is the law of leprosy.
We bring value judgments into every arena of life, don’t we? We have to make value judgments and moral decisions constantly. The book of Leviticus is designed to teach us true holiness that we might make the best judgments possible.
Look at verse 31 of the next chapter—Leviticus 15:31: Thus you shall separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness when they defile My Tabernacle that is among them.
In other words, God Himself intended to dwell among the children of Israel. He was going to live with them, to be their God, to walk in their midst. Therefore they had to reflect His holiness.
Leviticus 19:1ff says: And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’”
Leviticus 20:7-8 says: Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. And you shall keep My statutes and perform them: I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
Verse 26 of the same chapter: And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.
This is the theme of Leviticus—holiness. God is holy, and since He is our God, we must reflect His holiness in our lives.
That brings us an important question. What does the word “holy” really mean? This is a word that occurs nearly 700 times in the Bible. Some theologians say that all of God’s moral attributes can be summed up in two words: Love and Light. God is Love and God is Light. Holiness would be another word for Light.
At its very root, the word holy means separate, distinct, different, and set apart from all other. When Senator Albert Gore died in 1998, I drove past the airport. There were many planes there. Military planes, commercial jet liners, all the small planes that are usually there, cargo jets, and etc. Air Force Two—the Vice President’s plane—was there. But President Clinton had come to Nashville for the funeral, and there was no mistaking Air Force One. It was separate, distinct, and different from all the others. It was huge—a specially modified Boeing 747. It had a security parameter all around it, and anyone trying to approach it would be stopped. It was separate, distinct, different, and set apart from all the rest.
That is the root meaning of the term holiness—separate, distinct, different, and set apart from all the rest. But this word has a particular moral application when it comes to God. It means that He is separate, distinct, different, and set apart from everything else in the universe because of the absolute and utter absence of evil within Him.
Herbert Lockyer put it this way:
As the absolutely Holy One, God is free from evil and hates and abhors sin. He is glorious in holiness—holiness being the most sparkling jewel in His crown. As His power makes Him mighty, so His holiness makes Him glorious. God possesses intrinsic holiness. He is holy in His nature. As light is the essence of the sun, so holiness is God’s very being. God is absolutely distinct from all His creatures, and above them in infinite majesty. He is holy in all His ways… As the sun cannot darken, so God cannot act unrighteously. He is the Holy One. Holiness is His inward character—not merely a trait of His Being, but His very essence…. From the dateless past, He has been free from all moral impurity and is therefore morally perfect.
Holiness is God’s infinite and unchangeable moral excellence which He eternally wills and maintains.
The first time the word “holy” occurs in the Bible is in Exodus 3:5 when Moses turns aside to see the burning bush in the desert. A voice thundering from the bush said: “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
Just as there is a security perimeter around Air Force 1, there is a holiness perimeter around God Himself. There is a zone of holiness and everything unholy that enters that zone in instantly and constantly consumed by the blazing purity of His holiness. It’s just like flying into the sun. How long would you or I last if we were on a spaceship flying into the sun? How long before we were consumed? How long before we were burned up in its intense heat and light?
Why was Moses commanded to remove his sandals? Have you ever tried to walk barefoot across blistering sand, rocky ground, and prickly terrain? You have to do so very slowly and carefully. God didn’t want Moses rushing carelessly into this holiness perimeter. He needed to approach the holiness of God slowly, very cautiously and with great fear and trembling.
Exodus 15:11 says: Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?
1 Samuel 2:2 says: No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.
Isaiah 40:25 says: “To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.
1 Chronicles 16:10 says: Glory in His holy name.
1 Chronicles 16:29 says: Worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness.
Psalm 93:5 says: Holiness adorns Your house, O Lord, forever.
Habakkuk 2:20 says: The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.
Revelation 15:4 says: Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name for You alone are holy.
Revelation 4:8 says: The four living creatures… do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”
The book of Leviticus is the book in the Bible that establishes the foundation for this great central column of biblical truth – the doctrine and the reality of the holiness of God. Can you imagine a truth more needed by our generation? Our generation has lost all sense of the concept of God’s holiness. The idea of the blazing, blinding fire of God’s moral purity and holiness might as well be on the backside of the universe as far as today’s society is concerned.
The theme of Leviticus is that God is holy, and His holiness is to be the standard of our conduct and behavior. His holiness is the moral foundation of our lives. Be ye holy, for I am holy. Holiness is not a standard to which God conforms. Holiness is that which God is, and everything else in the universe must conform to that standard or it is ruined. Everything in the universe is good as it conforms to God’s holiness and everything in the universe is evil as it does not. The holiness of God provides the basis for moral absolutes in the universe—and this is the very truth that is under such attack in our world today.
It’s remarkable to see what has happened to America since World War II. We’ve just commemorated the 60th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied troops began the liberation of Europe from Hitler’s Nazis. At that time, there was a consensus in America that there was a universal, absolute moral standard of right and wrong, and that sense of good and evil is what propelled those boys across the cliffs of Normandy. By the same token, the very heart of Nazi Germany rejected all such standards.
Adolf Hitler rejected the idea of a personal God who decreed absolute truth. One of the reasons he hated the Jews was because they represented transcendent monotheism—the belief in an eternal yet personal God. By killing the Jews, Hitler thought could eradicate those who had ‘invented’ God.” Hitler rejected biblical authority and as a result He and all Nazi Germany rejected all sense of absolute moral standards. So morality became fluid. It could become whatever a man or a society wanted it to be. It became relative. It became unhinged and detached from any absolute, infinite, divine standard.
And now, sixty years later, this is exactly the philosophy being espoused by our modern American culture, and those who dare stand up in opposition are called “right-wing religious extremists.”
The other day I bought a clock. The directions told me not to try to set the clock. I was only to put in a battery and push a little button. Something within the clock sent out signals to Colorado Springs to the US Naval Observatory. I pushed the little button, and within a couple of minutes the hands of my clock started moving all by themselves as if by magic. It was almost spooky. My clock automatically synchronized itself to the absolute standard of the master clock operated by the U.S. Government.
What if I gathered a group of people in the room and said, “What time do you think it is? What time do you want it to be? There’s no absolute standard. We can set this clock however we want. Time is relative, so if we want it to be midnight right now—no problem.”
Our society has disconnected itself from the absolute standard of the holiness of God, and we’re heading down the same slippery slope that doomed the morality of Nazi Germany. The problem is that we have lost the message of the book of Leviticus. God is holy, and His holiness is the basis of our conduct and morality.
That is Leviticus in a nutshell. If there was ever a need for a generation to rediscover a great biblical theme, it is for our generation to rediscover the concept of the holiness of God. One way of doing that is to descend into the mineshaft of Leviticus, for there we find the diamond of God’s holy character.
A Messianic Book
And that brings me to the final point in today’s message, Leviticus is a Messianic book—it is all about Atonement, all about Divinely-engineered Sacrifices and Offerings, all about the Reconciling Savior. Leviticus gives us a series of sacrifices; it tells us of the power of the shedding of the blood of the burnt offerings which point toward the Lord Jesus Christ, sinless and pure, who took upon Himself our sins and imputed to us His holiness that we might stand before God.
This is Leviticus. In the very heart of the book—at the very center of Leviticus—is the description of the Day of Atonement in chapter 16. And the purpose of Leviticus is to show us how a Holy God can provide atonement through the divinely-appointed sacrifice that we might be reconciled to God and be made holy in His sight.
This is Leviticus. God is holy, and the moral excellence of His pure and infinite holiness is like the blinding, burning, blazing sun. We could no more stand in His presence than we could stand on the surface of the sun itself. But Jesus Christ—God’s perfect sacrifice—offered Himself for us, in our stead, in order to present us holy and blameless and above reproach in His sight. He it is who makes us holy. And He is our atoning sacrifice.
Romans 3:21ff, basing its truths on the foundations of Leviticus, says: But now righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law (i.e., the book of Leviticus) and the Prophets (i.e., Moses) testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory (holiness/purity) of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.
This is Leviticus. That’s the language of Leviticus. The book of Leviticus provides the deep moral and biblical foundations for the book of Romans and it gives us the historical and moral and biblical underpinnings for my salvation and for yours. Oh, that we might see God in all His holiness. Oh, that we might see ourselves in all our sinfulness. Oh, that we might see how Jesus Christ—by His atoning sacrifice—washes away our sinfulness and clothes us in His holiness that we might be reconciled to God for eternal life!
John Newton put it this way:
I saw one hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.
O, can it be upon a tree,
The Savior died for me?
My soul is thrilled, my heart is filled,
To think He died for me.
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 Lockyer, Herbert, All the Doctrines of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964), p. 31.