LEVITICUS 1: THE LORD CALLED TO MOSES
The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock. If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.’” (Leviticus 1:1-4)
The literal meaning of the title of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible is "The Lord Called."
Leviticus opens with God speaking, instructing his people how to honor him, how to be holy like Himself, how to remain in his presence and reflect his image. Again, the overriding question of Leviticus is this: “In light of God’s holy presence, how then are we to live?”
Sixteen of the book’s twenty-seven chapters begin with the Lord speaking to Moses. Moses in turn communicates these words to Aaron, who had been appointed chief priest over the Levites. The Levities perform the rituals of the new place of God’s presence, the Tabernacle. God speaks in the form of a Divine word to a messenger, Moses, who is commissioned to spread the oracle to Aaron, the Levite priests, and to all of Israel.
The book before Leviticus in the Pentateuch (Five Books of Law), Exodus, chronicles God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egyptian slavery. Where the story of the Exodus ends, the story world of Leviticus begins. In the latter half of Exodus, God is shown dictating the details of the tabernacle tent, enclosure, and furnishings.
IMAGINE you are to slaughter the young bull before the Lord, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting. You are to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Leviticus 1:5-9)
God’s first words to Moses in Leviticus set the stage for an entire system of sacrificial offerings of the Israelites. Why sacrifices? Sacrifices represented a vital understanding of atonement: forgiveness comes at the cost of life, the shedding of blood. So God’s first call to Moses in Leviticus 1 begins what to us may seem like a complicated system of sacrifices and offerings, but these were understood in their world as the means of restoration of relationship.
The sacrifices were a means through which God forgives his people for sins, both intentional and non-intentional, a means of restoring fellowship. Sin cannot be self-forgiven but must be divinely forgiven.
God Who Spoke to Moses, The blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin, but we have access to the atoning sacrifice of your son, Jesus Christ. He shed blood for us once for all. Transport us into the Israelite world so we can know the desperation of being without Jesus but the peace (Shalom) of knowing you are pursuing us and are present with us.
Adonai, May we come to understand this portion of your story not as mere theatre of the grotesque and ancient. Leviticus is a book we have stumbled over in the past, and we ask you to now make it our own, a book that retains mystery because we do not understand all things, but one that we can now fathom was a part of your divine plan for redeeming your people and setting them apart to be your holy people.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.