Learning to Love Leviticus 1 – Motivation in Exodus

Everyone who has ever tried to stick to a year long bible plan, will remember Leviticus, and not because they were super excited, or encouraged, while reading it. It is 27 chapters long, and almost entirely made of Laws for the Jewish nation to live by. It is unsurprising that it feels irrelevant to our lives today, we would much rather read some useful letters in the New Testament. So you may ask for my first series of blog posts on the bible why start here?

The thing is though, all scripture is useful for us today, so that must mean Leviticus is too:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

It’s not just that should be useful, but as I have come to understand Leviticus, I have become so excited about what an interesting and useful book it is. If we can see the excitement in Leviticus we can be convicted that whatever book of the Bible we are reading, it is relevant, useful and exciting, it will challenge us and help us delight in the God!

Therefore, I plan to write a series of blog posts on Leviticus, and what I have learned. I hope by the end,  you will be as excited about what it is saying as I am, and want to go back and read it for yourself.

For today’s post, even though the series is on Leviticus, I want to help us understand the context into which Leviticus was written by looking at Exodus this week, with a focus on the relationship between God and his people throughout the book. This should help us enjoy Leviticus a lot more, and understand it so much better.

God delivers his people to serve him – Let my people go, that they may serve me 

The first part of the book of Exodus we all know well: God saves his people from slavery in Egypt. What may be less well known is, why God saves Israel. God has a purpose in saving Israel, that they serve him:

‘Thus says the LORD, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”‘ (Ex. 7:16, 8:1, 8:20, 9:1, 9:13, 10:3)

This is said so many times to Pharaoh that it must be really important! God is demanding his people be released, not so that they can do whatever they like, but so that they can serve him. Each time he demands this, he demonstrates his power through the plagues. These plagues are seen by everyone in Egypt, including Israel. After seeing all these powerful acts of judgment, Israel should be in no doubt as to who is powerful (humans or God), who God is, and that he ought to be feared. They should also know that he is merciful, for he saved their firstborn children and allowed them to cross the sea safely. We can see that this is achieved by the end of this section:

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. (Ex. 14:30-31)

So, God has delivered them, and has the power to look after them against all human authorities; he is a God that deserves their service (and expects it). But what does serving God look like?

Serving the Lord is being obedient –  Obey my voice and keep my covenant 

Israel is out in the desert and free from slavery. God now explains to Israel what being his people means, and how they are to serve him, through listening to his voice and obeying his commandments:

25 There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them,26 saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” (my emphasis, Ex. 15:25b-26)

 3 while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (my emphasis, Ex. 19:3-6)

It is important to see that God’s command for them to obey and keep his covenants only happens after He has rescued them.  They now have evidence of who God is, and so can trust God, and be obedient. They are also given a powerful motivation in that God promises them they will be his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They promise to do this:

 All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Ex.19:8)

They are then given the 10 commandments and a load of laws, and then Israel repeats its commitment to keep God’s commandments:

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”(Ex.24:7)

Israel is not left in the dark about what God expects of them, they are aware that God saved them for a purpose. They also are willing to affirm their commitment to this. This is all really positive, at the beginning of this book, Israel was in slavery, now they are free and in covenant with God who promises great things for their obedience. But God doesn’t stop there in helping them to obey…

God speaks to Israel so they will obey – I am coming to you

Being in covenant relationship with God enables Israel to be in proximity to God:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you for ever.” (Ex. 19:9)

Which is an awesome thing, but Israel is human, so this is a problem, as God is holy, so if they get too close they will perish. They are therefore consecrated, but also warned to keep their distance:

10 the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, (Ex. 19:10)

Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them. (Ex. 19:21-22)

When God does appear to them, they are afraid, and want Moses to be their mediator:

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Ex. 20:8-19)

One question we may have though is: God knows that coming to Israel is dangerous for them, so why does he do it? Well, Exodus provides 2 reasons:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you for ever.” (Ex. 19:9)

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Ex.20:20)

So God wants them to:

1. Believe that God speaks to Moses, and they should believe what Moses says about God’s commandments

2. Fear him, so that they do not disobey and sin.

Both of these reasons are about Israel obeying God. Therefore, it seems that obedience to God’s commandments is really important.

Tabernacle for intimate relationship needs obedience – That I may dwell in their midst

God wants a relationship with Israel, and he tells Moses that Israel should make a sanctuary for him, so that he can dwell in their midst:

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Ex. 25:8)

This sounds great, the covenant looks like it is about to completed. If we ended Exodus here we would expect the covenant to be fulfilled and the bible to be finished. We have now reached a point where: God and Israel have a relationship, they have both made promises, the covenant was sealed and they were consecrated, God will dwell with people again. But, we have just been told that being near God is dangerous, therefore, there are even more rules, so that they do not die. The stakes are high for Israel when it comes to obedience.

Israel disobeys – make us Gods who shall go before us

Unfortunately, not one minute has been spent making the tabernacle before Israel breaks the covenant:

1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. (Ex.32:1)

God is angry, the whole reason he delivered Israel from Egypt was for them to be in a relationship with him and serve him. That relationship depends upon their obedience. While God does not kill all of Israel, death is the consequence of their sin:

27 And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbour.’” 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. (Ex.32:27-28)

35 Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made. (Ex.32:35)

God cannot be in a relationship and dwell with a sinful people, yet Israel isn’t able to keep the covenant. God had warned them how dangerous it was to be in a relationship with a completely holy and righteous God; he had even demonstrated his power so that they wouldn’t forget and sin, yet still, they turned aside and did their own thing. Does this mean that Israel has lost the opportunity to be in a relationship with God?

God renews covenant despite disobedience – I am making a covenant

It isn’t the end for Israel, God renews the covenant:

10 And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. (Ex.34:10)

Israel then builds the tabernacle and God comes down and dwells with them:

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  (Ex.40:34)

Therefore, by the end of the book, things seem to be back on track then. God is now dwelling in their camp with them, as he promised. However, I think we are supposed to feel a sense of unease; when God was on the top of the mountain they disobeyed, and now he is in the middle of their camp! We want to read on, and find out that they obey, meaning all is fine, but doubts naturally creep in. Can they really be obedient, and safe, in God’s presence? Back in chapter 31 it seemed like everything was going smoothly, and that the covenants were all about to be fulfilled (cue end of the Bible), now we are in a situation where it seems like Israel will inevitably disobey, and they will die (cue end of the Bible). I hope we see how serious the situation is as we enter Leviticus, what is going to keep Israel alive and safe? How will God ensure that his promises do not fail due to their disobedience? It suddenly seems a lot more of an important book to know about!

Before Next Post

Why not read Leviticus all the way through, and see if you can see how these questions get answered in the book. I would advise reading the whole of Leviticus in one or two sittings. Do not get worried about the details, just read for the flow and tone of the book, trying to understand the big picture. This makes a book like Leviticus much easier to read.

My next post about Leviticus 1:1-6:8 which are about sacrifices, so as you read that, try to understand how God is using sacrifices to address the problems of:

  1. What is going to keep Israel alive and safe?
  2. How will God ensure that his promises do not fail due to their disobedience?

Also, try to list all the good things about sacrifices for Israel and all the not so great things, and you can then compare with me (and let me know what you think). Finally,  we will also look how to apply this, so use the good and bad things about sacrifices that you listed, to work out what is the same for us and what is different. Have fun!!

(Scripture quoted from English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

Photo: https://unsplash.com/photos/toCqTyxsT4Q




3 thoughts on “Learning to Love Leviticus 1 – Motivation in Exodus

Add yours

  1. We’re just about to start a sermon series in Leviticus, so this was a great summary of God’s relationship with Israel through Exodus. I always get to The Golden Calf episode and think ‘how could they?! Moses is right there with God mediating for them!’, but then I just have to think about how many times I doubt God despite the Spirit and Jesus’ works in and for me. Praise God that he renewed his covenant with Israel even after their disobedience – and that he has fulfilled those promises in Christ for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Thank you for your kind words. You are so right, we always think Israel had all those acts of God’s power, but we have the Spirit and still we struggle. Thankfully, we live by grace not by works, as Jesus did all the work for us. I would love to hear what you learn in your sermon series, I am sure that there will be so many things in Leviticus I haven’t understood yet. Your sister in Christ, Kirsten


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