LITERAL (noun) “Conforming or limited to the simplest, nonfigurative, or most obvious meaning of a word or words.” I will be referring to the term literal several times and want to ensure that we are on the same page as to definition as I write and you (hopefully) read.
Leviticus is actually one of my favorite books in the bible. It has a great deal to say about holiness and what that means as it is lived out. Now, in fairness, a good many of us conservatives have given Leviticus a bad name with our ranting about the evils of tattoos, homosexuality and engaging in sexual congress with our father’s wife (all while eating bacon mind you), but all that means is in our literal interpretation of scripture (which I ascribe to) we missed the meaning. This is not to try and decipher what is sin and what is not in any singular category mentioned in Leviticus, rather to decipher what the simplest, and most obvious meaning of the words in Leviticus actually are. Don’t worry, I am not going to outline the entire book word for word.
Leviticus comes after Exodus and the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. So what you say? The lesson here is really quite simple for the followers of God then and now. First comes deliverance (Exodus) then comes sanctification (Leviticus). Notice that God did not expect that the Israelites would follow His dictates before they were delivered. As Christians we should probably follow that example and not expect that those who do not have faith in God through Christ to live like they do.
Leviticus exists to instill an awareness of sin as well as to show what constitutes holiness in one’s relationship to God. Under the covenant of law, this was demonstrated in large part by visual and concrete examples that were culturally relevant. It is done so in the covenant of grace as well with the many concrete illustrations that Christ gives, the difference being that Jesus told more stories to demonstrate rather than to simply say “don’t do this”. The examples given however are still concrete and culturally relevant. It is not interpretation to say that the overriding theme of what is written is that the people of God should be noticeably separate from those who are unfaithful. If people do not notice there is something different about us because of our faith we may be in trouble. That is quite literally what is laid out by God in Leviticus.
Leviticus foreshadows and reminds of the complete and perfect sacrifice of Christ by focusing on the perfect requirements of the sacrifice of animals. It prepared the Israelites for the coming messiah and the sacrifice necessary for redemption. No forgiveness without blood. Again, literally what the book says.
Finally, Leviticus adds to the revealed nature of God in Genesis (creator) Exodus (redeemer) by focusing on His holiness and His commands for us to be holy in response (sanctifier).
Whether liberal, progressive, conservative etc. there are a good many themes and ideas in Leviticus that we can focus on in agreement in our dealings and actions toward each other. Yes, sin is unpleasing to God and yes, we all should strive for personal holiness in an attempt to lead those around us to societal holiness, but we will not do so quibbling over the small stuff. We just might manage it when we focus on the big picture stuff. Yes, we are going to disagree over what is sin and what is not based on somethings in the book and I even think that good (Iron sharpening iron and all that good stuff), but let us be sure to do so within the over riding and literal theme of the book so that we can be identified as people of God that the world may see something in us to emulate. Isn’t that, after all, the simplest, and most obvious meaning of the words contained in Leviticus?