When I think of strict laws, I recall my very strict upbringing as a child where failure was not an option, but my failures were nevertheless a reality. Rules were set down by parent to child with no explanation about why they were important. “Why?” “Because I said so!” I was a “very good boy” simply because I was terrified of the consequences from a very young age.
What fascinates me about this section of Leviticus is that as God lays down the law – quite literally – he also explains as a loving father why he is doing so. With all his infinite authority God repeats “I AM” four times, but he does it almost as a coach: Consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I AM holy and I AM the Lord your God. Then he continues: I AM the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I AM holy!
The Great I AM is laying down rules for holiness, not just as a parent to a misbehaving child, but also as a lover of family, raising the bar from reluctant obedience to voluntary holiness equal to God!
As odd as some of the rules appear to us today, God had a very clear purpose. He did not expect his children to be perfect; he knew they would disobey. But he wanted to establish a process by which they could enter the tabernacle and find restoration! But they could not receive God’s forgiveness if they “rendered themselves detestable” and contaminated that most holy of places and automatically died as a result.
In these 7 chapters, God tells Israel 26 times that the priest shall make “atonement” for them with the blood of the animal sacrifices prescribed by these laws!
God’s law was not established so he could sit and shoot fish in a barrel when they misbehaved. God wants nothing more than for us to be holy – like him. At this point in Israel’s story, these laws were quite reasonable. It was only much later in the time of Jesus when the self-proclaimed religious leaders added ridiculous details to this law that people could not possibly comply with.
Most importantly, this section points forward to the ultimate blood sacrifice of atonement offered freely by God’s son, Jesus. God loves us so much that he gave up his only son so that we can be holy in his kingdom.
We are holy and free to obey the new covenant of Jesus – to love each other as he loves us!