If you’re anything like me, reading the Old Testament doesn’t come easily or naturally to you. If you’re anything like me, you don’t wake up each morning thrilled to open your Bible to Leviticus, 1 Samuel, or Hosea. In particular, the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Old Testament – can be very difficult to work through.
Sure, the narrative of Genesis is interesting. And yes, the Exodus of Israel from Egypt is a thrilling story as well. But once we work our way into Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, we can tend to stall quickly.
There’s just something about reading law after law after law, commandment after rule after “everlasting statute,” that wears us out. In particular, reading God’s rules for the sacrificial system of Israel is tough for me. It takes so much effort just to work my way through the text; I can’t imagine having to actually take part in the system! I can’t imagine having to make so many sacrifices for my sins, having to give perpetual offerings and go through so many hoops to hope to have atonement. I imagine I’d always be wondering whether I let something slip through the cracks, leaving my sins unforgiven as a result.
Let’s just look at the fourth chapter of Leviticus briefly. This is one chapter of twenty-seven in the book. The chapter starts out with God telling Moses, “If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done…”
Wait. What? If any one person accidentally sins in any way, he or she is supposed to go through the priest and make sacrifices in order to be forgiven of that sin. I sin unintentionally all the time! I do it all the time and don’t even think about it! How could I possibly keep up with this sacrificial system?
Moreover, the individual and the congregation alike had to go through the priest, who would make atonement for them. We see this in verses 26, 31, and 35, all of which state, “The priest shall make atonement for his sin, and he shall be forgiven.”
This is exhausting just to read, just to try and keep up with. It would be utterly exhausting, impossible, even, to abide by. But maybe that’s the point.
As it occurred to me reading through Leviticus how much effort this would take, I was given a fresh reminder of what Jesus has done for us.
In John 19:30, as Jesus takes his last breath, he cries out, “It is finished.” What, exactly, do you think he’s referring to? What is the work that Jesus has finished? I think if we take a look at the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, we might have a better idea.
Israel’s sacrificial system, the goal of which was atonement, made known to the Israelites, and makes known to us today, just how far we are from that goal. It makes clear how distinctly holy and perfect God is and how utterly sinful we are. It makes clear how aloof God is to the problems of the world; he transcends it all. We have to go through miles of hoops to reach him. But in Jesus, God was not – is not – aloof. He comes to our level. He lives as a man. He comes to earth, assumes the form of a criminal, and finishes the work that we could never finish.
The Old Testament is, fundamentally, about Jesus. Everything is about Jesus. All things are from him and through him and to him. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament points to Jesus because it shows us how much we need him and how much he accomplished for us. Jesus jumped through all the hoops so that we don’t have to jump through any. Praise God. It is finished.
Although the Pentateuch may be no less dense, no more exciting to you than it was before, I pray the knowledge and understanding of the atoning work of Christ on the cross will at least help you to see that reading these tough sections of Scripture is worth it. As we read Leviticus, as well as the rest of the Old and New Testaments, I pray God will truly help us to see how far Christ has gone for us and how much he loves us, to the glory of his amazing and abundant grace. He has done what we couldn’t. He has given us access to God. He has finally, once for all, made atonement for our sins.