Wednesday, 11 June 2003

The third book in the Torah is Leviticus. Hey, you would be thinking immediately inside you - who would ever in his or her right mind want to read Leviticus today? Well, it is partly true. It is a book full of antiquated laws, of 'dos and don'ts' and so on. The first 7 chapters deal with the various types of sacrifices, followed by chapters on detailed regulations governing the levitical priesthood, followed by the elaborate laws governing the feast days and so on.

Many of the rituals and requirements in Leviticus are no longer observed by Christians today. Even for the Jews, some of these laws no longer function today because there is no more Temple. When the last Temple built by Herod was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, Temple sacrificial worship ceased for the Jews. Thankfully, they already had in place a parallel system of worship - the synagogue which began sometime in the post-exilic period. With the destruction of the Temple, no further animal sacrifices could be offered, as there was no altar for the burnt offering. Eventually, the Jews adapted to their new form of 'bloodless' worship where psalm singing, prayers, intercession, recital of the laws and preaching of the Word took over. Observation of some of the laws from Leviticus still persist e.g. the Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement, laws governing the feast days like Passover or Pesach, Pentecost or Shavout and Tabernacles or Sukkoth and rules concerning tithes and oaths.

So what would we do with a book like Leviticus today when most of its laws are outdated and obsolete? I would suggest not abandoning the book altogether but to continue to read the book from a more profitable angle. Read it to understand the principles behind their formation. For example, why did God permit the Jews to have such an elaborate sacrificial system, together with an elaborate priesthood? One possible reason was God wanted to show that for every degree of sin, great or small, there was a way to offer restitution. An animal had to take the sinner's place to pay the price of sin and to 'ransom' the sinner from the debt of sin. The greater the sin, the greater in size of the animal. Hence, for a relatively small sin, a turtle dove would suffice but for a major sin like killing, a bull was required. Yet, there were also various types of sacrifices - sin offering, peace offering, freewill offering, burnt offering, wave offering. There were sacrifices for different occasions to meet the different needs. Together with the priesthood, God provided for the Jews 2 avenues to find forgiveness - the animal sacrificial system to pay the price and the priesthood to offer the sacrifice on their behalf. You cannot find forgiveness with only 1 of the avenues - you need both. In a way, Jesus came as both the sacrificial lamb and as the High Priest who present the sacrifice. Read the book of Leviticus to see how the laws provided the Jews with a way to find forgiveness from their sins (sacrifices and priesthood), how they could celebrate and worship God through the calendar year (feasts), how God forgives the sins of the whole nation each year (Yom Kippur) and what governs their life together as God's people (tithes, oaths etc). We can then begin to see how in the New or Second Testament, these rules and regulations also find their fulfilment and place in the Christian community.