Why Leviticus Can Be Boring (by Justin Taylor)

Since Mercy Road Fellowship is currently going through Leviticus in our Daily Bible Readings, I thought this might be a helpful article.



Why Leviticus Can Be Boring:
Vern Poythress:


They are the means for cleansing and removing defilement of the people and of the tabernacle itself. Thus they are a central means for maintaining the holiness of the people and the tabernacle, and thus ensuring that the earthly things continue to reflect the holiness of God. Special sacrifices must be presented when individual Israelites have sinned, even unknowingly, and when the priest or the whole community has sinned (Lev. 4). The animals must be without blemish or defect, signifying that God requires perfection.1 The worshiper places his hand on the animal, signifying his identification with the animal, and then the animal dies in his place (note the parallel with Gen. 22:13-14). The blood represents the life of the animal (Lev. 17:14). Blood is placed on the horns of the altar, and once a year on the atonement cover in the most holy place (Lev. 16). The blood has power to cleanse the tabernacle from defilement. Since the blood signifies the life of the slain animal, it testifies that the animal has been slain and that the value of the death is applied to the designated object. The fat of the animal, representing the sweetest and best part, is burned on the altar to signify its being given to the Lord. The rest of the animal may be burned or eaten by the priests or partially eaten by the worshiper, as the case may be.
But animal sacrifices are ultimately inadequate. Israel goes on sinning year by year, and new animals must be presented year after year in the same repetitious ceremonies (Heb. 10:1-4). Are you bored by the repetitious descriptions in Lev. 1-9 of how each animal is sacrificed or the descriptions in Num. 7 of the offerings of the tribes? There is more food for thought in these passages than we suspect, but in a sense we are meant to be bored. It goes on and on. The process never suffices. Animals could never be an adequate substitute for human beings made in the image of God. The very inadequacy of these sacrifices confirms the inadequacy associated with the tabernacle structure. They are only copies of the heavenly realities.
Their inadequacies have only one remedy. God must provide the ultimate sacrifice (Gen. 22:8). The guilt of the whole land will be removed in one day by the Branch, the son of David, who is simultaneously high priest (Zech. 3:8-9; cf. Isa. 11:1). A fountain–a permanent supply of bubbling up water–will be opened to cleanse them from sin and iniquity (Zech. 13:1). A man will die like a sheep, as a guilt offering for the iniquity of the people (Isa. 53:4-8, 10). But afterwards he will be satisfied with new life (Isa. 53:10-12).
The Old Testament thus reaches out in longing for Christ who brings an end to its frustrations and brings to accomplishment its promises. Christ is the final offering to which all the animals sacrifices look forward. As the Bible puts it, you were redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1 Pet. 1:20). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:24-25).
—Vern S. Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1991), 43.
You can read this whole book online for free. It contains the best discussion I know of regarding the symbolism of the tabernacle.