ויקרא (Leviticus 1:1–5:26)
Our parasha this week is called Vayikra, meaning “and he called.” This refers to when God called Moses from the Tent of Meeting in order to instruct Israel about how they should live now that God’s presence is in their midst (with the tabernacle). The parasha stretches from Leviticus 1:1–6:8, so not only is it quite a few chapters, but as you notice, we are now beginning our journey through the book of Leviticus.
Now, Leviticus is often considered one of the harder books to read through; if you have ever taken part in a reading plan, like “Read the Bible in a Year,” this is the part that requires a little more endurance. And this is the case for several reasons.
First, there is hardly any narrative or story in Leviticus; it is mostly straightforward laws. Not only that, but most of the laws deal with matters like ritual purity, animal sacrifice, anointing the priests —so they will seem very unfamiliar to us. It is sometimes hard to find application. However, my hope is that over the next few weeks, as we go through Leviticus and uncover important truths, we will find new challenges that make us reflect on how we live today.
Now, one important thing to consider is the placement of the book of Leviticus, between Exodus and Numbers. You see, when the book of Exodus ends, the Tabernacle is completed, God dwells in the Tent of Meeting, but Moses could not enter it because of God’s holiness. But when Numbers begins, God speaks to Moses as both of them are in the Tent of Meeting.
What happened? How is it that people can now fellowship in close proximity to God? This is where Leviticus steps in.
The purpose of this book is to instruct Israel how to live and how to act so that they could be in fellowship with God. And while some of the laws may seem odd to us, the main theme of the book is still applicable: “Be Holy, for I am Holy.”
Now, God does not tell Israel “Be holy, otherwise I will not love you” or “you won’t make me proud.” Instead, He calls Israel to be Holy as He is Holy so that they could be in fellowship together. According to 1 Peter, we have this exact same commission. So, the whole book of Leviticus is training Israel how to remain in God’s presence.
And for us today, the connection between growing in holiness and growing in fellowship with God is just as important. Yeshua told us in the Sermon on the Mount why sanctification is important: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). A couple of years later, James shares a similar message: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to us” (Jms 4:6–8). So, the common message we find from Leviticus to Yeshua is that the reason we should grow in holiness is not simply to please God, but to be in fellowship with God. But are we growing in our fellowship with God daily?
If we feel far away from God this morning, James tells us the first steps to take in reconciling with Him. James writes, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands…and purify your hearts” (James 4:8). In other words, take care of any sin or rebellion in your life, because that is what prevents us from drawing near to God. And this is the exact lesson we get from Parasha Vayikra. When we open the parasha for this week, Israel’s very first instructions revolved around how to handle sin and atonement.
Parasha Vayikra begins by listing five different types of sacrifices that Israel was to offer. However, there are really two main purposes for these these sacrifices. The first was to receive atonement. We have the burnt offering, where the entire animal was sacrificed on the altar; we have the sin offering, where a sacrifice was given for unintentional sins (“sins you did not intend to do”), and then the guilt offering, for both unintentional and intentional sins.
For these sacrifices, the priests would take the animal, lay his hands on its head to symbolically transfer their sin, and that way, the animal became our substitute. And this picture points forward to the Messiah, because in Isaiah 53 (a prophecy about the Messiah), it calls the Messiah an asham, a guilt offering (Isa 53:10), meaning that He is our substitute, covering our sins. So, understanding the system of sacrifice helps us better appreciate the Messiah.
The second purpose for the sacrifice in parasha Vayikra is more of a response to God once we are reconciled to Him: the grain offering and the peace offering were done to express thanksgiving to God, and rejoicing for all He has given us. And what I love is that these are voluntary offerings, meaning you did not need to give it, but you did it to express a grateful heart to God. For us today, it is easy to say the atonement system in Leviticus has been fulfilled through the Messiah, and move on. But have we adopted a heart of gratitude before the Lord, which Israel practiced? Do our lives reflect thanksgiving to God?
Paul challenges us in 1 Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God” (1 Thess 5:16–18). How can we rejoice always? Just like Israel’s offerings were voluntary, so we must make the decision to deliberately reflect on what God has done for us, and express our worship to him. The emotions will follow after.
So, as we go through this journey in Leviticus together, let us keep in mind the call to grow in sanctification and holiness so that we may better see God in our daily lives, and give thanks to Him for all He has done.