“‘Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’” (Leviticus 19:2).
Leviticus is one of the least-read books of the Bible. Filled with laws about burnt offerings and food and skin diseases, it’s hard to see how it’s applicable for us today. We tend to skim over it, if we even bother reading it at all. But when we look past what is on the surface a set of now-irrelevant rules, we find a treasure trove to investigate. Through the confusing statues set down in Leviticus, God reveals several key aspects of His character, most notably His holiness.
The book begins with instructions about the burnt offerings, which were atonement for unintentional sins. The list then moves to peace offerings, guilt offerings, and how the priests were to handle each one. There is then a brief interlude, in which Aaron and his sons are instituted as the priests. All seems well at first. But then two of Aaron’s sons offer unlawful fire before God and are instantly killed. This may seem severe to us, but these two men were charged with the highest office in Israel. They were to communicate God’s majesty to the people, and instead they dishonored His name by acting against His laws. They had just received detailed instructions about how to offer sacrifices, but they didn’t listen. They wanted to do things their own way, and because of that, they were killed.
This tragic episode sets the stage for the book’s theme. God is holy. He has given us rules that He expects us to follow. Unlike the gods of all the other nations, He is not fickle and unsteady. He knows exactly what He wants, and He has instructed us in how to please Him. He wants us to be different from the rest of the world, set apart just as He is. This is why He gave Leviticus: to teach His people His rules and give them guidelines for their behavior. Though we as believers today are not required to follow every one of the Levitical rules, it is imperative that we continue to treat God as holy. When we do so, we follow the heart of the law, which is what God has always wanted. Obeying Him is a testament to His holiness.