Let’s Hear It for Leviticus!


©iStock.com/ jgroup

©iStock.com/ jgroup

Don’t you just love Leviticus!


Okay, the truth is, I have trouble with Leviticus too. It seems to alternate between boring and incomprehensible. For example, Leviticus 5:17 says: “If someone sins and without knowing it violates any of the Lord’s commands … he bears the consequences of his guilt” (HCSB, emphasis mine).

How do we understand such a hard-nosed stance? Why should a person be punished for something he didn’t even know was wrong? To our minds, this seems unfair.

Perhaps the problem is in our perspective. We tend to view sin as a legal issue. We consider it appropriate if a punishment is reduced, or waived altogether, when someone violates the law in ignorance. We especially consider it appropriate when we’re the one stopped by the police officer. In that case, we might even complain if our plea of “But I didn’t see the sign!” meets with anything more than a “Well, I’ll let you off with a warning this time.”

But what if sin is more like a medical condition?

Let’s say I go to a party where someone, unbeknownst to me, has a cold. A couple of days later, I wake up feverish, achy, congested, and feeling generally icky. Can I file an appeal with my doctor with the expectation that, because I didn’t know I’d been exposed to the virus, my cold should be cancelled? Well, I can try. If the doctor has a good sense of humor, he might even write a letter to that effect. But it won’t influence the course of my cold at all—nor would any reasonable person expect it to.

Similarly, when we accept sin into our lives—whether knowingly or in genuine ignorance—that sin affects us, creating new little pathways in our brains that subtly alter the pattern of our thinking and behavior. It acts precisely like a pathogen, regardless of whether we recognize it as one. This is why James urges us to keep ourselves “unstained by the world” (James 1:27).

There’s only one cure for the sin virus. We can see this even amid the drudgery of the ceremonial laws in Leviticus: “Anything that touches the offerings will become holy” (Lev. 6:18). The offerings, of course, represent the great Sin Bearer. And, just like the Israelites of old—in fact, like all of humanity throughout the ages—we can be cured of sin and its effects only by coming into daily, abiding contact with our Physician, Christ Himself.

What do you think?

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