Did you resolve to read the entire Bible in 2024? Did you give up yet?
Christianity.com offers five reading plans, including the well-known and most difficult: start at Genesis, chapter one and read all the way through to Revelation, chapter 22. The problem with that plan is you hit the brick wall of Leviticus on February 1. What is with Leviticus, anyway?
The third book of the Bible starts with detailed, complicated instructions on how to kill select animals and burn them as offerings to God. When I developed my Old Testament Tour course for high school students, I created an outline for each Bible book I covered. The heading for Leviticus chapters 1-7 was “The 5 W’s of the 5 Offerings,” with the sentence summary: “God tells Moses who, what, when, where, why, and how for the burnt, grain, fellowship, sin, and guilt offerings.”
Many people abandon their Bible reading plan here, but I couldn’t let my students abandon Leviticus. In addition to memorizing my outlines, students were also required to memorize a verse of Scripture, sometimes more, for each book. At that time, the school required memorization from the King James Version of the Bible. When I found the following verse, it opened up the meaning of Leviticus to me: “And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should BE MINE” (Levitcus 20:26 KJV, emphasis mine).
Be mine? Like on the candy conversation hearts? Leviticus was God’s valentine to his chosen people, Israel! All of the offerings, dietary regulations, and other laws served the purpose of separating Israel from the idol-worshiping cultures around them, to be in a relationship with the one true God alone. The New International Version translates the same verse: “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to BE MY OWN” (emphasis mine). It reminds me of a traditional wedding vow, which includes “forsaking all others, I will be yours alone as long as we both shall live” (marthastewart.com…traditional-wedding-vows).
Providentially, my classes were just coming to Leviticus in February, and stores were overflowing with Valentine’s Day items. I bought conversation hearts and rewarded students with a handful each after we played learning games. If your handful included a “be mine,” you got an extra point on your bonus point card. I collected and displayed items that read “be mine” such as a heart shaped pillow, a plush puppy holding a heart, a palm-sized refrigerator magnet. A student baked cookies for the class, decorated almost exactly like the magnet. All that sugar got us through Leviticus, but we didn’t proceed directly to the next book, Numbers.
Instead, we studied passages in the New Testament book of Hebrews, which explain Leviticus. All the offerings, the priesthood, and even the layout of the Tabernacle (precursor to the Temple) pointed to Jesus, both the perfect offering and the perfect priest. One passage in chapter ten summarizes the many points the author has already made: “Day after day every [Levitical] priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins [his death on the cross], he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:11-14 NIV).
That excites me not just because I am a Bible nerd, but also because I realize Jesus provided everything necessary for me to be in a relationship with the one true God, to be adopted as his child. Not only that, but through Jesus, God extended his valentine beyond Israel to the whole world. Because of Jesus, I can exclaim with the epistle writer, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a NIV).
Don’t bail out on your Bible reading adventure in Leviticus. Listen for God’s whisper: “Be mine.”
Roberta Tucker Brosius, First Baptist Church, Milton
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