No, it’s not a naughty word, nor is it the title of a film about the life of Nelson Mandela ;)
It’s the 3rd book of the Bible. It’s one of the bits with all the gory sacrifices and (seemingly!) obsolete laws and rituals.
This time of year, many Christians make resolutions and plans to read through the Bible in the coming year. It’s a commendable goal and regular bible reading (& study, in context, history and genre etc) is part of the life of anyone who is serious about knowing, believing in, trusting and living for God. However in an average reading plan, of a few chapters a day (8-15min) many people come unstuck somewhere around the end of January.
Why? Well there are many reasons; lack of discipline, lack of encouragement, overwhelmed by the task, or as is often the case… they hit the book of Leviticus and balk. The stories in the 1st book, Genesis give the background to all those Sunday School lessons with which many are familiar. Tales of Egypt and the amazing crossing of the Red Sea in the 2nd book, Exodus is an easy read, because, after all, most of us have seen the movie and we know the story. Right?
But the 3rd book… What on earth has blood, guts, and weird definitions of cleanliness got to do with the ‘golden rule’ and loving my neighbour and all that stuff Jesus spoke about? Curiously, the first time that is taught in the Bible is, in that same 3rd book, Leviticus 19:18, which says,
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (NIV)
Leviticus told the people of ancient Israel what it meant to be God’s people and how that showed up in their day-to-day life. All that blood mentioned, acted as a divider and separator. It represented a distinction in what required special care (through isolation and an ancient version of immunisation and quarantine) and what was a common everyday experience.
I have spent many occasions teaching through this 3rd book, Leviticus. I still haven’t done so to the extent that I covered off everything – especially some of the saucy parts that cause lots of arguments ;) Nevertheless it’s a book that I keep coming back to as a key part of grasping the religion of Israel and how their worship was understood and practiced. It also has some integral connections to Biblical ethics and a lot of things Jesus taught. If you’re embarking on a yearly Bible reading program, I encourage you to have another go at reading the book of Leviticus. There’s only 27 chapters, read 3 a day and you’ll knock it over in 9 days. Give it a shot.
If you’re still thinking or wondering about a plan to read through the rest the of the Bible, here’s a page with some links that might help out.