Reflections on Leviticus: 1

Over the next few months, I plan to share some brief reflections on the book of Leviticus. I’m not sure how far through the book I intend to get, but it should be a good exercise regardless. This is a reflection on the first chapter.

“He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.”

Leviticus 1:4

When God created the world, he formed Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden where they could come and meet with Him. At the centre of the garden there were two trees. The first tree was the tree of life, which represented the perfect fellowship they had with their Creator. The second tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God forbade them from eating, saying “in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die”. Tempted by the serpent, they ate the forbidden fruit and plunged the world into darkness. As a ransom for their lives, God took a pair of animals and slaughtered them, covering Adam and Eve in their skins. He also drove them out of the garden, which He guarded with a pair of angels and a flaming sword. 

This is why the Israelites brought burnt offerings to God. They would first lay their hand on the head of the animal, commissioning the animal as their representative before God. They would then slaughter the animal, just as God had killed animals to ransom Adam and Eve. By the hand of the priest, the animal would ‘pass through’ sword and fire on the altar, which reminds us of the flaming sword which God had placed outside the garden of Eden. It was almost as if the people of God were coming back into the garden, entering God’s presence once again. 

Just as the animal was offered on behalf of the Israelites, so too was Jesus offered on our behalf. He has passed through judgement for us, ascending into the presence of God the Father to intercede for us. Yet in a burnt offering, the head is always offered first, then the body. Just as Jesus (the head) has ascended, so too shall we (the body) one day ascend to meet him in the clouds, to be with him forever, in the presence of the Father. 

2 thoughts on “Reflections on Leviticus: 1

  1. Hi Chris congratulations on keeping a blog going. Not an easy thing to do when busy. Not easy either to write about Leviticus. I bought the Tyndale on it as it came recommended. I’ve read a little of it and what I read I enjoyed. In the churches of my youth it was often preached on, especially the various sacrifices and the day of atonement,

    For your consideration: i take the tree of life to represent eternal life rather than simply physical life. In that sense it represents grace, I would say it pointed to a fellowship beyond what they knew and pointed to Christ as life and the tree of life in the new Jerusalem. the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is I think a life based on human responsibility rather than grace. Adam making the wrong choice. It is difficult to be dogmatic.

    The burnt offering is a sweet smelling offering. It was a voluntary offering of devotion to God. Everything about it was for God (apart from the skin). One aspect of Jesus’ death was as a burnt offering. “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5:2), God is pleased by the offering. Part of atonement is the satisfaction (glory?) God received from the free will devotion of Christ into death.

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    1. Hi John,

      Apologies, only just got notification of your comment! I’ve found Wenham, Douglas and Morales useful on the book of Leviticus.

      Yes, I agree that the tree of life must be eternal life, as implied in Gen 3:22. I think there is also a spiritual dimension to it, insofar as it represents perfect communion with God, who is our life, and is ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

      I don’t think the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in itself represents human autonomy; I think it represents wisdom and discernment, as we see from other similar biblical expressions to “knowledge of good and evil” eg. Deuteronomy 1:39, 2 Samuel 14:17, 1 Kings 3:9. In other words, I view it as a good thing which was only prohibited because Adam and Eve weren’t yet mature enough to handle it. Similarly, I don’t think it was ultimately intended for Adam and Eve to be naked; God always intended human beings to be clothed, but in the state of immaturity they were in it didn’t matter as much.

      I do agree that Christ is the fulfilment of the offering, as you allude to. But I don’t think it’s merely his death, but his death and resurrection which together make him a fragrant and acceptable offering to the Father. The burnt offering symbolised both of these realities; first it had to die and have its blood applied to the altar, but then it could undergo transformation and become holy food on the altar. I write about this dual (death and resurrection) aspect of sacrifice here, if you’re interested: https://heavenlygathering.wordpress.com/2019/02/08/sacrifice-as-transformation/

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