Looking to the Future
Tom Wilson, Levin, New Zealand
The last five chapters of Leviticus were written with the future specially in mind, a future of God's covenant blessing in the promised land. Complete fulfilment is still future. Scattered and in unbelief now, Israel awaits the time when as a nation they will be regathered to be reigned over by the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
When this book was written the nation was being finally groomed to be the only theocracy which the world has ever known. As before, we shall cover briefly the comprehensive information of these chapters. Some aspects, as the feasts, warrant much more detailed study than is possible here.
Feasts, 23. 1-44
After brief reference to weekly Sabbath observance, the feasts of the Lord are outlined. The meaning of 'convocations' and 'feasts', v. 2, requires some explanation. 'Convocation' is from the same root as 'proclaim'. The idea is not, as would appear from the English, primarily assembling. In some cases there was no special gathering together. The thought is of 'announcing' a message.
'Feast', too, is not what we would normally interpret that word to mean in English. The Sabbath was not a 'feast' as we would understand it. There are in fact two words in Hebrew. One means, indeed, an elaborate meal but the other, as in this chapter, conveys the idea of an 'appointed time'. Celebration there was certainly, but not always in the context of a special meal. It was a spiritual act. Sometimes there was a special meal as part of the festival, as in the case of the Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, e.g. Exod. 23. 14-16; Deut. 26. 16.
Three of the 'appointed times' were in spring: the Passover, vv. 4-5, Unleavened Bread, vv. 6-8, and Firstfruits, vv. 9-14. Three were in autumn: Trumpets, vv. 23-25, Day of Atonement, vv. 26-32, and Tabernacles, vv. 33-43. The Feast of Weeks came between, in early summer, vv. 15-22.
Each has a prophetic significance: the Passover, Christ the Passover Lamb; Unleavened Bread, Christ the Sinless One in communion with His people; Firstfruits, Christ the Risen One; Weeks, symbolic of the present interim period of the Church when God is calling out a people for Himself; Trumpets, Christ regathering Israel; Atonement, Christ recognized by repentant Israel; and Tabernacles, Christ reigning over regathered Israel.
From our standpoint we look backwards to the first advent of Christ, seeing Him as Passover Lamb, risen and in communion with His people. We also look forwards to Israel's regathering as a nation, repentant and looking upon the One whom they pierced, and entering into covenant blessing during the coming millennial reign of Christ.
Ministry, 24. 1-23
This chapter looks at the immediate future. The children of Israel were to exercise great care in their daily routine. The important occasions, or 'callings together', were to be balanced by careful attention to everyday temple life and discipline.
Lamps and Bread, vv. 1-9. The oil for the tabernacle tamps was to be provided continually because the lamps never went out from evening to morning. It was Aaron's responsibility to supervise the lamps, the people's to provide the oil. The Jampstand was the only source of light in the holy place. That light was symbolic of the One who 'is light, and in him is no darkness at all', 1 John 1. 5. That Light never goes out. We are God's light-bearers, tell ing of the Light of the World to a darkened world. If we fail, that Light is hidden from the lost, 2 Cor. 4. 3.
The shewbread was also to be replenished, cf. Exod. 25. 30. These twelve loaves, or 'pierced cakes' (Newberry), were arranged in two rows with incense burning alongside. This bread of the tabernacle was changed every Sabbath, at which time the priests received their portion of the old loaves. This is symbolic of the Bread of Life, the 'staple food' of His people, provided continually for their sustenance. As the shewbread remained in place every day so He is daily 'food convenient' for our souls. In the weekly replenishment of the bread on the Sabbath, there are shades of our weekly gathering in remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Discipline, vv. 10-23. Inserted at this point is an instance where discipline was required. A man of mixed marriage in fighting with an Israeli blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. He was taken into custody while Moses and the people sought the Lord's will as to punishment. The sentence was that he should be taken outside of the camp where the hands of witnesses were to be laid on him. The whole congregation were then to stone him to death. This was a precedent for the future on the principle of 'breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth', v. 20. That indicates that there were to be various punishments according to the seriousness of the crime, cf. v. 21, But the solemn message of this event was clear: blasphemy against the Lord was a capital crime.
In our time and culture we have developed an indulgent rule of law. Probably because of this there is increasing lawlessness. In most countries capital punishment has been dispensed with. But we should remember that there is a judgement over which men have no jurisdiction, Heb. 10. 31.
For the believer, verses 1-9 should warn us not to allow repetitive service to breed indifference. The 'little' acts of service are as important as the 'big' ones; the 'usual' meetings are no less significant than the 'special' ones. At all times we must be about our Master's business with diligence and reverence.
The Land, 25. 1-27, 34
The last three chapters make frequent reference to the land which they were about to enter and possess. 'When ye come into the land which I give you', 25. 2, is the first of more than thirty such references. Here they are taught that that land was to be a place of both rest and chastisement.
A Land of Rest, 25. 1-55. There were to be two 'rests' in addition to the weekly Day of Rest. Each seventh year would be 'a Sabbath of rest', v, 4, when the land would lie fallow. Only what grew on its own would be gathered in. Each fiftieth year, after 'seven Sabbaths of years,' v. 8, there was to be another rest, the Year of Jubilee. This would be a continuing acknowledgment that the land was not theirs, but the Lord's v. 23. It was theirs in trust, but not to be exploited. They would use their ability and authority to develop it, but it was never to be theirs in perpetuity. Some might lose the right to own it and become slaves, vv. 39-55, but this would only be temporary. Both the land and people could be redeemed, vv. 23-28; 41, 47-55. These decrees would give the people a sense of freedom; they would not be dominated by human authority for ever. They were the Lord's, as was the land in which they were to live. The rest of each Sabbath Year, and the release of each Jubilee Year, were continuing reminders of their unique position.
For us, there is liberty in Christ which people of the world can never know. Life does bring its quota of difficulty, as it did to the Jews of old. But our citizenship is in heaven; that is the land to which we look. 'These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world', John 16. 33. At His appearing, when the trumpet sounds, cf. 25. 9, our 'Year of jubilee' and our 'Sabbath of rest' will be fully realized, Rom. 8. 21; Heb. 4. 1-10.
A Land of Chastisement, 26. 1-46. If all were rest, there would soon be complacency - that is human nature. The people were told that while obedience would bring blessing, disobedience would bring curses. This chapter contains a summary of much of Deuteronomy 28-30. They were to avoid idolatry, v. 1, observe the Sabbath, v. 2, revere the sanctuary, v. 2, and obey God's commands, v. 3. God would then give them productive harvests, vv. 3-5, peace, vv. 6-10, and a realization of His presence among them, vv. 11-13. If they were disobedient, there would be distress, vv. 14-17, drought, vv. 18-20, dread, vv. 21-22, disease, vv. 23-26, devastation and exile, vv. 27-39. However, there would always be an opportunity for repentance and restoration, vv. 40-45.
Verse 46 is really a summary of Leviticus. In this day of grace we do not live under the threat of curses. Yet God does chasten and discipline us so that we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Heb. 12. 5-11; 2 Pet. 3. 18.
Appendix, 27. 1-34. In a book of regulations and obligations we have here a final note, mainly, voluntary giving - vows, gifts and tithes. These were expressions of love and reverence for God.
Persons were dedicated to the Lord, vv. 1-8, as were animals, vv. 9-13, houses and lands, vv. 14-25. Verses 26-30 tell of the firstborn being God's special right, yet even here there was an aspect of volition. Men and animals that could not be offered were to be redeemed, Exod. 13. 13. The tithe belonged to the Lord, yet the giver could redeem it by adding 20 per cent, v. 31. To prevent abuse, say in giving what was inferior to the Lord, every tenth animal was to be given regardless of condition.
Although this book ends with the statement, 'These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sinai', we have sought to show that nevertheless Leviticus is a book for today. It is rich in typical teaching concerning the person and work of Christ.
It is also a wide-ranging statement of divine principles which have a bearing on every age, including our own. While it would be a great blunder to try and enforce the Law today, as some have sought to do, Gal. 3. 1; 5. 1, it would be equally wrong to neglect the principles by which God operates, so clearly stated in this book.