Leviticus: How He Can Draw Near

We saw in Exodus that as God’s presence among his people increases so increases the reflection of his character in his people. The presence and nearness of the Lord is still in focus in Leviticus:

Among those who are near me I will be sanctified … (Lev. 10:3)

What is God doing for Abraham’s family in this book? Leviticus explains how Israel should live and worship now that the tabernacle is among them filled with the glory of the Lord.

The key word is atonement — the Hebrew root כפר appears 59 times. Atonement is everywhere in Leviticus, and so is blood because “it is the blood that makes atonement” (17:11). Why so much focus on blood and ritual sacrifice? That’s what allows the Lord to draw near to his people. This is just how it works in the ancient world. The veil between human and divine is splattered with blood.

When the people sacrifice well, the presence of the Lord dwells among them powerfully:

Aaron … came down from offering the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings … and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (Lev. 9:22–24)

Nadab and Abihu provide the negative example. They don’t follow the sacrificial instructions well, and the presence of the Lord consumes them with fire (Lev 10). Back and forth we go between blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.

If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. (Lev. 26:3, 9, 11–12)

Curses for disobedience follow (26:14–39), but it’s worth noting that the whole thing draws to a close by holding out hope even for those that disobey and experience judgment. It is as if the words were written directly for a generation of exiles.

But if they confess their iniquity … if their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land … when they are in the land of their enemies I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am Yahweh their God. (Lev. 26:40–45)

In Leviticus, the Lord’s presence is life or death, blessing or curse, and atonement (כפר) is the key.