After last Easter, I decided it was time to go back and read through some of the biblical texts that I seldom visit.
Since I have read through Genesis on numerous occasions, I started with Exodus whose narrative format makes it an easy read.
I quickly read through this book, but then I came to Leviticus. Like those who have made it their personal goal to read through the Bible from front to back, I began to stumble.
I am hesitant to admit it, but it was only a few weeks ago that I finally finished reading all 27 chapters of Leviticus.
Writing this confession makes me want to justify myself by noting all of the other passages of Scripture I have read and studied over this same time period in preparation for sermons and studies.
But to make excuses for my stumbling through Leviticus would do an injustice to all those who have started out before and ended with the same results.
The reality is that the third book of the Bible is difficult for everyone to read no matter how much time he or she has available. Seminary-trained ministers are no exception.
From our present viewpoint, this book is a mess. If ever there was a book to teach us Scripture is not black and white, but gray, Leviticus is it.
Some laws are confusing while others, such as Leviticus 20:9, are shocking. Death by stoning for cursing (speaking ill of) one’s parents? I wonder how many children today would make it through high school?
Leviticus’ primary redeeming quality in issues of social justice has been its discussion and detailing of the “Year of Jubilee” (see Leviticus 25). The purpose of this year was to help restore the dignity of the downtrodden and bring a fresh start for all, and it is a significant highpoint in this difficult book.
As I read through Leviticus’ many laws, there were moments that I wanted to be content with finding one text I could easily understand and readily affirm about redemption for the impoverished.
Quite often I considered giving up reading this text that discusses how Harry Potter (wizards) should be put to death (see Leviticus 20:27).
As a youth minister who is continually helping teenagers learn to feel adequate and accepted in their own skin, I was particularly concerned with God’s seeming preoccupation with making sure we offer “perfect” sacrifices that were “without blemish” (Leviticus 22:17-33).
Images of perfection are present throughout our culture, as magazines portray celebrities as being “without blemish.”
This has left many, especially teenagers, feeling inadequate in their own skins. A god consumed with physical perfection is truly a vain god that consumerism exploited quite effectively.
Yet, as I continued to wrestle with this passage, my perception about this text began to change. This passage was not so much concerned with vanity, but about a God who understands the tendencies of human nature.
This passage calling for offerings “without blemish” is addressing our tendency to give God, our families, friends, churches and strangers our second best as we focus on the all-important “me.”
It’s not hard to do. In fact, many times I think we are unaware of the self-centeredness of our actions until after they have happened. A few examples in the local church realm illustrate the insidiousness of our self-centeredness well:
â— The sermon that isn’t necessarily crafted for the needs of the congregation, but to display the talent and eloquence of the preacher.
â— The Bible study that quickly becomes a place for people to show others how much they already know, rather than a place for mutual learning and edification.
â— The offering of help that becomes more about making myself feel good, rather than actually helping the stranger in need.
Reading through Leviticus has taught me an invaluable lesson: The Holy Spirit has the most room to move us in new directions with Scriptures we often deem irrelevant for our times and circumstances.
We seldom come to these books and passages with high expectations of being nourished.
Thus, our predefined theological beliefs are often absent in our reading of these passages because this is exactly why we have dismissed them in the past.
Maybe these unpopular texts are the places we are most likely to encounter the Holy Spirit who is waiting to call us into a deeper reality.
Seth M. Vopat is the associate pastor of youth and family at Louisburg First Baptist Church in Louisburg, Kan., and a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter @svopat.