Worshipping a Holy God

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Vayikra ~ Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

The weekly Torah portion (Hebrew: פָּרָשַׁת הַשָּׁבוּעַ Parashat ha-Shavua‎, popularly just parasha) is a section of the Torah read publicly and aloud in weekly Jewish prayer services, usually in full during the Shabbat (Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath). There are 54 such parashiyot in Judaism, and the full cycle is read over the course of a Jewish year. Each week, the ECI Young Adults are providing us with a commentary on the week’s parasha. 

At the foot of Mount Sinai, God provided the Jewish people with specific instructions for living a holy life. The nation of Israel, being ordained for holiness, was instructed to separate itself from all pagan nations. In our modern setting we may be tempted to reduce Leviticus to an account of bizarre rituals of an ancient time. While the idea of blood sacrifices may seem repulsive and primitive to many people today, blood sacrifices were a common practice in ancient civilizations. We may presume that the Mosaic instructions made sense to the ancient people, offering them important insights concerning the nature and character of God.

The awe-inspiring message of Leviticus is summed up in Leviticus 19:2 “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy”. In Leviticus we read how laws, sacrifices, priestly rituals and the Day of Atonement enabled the Israelites to walk in the nearness of their Creator. Through the sacrificial offerings God taught the Israelites the gravity of sin and the importance of bringing all sinfulness before God for forgiveness. Under the Old Abrahamic Covenant, the only way to approach God and seek restoration was through sacrifice.

The book of Leviticus begins with the instructions of the Lord concerning sacrificial offerings. The Hebrew word אדמ that is used for man in the second verse of Leviticus 1 can literally be translated as Adam, which takes us back to the account of the Fall in Genesis 3. In this passage, the Glory of the Lord that once clothed Adam and Eve in paradise with spiritual garments of righteousness departed from them as sin entered their lives. Since creation, God has made it clear that sin causes separation from Him, and that those who sin deserve death (Romans 3:23). Nevertheless, in their nakedness, God provided Adam and Eve with “coats of skin” to cover their shame (Genesis 3:21). God gave them garments of flesh, to replace the elegant garments of God’s Glory that could no longer coexist with the human state of iniquity (Zechariah 3:3-5). Even then, a plan for the redemption and sanctification for all nations was set in motion.

Throughout the book of Leviticus, the Hebrew word for ‘offering’ קרבנות is used, which has the sense of ‘drawing near’ קרב. The ancient Israelites must have understood the implicit message in Leviticus as an invitation to walk in the nearness of God. After years of separation, God was calling his children to come back home. Draw near to me, and I shall draw near to you (James 4:8). God was longing to blot out all transgressions of his children like a cloud, and all sins like mist. He was longing for the return of his children, because He had already made provision for their redemption (Isaiah 44:22).

The Israelites, as God’s chosen people, demonstrated the cost of sin, which, in God’s system, implies that a life must be given for a life. In the time of the Old Covenant, the life of an animal was given as a price to achieve forgiveness for sins. This measure, however, was of temporary nature.

In Leviticus 1:3 it is specified that the sacrificial animal was to be male without a blemish. This requirement foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice “for Azalel” לעזאזל or “for complete removal” of our sin (Leviticus 16). God himself, in the person of Yeshua HaMashiach, redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us so that we may once again walk in righteousness before God; He took our death upon him so that we may have eternal life (1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18).

The implications of the exchange that took place at the cross during the turn of the century are ginormous. A New Covenant was initiated under which all nations of the earth were free to enter into the blessing of Abraham. Through the death of Yeshua HaMashiach the curtain that separated us from God’s presence was torn, opening the way for all nations to enjoy everlasting fellowship with the Most High God. The Gentile nations may now be grafted in, sharing in the ‘nourishing root of the olive tree’—the nation of Israel (Romans 11:11-31). As Gentile believers it is our duty to be aware of, and to respect, the irrevocable calling of God for the Jewish people to live as a holy nation before the Lord, which has been passed on to all Gentile nations: “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God am holy”. This is our inheritance in Yeshua, our Jewish saviour, who restored us to the purpose we were created for— to bask in the glory of God for all eternity. How awesome is He! We are no longer spiritually naked, clothed in the garments of the fallen soul. We now have the ability to clothe ourselves in wedding garments of the Holy Spirit, waiting in anticipation for the second coming of Yeshua HaMelech Shelanu.

Yet, in this time of waiting, days of utter darkness may come upon us unexpectedly, when the Spirit of God will illuminate only the the emblems of his ultimate sacrifice for our sin (as in Genesis 15), drawing our attention to the very foundation on which our mutual covenant stands—God’s final, irreversible commitment to mankind and our devotion to Him.

As in the times of Exodus, the Lord goes out before the nations, preparing the way. At times we will walk in bright daylight with the beautiful clouds of His feet as our Guide (Nahum 1:3). And at times we will walk through the night, with His Holy Fire in sight (Exodus 13:17-22). As the nation of Israel walked in unity before the Lord, through seasons of day and seasons of night, so the Lord is longing to see all nations bowing before Him in harmony, as his bride, clothed in holiness.

Let’s be holy, because the Lord our God is holy!

(The European Coalition for Israel is a unique grassroots movement, which is seeking to promote better relations between Europe and Israel through advocacy and education. More information: http://www.ec4i.org)