by Kevin Gardner
The book of Leviticus is probably not the most widely read book in the Bible. With its pages of laws that seem so foreign, it can feel tedious to read. Many an ambitious reader, having embarked on a plan to read straight through the Bible, has gotten bogged down in Leviticus and has quit in frustration.
This is unfortunate. Leviticus, for all its foreignness, is part of our spiritual inheritance as Christians. Without Leviticus, we cannot truly understand Christ. For example, He fulfills the office of the priesthood, which is instituted in Leviticus 8–9 (see Heb. 4:14–10:18). He fulfills the Day of Atonement, the procedure for which is detailed in Leviticus 16 (see Heb. 9:12). And He fulfills the year of Jubilee, a time of celebration and freedom mandated in Leviticus 25:8–22 (see Luke 4:16–21).
Perhaps the most opaque sections of Leviticus are the laws regarding uncleanness in chapters 11–16. One passage in particular I have always found interesting. It’s the procedure for cleansing a house of a case of “leprous disease,” or what the old NIV called a “spreading mildew” (14:33–53). The priest was to examine the house and to have the affected stones and plaster removed. If that didn’t solve the problem, then the house was to be destroyed.
What’s fascinating is that when God begins to lay out the procedure for dealing with the “spreading mildew,” He says, “When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a case of leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession . . .” (v. 34). God is taking responsibility for a situation that could end in the loss of someone’s house. We might wonder why He would do such a thing.
The answer is twofold. First, God is asserting His comprehensive sovereignty over all creation. Nothing just happens; everything is under His providential control. Further, even the houses that the Israelites dwelled in came from His hand. The earth is the Lord’s, and He gave part of it to the Israelites to be their possession.
Second, this law, like the others regarding uncleanness, was an object lesson on sin. The Israelites were about to settle in the promised land and would have God Himself dwelling among them. God is perfectly holy and cannot look upon sin. Sin is a pernicious disease, and it must be rooted out and destroyed. Otherwise, the sinner will be destroyed.
There is a cost to be paid for sin. It could cost someone his house. It could cost someone his life. God wanted the Israelites to understand the cost of sin, so He demanded that they deal with the uncleanness among them. The cost was high, but the benefit was immeasurable: having God Most High among them.
As Christians, we can look at passages such as this one and be reminded of the cost of sin. But praise be to God, that cost has been paid by Christ on the cross. May we never forget and fail to be grateful that He has paid the cost on our behalf so that we are not destroyed but instead have God among us.
Rev. Kevin D. Gardner is associate editor of Tabletalk magazine and a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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