In the Presence of God: Genesis—Leviticus
January 31, 2019
We’re already a month into our 2019 Bible Reading Plan! If you’ve made it this far, that’s something to celebrate! If you haven’t, it’s not too late to pick up now. CLICK HERE to see the whole reading plan laid out for the year, and join us in today’s reading!
We begin Leviticus today (January 31), a book that can sometimes be confusing and even frightening to Christians. But if we recognize where this book stands in the greater storyline of the Bible, the pieces begin to come together and we can better understand what God is saying here. To get our bearings, let’s get a quick look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.
With God in the Garden
The books of Genesis and Exodus set the stage for the rest of the Bible. They serve as the foundation for everything that follows.
In Genesis 1, we encounter God as the holy, awesome Creator of all things, who commanded the universe into existence through the might of His voice. He made the world and everything in it, and He made all things good.
Out of the overflow of His love, God made human beings in His image as the crowning jewel of His creation. God made Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to rest in His presence, to worship Him, and to “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28), filling the world with children who worship and love Him too. This was God’s purpose in the creation of the world: to glorify Himself by living in perfect harmony with people who reflect His character and praise Him from every corner of the earth.
But the very first people God made were also the first to sin against Him, rejecting God’s rule over their lives and attempting to live on their own terms. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve gave into Satan’s temptation to distrust God, corrupting the beautiful harmony they enjoyed with their Creator. This sin poisoned all creation with corruption and death, bringing the curse of God’s wrath on a now-warped and twisted world. The paradise of God’s presence was lost, the image of God was tarnished in sinful humanity, and Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden into the wilderness of a fallen world (Genesis 3:23).
The Unfolding Promise
Nothing short of perfection can withstand the presence of God’s holiness, and Adam and Eve were far from perfect. But even as the Lord cast these sinners from His intimate fellowship, God offered His corrupted creatures an undeserved promise of grace.
Because of Satan’s treachery in tempting Adam and Eve, divine wrath fell upon him also. In Genesis 3:14-15, God promised that He would bring forth a Deliverer who would save Adam’s children and crush Satan’s head, restoring creation to a renewed relationship with its Maker. Where Adam failed to worship God in perfect trust and obedience, one of Eve’s offspring would someday succeed, destroying the curse and defeating Satan once and for all. The entire rest of the Bible, from Genesis 4 to Revelation 22, traces the unfolding of this promise and finds its fulfillment in God’s incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.
The history that follows is a testament to God’s faithfulness to keep His promise amid the faithlessness of the world to keep His commands. When the descendants of Adam rebelled against God’s instruction to serve Him and cultivate creation, He preserved Noah and his family with every kind of creature in the worldwide judgment of the flood (Genesis 7:23). When the descendants of Noah disregarded God’s mandate to multiply and fill the world with His praise, gathering instead at Babel to build a monument for themselves, God confused their languages and scattered them abroad to form the early nations of our world (Genesis 11:8-9).
Out of the little nation of Ur in modern-day Iraq, God graciously called a man named Abraham and promised to give him the land of Canaan to the west. The Lord would make Abraham’s family into a nation that would overflow with God’s love and blessing to the ends of the earth. Out of this nation, God would bring forth the Redeemer He first promised to Adam in the garden. In spite of his childless old age, Abraham trusted in God’s promise—a trust that looked a little like Adam’s trust before he sinned—and this faith made him right in God’s sight (Genesis 15:6).
Miraculously, God provided Abraham a son, Isaac, and a grandson, Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Through Jacob’s son Joseph, God continued to preserve Abraham’s descendants through a devastating famine by bringing them into the safety of Egypt, using Joseph to give His people a glimpse of the great Deliverer to come (Genesis 50:19-21).
But then, silence. The Israelites, the children of Abraham who had gone down to Egypt as princes, became abused as slaves. Their only hope rested in the unfolding promise of God’s deliverance. For 400 years they waited, crying out for redemption (Exodus 2:23-24).
The Unchanging I AM
Even when it seemed like God had forgotten His people and His promise, His plan of salvation was steadily unfolding. As the Israelites languished in desperation, God raised up the prophet Moses to deliver His people out of Egypt and lead them into the land promised to Abraham (Exodus 3:7-8).
Moses knew he couldn’t save the people of Israel by his own might. Fearful of standing before Pharaoh and facing rejection by his own people, the prophet asked God for a token of assurance by asking for His name. In doing so, Moses was asking God to demonstrate His character. The Lord’s response was exactly what His prophet needed. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’” (Exodus 3:14)
Throughout the Bible, God uses this name to remind us who He is. As the great I AM, He is constant, unchanging, and never failing. Who He was in the past He will remain in the future. He is the God who keeps His promises, and He accomplishes His promises by His unfading, unshakable power. Pharaoh’s might could not match Him, nor could the idols of Egypt stand against Him. He alone is God, and His plan to redeem His people could not possibly fail.
Until this point, God’s promise of deliverance was passed down from one generation of Israelites to another. Now, God was putting His promise-keeping faithfulness on display for the world to see. Through great miracles and plagues, He conquered Pharaoh and delivered His people out of slavery in Egypt, using Moses to give another glimpse of the promised Savior. In the wilderness at Mount Sinai, God gave the Israelites His law and presided over His people as King. Now Israel was a true nation, the one through which God would bring the great Deliverer who would crush Satan and destroy sin forever.
With God in the Wilderness
Our reading yesterday (January 30) concluded with the construction of the tabernacle, a mobile tent where God manifested His presence as Israel dwelt with Him in the wilderness, headed for the Promised Land (Exodus 40:34-38). Not since the Garden of Eden did God walk with people in this way! Already, we can see God’s plan for creation beginning to find its fulfillment in His unfolding promise of redemption. God lived in proximity with His people once again, calling them to reflect His holy character and represent Him in the world.
Only, there was a problem. How could God’s sinful people dwell in His holy presence without being cast out as Adam was? This is the question the book of Leviticus answers, the book we begin reading today (January 31).
When God set His glory in the midst of Israel, He gave the nation His law to remind them that He was holy, righteous, and perfect—and they weren’t. He took their sin and impurity seriously. So seriously, in fact, that blood needed to be shed on behalf of their corruption and disobedience. Sin always ends in death. There in the wilderness, God instituted a priesthood and recurring animal sacrifices to remind Israel of the gravity of their sin, the infinite height of His holiness, and their desperate need for atonement and cleansing in His presence. In other words, God appointed priests and sacrifices to prepare Israel for Christ’s cross.
The book of Leviticus can seem bewildering to Christians today. But few books in all the Bible are more helpful to our understanding of the redeeming power of Jesus’ death. The Savior, promised back in Genesis 3:15, would crush Satan’s head, but not without bearing mortal wounds on His heel. Jesus’ hands and feet were pierced on our behalf, and He Himself was crushed beneath the weight of our sin. As the true Passover Lamb, His blood covered our sin as He bore the wrath of God in our place (Exodus 12:12-13).
When Christ came into the world, He was presented as the blameless sacrifice to make atonement for sinners (Leviticus 1:3-4). Unlike the imperfect offering made by Aaron’s sons (Leviticus 10:1-3), Jesus’ offering of Himself was perfectly acceptable to God. He came as our Great High Priest to grant us new access to the holy place of God’s presence (Leviticus 16:3-34). In our place and as our pattern, He completely embodied God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). He was brought outside the camp and killed on behalf of blasphemers and sinners (Leviticus 24:13-16). On the cross, He bore our curse (Leviticus 26:14-39) in order that we may gain His blessing (Leviticus 26:1-13). The sacrifices of Israel pointed forward to all this, and all in sheer grace.
From Creation to Calvary
As you read the visceral descriptions of animal sacrifice over these next few days, remember where God’s unfolding plan is heading. Remember the cross. If you are a believer in Christ, marvel at the price Jesus paid for your sin. If you aren't a believer, consider how freely this gift is offered to those who come to Him with faith like Abraham’s.
This is our God, the good Creator and gracious Redeemer.
This is our God, the awesome I AM who remains faithful to His promise.
This is our God, welcoming sinners back into His presence and restoring us to His likeness.
This is our God, inviting us to the cross where we receive His grace by faith.
This is our God. Let’s serve and worship Him together.
CLICK HERE to view Southeast's 2019 Bible Reading Plan.