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Introduction

Leviticus

One of the stubbornly enduring habits of the human race is to insist on domesticating God. We are determined to tame him. We figure out ways to harness God to our projects. We try to reduce God to a size that conveniently fits our plans and ambitions and tastes.

But our Scriptures are even more stubborn in telling us that we can’t do it. God cannot be fit into our plans, we must fit into his. We can’t use God—God is not a tool or appliance or credit card.

“Holy” is the word that sets God apart and above our attempts to enlist him in our wish-fulfillment fantasies or our utopian schemes for making our mark in the world. Holy means that God is alive on God’s terms, alive in a way that exceeds our experience and imagination. Holy refers to life burning with an intense purity that transforms everything it touches into itself.

Because the core of all living is God, and God is a holy God, we require much teaching and long training for living in response to God as he is and not as we want him to be. The book of Leviticus is a narrative pause in the story of our ancestors as they are on their way, saved out of Egypt, to settle in the land of Canaan. It is a kind of extended time-out of instruction, a detailed and meticulous preparation for living “holy” in a culture that doesn’t have the faintest idea what “holy” is. The moment these people enter Canaan they will be picking their way through a lethal minefield of gods and goddesses that are designed to appeal to our god-fantasies: “Give us what we want when we want it on our own terms.” What these god-fantasies in fact do is cripple or kill us. Leviticus is a start at the “much teaching and long training” that continues to be adapted and reworked in every country and culture where God is forming a saved people to live as he created them to live—holy as God is holy.

The first thing that strikes us as we read Leviticus in this light is that this holy God is actually present with us and virtually every detail of our lives is affected by the presence of this holy God; nothing in us, our relationships, or environment is left out. The second thing is that God provides a way (the sacrifices and feasts and Sabbaths) to bring everything in and about us into his holy presence, transformed in the fiery blaze of the holy. It is an awesome thing to come into his presence and we, like ancient Israel, stand in his presence at every moment (Psalm 139). Our Lord is not dwelling in a tent or house in our neighborhood. But he makes his habitation in us and among us as believers and says, “I am holy; you be holy” (1 Peter 1:16, citing Leviticus 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7).

Once we realize this, the seemingly endless details and instructions of Leviticus become signposts of good news to us: God cares that much about the details of our lives, willing everything in and about us into the transformation that St. Paul later commended:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1–2)

The Message

About The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language

Many people assume that a book about a holy God should sound elevated, stately, and ceremonial. If this is how you’ve always viewed the Bible, you’re about to make a surprising discovery. The Message brings the life-changing power of the New Testament, the vibrant passion of the Psalms, and the rich, practical wisdom of Proverbs into easy-to-read modern language that echoes the rhythm and idioms of the original Greek and Hebrew. Written in the same kind of language you’d use to talk with friends, write a letter, or discuss politics, The Message preserves the authentic, earthy flavor and the expressive character of the Bible’s best-loved books. Whether you’ve been reading the Bible for years or are exploring it for the first time, The Message will startle and surprise you. And it will allow you to experience firsthand the same power and directness that motivated its original readers to change the course of history so many centuries ago.

Copyright

Copyright 2005 Eugene H. Peterson.

THE MESSAGE text may be quoted in any form (written, visual, electronic, or audio), up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses, without express written permission of the publisher, NavPress Publishing Group, providing the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible and do not account for 25 percent or more of the total text of the work in which they are quoted.

Notice of copyright must appear as follows on either the title page or the copyright page of the work in which THE MESSAGE is quoted: “Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.”

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