“If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer…..a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person…..when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven….But the person who does anything with a high hand….reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.” Numbers 15:27-28, 30-31
I don’t know about you but passages like this scare me. Why? Because I know that I am not only guilty of unintentional sins, but intentional, high handed sins. Yes, there are sins I commit without even realizing it: a wandering heart, an anxious, untrusting nervousness, mindless and careless words, etc. And, I am so thankful that God’s forgiveness is sufficient for these. But, what about the sins I willfully determined to commit? What about when I have clearly seen the choice of holiness or sinful pleasure and have opted for sinful pleasure? Have I then become cut off from the covenant community? Is there any atonement for my iniquity? Can I be forgiven?
When we read the Law of God and passages like this one in Numbers, we must remember Paul’s warning in Romans 9:31-32, that “Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone…”
Unlike Israel, we must approach the Law of God from faith not works. So, when the ear of faith hears the Law of God it responds in humble pleas for mercy not self-resolve. It cries out in repentance not self-defense. And, God delights to show mercy to the broken and contrite (Ps. 51:17, Lk. 18:9-14). King David is a wonderful illustration of God’s forgiving mercy to a high handed sinner. He willfully committed adultery and planned a good man’s death. 2 Samuel 11 & 12 reveal that David was guilty of Numbers 15:31: despising the word of the LORD and breaking His commandment. Yet, David was not “cut off,” rather, the prophet declared, “The LORD….has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam 12:13). Why? Because David responded in humble, repentant faith and God granted him mercy.
This is good news for intentional sinners like me and you! God does extend His forgiving mercies to us. We can be forgiven. Yet, the question remains: How can God forgive high handed sinners when His Law clearly says that they should be cut off? The answer is Christ. One of the deficiencies of animal sacrifice is that it wasn’t a voluntary or intentional sacrifice on the part of the animal. It had no say in the matter, but was brought by the will of the offerer. Christ, however, willingly laid down his life (Jn 10:11, 18), freely offering it as a “fragrant….sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2). In our place, He intentionally suffered outside the camp, cut off from the presence and people of God, so that we may be sanctified “through his blood” (Heb 13:12). The gospel declares that intentional sinners deserving to be cut off may be forgiven through the intentional sacrifice of the once cut off, now risen Christ. He was cut off, so that we may be brought near! (Eph 2:12-13; Col 2:11-12)
Thanks be to God: In Christ mercy triumphs over judgement!
Ah, Leviticus. A book that has proven to be a place of departure for many of us in our endeavor to read the Bible straight through! And no wonder, for Leviticus is a bloody book full of detailed rules for life and specific regulations for worship as God’s covenant community. But, Leviticus is God’s Word, and though, many of its prescriptions and prefigurements have been fulfilled by Christ and thus no longer binding and practiced, it is still a relevant, weighty Word for today. It still reveals the glory of our God and truth about His people.
I simply want to draw our attention to four big picture truths revealed in Leviticus.
1. Leviticus reveals who our God is: specifically, our God is holy. The holiness of God is central to this book (Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7, 26). All of the warnings, rules, rites, regulations, and boundaries are meant to instill in the minds of God’s people that He is holy. He is other, separate, pure, and transcendent. He is not like the gods of the nations: fickle, immoral, rivaled, capricious, cruel, or frustrated. He is not like us: weak, sinful, corruptible, selfish, or dependent. Our God is clothed in the splendor of His holiness! Majestic Purity; shadowless Brilliance; holy, holy, holy!
2. Leviticus reveals what our God has done: namely, He has redeemed His people. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:34). This holy God is a God of redemption! In great compassion and mighty power, He rescued and freed Israel from her Egyptian oppression. There was no compulsion other than divine mercy that moved God to redeem Israel. They had no beauty to attract Him, no merit to demand Him, and no resources to offer Him. This was free love, spontaneous mercy, and extravagant grace (Dt. 7:6-8). Leviticus show us the redeeming heart of God which points us forward to the redeeming Christ!
3. Leviticus reveals who God’s people are: those who have been redeemed and therefore are holy and His (Lev. 19:36; 20:24, 26), and this is true of all God’s people whether in the Old or New Covenant. For all of God’s redeeming acts are centered upon and made effectual by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (John 1:29; Rom. 3:21-26). So, here is a great truth that is to be believed not achieved: Because of God’s redeeming action in Christ, His people are holy (set apart to Him) and are His own treasured possession. God’s people are holy because He has sanctified and consecrated them. God’s people are His because He has redeemed them and laid claim to them. As the Apostle Paul would write, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19-20). Christ Jesus, the true Lamb of God, has redeemed us to God and therefore, we are holy and His.
4. Leviticus reveals what God’s people are to do: they are to live out what they are. Because Holy God has made them holy, they are to live in holiness (Lev. 19:2). Because God has made them His own, they are to live as His people. Because God has separated them from the other nations, they are to live differently than those nations. Because of who God is, what He has done, and who they now are, God’s people are to live in holiness and undivided worship.
It seems Leviticus was on the apostle Peter’s mind when he penned, “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’….You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” (1 Pet. 1:15, 16; 2:9, 10)
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.