Exodus ends, “In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month” (Exod. 40:17). Leviticus continues the story of God’s people settled at the foot of Mt. Sinai with the little word and. “And the LORD called Moses . . . ” The Book of Numbers begins “on the first day of the second month, in the second year” (Num. 1:1). Leviticus covers only one month of the story.
Holiness is the major theme of Leviticus. The English word holy appears 620 times in the English Standard Version; it appears 81 times in the Book of Leviticus or just over 13 percent of the total citations. The Hebrew root for this word, with various inflections, appears 776 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Of these citations, 137, almost 18 percent, appear in Leviticus.
In addition, the command to be holy is repetitive. “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44-45, see also 19:2, 20:7, 20:26, 21:8).
To be holy means to be separate and distinct from the world and to be consecrated to God. It was God’s special presence with them that made Israel distinct from all the other nations (Exod. 33:16). And God’s special presence was manifested in His Shekinah glory, His dwelling glory, over the Tabernacle. Yes, the Tabernacle was God’s special dwelling place among His people. God’s special presence was designed to make Israel a holy nation, not just externally, but also in their hearts.
Interestingly enough, Leviticus taught the priests and the people about their worship, which centered in the Tabernacle. Leviticus taught the priests and the people the rituals and sacrifices required in their approach to their most holy God (Lev. 1-15). Leviticus taught the people a “holiness code,” the rituals and sacrifices necessary to overcome their uncleanness and enable them to approach their most holy God (Lev. 17-27). And Leviticus prescribed the rituals and sacrifices of the Day of Atonement necessary to remove their sins and enable them to approach their most holy God (Lev. 16). In other words, Leviticus taught Israel, and teaches us, that worship was and is the focal point of holiness.
Picture the Tabernacle. White linen curtains mark the outer court of the Tabernacle; they shimmer in the bright desert sun. The golden altar of sacrifice is set before the Tabernacle proper and glistens in the sun. The curtains covering the Tabernacle are partially pulled back, revealing their vivid blue and scarlet colors. And the gold boards of the Tabernacle walls are also revealed in the dazzling sunlight. Beyond doubt, the Tabernacle was quite distinct from the surrounding landscape. Add to this picture, the Glory Cloud dwelling over the Tabernacle, and the tribes of Israel camped around the Tabernacle facing it. This picture portrays the fact that worship was the focal point of Israel’s holiness, her separateness from the world.
This lesson applies to us today. Gathering for corporate worship is one of the most visible ways we display our holiness, our separateness from the world. In worship, we meet with our God. He assures us that He is the One who sanctifies us; He makes us holy (Exod. 31:13). Yes, worship is the focal point of our holiness. From there, we disperse to live in this world as God’s holy people, individuals who are not of this world.