Leviticus is largely about directions for sacrificial ceremonies and worship, and might seem hard for the modern reader to relate to. However, the New Testament reveals the great extent to which the entire Tabernacle enterprise symbolizes eternal truths that are as relevant to the New Testament believer as to the Old.
In particular, the New Testament book of Hebrews says that all the Tabernacle items are copies of the real thing in heaven. It further discusses the meaning of the priesthood and sacrifices, all of which look forward to Jesus Christ’s ministry on behalf of a fallen race.
Chapter 1 begins with God calling to Moses from the Tabernacle. This comes following all the instructions at the end of the book of Exodus that describe many details for how to construct the proper earthly dwelling place for the Suzerain (Ruler) God who redeemed Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Now that the Tabernacle has been constructed, God’s presence occupies the spot between the cherubim (over the ark of the covenant). God explains to Moses how to properly perform the services and sacrifices that will be carried out in the courtyard of the Tabernacle.
The first sacrifice given is the burnt offering sacrifice. In Hebrew, the word translated “burnt offering” is “Oleh” which means “to ascend.” The ancient Israelites visualized the gift (or offering) ascending by means of the fire and smoke to God, thus calling it an ascension. God permits three types of animals for burnt offerings:
1. Male Cattle
2. Male Sheep or Goats
3. Pigeons or Doves.
God declares He wants to be worshipped a specific way. The way He directs. The typical way religious worship transpired in this era centered around moral justification for perverse behavior and transactional manipulation. This can be seen in Leviticus 18, which lists typical behavior seen in Egypt and Canaan. That list includes a startling array of incestuous practices, as well as sex with animals. Pagan worship often included sexually immoral practices. Pagan worship also promised transactional blessings, giving people the illusion of control. The two alternative approaches to choose from are “love God and love others” (the result of obedience to God’s way) or “be god and exploit others” (the result of following the pagan way).
This can be seen in Jeremiah 44:18, where the people claim that when they worshipped the “queen of heaven” they got what they wanted. Worship of the LORD God was totally different. The Suzerain God’s promised blessings were largely interwoven with His commands. A community that practices His command to love one another as they love themselves would be greatly blessed through mutual collaboration, encouragement, and care for one another. This requires setting aside fleshly desires or seeking moral justification, but rather seeking to serve the best interest of others. The worship of the True God presumes He knows what is best for us, and it is in our best interest to seek and obey His ways. This contrasts with pagan worship that presumes we know what is best for ourselves, that it is in our best interest to seek a means to fulfill our appetites.