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BibleProject Podcast
BibleProject Podcast
Leviticus Scroll • Episode 7
Why Is the Sabbath So Important?
69m • July 11, 2022
Throughout the Leviticus scroll, Yahweh instructs Israel, “Be holy as I am holy.” But what does that actually mean? As we enter into the third and final movement of Leviticus, we’ll find that living holy lives had everything to do with how Israel treated others and utilized their time, a theme reinforced by the continual command to honor the Sabbath. Join Jon and Tim as they explore the wisdom we can find in these ancient laws.
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QUOTE

Woven into their lives are these rhythms of time, all in patterns of seven. The weekly Sabbath and the monthly/annual rhythms of Sabbath teach the Israelites that their lives and their time are not their own, that their whole existence as a people is dedicated to the purpose of becoming holy. “Be holy as I am holy.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The third movement of Leviticus is a “holiness charter,” which answers the question: If the Holy One of Israel has come to dwell among the people, how should they live?
  • One element that occurs repeatedly in this movement is the number seven—seven sets of commands for the people, sets of laws grouped in numerals of seven, seven feasts of Israel, seven lamps of the menorah, and an in-depth discussion of the seventh (Sabbath) day. These rhythms of time (feasts and Sabbaths) teach the Israelites that their time is not their own.
  • The final movement of Leviticus contains many laws governing sexual and familial relationships. The core idea is that the way our families operate and the way we practice our sexuality reveals a lot about which god we’re loyal to and the primary means by which we either honor or profane Yahweh’s name and reputation.

God’s Chosen Representatives

In part one (00:00-15:18), Tim and Jon discuss where we’ve been and where we’re headed in this series on the Leviticus scroll. In this episode, we start exploring the scroll’s third and final movement, where we’ll be tracing the theme of Sabbath.

Leviticus comes as part of God’s response to human disorder and evil. Throughout human history and the story of the Bible, God intervenes in his creation by selecting one person out of many to lead and bless others, restoring unified relationships among humans and Yahweh. But again and again, these chosen representatives fail. Sometimes God intervenes before humans mess things up too much, but God also honors human decisions. (This is the source of many frustrated psalms, where the psalmists wonder why God won’t intervene.)

The levitical priesthood is next in this tradition of chosen representatives, complete with all the same special responsibilities—and the messy track record. Ideally, the priesthood is meant to be an example of how Israel should live among the nations.

A Holiness Charter

In part two (15:18-32:43), Tim and Jon review the sections of Leviticus we’ve covered so far.

The tabernacle is depicted as a new micro-Eden, where God dwells and where humans can come meet with him. His presence, however, is both good and dangerous, so Leviticus 1-7 is the guide for how humans can safely dwell with Yahweh. The practices described in Leviticus are not like the rituals of other ancient peoples—other deities demanded to be appeased, to be given gifts in return for favor. This is not the case with Yahweh. He gives his people both the method and means for how to draw near to him simply because he wants them to.

Leviticus 11-15 defines the difference between what is pure and impure, and Leviticus 16 describes the Day of Atonement, the ritual in which Israel’s impurities are cleansed.

Leviticus 17-27 is the climax of the scroll. Discerning the structure within this final movement is challenging, as a case can be made for its subdivision into two or three parts. One element that occurs repeatedly in this movement is the number seven—seven sets of commands for the people, sets of laws arranged in groups of seven, seven feasts of Israel, seven lamps of the menorah, and an in-depth discussion of the seventh (Sabbath) day.

These rhythms of time (feasts and Sabbaths) teach the Israelites that their time is not their own and become a major way they are transformed into a people that are holy like Yahweh. In fact, this entire movement is a “holiness charter,” which answers the question: If the Holy One of Israel has come to dwell among the people, how should they live?

Gleaning Wisdom From Ancient Laws

In part three (32:43-48:12), the guys talk about how God’s guidelines for ancient Israel might translate into a contemporary context.

Some of ancient Israel’s laws can be directly copied and pasted into a modern context. For instance, laws prohibiting the oppression of immigrants, or the famous command to “love your neighbor as yourself” have immediate application. However, there are also laws about orchard use and tattoos that require a more nuanced interpretation. We are meant to derive wisdom from all of these laws, and we learn that wisdom by learning to read these laws in context.

Even the apostle Paul does this when he quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Timothy.

1 Timothy 5:18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while it is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

In context, the original commandment deals literally with treatment of animals. Paul finds wisdom at the heart of the law and uses it to point to the need to pay leaders in a local house church. Christians throughout history have looked to Paul’s words to guide how leaders are compensated in other church structures.

We can use a similar method to understand the significance of the final movement of Leviticus, in which the themes of Sabbath and holiness are inextricably linked.

In Leviticus 17, Yahweh equates murder with killing an animal and using it without dedicating it to him. The context here is that Israelites were making animal sacrifices to other deities outside the camp, covering their bases for protection and provision. It’s a strange ancient law, but there’s an important core principle that is also seen throughout the New Testament: The motives of our hearts matter just as much as our external actions. The Israelites were misusing these animals, taking what belonged to Yahweh and using them to create a sense of security for themselves apart from trust in Yahweh.

Our Choices Reveal Our Loyalty

In part four (48:12-01:08:13), Tim and Jon explore Leviticus 18-20.

Leviticus 18 is famous for containing laws governing sexual practices and familial relationships, all set against the backdrop of God’s prohibition against living like the Egyptians and Canaanites (Lev. 18:1-3). The core idea is that the way our families operate and the way we practice our sexuality reveals a lot about which god we’re loyal to and the primary means by which we either honor or profane Yahweh’s name and reputation.

Leviticus 19 is another section of commandments (where the command to honor the Sabbath is centrally located) that kicks off with the exhortation to be holy as Yahweh is holy. Leviticus 18 contains 14 (two times seven) laws, Leviticus 19 contains 21 (three times seven) laws, and Leviticus 20 contains 14 (two times seven) laws. These laws can feel like a hodgepodge, but they are meant to sample a variety of issues that comprise the entirety of human life, centering around a core theme. Over and over again, we as readers can see that honoring Yahweh is closely related to honoring other people and even animals, particularly sexually. The patterns of seven symbolize a complete thought.

Referenced Resources

  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience the literary themes and movements we’re tracing on the podcast in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • "Alive" by Ouska
  • "No Problem" (from a contributor)
  • “Beneath the Cross" by Eventide

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel, Tyler Bailey, and Frank Garza. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by MacKenzie Buxman.

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Leviticus E1  –  1hr 5m
How God Reveals Himself in Leviticus
1hr 5m
Leviticus E2  –  1hr 14m
What Is Atonement?
1hr 14m
53m
Leviticus E4  –  1hr 4m
The Dangerous Gift of God’s Presence
1hr 4m
Leviticus E5  –  1hr 6m
Purity and Impurity in Leviticus
1hr 6m
Leviticus E6  –  1hr 9m
What Is the Day of Atonement?
1hr 9m
Leviticus E7  –  1hr 9m
Why Is the Sabbath So Important?
1hr 9m
Leviticus E8  –  1hr 1m
What Israel's Feasts Teach Us
1hr 1m
Leviticus E9  –  1hr 9m
The Law of the Blasphemer
1hr 9m
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