The Message of Leviticus: Free to be Holy

Leviticus is a dynamic book which opens windows on the community of Israel. It describes the kind of structures that are needed for a vibrant, godly community to survive, the kind of behaviour that will enable such a community to flourish and the ethos and attitudes necessary if the real blessings of being in relationship with God are to be experienced. Not every commentary writer has managed to capture that dynamism, but I think Derek Tidball has succeeded in doing so. We are clearly presented with the flexibility underlying the legal regulations in Leviticus, where the letter of the law is there to illustrate and support the spirit of the law and, where the sole purpose of the law itself is to enable the people of Israel to continue in relationship with their great and holy God. The awesome reality of God’s holiness and the gravity of sin are equally clearly presented. The sub-title of the book Free to be Holy is well chosen.

Modern readers have real difficulty with some of the precepts and attitudes identified within Leviticus, which to our generation seem unacceptably harsh or sexist. Tidball makes no attempt to mask these difficulties but faces up to them squarely. His analysis of the cultural influences involved is particularly helpful as is his clear identification of the differences between that society and ours. Right through the book the challenges that came to Israel are explored and elucidated and principles identified which bring relevant contemporary challenges to our own society.

Tidball is especially effective in drawing out applications relating to those in pastoral ministry and his commentary would be well worth reading for these applications alone setting aside all its other benefits. In fact, the book makes it clear on many occasions that in the new covenant all believers, and not just Christian leaders, are inheritors of the priestly role. However, whereas the relevance for these leaders is extremely well drawn out, the implications for other believers of the material dealing with the role of priests does tend to be somewhat general. The writer’s own scholarly background is clear throughout, but whereas in the main body of the commentary the scholarship is presented in a very user-friendly way, some readers of a less scholarly bent might find parts of the introductory material a little heavy. Having said that, this is a very worthwhile addition to the Bible Speaks Today series and should prove to be an excellent resource for those wishing to preach from this often under-appreciated section of God’s word.