The literature of our modern culture has found an intrigue in the fictional worlds of utopian societies. It is in these fictional worlds that authors are able to reflect on the dysfunction of our world today and provide their fantasies of how an “ideal” society would run with perfect living conditions. However, we often realize that the dysfunction is too unruly in our world at large, and even many “fixes” would cause just as much chaos, therefore making the concept of dystopian literature the real center of fascination. Dystopian societies can be described as attempted utopian societies that have gone very wrong. Books like the Hunger Games and Divergent highlight the dangerous possibilities of an attempted fix-all system, as well as earlier literature such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
While we might not think it at first glance, the book of Leviticus has many literary elements common to utopian literature. According to the ESV Study Bible,
Leviticus outlines how people should live in God’s ideal commonwealth, explaining the practices (the rules and regulations that God commands) and the institution scaffolding (the Levitical priesthood) that produce God’s intended good society.
Like the utopian rules and regulations in modern literature that only seem to end in death, the people’s attempt at living by the Law of the Old Testament seemed to end up with the same dystopian chaos. Why is this? Wouldn’t God’s version of a utopian society be the victor of all societies that all human authors have tried desperately to come up with? The Old Testament reveals that it is not the system itself that fails, but the people’s very inability to obey it. The Old Covenant protects God’s people from many consequences of sin if they live according to it, but they never fully could. It cannot save people from all of the consequences of sin because it does not have the power within itself to transform their hearts. Without transformed hearts, our flesh will always produce the consequences of our sin- that is, death and condemnation, no matter how good the laws are. Only the very holiness of God himself could fulfill a perfect law. And so God does that- he sends the incarnation of himself, Jesus Christ, to utterly fulfill this Law, so that he may be the perfect atonement that transfers his very holiness to us. His very Spirit transforms our hearts and our desires and our ability to love him. This kind of worship and fidelity was truly what the Old Covenant was trying to get at all along.
Paul proudly proclaims in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6,
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
This truth of the Spirit’s life-giving power seems even more precious though when we realize that Jesus has even higher standards of what a people belonging to God should look like- much higher than even the Old Covenant portrays. If the Israelites so miserably failed the standard set up in the Torah, how could Jesus possibly expect them to live up to the standards set in his Sermon on the Mount? How could Jesus possibly expect them to be capable of what he described as the summation of the Law- to love God and to love others? (Matthew 22:36-40) The answer is, he knew they couldn’t apart from him. Jesus’ life and words portrayed the divine holiness that could only ever be found or obtained by God himself. God’s holiness was Jesus’ standard because holiness can only be found in God.
Therefore, the Law of Leviticus, no longer meant for strict observance, acts as a magnificent literary reminder of God’s desire and demand for holiness. It can be viewed as a pointer to Jesus Christ’s role as not only a high priest but a transformer of hearts! The many practices and objects in Leviticus can now be used as a glorious picture of the Gospel- as Jesus is the better messenger, the better high priest, and the better-atoning sacrifice. Every role, item, and detail of the sacrificial system act as reminders that God demands holiness, and in his grace, he made a way for his people to be undeniably holy.
Even though we now live under the grace of Christ’s New Covenant for us, books such as Leviticus have not been made irrelevant. They are a story written by a Promise Keeper to foreshadow, proclaim, and remind us of his desire to completely restore our relationship with him. Our goal in this grand story of redemption is the same as it was in Leviticus- to love and take on the holiness of God himself! Only now, we have been given a better Way- through faith by grace alone.