The Book of Leviticus, with its explicit instructions on matters of ritual purity and holiness, is often a very difficult book for Christians to approach. Where do these ideas fit into a life of faith in Messiah? In every case, even the most rigid of instructions contained in it, point us to a diminishing of self, and an increase of the Lord’s presence in our lives. From the beginning of this book, hidden in the very first word in Hebrew, Vayikra, is the key to its understanding – the diminished alef.
וַיִּקְרָא אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אָדָם כִּי-יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן לַיהוָה–מִן-הַבְּהֵמָה מִן-הַבָּקָר וּמִן-הַצֹּאן תַּקְרִיבוּ
“Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offerings of the livestock – of the herd and of the flock” (Lev. 1:1-2).
The Lord’s instruction in Leviticus begins with sacrifice, specifically the burnt offering. This offering represented the one bringing it, “when anyone brings an offering of you,” the text says. The offering was meant to be us, the animal was the innocent substitute (II Cor. 5:21).
The burnt offering was of the best of your herd or flock, unblemished. It was sacrificed before the Altar, skinned, its blood was applied to the Altar, it’s innards washed, all before it was set loose in holiness and offered by fire to the Lord. There is no human logic to this. It is, in fact, illogical. As you approached the Lord, what good did it do to kill the best of your flock or herd and gain no benefit from it?
The answer is found in the final letter of the Hebrew word וַיִּקְרָא, and he called. In the Torah scroll, the final letter of the word וַיִּקְרָא is written approximately half it’s size. It is dimished. When you approach the Lord as He calls, your strength, your position, your esteem, represented by the א/alef, must diminish. At the heart of sacrifice is the recognition of someone greater than yourself. The recognition that everything you have comes from the Lord. In this act of sacrifice, the worshipper drew near with the עֹלָה קָרְבָּנוֹ, the elevation offering, humbled, to the Lord in order to be lifted up. David, as he was preparing to buy the threshing floor of Aravnah, who wanted to give it to him, said, “No; I insist on buying it from you at a price. I refuse to offer to the Lord my God burnt/elevation offerings that cost me nothing” (II Sam. 24:24). In order to increase, first David had to decrease.
This is still true today, but the Lord does something amazing as we are pressed in His hand.
John the Baptist was the herald of the Messiah. His ministry was one of calling Israel to repentance in preparation for the work of Yeshua/Jesus; and he did this in the spirit of Elijah.
John was a priest of Israel by birth. As such he was guaranteed support and honor among the Jewish community. He is described as a bit of a “wild man” in Matthew, “And John had a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist. And his food was locusts and wild honey.”
Yet, John walks away from his birthright, and begins to announce something very different, something contrary to Altar sacrifice, repentance by water immersion. He made it clear that repentance was not simply in word, as he proclaimed, “If you have really turned from your sins to God, produce fruit that will prove it! And don’t suppose you can comfort yourselves by saying, ‘Abraham is our father!’” Repentance is the act of turning away from one direction to another. In the case of biblical repentance, it is turning from our way to Him.
John attracted so much attention that leaders from Jerusalem would come and ask him, “Are you Elijah?…Are you the Prophet?…Who are you?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” As he gained followers, and upset the religious elite, it would certainly seem that he had measurable ministry success. But then Yeshua arrived.
In John 3:30 we read, “It is right for Him to increase, but me to decrease.” John knew that his purpose was to make straight the way for the coming of the Lord, to announce a season of repentance, literally the changing of the mind, and at the end of his season, he was to decrease, as Yeshua increased.
When the Lord enters our lives, and we become more serious about our walk with him, we feel a pressing enter our lives as well. This pressure occurs for two reasons: 1) to remove ungodliness from our lives, and 2) to give us room to grow and mature in the Lord.
As a baby chick develops in the egg, it has no way of knowing that the pressure that it begins to feel is for its own good. The pressure is a sign that it is about to break-forth. As it begins to press on the shell, and its body takes up more space within, the Lord’s design takes shape, and it consumes the last of the yoke for strength. External blood vessels that had supplied it with life dry up, the egg softens, and it begins to struggle against the shell.
The struggle is preparing it not only to break-forth, but to stand after it does. The chick does not know that the pressure was preparation to stand in the world. Unfortunately, many well-meaning people have observed this struggle and believed the chick would die from it, only to break it out to find that it lacked the vigor it needed to stand, and unprepared for life, it died.
John’s pressure was to decrease as Messiah increased, and that decrease would lead to exaltation. The Scripture says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and in due time He will lift you up.” Dear reader, the pressure you are feeling today is the hand of the Lord tightening around you as He matures you; and the struggle is building you.
Godly pressure brings forth the greatest treasure, when we allow Him to work us through it; but we must be willing to stand before Him, offer the best we have, submit to His Word, and lay down upon the Altar in repentance: He must increase in us, and through the pressure, we shine brighter for Him (Ro. 12:1).
Be well. Shalom.