If you are anything like me, your year-long bible reading plan can sometimes get bogged down in Leviticus. Verse after verse of dietary restriction, cleanliness law, and grain offering instruction just doesn’t leap off the page like the great narratives of say, Genesis and Exodus.
So books like John R. Sittema’s Meeting Jesus At The Feast: Isreal’s Festivals and the Gospel naturally appeal to me. Although Sittema only deals with the festal sections of Leviticus, getting a solid, redemptive-historical understanding of these passages can only serve to help illumine the book as a whole. That was my hope in purchasing the book, and I can say that this book served that end.
Sittema’s great strength as a writer is that he can take complicated material and make it more accessible to the lay reader. So much so, I found myself teaching a Sunday School class on the topic of the Levitical feasts after being inspired by Sittema’s lay friendly style.
I must say however, that I did find at times Sittema’s illustrations to be a bit too lengthy and perhaps not as directly tied to his point as one would hope (the introduction serves as one example). Nevertheless, the noble interest in bringing the riches of Leviticus to a broader audience is clear and appreciated, even when the bridges made to our contemporary context sometimes don’t connect as strongly as this reader would have liked.
Here’s how the book is structured: Sittema takes Leviticus 23 as his main text for unpacking the Levitical feasts. He spends the first chapter of the book explaining the command of the Sabbath and showing how Sabbath rest grounds all the festivals, and also displays the movement of redemption as a whole (i.e. bringing a restless people to rest). Sittema then unpacks the seven feasts prescribed by God to Israel under the old covenant, and ends the book with a helpful discussion on the sometimes-enigmatic year of Jubilee.
Each chapter follows a similar path. Sittema usually begins by placing the feast in its original historical context, then he shows how the feast developed over time up until the first century, he then seeks to show how Jesus embodied the feast, and then closes by reflecting on the implications for God’s new covenant people.
Even with this pattern in place, Sittema’s book never seems formulaic or unduly repetitive. Rather, he freshly engages the Levitical feasts with an eye towards how they reveal Christ and the many facets of the gospel. In addition, each chapter has study questions to help prompt further reflection, which is very helpful when using the book in a bible study, or Sunday School class.
If this book is used for a Sunday School class, note that Sittema doesn’t discuss every detail there is to discuss about the feasts and the biblical texts that are considered in the book. As such, I suggest supplementing Sittema’s book with other works. In my situation, I supplemented Sittema’s books with a couple of Leviticus commentaries as well as some other books on the feasts (i.e. Moishe Weinfold’s book Christ In The Passover has more details surrounding the Seder meal than does Sittema).
All in all, this book really helped to open up the design of the Levitical feasts in God’s purposes for his people. It would be a good book for a bible study, Sunday School class, or the like.