God rescued the Israelites from Egypt and sought to make them His people. All sorts of questions needed clarification: where, when, and how would Israel serve God? Who would, or even could, stand before Him? These pressing questions are discussed in depth in the book of Leviticus.
Leviticus, the third book of the Bible, receives its name from its title in the Greek Septuagint, Leuitikos, meaning “relating to the Levites.” Its Hebrew name is Vayikra, “and he called,” from the first word in the book (Leviticus 1:1). While Leviticus does have much to say about the Levites and their work, the scope of the book involves the entire nation. In Leviticus, God sets forth to Moses the means by which Israel can be holy as God is holy through the maintenance of the Tabernacle (and later Temple) cult and ritual purity and through exercise of proper conduct, sacrifice, and religious observances.
Moses is considered the author of Leviticus; he would have written the book around 1450-1400 BCE. Most of the book features God telling Moses legislation, most likely given over the forty-day period on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:15).
Leviticus 1:1-6:7 explains the times and means by which the Israelites would provide burnt, grain, peace, sin, and guilt offerings. Leviticus 6:8-7:38 describes how the priests are to handle and make those offerings. Leviticus 8:1-10:20 narrates more fully the consecration of Aaron and his sons mentioned in Exodus 40:1-33 and also describes the manner of death of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu and its aftermath.
The next section of Leviticus focuses on ritual purity. Leviticus 11:1-47 delineates between clean and unclean animals. Leviticus 12:1-8 describes the offerings necessary for purification for a woman after childbirth. Leviticus 13:1-14:57 describes skin diseases and house infestations and their purification. Leviticus 15:1-33 provides instructions regarding bodily emissions.
Holiness is a prominent feature in Leviticus. Leviticus 16:1-34 describes the sacrifices and events of the Day of Atonement; Leviticus 17:1-9 directs Israel as to where to bring offerings, and Leviticus 17:10-16 condemn eating blood. Leviticus 18:1-30 sets forth various kinds of unlawful sexual relationships.
Leviticus 19:1-20:27 provides laws regarding ethical conduct as well as punishments for child sacrifice, sexually deviant behavior, and an exhortation to holiness. The means by which priests are to demonstrate holiness are described in Leviticus 21:1-22:16; acceptable offerings are explained in Leviticus 22:17-33. Feast days are set forth fully in Leviticus 23:1-44. Oil for the lamp and bread for the Tabernacle are discussed in Leviticus 24:1-9. A man is condemned for blaspheming in Leviticus 24:10-23. The Sabbath year for the land as well as the Jubilee year and the redemption of property and people are explained in Leviticus 25:1-55. Leviticus ends with an exhortation detailing the benefits of obeying God (Leviticus 26:1-13), the punishments for disobeying God (Leviticus 26:14-46), and some final legislation regarding vows and dedications (Leviticus 27:1-34).
Leviticus has a reputation for being a “boring” book, full of laws which are believed to be arcane and irrelevant. Yet with a little explanation and patience, we can discern the meaningful necessity of Leviticus. It is in Leviticus where we learn about the sacrificial system and the logic behind it. Leviticus sets forth the physical shadow of what it means to be holy, the spiritual reality of which can be found in Jesus. Without Leviticus we could not understand the nature of priesthood and sacrifice; therefore, without Leviticus, we would not be able to make any sense out of why Jesus of Nazareth died and why Christians insist that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for our sins (John 1:29, Hebrews 9:1-28). Let us learn about holiness and sacrifice so that we may appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice for us, follow Him, and strive to be holy as God is holy!
Ethan R. Longhenry