Third book of the Bible . Old Testament book filled with instructions regarding the worship of the chosen people, Israel . The Hebrews call it Wa-yiqra for its initial word, or sometimes torat-qohanim (“law or manual of the priests”) for its content. (Hebrew תיקרא , “and he [Lord] called”). The Septuagint gave him the name “Leviticus” because the priesthood had been reserved for Aaron and his sons, descendants of the tribe of Levi. The Vulgate calls it Liber Leviticus, literally “book of the Levites”, that is, of the personnel who work in the temple. The curious thing is that the Levites are mentioned only incidentally in the book (25:32).
The book of Leviticus represents a pause in the historical events of the liberation of the Hebrew people, and focuses attention on the standards of holiness and purity necessary for access and relationship with God under the coverage of the contracted covenant.
Author and date
- Author . Most conservative biblical scholars recognize Moses as the author of Leviticus. More than fifty times it is claimed to contain God’s direct words and revelation to Moses for Israel , who subsequently committed them to writing. Jesus and Paul refer to passages from this book and attribute them to Moses, (Mark 1:44; Romans 10:5).
Some think that Leviticus reached its present form during the time of Ezra , when Judah returned from the Babylonian Captivity (5th century BC).
- Date . Specialists have dated the book of Leviticus between the time that Moses lived (according to some in the 15th century BC, and for others at a later stage: the 12th century BC) and the time of Ezra (6th century BC). If the authorship of Moses is accepted, the writing of Leviticus would date back to approximately 1445 BC. The book, which contains little historical information useful in determining the exact date of its composition, describes the system of sacrifice and worship that preceded the time of Ezra and tells how it was instituted.
For most Bible students, Leviticus is a difficult book to read. It’s page after page of detailed instructions regarding strange rituals that seemed to lack organization. But if analyzed carefully, the book can be divided into two important parts.
The first part, which extends from chapters 1 to 17, contains instructions on the ritual of sacrifices, including animal sacrifice or burnt offering, which are key ingredients in Old Testament worship. The second part focuses on the consecration of priests, and presents the laws to walk with God correctly and holyly.
Background of Leviticus
Leviticus is closely related to the book of Exodus , which records how the Israelites were liberated from Egypt , received God’s law, and built the tabernacle according to the pattern given by God. Exodus concludes with the saint ‘s coming to dwell in the newly built tabernacle, giving way to the testimony of Leviticus, which contains the instructions God gave to Moses during the two months between the completion of the tabernacle and Israel ‘s departure from Mount Sinai .
Contribution to theology
Leviticus is important for its clear teachings regarding three fundamental spiritual truths: Atonement, Sacrifice, and Holiness.
- Atonement . Leviticus chapter 16 contains God’s instructions for observing the Day of Atonement. On that day the high priest of Israel entered the Holy of Holies and offered an animal sacrifice in atonement for his own sins. Then he killed another animal and sprinkled the blood on the altar to atone for the people’s sin. The New Testament would later compare these sacrifices to Christ ‘s sacrifice dying in our place. But unlike human priests, Christ did not have to first offer a sacrifice for his own sins and then for those of the people, because this he did when he presented himself as
sacrifice (Heb 7.27).
- Sacrifice . Leviticus taught Israel to prepare different types of sacrifices: burnt offering, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt and trespass offerings. They were presents through which a worshiper expressed his loyalty and devotion to God. But a bloody sacrifice in which the blood of an animal was presented to God was more than a gift. It symbolized that the worshiper offered his life to God, since the Hebrews believed that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev.
- Holiness . The essential meaning of this word in Leviticus is that God demands absolute obedience from his people. The word essentially means “separation.” God’s people had to separate themselves and be different from the pagan people around them, and hence the reason why God instructed his people not to eat certain foods that he did not consider clean. Only a clean and uncontaminated people could He use to fulfill His purpose of redeeming the world. Leviticus also makes it clear that the holiness God demanded included the daily conduct of his people. These were expected to practice kindness, honesty, and justice, and to show compassion toward the poor (Lev 19:9–18).
In Hebrew, the words translated “holy” occur more than a hundred times, and when applied to humans they denote lives of purity and obedience. Holiness is expressed in ceremonies (chapter 17) and worship (chapters 23-25), but especially in the affairs of daily life (chapters 18-22). Leviticus ends with an exhortation from Moses (chapter 26) and instruction regarding certain special vows (chapter 27).
- Christians see Christ in Leviticus . Christ (the Messiah) is not specifically mentioned in the book of Leviticus. The book of Hebrews refers to Christ as High Priest and uses the text of Leviticus as a basis to illustrate his work. They reject the extreme allegorization of the book of Leviticus to refer to Christ. Central theme: the life and worship of ancient Israel.
- Pentecostal Christians see the Holy Spirit in Leviticus . Although the term “Holy Spirit” is not mentioned in the book of Leviticus, they see the presence of God throughout the text. The holiness of God’s character. God is not seen as was the case with the pagan rites of that time where idols were venerated, but as the One who lived among the people while they worshiped Him. They were to be holy just like their God.
Special features of Leviticus
- Revelation as the direct word of God is emphasized more in Leviticus than in any other book of the Bible . No less than thirty-eight times it is explicitly stated that the Lord spoke to Moses.
- Instructions regarding the sacrificial system and atonement are given in minute detail in this book.
- The main chapter of the Bible that describes the day of atonement is Leviticus 16.
- Leviticus emphasizes the theme that the people of Israel were to fulfill their priestly calling by living lives of spiritual and moral purity, remaining separate from other nations, and remaining obedient to God.
In the New Testament , the blood of bulls and lambs, which is so important in Leviticus, has no power to remove sin. Each of these rituals are “a shadow of good things to come” (Heb 10.1). They prophetically pointed out the supreme sacrifice of God that was to be presented on behalf of man: “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9:28).
Sketch of Leviticus
- The way to God: The atonement (1:1-16:34)
- Through sacrifices (1:1-7:38)
- The Holocaust (1:1-17)
- The grain offering (2:1-16)
- The peace offering (3:1-17)
- The unintentional sin offering (4:1-5:13)
- The guilt offering (5:14-6:7)
- The continuous burnt offering and the offerings of the priests (6:8-23)
- The disposition of the victim in the sin offering, the trespass offering, and the peace offering (6:24-7:27)
- The wave offering and summary of the offerings (7:28-38)
- Through priestly intercession (8:1-10:20)
- Through the laws of purification (11:1-15:33)
- Through the day of atonement each year (16:1-34)
- Through sacrifices (1:1-7:38)
- The way to live for God: Holiness (7:1-27:34)
- Through revelation about the blood (17:1-16)
- Through moral standards (18:1-22:33)
- Through ordered worship (23:1-24:23)
- Through the laws of reparation, obedience and consecration (25:1-27:34)