Leviticus . Third book of the Bible . Book of the Old Testament filled with instructions as to 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. (in 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 funny 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 its attention on the standards of holiness and purity necessary for access and relationship with God under the cover of the contracted covenant.
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- 1 Author and date
- 2 Structure of the book
- 3 Background
- 4 Contribution to theology
- 5 Special Features
- 6 Comment
- 7 Sketch
- 8 See also
- 9 Sources
Author and date
- Author. Most conservative biblical scholars recognize Moses as the author of Leviticus. More than fifty times he claims that it contains the direct words and revelation of God to Moses for Israel , who subsequently recorded them in writing. Jesus and Paul refer to passages in 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 Captivity in Babylon (5th century BC).
- Date. Specialists have dated the book of Leviticus between the time Moses lived (according to some in the fifteenth century BC, and for others in a later stage: the twelfth century BC) and the time of Ezra (sixth century BC). If the authorship of Moses is accepted, the writing of Leviticus would date back to approximately 1445 BC. Containing little historical information useful for determining the exact date of its composition, the book describes the sacrificial and worship system that preceded the time of Ezra and recounts how it was instituted.
Structure of the book
For most Bible students, Leviticus is a difficult book to read. It is page after page of detailed instructions regarding strange rituals that seemed to lack organization. But if you analyze it carefully, the book can be divided into two important parts.
The first part, which runs from chapters 1 to 17, contains instructions on the ritual of sacrifices, including animal sacrifice or offering by fire, 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 holy.
Leviticus is closely related to the book of Exodus , which records how the Israelites were delivered from Egypt , received the law of God, and built the tabernacle according to the model 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 that 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 the sacrifice of Christ in 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 he did this when he presented himself as
sacrifice (Heb 7.27).
- Sacrifice. Leviticus taught Israel to prepare different kinds of sacrifices: offering by fire, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt and transgression offerings. They were present by means of 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, because the Hebrews believed that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev
17.11). This also takes on greater meaning in the New Testament when applied to Christ. He gave his life for us when he shed his blood to take away our sin.
- 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 and be different from the pagan peoples around them, and hence the reason that God instructed his people not to eat certain foods that they did not consider clean. Only a clean and uncontaminated people could He use to fulfill his redemptive purpose of the world. Leviticus also makes it very clear that the holiness that God demanded included the daily conduct of his people. These were expected to practice kindness, honesty, and justice, and to show compassion for the poor (Lev 19.9–18).
[…] You will be holy, because I am holy Jehovah your God.
In Hebrew, the words that are translated “holy” occur over a hundred times, and when applied to humans denote lives of purity and obedience. Holiness is expressed in ceremonies (chapter 17) and worship (chapters 23-25), but especially in matters 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 the basis to illustrate his work. They reject the extreme allegorization of the book of Leviticus to refer to Christ. Central theme of life and worship of ancient Israel.
- Pentecost 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 it was with the pagan rites of that time where idols were venerated, but as the One who dwelt in the midst of the people while they worshiped him. They were to be holy just like their God.
- Revelation as a direct word of God is emphasized more in Leviticus than in any other book in the Bible . No less than thirty-eight times it is explicitly stated that the Lord spoke to Moses.
- Instructions regarding the sacrificial system and the atonement are given in minute detail in this book.
- The main chapter in the Bible that describes the day of atonement is Leviticus 16.
- Leviticus stresses the theme that the people of Israel must fulfill their priestly calling by leading lives of spiritual and moral purity, staying 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 is “shadow of the goods to come” (Heb 10.1). They prophetically pointed out the supreme sacrifice of God to be presented in behalf of man: “Christ was offered once, to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9.28).
- The Path to God: The Atonement (1: 1-16: 34)
- Through sacrifices (1: 1-7: 38)
- The burnt offering (1: 1-17)
- The grain offering (2: 1-16)
- The peace offering (3: 1-17)
- The offering for unintentional sins (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 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)
- God’s way of living: Holiness (7: 1-27: 34)
- Through revelation about blood (17: 1-16)
- Through moral standards (18: 1-22: 33)
- Through ordained worship (23: 1-24: 23)
- Through the laws of reparation, obedience, and consecration (25: 1-27: 34)