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Getting to Know the Bible: Leviticus Overview

Updated: Sep 3, 2022

Peace & Blessings Beloved,

TGBTG for allowing us to see another day. I pray all is well with you and yours, and that your week has been fruitful & blessed thus far.

Today we are going to visit our Getting to Know the Bible Series. In this series, our goal is to come to a comprehensive understanding of each book of the bible. At this point of the series we're going to focus on Leviticus. But before we get to Leviticus 1, I want to ensure we have a baseline understanding of the book of Leviticus. This way we can have a full appreciation for the exquisiteness of the entire book, as well as each individual chapter.

And so, in that spirit, see below for a comprehensive overview of the book of (insert book), as we prepare to behold and discern Leviticus, beginning with Leviticus 1 in our next installment of this series.

Book Type: Book of Law (or Book of Moses); third book of the Old Testament; third book of the Bible; third book of the five-part Jewish collection known as the Torah.

Author: Moses is the traditional author of this book; Leviticus is part of the Law of Moses. The arguments that support Moses’s writing of Exodus also uphold Moses’s authorship of Leviticus (see the previous chapter). Additionally, we find more than fifty occasions when the text says something like, “The LORD spoke to Moses” (Leviticus 1:1; 4:1; 5:14; 6:1). The New Testament also refers to Moses as the author of passages from Leviticus (Matthew 8:4; Luke 2:22; Hebrews 8:5).

The word Leviticus derives from the tribe of Levi, whose members were set aside by the Lord to be His priests and worship leaders. As a title, the word is translated from the Septuagint, meaning “ ‘pertaining to the Levites,’ and although that tribe as such is not emphasized throughout the book, the priestly subject matter renders the title appropriate.”1 Its content was originally meant to instruct the new nation of Israel in proper worship and right living, so that they might reflect the character of their divine King.

Date of Writing: During the 40 years in the wilderness, approximately 1440–1400 BC.

Grouping: Torah/Pentateuch — Book 3 of 5

Original Language: Hebrew

Genre: Narrative

Setting: The Law found in Leviticus was spoken by God to Moses at or near Mount Sinai, where the Israelites camped for some time. Because God delivered these detailed laws after the original Ten Commandments, the most probable date for their revelation is 1446 BC. Whether every law was written down at that time is impossible to determine; it may be that they were codified progressively during the ensuing forty-year wandering.

Audience: Moses wrote Leviticus to the Jewish people during their 40-year wilderness journey in the Sinai Peninsula. Leviticus provides details regarding priests, sacrifices, holy days, and laws the Jewish people were now required to follow as its own nation. The title Leviticus refers to the Levites, the tribe of priests who were responsible for overseeing the practices regarding the law for Israel.

Summary: Chapters 1–7 outline the offerings required of both the laity and the priesthood. Chapters 8–10 describe the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. Chapters 11–16 are the prescriptions for various types of uncleanness. The final 10 chapters are God’s guidelines to His people for practical holiness. Various feasts were instituted in the people’s worship of God, convened and practiced according to God’s laws. Blessings or curses would accompany either the keeping or neglect of God’s commandments (chapter 26). Vows to the Lord are covered in chapter 27.

Theme: The Israelites receive instructions from God at the base of Mount Sinai concerning how to live as God's holy people.

Leviticus is a manual of regulations enabling the holy King to set up his earthly throne among the people of his kingdom. It explains how they are to be his holy people and to worship him in a holy manner. Holiness in this sense means to be separated from sin and set apart exclusively to the Lord for his purpose and for his glory. So the key thought of the book is holiness (see notes on 11:44; Ex 3:5) -- the holiness of God and his people (they must revere him in "holiness"). In Leviticus spiritual holiness is symbolized by physical perfection. Therefore the book demands perfect animals for its many sacrifices (chs. 1 - 7) and requires priests without deformity (chs. 8 - 10). A woman's hemorrhaging after giving birth (ch. 12); sores, burns or baldness (chs. 13 - 14); a man's bodily discharge (15:1-18); specific activities during a woman's monthly period (15:19-33) -- all may be signs of blemish (a lack of perfection) and may symbolize human spiritual defects, which break spiritual wholeness. The person with visible skin disease must be banished from the camp, the place of God's special presence, just as Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. Such people can return to the camp (and therefore to God's presence) when they are pronounced whole again by the examining priests. Before they can reenter the camp, however, they must offer the prescribed, perfect sacrifices (symbolizing the perfect, whole sacrifice of Christ).

After the covenant at Sinai, Israel was the earthly representation of God's kingdom (the theocracy), and, as its King, the Lord established his administration over all of Israel's life. Israel's religious, communal and personal life was so regulated as to establish them as God's holy people and to instruct them in holiness. Special attention was given to Israel's religious ritual. The sacrifices were to be offered at an approved sanctuary, which would symbolize both God's holiness and his compassion. They were to be controlled by the priests, who by care and instruction would preserve them in purity and carefully teach their meaning to the people. Each particular sacrifice was to have meaning for the people of Israel but would also have spiritual and symbolic import.

For more information on the meaning of sacrifice in general see the solemn ritual of the Day of Atonement (ch. 16; see note on 16:1-34). For the meaning of the blood of the offering see 17:11; Ge 9:4 and notes. For the emphasis on substitution see 16:21.

Some suppose that the OT sacrifices were remains of old agricultural offerings -- a human desire to offer part of one's possessions as a love gift to the deity. But the OT sacrifices were specifically prescribed by God and received their meaning from the Lord's covenant relationship with Israel -- whatever their superficial resemblances to pagan sacrifices may have been. They indeed include the idea of a gift, but this is accompanied by such other values as dedication, communion, propitiation (appeasing God's judicial wrath against sin) and restitution. The various offerings have differing functions, the primary ones being atonement (see note on Ex 25:17) and worship.

Title: Leviticus receives its name from the Septuagint (the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT) and means "relating to the Levites." Its Hebrew title, wayyiqra', is the first word in the Hebrew text of the book and means "And he [i.e., the Lord] called." Although Leviticus does not deal only with the special duties of the Levites, it is so named because it concerns mainly the service of worship at the tabernacle, which was conducted by the priests who were the sons of Aaron, assisted by many from the rest of the tribe of Levi. Exodus gave the directions for building the tabernacle, and now Leviticus gives the laws and regulations for worship there, including instructions on ceremonial cleanness, moral laws, holy days, the sabbath year and the Year of Jubilee. These laws were given, at least for the most part, during the year that Israel camped at Mount Sinai, when God directed Moses in organizing Israel's worship, government and military forces. The book of Numbers continues the history with preparations for moving on from Sinai to Canaan.

Overview: This book consists of 27 chapters, covering four major themes. The first theme includes laws regarding the five major offerings God commanded the Israelites to practice: burnt, grain, peace, sin, and trespass offerings. From 1:1—6:7 the laws are presented to the people. In 6:8—7:38 the laws regarding these sacrifices are presented to the priests.

The second major theme is the origin of the Jewish priesthood in chapters 8—10. In chapter 8, Aaron and his sons are ordained as the priests of the Jewish people. In chapter 9, these priests offer their first sacrifices. Chapter 10 then describes the account of Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu dying before the Lord for their unauthorized sacrifices.

The third major theme includes laws regarding uncleanness (Leviticus 11—16). This includes laws regarding unclean animals (Leviticus 11), as well as laws regarding uncleanness related to child bearing (Leviticus 12). In chapter 13, Moses lists a variety of unclean diseases or disorders, with chapter 14 addressing steps of cleansing regarding these issues. Chapter 15 addresses unclean discharges. Chapter 16 then shifts to the tabernacle and how to keep it pure from all uncleanness, giving specific instructions regarding what is known as Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement.

The fourth major theme addresses practical guidelines for holy living (Leviticus 17—27), addressing 11 total topics. These are sacrifices and food (Leviticus 17), sexual behavior (Leviticus 18), treatment of neighbors (Leviticus 19), serious crimes (Leviticus 20), priestly regulations (Leviticus 21—22), festivals (Leviticus 23), the tabernacle's holiness (Leviticus 24:1–9), various civil punishments (Leviticus 24:10–23), special years of Sabbath and Jubilee (Leviticus 25), blessings and curses (Leviticus 26), and voluntary gifts or vows (Leviticus 27).

Purpose of Writing: Because the Israelites had been held captive in Egypt for 400 years, the concept of God had been distorted by the polytheistic, pagan Egyptians. The purpose of Leviticus is to provide instruction and laws to guide a sinful, yet redeemed people in their relationship with a holy God. There is an emphasis in Leviticus on the need for personal holiness in response to a holy God. Sin must be atoned for through the offering of proper sacrifices (chapters 8-10). Other topics covered in the book are diets (clean and unclean foods), childbirth, and diseases which are carefully regulated (chapters 11-15). Chapter 16 describes the Day of Atonement when an annual sacrifice is made for cumulative sin of the people. Furthermore, the people of God are to be circumspect in their personal, moral, and social living, in contrast to the then current practices of the heathen roundabout them (chapters 17-22).

Foreshadowing: Much of the ritualistic practices of worship picture in many ways the person and work of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10 tells us that the Mosaic Law is "only a shadow of the good things that are coming" by which is meant that the daily sacrifices offered by the priests for the sin of the people were a representation of the ultimate Sacrifice"Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice would be once for all time for those who would believe in Him. The holiness imparted temporarily by the Law would one day be replaced by the absolute attainment of holiness when Christians exchanged their sin for the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Application: God takes His holiness very seriously and so should we. The trend in the postmodern church is to create God in our own image, giving Him the attributes we would like Him to have instead of the ones His Word describes. God's utter holiness, His transcendent splendor, and His "unapproachable light" (1 Timothy 6:16) are foreign concepts to many Christians. We are called to walk in the Light and to put away the darkness in our lives so that we may be pleasing in His sight. A holy God cannot tolerate blatant, unashamed sin in His people and His holiness requires Him to punish it. We dare not be flippant in our attitudes toward sin or God's loathing of it, nor should we make light of it in any way. Praise the Lord that because of Jesus' death on our behalf, we no longer have to offer animal sacrifices. Leviticus is all about substitution. The death of the animals was a substitute penalty for those who have sinned. In the same way, but infinitely better, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was the substitute for our sins. Now we can stand before a God of utter holiness without fear because He sees in us the righteousness of Christ.

Key Verses (ESV):

Leviticus 1:4: "He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him." Leviticus 17:11: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life." Leviticus 19:18: "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD."

*Note: The overall message of Leviticus is sanctification. The book communicates that receiving God’s forgiveness and acceptance should be followed by holy living and spiritual growth. Now that Israel had been redeemed by God, they were to be purified into a people worthy of their God. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” says Leviticus 19:2. In Leviticus we learn that God loves to be approached, but we must do so on His terms.

I pray you receive this with the love intended, and apply it to wisdom.

May the joy of the Lord continue to be your strength.

Love you much.

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Blessed!

-Humble Servant

P.S- If you have not given your life to Jesus Christ, I implore you to take the time to do so right now. Use John 3:16 & Romans 10:9-10 as a foundation for making your confession of faith. And use Ephesians 2:1-10 to provide proper context for your salvation.

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