Leviticus, the third book of the Bible, Old Testament and Pentateuch is a mystery to many people. Following the exciting stories of Genesis and Exodus Leviticus seems to bog down in arcane rules and regulations for Israelite worship. Indeed, Leviticus is the bane of those who try to read through the entire Bible. It can be a challenge.
But Leviticus provides crucial explanations of ancient sacrificial processes which culminated in the death of Jesus at Calvary. Many of the offerings detailed in Leviticus are reviewed in the New Testament book, Hebrews. In some ancient Jewish writings this book is called the “priest’s law.”
It is important to understand the Old Testament background and the Law of Moses if one wishes to fully appreciate the New Testament. An understanding of the Law of Moses helps us understand the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25) which is the law under which Christians live today. The Law of Moses was a teacher (Galatians 3:24) to help us gain that understanding.
So, don’t give up on Leviticus!
Leviticus – Purpose
The immediate purpose of Leviticus was to teach the newly ordained priests how to serve before God. The tribe of Levi, one of the 12 sons of Israel, was selected by God to serve uniquely as priests (Numbers 3:1-13). They were further subdivided, based upon lineage, into groups for specific duties in and around the Tabernacle and later the Temple.
God’s desire for worship was at the heart of their service. They were to care for the things of God with extreme precision. They were servants of God, chosen to represent the people before the Almighty. Any deviation from God’s revealed plan was deadly (Leviticus 10:1-2; 2 Samuel 6:5-9).
There is another purpose which is not so clear. God is holy. He is not like his creation and must not be viewed as such. The details of Leviticus make plain that God expects worship which is on his terms. Those who would approach him otherwise suffer the consequences of their deeds. Man could not draw near to God except through his prescribed sacrifices, offerings and celebrations.
Leviticus also lays the groundwork for the coming of a Redeemer. In what is a key verse of the book, God says to the people”
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11)
Blood would be a central part of their offerings and blood would be the offering that saves men today from sins. It is the currency by which Jesus purchased his church (Acts 20:28; c.f. Matthew 16:18).
Authorship, Dating and Technical Details
Leviticus is a part of the Pentateuch which was penned by Moses. The contents are God’s words to Israel but they flow through Moses. The message was given as part of the Law while Israel was encamped at Mt. Sinai.
A cursory glance will demonstrate a vast difference between the priestly office of Leviticus and that found in the days of Jesus. By the first century the priesthood was corrupted into a form barely noticeable. Inasmuch as there is no Temple today, there is no such priesthood today. Indeed the ancient priesthood was changed with the coming of Jesus and his establishment as a new High Priest (Hebrews 7:12).
Leviticus is a rich book which deserves our attention even if it requires a bit more work.