(leh viht ih cuhss) The third book of the Old Testament containing instructions for priests and worship. The title is borrowed from the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Old Testament, and means the Levitical book. Such a title indicates that the book relates to worship, matters attended to by the Levitical priests.
The first section of Leviticus relates to the latter part of the Book of Exodus.
Exodus 26-27 give the Lord's instruction for the building of the tabernacle, the place of worship during ancient Israel's sojourn in the wilderness. These instructions are carried out and the tabernacle accepted as an appropriate place of worship (Exodus 35-40).
Exodus 28-29 recount the Lord's instructions for ordaining Aaron and his sons as priests. This ordination takes place in
Leviticus 8-9. One of the primary tasks of the priests was to offer sacrifice at the tabernacle. Before beginning this practice, ancient Israel needed instruction on the offering of sacrifice. The Book of Leviticus begins at that point. Before listing the major types of sacrifice, we should consider its basic significance. A sacrifice is in part a gift to God, not as a way to earn God's favor but as a way to give thanks for God's gift of life. Sacrifice is also a means of facilitating communion between God and worshipers. Another important purpose of sacrifice is atonement, restoring the relationship between God and worshiper. In the offering of sacrifice, worshipers give of themselves to God. In the shedding of the blood of the sacrificial victim, the vital power of life is released (Leviticus 17:11). God honors this act and gives life back to the worshiper. Thus sacrifice was important in the relationship between the ancient Israelite and God.
Leviticus lists five main types of sacrifice: (1) The whole burnt offering: a means of atonement that symbolizes the dedication of the whole life to God. The entire animal was burned on the altar (Leviticus 1:3-17). (2) The cereal or grain offering; indication that everyday life is a gift from God, since grain constituted the everyday diet in ancient Israel (Leviticus 2:1-16). (3) The peace, or shared, offering; the sacrifice of part of the animal and a communal meal from the remainder of the meat (Leviticus 3:1-17). (4) The sin, or purification, offering; a sacrifice of repentance for sin which has broken human relations to God and has endangered the welfare of the community (Leviticus 4:1-5:13). This sacrifice is for unwitting sin (Leviticus 4:2,Leviticus 4:13,Leviticus 4:22,Leviticus 4:27). (5) The guilt offering: might also be called a compensation or reparation offering, for it calls for sacrifice and compensation to one who has been wronged. The guilty one repays that which has been taken plus 20 percent (Leviticus 5:14-6:7).
Leviticus 6-7 provide further instruction on sacrifice for the priests, and
Leviticus 8-10 describe the beginning of sacrifice at the tabernacle.
Leviticus 11-15 provide instruction on that which is clean and unclean. A person who comes into contact with an unclean object becomes unclean object becomes unclean and is not allowed to participate in worship. Thus it is important to avoid contact with that which is unclean because worship was such a central life-giving event in the life of the community of God's people. These chapters describe various causes of uncleanness, including improper diet, childbirth, and various skin diseases.
Leviticus 11:1 presents the famous dietary regulations, and
Leviticus 12:1 describes uncleanness related to childbirth.
Leviticus 13:1 gives instruction in determining uncleanness related to leprosy, and
Leviticus 14:1 describes the way to cleanse leprosy.
Leviticus 15:1 lists bodily discharges which cause one to be unclean.
Leviticus 16:1 describes the ritual of the Day of Atonement, a way of removing the impact of sin and uncleanness. First, the priest made sacrifice for himself so that he was prepared to do the same for the community. Then two goats were brought, and one chosen for sacrifice. It was offered as a purification offering, and the blood was used to cleanse the sanctuary of any sin and uncleanness. The priest then took the other goat, the scapegoat, and confessed the sin of the people with his hands over the goat, symbolically passing the sin of the people to the goat. Then the goat was taken into the wilderness, a significant symbol of the removal of the sin of the people. This central ritual assumed that ancient Israel would encounter sin and uncleanness. Since God is perfectly holy, the Lord could not dwell among sin and that which is unclean. This ritual then provided a means of removing sin and uncleanness so that God could continue to dwell among the people and be present in the sanctuary to give them life.
Leviticus 17-27 is the Holiness Code. This section gets its name from the frequent use of the phrase, “You shall be holy; for I the Lord Your God am holy.” In the Old Testament, holiness means to be set apart; however, it does not indicate being set apart from the world in a separatistic way. The term is used of ancient Israel's being set apart to God. As God is holy—set apart, unique, different, distinct, “There is no other like God”—so ancient Israel as people of God was to be holy, different from other people, because they were people of God. These chapters then give instruction in how ancient Israel was to live a holy life.
Leviticus 18:1 illustrates this. The chapter begins with a plea to live not as the Egyptians, whom ancient Israel had just left, nor as the Canaanites, whom ancient Israel would soon encounter, but as people of the Lord God. Then the chapter gives instruction in sexual conduct, particularly on forbidden sexual relations. Living according to such instruction would distinguish ancient Israel from other people in the land as people of the holy God. The conclusion of
Leviticus 18:1 emphasizes this again in urging the people to be loyal to God. So holiness is not a means of removing the people from the world but of giving them a way to relate to the world as the people of God.
A number of the instructions in the Holiness Code relate to ethics and faithfulness to the Lord. Note the famous verse in
Leviticus 19:18, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” There is also instruction on keeping the sabbath as a day of rest and worship. Each seventh year was to be a sabbath year for the land, to give it renewal and also as a sign that the land is not owned by ancient Israel but a gift from God. Each fiftieth year (7X7+1) was a jubilee year in which all slaves were to be freed and property revert to its original owner. This again shows that people do not own other persons or property; they are rather stewards of such gifts from God. This practice shows that life is to be structured for the good of the community rather than isolated individuals.
These chapters also contain instructions on worship. Regular worship in the tabernacle was to include the constant burning of the lamp. This symbolized both the Lord's presence with the people and light as the first of God's creations. Also of importance in the tabernacle was the bread which symbolized the relationship between God and ancient Israel and reminded the people that God gives the gift of food. The Holiness Code also gives instruction on the special feasts. In the spring came Passover and unleavened bread, reminders of the Exodus from Egypt. The summer feast (Weeks and Pentecost) related to the harvest and celebrated the giving of the law. The fall festival included the Day of Atonement and the beginning of the new year. Also here was the Feast of Tabernacles, a harvest festival remembering the time in the wilderness.
The message of Leviticus begins with the fact that God is present with the people and continues with the notion that God is perfectly holy. This is why the book gives so much instruction on holiness and includes sacrifice as a means of removing the effects of sin and uncleanness so that this perfectly holy God can continue to dwell among and give life to the people. All of this instruction is a gift from God and helps the people understand how to live as God's covenant people. The book thus provides an important part of the story of God with the people, for it gives instruction on how to maintain and, when necessary, restore that relationship. The book seeks to explore further the instruction in
Exodus 19:6, “Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.”
The New Testament uses Leviticus to speak of the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
I. Offer Yourself in Praise and Adoration to God (Leviticus 1:1-7:38).
A. Offer pleasing sacrifices (Leviticus 1:1-6:7).
1. Offer burnt offerings (Leviticus 1:1-17).
2. Offer cereal offerings (Leviticus 2:1-16).
3. Offer peace offerings (Leviticus 3:1-17).
4. Offer sin offerings (Leviticus 4:1-35).
5. Offer guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:1-6:7).
B. Give instructions to the priests who offer pleasing sacrifices (Leviticus 6:8-7:38).
1. Give priestly instructions for burnt offerings (Leviticus 6:8-13).
2. Give priestly instructions for cereal offerings (Leviticus 6:14-23).
3. Give priestly instructions for sin offerings (Leviticus 6:24-30).
4. Give priestly instructions for guilt offerings (Leviticus 7:1-10).
5. Give priestly instructions for peace offerings (Leviticus 7:11-38).
II. Consecrate Priests to Mediate Between God and People. (Leviticus 8:1-10:20).
A. Set apart priests who mediate (Leviticus 8:1-36).
B. Sacrifice for the priests who mediate (Leviticus 9:1-24).
C. Warn the priests who mediate (Leviticus 10:1-20).
III. Purify Yourself Before God (Leviticus 11:1-16:34).
A. Eat clean animals; reject unclean animals (Leviticus 11:1-47).
B. Purify mother and child after childbirth (Leviticus 12:1-8).
1. Purify the mother of a male infant (Leviticus 12:1-4).
2. Purify the mother of a female infant (Leviticus 12:5).
3. Worship the Lord who gives life (Leviticus 12:6-8).
C. Test for an infectious skin disease and remove the infected one from the camp (Leviticus 13:1-59).
1. Examine the inhabitant who appears with an infection (Leviticus 13:1-8).
2. Examine the infected inhabitant for progress toward wholeness (Leviticus 13:9-17).
3. Examine the inhabitant who appears with a boil (Leviticus 13:18-23).
4. Examine the inhabitant who appears with a burn (Leviticus 13:24-28).
5. Examine the inhabitant who appears with an infection on the head or beard (Leviticus 13:29-37).
6. Examine the inhabitant who appears with bright spots on the skin (Leviticus 13:38-39).
7. Examine the inhabitant who appears with hair loss (Leviticus 13:40-44).
8. Remove the infection from the camp (Leviticus 13:45-59).
D. Restore the cleansed inhabitant to the community (Leviticus 14:1-32).
E. Remove the threat of infection from the house (Leviticus 14:33-57).
F. Cleanse unhealthiness within the community (Leviticus 15:1-33).
G. Make atonement for the community (Leviticus 16:1-34).
1. Remove sin from the congregation (Leviticus 16:1-10,
2. Atone for the sins of the mediators (Leviticus 16:11-14).
3. Atone for the sins of the people, and make purification for the tent and its articles. (Leviticus 16:15-19,Leviticus 16:23-28).
4. Deal with the sin problem yearly (Leviticus 16:29-34).
IV. Present Yourself in Holiness Before God (Leviticus 17:1-26:46).
A. Give attention to acceptable slaughter of beasts (Leviticus 17:1-16).
1. Make proper sacrifices before the Lord (Leviticus 17:1-9).
2. Sanctify life by refusing to eat blood (Leviticus 17:10-16).
B. Follow the commandments of the Lord (Leviticus 18:1-20:27).
1. Reject abominable sexual practices (Leviticus 18:1-23;
2. Warn concerning the danger of abominable practices (Leviticus 18:24-30).
3. Reverence God in worship (Leviticus 19:1-8).
4. Show love for your neighbor by righteous living (Leviticus 19:9-18).
5. Observe proper practices in agriculture, slavery, sacrifices, and the body (Leviticus 19:19-29).
6. Honor God through worship (Leviticus 19:30-31).
7. Honor God through life (Leviticus 19:32-37).
8. Worship God alone; forsake other god (Leviticus 20:1-8).
9. Honor father and mother (Leviticus 20:9).
10. Give diligence to obeying God (Leviticus 20:22-27).
C. Charge mediators to follow regulations which allow presence before God (Leviticus 21:1-24:23)
1. Present themselves holy before God (Leviticus 21:1-24).
2. Present holy gifts to God (Leviticus 22:1-33).
3. Lead worship at holy times (Leviticus 23:1-44).
4. Prepare the holy place (Leviticus 24:1-9).
5. Keep the congregation holy before God (Leviticus 24:10-23).
D. Present both land and people holy before God (Leviticus 25:1-55).
1. Observe the sabbath year (Leviticus 25:1-7).
2. Observe the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:8-22).
3. Care for the poor brother and his land (Leviticus 25:23-55).
E. Remember the blessings and curses concerning the covenant people (Leviticus 26:1-46).
1. Remember the blessings associated with holy living (Leviticus 26:1-13).
2. Remember the penalties associated with disobedience (Leviticus 26:14-39).
3. Remember the faithfulness of God (Leviticus 26:40-46).
V. Offer Proper Vows Before God (Leviticus 27:1-34).
A. Offer proper vows related to people (Leviticus 27:1-13).
B. Offer proper vows related to a house (Leviticus 27:14-15).
C. Offer proper vows related to fields (Leviticus 27:16-25).
D. Offer proper vows related to firstborn animals (Leviticus 27:26-27).
E. Keep your vows (Leviticus 27:28-34).
See Atonement; Covenant; Holiness, Holy; Purity, Purification; Sacrifice and Offering.
W. H. Bellinger, Jr.