Leviticus: Introduction – Leviticus 1–3

Read the Passage: Leviticus 1-3

Authorship and Date – While it is technically anonymous, as is the case with the book of Exodus, so the book of Leviticus was also written by the prophet Moses. In fact, at least thirty-eight times in Leviticus it is recorded, “The Lord spoke to Moses,” and Lev. 27:34 notes, “These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai” (cf. Lev. 7:38; 25:1; 26:46). Through chronological comparison, it can be concluded that the exodus event commenced in approximately 1445 BC. The Tabernacle was finished one year later (cf. Exod. 40:17). Since the book of Numbers was written in the second month of the first year after the exodus (cf. Num. 1:1), it can be deduced that the book of Leviticus covers about one month of time at the base of Mount Sinai immediately following the construction of the Tabernacle. Chronologically speaking, then, the book of Numbers follows immediately after Leviticus. Note that the Jews referred to the book of Leviticus as “The Law of the Priests.”

Purpose and Theme – The book of Leviticus is one of the most important books in the Old Testament, as its teachings about man’s sin and guilt, God’s holiness, the principles of atonement (including identification, substitution, and propitiation), man’s need for sanctification, and instructions in moral living, are key components in the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption. Note that Leviticus is quoted at least fifteen times in the New Testament, for many of the events and procedures in this book foreshadow the person and work of Christ in a unique, if not curious manner. The purpose of the book of Leviticus is to direct God’s people in the specifics of the sacrificial system. So, while Exod. 25–30, 35–40 describe the plans and building of the Tabernacle, the book of Leviticus is a worship manual, of sorts, that details the proper operation and use of the Tabernacle. One of the key verses in the book of Leviticus is Lev. 17:11, which reads, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (cf. Heb. 9:22).

Structure and Outline – While the book of Leviticus contains many specific ceremonial laws, as well as other details concerning holiness and worship, the text can be broadly and thematically outlined as follows;

  • Offerings and Sacrifices (Lev. 1–7)
  • The Priesthood (Lev. 8–10)
  • Purification and Uncleanness (Lev. 11–16)
  • Practical Holiness (Lev. 17–22)
  • Feasts and Festivals (Lev. 23–27)

Burnt Offerings (Lev. 1:1–17)

Leviticus 1–7 describes five different types of offerings or sacrifices that were part of the Jewish sacrificial system. The first three offerings were voluntary, while the last two were compulsory. Each offering related to how man can approach God, and were ultimately symbolic, as they depicted truths relating to man and to Christ. Note that each offering entailed burning, which symbolized purity. The exactness required by each offering communicated God’s holiness and the fact that approaching God needs to be on His terms. Of course, the various offerings in Leviticus 1–7 did not actually remove sins or create holiness, for as we later learn, “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Rather, Scripture teaches that the offerings in the sacrificial system temporarily covered sins that were fully were taken away by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross (cf. Rom. 3:21–26).

Grain Offerings (Lev. 2:1–16)

Whereas burnt offerings were for personal atonement (cf. Lev. 1:4), grain offerings—sometimes called meal or tribute offerings—were an expression of thanksgiving to God. These offerings were primarily for material blessings, and also depicted dedication and consecration. Of the five types of offerings in the sacrificial system, the grain offering was the only one that did not require animal sacrifice. Note that this chapter describes three different types of grain offerings. Significantly, it is noted twice in this chapter that if the offering consisted of baked grain, it was to be unleavened (cf. Lev. 2:4, 11). This is in accord with the earlier Passover bread (cf. Exod. 12:8) and the way in which the idea of leaven in used in the New Testament to depict sin (cf. Luke 12:1; 1 Cor. 5:6–8). Grain offerings were also a means by which God provided for the material needs of the priests.

Peace Offerings (Lev. 3:1–17)

Of the five types of offerings commanded in Lev. 1–7, perhaps the most interesting was the peace offering, which were also called thank offerings, vow offerings, freewill offerings, wave offerings, or heave offerings. Peace offerings were an expression of peace, fellowship, and reconciliation between the worshiper and God. These offerings often expressed thanksgiving for unexpected blessings. Peace offering are unique in that they were the only type of offering within the sacrificial system that were to be partially consumed by the worshiper. The picture here is one of a fellowship meal between friends, as it depicts the peace believers have through Christ (cf. Rom. 5:1). Lev. 3:17 gives the ceremonial statute, “Throughout your generations in all your dwellings, you shall eat neither fat nor blood.” Fat was to be burned, and blood represents life; thus, neither were to be consumed.

Application Questions:

  1. What do you know about the book of Leviticus? What passages from this book have been helpful to you in times past?
  2. Are most Christians familiar with the book of Leviticus? How is this book relevant for people living outside of ethnic Israel?
  3. If the sacrifices were pedagogical in that they depicted Christ, as well as other gospel themes, why do we still not practice them today (cf. Heb. 9:1–15)?
  4. Why does God later declare to Israel, “I hate, I despise your feast days . . . . [including your] burnt offerings and your grain offerings” (Amos 5:21–22)?
  5. Why did God prohibit the people from consuming fat and blood (cf. Lev. 3:17)? Are fat and blood still off limits in the New Covenant?