Date Written: c. 1450 BC - 517 BC
Leviticus is hard to read. It consists of various laws that God gave to the Israelites through Moses as rules for the covenant which he had made with them. These laws can be understood as footnotes to the Ten Commandments. They explain how the Commandments can be lived in society. Leviticus deals with religious issues like priests, sacrifices and worship but also with social and economic issues such as skin disease, farm animals and money. The setting is
The book begins (1-7) with descriptions of the different types of sacrifice: burnt offering, grain offering, peace offering, sin offering and guilt offering. Each type of sacrifice was offered in a very particular way and had a unique meaning.
In ch. 8, Moses ordains Aaron and his sons to be priests. They begin their priestly ministry by sacrificing animals and bestowing blessings (9). Unfortunately, two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu offer unauthorized incense before the Lord and are killed by fire from the sanctuary (10). From the immediate context it appears that they were drunk while making the offering (see 10:9).
Ch. 11-15 give rules for things that are "clean" and "unclean." This section includes laws about food, childbirth, skin disease, mildew and infections. Many of the proscriptions in this section would effectively prevent the spread of disease among the people. To become "clean" after having a disease or infection, Leviticus requires persons to temporarily avoid human contact and to wash themselves with water.
Ch. 16 describes the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), which is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar year. On this day, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to sprinkle animal blood on the Ark of the Covenant. Also on this day, a goat would symbolically receive all of the people's sins and then be sent away into the desert to die as a "scapegoat."
Biblical scholars refer to Ch. 17-26 as the "Holiness Code." In 17:7 we are told that the some of the Israelites have been making sacrifices to "goat demons" so the Lord outlaws sacrificing animals away from the sanctuary. Then he forbids the eating of blood because it contains the "life" of an animal (17:11). Next Leviticus gives rules for sexual behavior, clarifying what is permissible and what is sinful (18). Then the Lord outlines laws for a just society regarding family relationships, business transactions and adherence to the created order. Ch. 20 lists punishments for different types of crimes against God's law, some of which include the death penalty. Ch. 21 and 22 give special rules for priests which are more stringent than the rules for all the people. Then we find rules for animals unacceptable for sacrifice. Leviticus requires that only physically pure animals be sacrificed, prefiguring the spiritual purity of Jesus.
Ch. 23 presents the regulations about the Sabbath and the various feasts. Then Leviticus narrates the execution of an Israelite for blasphemy (24). Ch. 25 describes the Sabbath Year, celebrated every 7 years and the Jubilee year, celebrated every 50 years. Ch. 26 lists the blessings for following the law and the curses for breaking the law. Finally, ch. 27 describes the practice of devoting things to the Lord in which someone would commit a piece of property to God as a gift.
The Book of Leviticus shows us the practical ramifications of living out God's commandments. It also impresses upon us the utter holiness of God who ought to be approached with careful preparation and who desires the total surrender of his followers.
By Mark Giszczak