The book of Leviticus? Have you read it? Maybe you’ve tried…and given up after a few chapter.
So, what does the book of Leviticus talk about?
Glad you asked! Keep reading…
God cannot be in the presence of anything or anyone impure, therefore, He has made a way for His people to temporarily become pure in order to be with Him.
Explanation of Main Idea
God has called His people to be with Him, but they can’t. Unfortunately, they are unholy and not at all like Him and would get annihilated in His presence. Not even Moses, the leader of the Israelites, is pure enough.
Therefore, God designed a system, a methodology, for the Israelites to enter into His presence and to live as His holy people. This process is very complicated, involving many different rules, sacrifices, and offerings, all having to do, generally, with life and death. Death and its associations make a man impure before God, the Life-Giver.
Performing one of these sacrifices, such as a sin offering or burnt offering, which involved shedding the blood of a specific animal in a specific way, would leave in the mind of a man how costly it was to come into God’s presence. He would see it as a great privilege given by a loving God that provided for him a way to be made pure and to be able to enter into His presence.
The book of Leviticus was written to elevate God’s holiness and impress us with the great value and fantastic provision of entering His presence. The problem is sin; mankind is corrupt and impure. Like the sun, God’s presence is good, but dangerous. He is completely pure. Instituting a sacrificial system as the solution, reminds us of the value of life and severity of sin.
Our sin introduces death into the world; we are incompatible with a holy God. But God doesn’t want to kill us; He wants to live in covenant harmony with us.
We are impressed, even startled, as we read of all the blood and animal killing in Leviticus. We are confused and bored with all the regulations and nit-picky laws in it’s pages. The message is that holiness and purity is a high goal — almost unattainable. But God provides a way, albeit complicated and involved. He keeps His covenant.
- The Holiness of God and His People
Behind all of the sacrifices and rules in Leviticus is this idea that God is holy and to be His people, or to come into His presence, His people have to become holy. God’s holiness is closely related to the fact that He is the author of life. Therefore, anything associated with death, like touching an animal carcass or human corpse, or a myriad of other situations, would render one unclean for a certain period of time.Holiness signifies a distinctness. God, and God alone, possesses the ability to create life. This uniqueness sets Him apart from all other beings. There is nothing about Him that is death. The only way for His people to be right with Him is to find His life and be cleansed from death. Experiencing purity and impurity would be a normal part of daily life for the Israelite.
- Sin, Atonement, and the Need for a Mediator
Leviticus is a bloody book! Animals are slaughtered left and right. It is all because of sin. Without all the sacrifices, the children of Israel would have no way to come into a pure relationship with God. It is the function of a priest, as a mediator, to perform the rites leading to purity. The ultimate event and sacrifice in the life of the Israelites was the annual Day of Atonement. This the most important section, as signified by the chiastic structure of the book.The sacrifice on this Day, like the other sacrifices, signified that “God loves me and wants to provide a way to do away with my evil without doing away with me.” So blood had to be shed because “the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement…” (Lev. 17:11, CSB).
- Festivals and Worship
There are two types of offerings (or sacrifices) that are described in Leviticus. First, are those that dealt with sin: the burnt offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. Second, are those that provided a way to worship: the grain offering and the fellowship offering. These offerings were a way to say ‘Thank You!” to God.Yahweh also lays out the calendar for His people which revolves around celebrating several festivals: Sabbath, Passover, Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles. These festivals commemorated many of the miraculous deeds that God had done for His covenant people.
How Does This Relate To Us?
As Christians, we sometimes take for granted the easy access we have to God. We can bow our knew anytime of the day or night, lift our hands in a church worship service, or simply close our eyes and talk to God, completely and totally forgiven. Yes, we give credit to the work of Jesus on the cross, but we don’t often recognize the backstory of animal sacrifice and bloody offerings that Old Testament saints had to adhere to in order to find forgiveness. Understanding the book of Leviticus serves to increase our appreciation and devotion to our great God.
Some people, and some Christians, cherry-pick verses from the book of Leviticus and use them either to defend or excuse certain viewpoints or practices. For example, homosexuality is wrong (Lev. 18:22) but it’s ok to get tattoos, even though Leviticus 19:28 says, “You are not…to put tattoo marks on yourselves; I am the LORD.” The answer is to recognize that these rules and regulations had specific moral and cultural application to those whom they were directly given, namely the children of Israel as they wandered in the desert and were making their way to their new home in the promised land.
We must remember that “the entire thrust of the New Testament is that fellowship with God is no longer based on external matters such as circumcision, keeping dietary laws, or following Israel’s holy days,” but rather fellowship with God is based on our relationship with Him through faith in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God.
Leviticus can also serve as a bridge to build relationships with Jewish people. For the Christian who understands it’s themes, they are able to speak about the necessity of a sacrifice for sin and the significance of the Day of Atonement. Ultimately, this could lead to a Jewish person coming to grips with who Jesus is and why He came.
Lastly, this book could help us think through how we celebrate holidays. The children of Israel had a calendar marked with spiritual significant celebrations, reminding them of their past and pointing to their future. People of God today have taken holidays like Christmas and Easter and reworked them into Jesus-centred celebrations. This is a good thing! But I’ve often wondered what life would be like if we “christianized” the feasts described in Leviticus, not necessarily as a “Messianic-Jew” would, but simply as an average Christian who loves God.
- Read Leviticus 1 and 4. How do these chapters remind you of Jesus and the cross?
- Read Leviticus 2 and 3. Why do you think these offerings are so detailed?
- Leviticus is a bloody book. Read Leviticus 17:10-12 and explain why.
- Scan through Leviticus 19. What phrase occurs over and over again? What do the regulations in this chapter have to do with holiness, if anything?
Life Application Questions
- Leviticus 2-3 has to do with the grain offering and the fellowship offering, both a way for the Israelite to say “Thank You!” to God. How is this similar and dissimilar to the ways that we thank God?
- Leviticus is incredibly detailed as it lays out ways for people to be right with God. Are there any details in your life related to the way you relate to God that might require an adjustment?
- In Leviticus 10:1-3, Nadab and Abihu died when they approached God in a wrong way. Why was this a big deal? How do you feel when leaders misrepresent God?
- Read through the description of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. Verse 29 speaks of practicing self-denial as part of this observance. In what ways should or shouldn’t we practice self-denial today?
- Chapter 4 describes what would happen if someone sinned unintentionally. Read through this chapter using your imagination. Pretend you are there watching this happen because of your sin. How would you feel? How does this affect your idea and perspective of sin?