The Big Book–Cover to Cover: Leviticus

To the first recipients, Leviticus offered freedom from the burden of the Law through instruction for confession and worship.

The Pentateuch––the first five books of the Bible––is a whole in five parts. We might even say it’s one book with five chapters, and Leviticus is one of them.

Leviticus is a trip-up for a lot of us. It’s the shortest “chapter” in the Pentateuch literature, and even still, we sometimes approach it with dread.

We tend to look upon the law as overwhelming if we think we are to measure up to it; but we look to the Lord with awe and wonder when we realize He was the one and only perfect sacrifice and the fulfillment of the Law.

Show Notes:

The Pentateuch is a whole in five parts. We might even say it’s one book with five chapters, and Leviticus is one of them.

Leviticus is a trip-up for a lot of men and women when we read through these first five books. It’s the shortest “chapter” in the Pentateuch literature, and even still, we sometimes approach it with dread.

Exodus 19:5-6

Note especially that Moses talks about a holy nation and kingdom of priests.

When Moses goes up from Mt. Sinai through to Numbers 10 when the tabernacle is completed and Israel moves out is kind of a unit where God gives to Moses, “The Law” and it is followed.

And by Numbers 11, the people are found grumbling.

Title

And He Called” is one word, and it’s the first word in Leviticus 1:1

It will come as no surprise that our English title Leviticus is not the Hebrew title.

Dr. Allen Ross suggests the implied title would be most accurately expanded, “And the Lord called to Moses, saying––”

-Ross, Allen P., Holiness to the LORD: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus, (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002), p. 16.

We read a distinct character of divine authority: God gave to Moses; Moses delivered to priests and the people.

This title word is found in Leviticus 28 times to Moses and 5 times to Aaron, each a precise repetition “The Lord spoke-” or “The Lord said-”

One way to “outline” Leviticus:

  • Laws of Sacrifice –Leviticus 1-7
  • Laws of Priests –Leviticus 8-10
  • Laws of Purification –Leviticus 11-16
  • Instructions for Holiness –Leviticus 17-26
  • Redemption of Vows –Leviticus 27

Interestingly, the tribe of Levi is only mentioned once in the book of Leviticus (Leviticus 25:32). Aaron is the priest and is a Levite, and the priesthood will descend from Aaron.

But God said to Moses a “a kingdom of priests” – not a priesthood.

Leviticus is a continuation of Exodus

If Exodus was redemption from slavery, consecration to worship; Leviticus is: How to Worship.

The book is written to the priests–but here you and I are reading it.

Leviticus shows the critical need for the “layperson” ––the entire nation of Israel––to understand these ‘holy legislations’ to carry out God’s instruction.

“But one idea informs all this vast and detailed cultic[religious practice] law and gives it a real glory even apart from its prophetic significance –holiness. Holiness is its goal. Holiness is its character: the Lord is holy; His sanctuary is holy; its vessels are holy; the garments of the priests are holy; the sacrifices are most holy to the Lord; and all who approach Him of whose name is “Holy” –whether the priests who minister or the people who worship—must themselves be holy. It is as if throughout Israel’s holy place was the earthly echo of that seraphic song in the courts above that never ceases to proclaim “holy, holy, holy.” – Ross, p.18

To facilitate the ability to worship in holiness required precise and detailed procedures established by the Lord.

To worship the Lord the way He designed included sacred mountains, sacred buildings, and sacred priests.

We are taught and reminded that God is holy, eternal, personal, all-powerful, perfectly righteous, sovereign, gracious, and jealous.

God’s jealousy is complicated by our view of the term and overexposure to life and language being *fair* and *equal* — God’s jealousy protected His holiness, His worship intentions, His people.

No gods can come before or beside Him. No other form of worship will be acceptable or tolerated. In worship, He is jealous.

He demands the first fruit, first of the flock, fattest and unblemished––the best.

Any co-mingling of these with man-made forms of worship are corruption from other people groups or even omissions were taken seriously.

*Why* does He “demand” such devotion? Because He created all of this. He grants life, prosperous crops, herds, children, and any other measure of “success.” It belongs to Him, and His worshippers gladly understand and are eager to comply.

To be a holy people and a holy nation, Israel must know and remember––first and foremost––that man is made in the image of God.

Nephesh [נֶפֶשׁ] (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=h5315) is a big word – the soul or breath is the entirety of man. God made man and animals out of dirt and breathed life into them. What’s the difference between animal and man?

Man is made in the image of God.

What we’re learning in the corpus of Leviticus is: The jews were to take the nephesh, take the life, of an animal and offer its blood to cover their own sin.

Did they like killing an animal? Not necessarily, but they were eager to worship God.

4 Biblical, theological foundations are evident in Leviticus:

1. Men & women, while image bearers, are physical, earthly, and consigned to the fallen difficulties. We are broken creatures in a broken context. When we fell in the garden, we fell far and we do not have the resources within ourselves to put ourselves back together.

2. Men and Women are spiritual beings and can communicate with God. You can actually talk to the God of the universe. Adam and Jesus had a conversation, Moses and Christ had a conversation. God had conversation with His prophets. He’s not an abstract, ethereal science-fiction figure that we don’t know how to communicate with.
He hears you. He knows you. He wants a relationship with you.

3. People are entirely incapable of worshiping God apart from God’s work. It is our fallen nature and we will always fall into false systems. We’re always trying to make the flesh better. You know what? We can’t. But by the indwelling power of Christ’s Spirit and our identification with Christ, we can be transformed.

4. YHWH Elohim is Sovereign. 55 times we read “I Am–” Examples: Leviticus 18:21-30, 19:2-3.

5. Holy peple will have holy places, holy objects, holy seasons, and holy rituals:
a. Sabbath
b. Passover
c. Feast of Unleavened Bread
d. Feast of Weeks (later, Passover)
e. Feast of Trumpets
f. Day of Atonement (a *major* theme in Leviticus)
g. Feast of Tabernacles
h. Sabbath year and Year of Jubilee

Because of our cultural context it can be difficult for us to understand these, but these were joyful festivals!

Ross makes some helpful conclusions:

The Law and the Church

1. Think of the Law as the constitution of the Nation of Israel.
God established Israel as a theocracy––God’s holy people, His holy nation, a kingdom of priests, unlike any neighboring peoplegroup.
2. The Law explained what it meant to be in communion with God. The law revealed all that was needed to know God is holy and how to worship Him. It’s not just formalism, it’s holiness
3. The Law regulated the purity and worship of God’s people. Detailed procedures for dealing with sin, purification, intercession, and atonement. A good way to think of this is the legislation of the constitution. You can only approach God in the way He designed. The details may seem overwhelming to us because we’re removed by 4,000+ years – but to the Jewish believer, this language would’ve been familiar.

4.The Law was a “tutor” leading to Jesus Christ.
Galatians 3:24-25

Christ fulfilled the law completely, perfectly, and finally. But while the law is fulfilled, it is not annulled. We have 9:10 commandments clearly restated in the New Testament. We have the list in Matthew 5: You have heard that it was said, but I say to you where Christ heightens the spirit of the Law above the letter of the Law.

We look upon the law as overwhelming if we think we are to measure up to it. We look to the Lord with awe and wonder knowing He was the one and only perfect sacrifice. No more sacrifice needed, no more rituals or offerings, and blood for guilt and sin. Rather, we look to the High Priest.

We’re not free to sin licentiously. We’re free from the eternal consequences.

We’re not free from the law in that we can do whatever we want, we’re free from the law in that we’re no longer penalized and punished because we’ve failed.

Romans 6:11-14, 1 John 1:9

This is not making the flesh better, this is cooperating with God’s Spirit as you and I are convicted.

How do we deal with shame and guilt? We confess our sin.

Confession is so easy and we make it so hard. Acknowledge to God we’re sinners.

When, not if, believers sin, we may confess our sin and ask forgiveness through the righteous blood of Jesus Christ.

That’s an obvious truth, but I need to be reminded: when we sin, confess, and ask forgiveness.

This is the marvel of the book of Leviticus. The men and women of antiquity looked forward to that time, they longer for that time when the burden of the law was lived. They wanted to be free from, not the law, but free from guilt and shame.

He lived, He died, He was buried, He came back to life. He fulfilled the Law. He completed it.

We can never be good enough to get to God, but God was good enough to come to us. By faith, we trust God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Michael Easley

About Michael Easley

Michael is husband to one, dad to four, and host of Michael Easley inContext.



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