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Leviticus

How to approach a holy God

This is part of a series of articles, describing each of the 66 books of the Bible and how it relates to the one overall story of God’s relationship with man. The story is examined in terms of the eight recurring themes below. The series cover page can be reached here.

God’s
Plan,
Power &
Sovereignty
God’s
Holiness &
Righteousness
God’s
Love &
Pursuit of
Relationship
God’s
Care &
Protection
Man’s
Rebellion & Sin;
God’s Judgment
Atonement,
Grace,
Mercy,
Forgiveness
Savior,
Redeemer,
Messiah, JESUS
Reconciliation,
Restoration,
Redemption
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The book of Leviticus is traditionally considered to have been written by Moses.

The literary style of the book is literal, historical narrative. The majority of the book is a series of specific instructions and laws. It includes all eight of the major themes presented in this article series.

This book is a continuation from where Exodus left off. The people are still at the foot of Mt. Sinai, having just confirmed their covenant promises to be God’s chosen nation. The tabernacle has just been dedicated, and the glory of God is visibly present there. God instructs Moses in the procedures for the tabernacle — the sacrifices and ceremonies required for proper relationship with Him — and the laws by which the people are to conduct their lives.


Sacrifices and Offerings

The first seven chapters specify how the offerings and sacrifices are to be presented. Five primary types are described. Each is slightly different and has its own purpose. But together, they give a picture of how sinful people could come into the presence of a holy God. Their sin had to be “atoned” for — covered or cleansed — via the sacrifice of an animal substitution. The person’s sin-debt was symbolically transferred to the animal by placing their hands on its head, and its lifeblood was considered sufficient to remove the barrier separating them from God. Once atoned, the worshipper could then express gratitude for blessings and experience their relationship with Him.

The five types of offerings were:

  • Burnt OfferingAtoning for general sinful nature.
    • The blood was splashed onto the sides of the altar, while the meat was completely burned, indicating complete dedication to God.
  • Grain OfferingExpressing dedication and devotion.
    • Without lifeblood, this offering was not meant to atone for sin. Rather, it expressed an ongoing life of dedication. The grain was mixed with oil and incense when presented uncooked; when presented cooked, it was baked or griddled with oil and salt but without yeast or honey. Part was burned, given to God; the rest was eaten by the priests but not the worshipper.
  • Fellowship or Peace OfferingA shared meal celebrating relationship.
    • The blood was again splashed onto the altar, but the meat was handled differently. Part of it was burned, sharing with God; bread was also offered and shared with the priest; the rest of the meal was shared with family and friends.
  • Sin OfferingAtonement for specific, but unintentional, sins; also part of cleansing from ceremonial impurity.
    • For major cases – the priests or leaders – the blood was treated more reverently: Part taken inside the tabernacle to the Altar of Incense there, and the rest poured at the base of the main altar. Part of the meat was burned, given to God. The rest was burned separately — outside the camp — in major cases, or eaten by the priests (not the worshipper) otherwise.
  • Guilt OfferingAtonement for specific sins, either intentional or directly against God (by misusing holy things, even unintentionally).
    • In addition to the blood on the altar, the portion of meat burned to God, and the portion given to the priests, this offering had one additional requirement: restitution. The person was to repay the value of the sin — either the actual value of items stolen or taken under false pretenses, or a value set by the priests for intangible harm — plus an extra twenty percent. The reparation was made directly to the person harmed, or to the priests in the case of a sin against God.

Chapters 8 and 9 describe the first ceremonies with these offerings in the newly-built tabernacle. First, Moses dedicated his brother Aaron as High Priest, and Aaron’s sons as priests. Then Aaron gave offerings on behalf of himself and the people. The end result was:

Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.

Leviticus 9:24

Christians see Jesus as the culmination of all of these offerings. He was totally committed to God both in His life and in His death. That death was a sacrificial substitution on behalf of who identify with Him. It resulted in atonement for sin that allows His follower access to God’s presence, and ongoing fellowship with Him (Hebrews 9:11-14).


Clean vs. Unclean

Chapters 10-15 continue to emphasize the concept of holiness. It starts in chapter 10 when two of Aaron’s sons decide to act as priests in their own way rather than by following God’s instructions. They are killed by fire from God; He means what He says!

Chapters 11-15 discuss clean vs. unclean animals, clean vs. unclean skin conditions and bodily discharges, and the sacrifices to become pure again after these situations.

Chapter 17 backtracks a bit, to the sacrifices. It says that only the prescribed offerings given at the tabernacle will be accepted. The people are not to try to offer a sacrifice on their own, in any old place. Again, meeting with God is special and is not to be treated as commonplace.

Chapters 18-20 have laws and rules for behavior. Much of it is regulation of sexual behavior, but there are other laws that similarly mean “Don’t act like the pagan nations around you. You have been set apart to worship Me only. I’m not like other gods; as my chosen nation, you are to be different also.”

Note: That distinction still exists for Christians:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2

Chapters 21-22 gives special instructions to the priests, to be even more separate and holy before they can be qualified to mediate with God on behalf of the people.

Chapter 24 starts with a bit more on the tabernacle procedures, and ends with some of the most important laws. In the tabernacle, the golden lampstand was to be kept burning continually. The gold-over-acacia-wood table was to be kept stocked with the “Bread of the Presence”, twelve loaves of bread, refreshed each week, one for each of the twelve tribes. This kept a symbol of the people always present in the tabernacle, dedicated to God and illuminated by Him.

The laws gave the cases where the death penalty was appropriate, and where it was not. That extreme penalty was for blasphemy — cursing against God — and for murder. Injury to another person, or death of an animal, was punished and restitution was required. But the punishment was limited, and did not include death unless it involved either God or another human being. (The earlier laws had also at times prescribed the death penalty, for child sacrifice and some serious sexual sins.)


Festivals and Ceremonies

Chapter 23 tells of the special recurring occasions for the people to come together and meet with God:

  • Every week
    • Sabbath: On the 7th day
      • A day of rest and sacred assembly
  • In Spring and early Summer
    • Passover: At twilight on the 14th day of the 1st month
      • Commemorates the deliverance from Egypt, the night that Death “passed over” the homes marked by the blood of the sacrificial lamb
      • Note that Jesus’ last meal with His disciples was the Passover meal, and He was sacrificed the next day.
    • Feast of Unleavened Bread: Starting the day after Passover, with another seven days of offerings, and a sacred assembly on the 7th day
      • Leaven, or yeast, was used as a metaphor for sin. So, unleavened bread was a time of holiness. It also recalled the haste in leaving Egypt, with no time for bread to rise.
    • Firstfruits: At the very beginning of harvest time
      • Thanking God for a new year’s provision
    • Festival of Weeks: Seven weeks/fifty days after Firstfruits, at the end of the harvest
      • Thanking God for the full harvest.
      • Note: The harvest instructions also include providing for the poor: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:22) An example of this is seen in Ruth 2:2-7.
  • In late Summer/early Autumn
    • Festival of Trumpets: The first day of the seventh month
    • Day of Atonement: The tenth day of the seventh month (Chapter 16 describes the procedures for the High Priest to follow on this most holy of all the holy-days.)
      • Jesus acts as our ultimate High Priest, once-and-for-all atoning for sin (Hebrews 9:11-14).
    • Feast of Tabernacles: Starting the fifteenth day of the seventh month, lasting for seven days
      • During this time, the people were to live in temporary shelters, to remember their days of wandering in the wilderness during the Exodus, and to demonstrate trust in God to provide for them.

This article gives more detail on each Feast, and how its symbolism was (or will be) fulfilled by Jesus.

Chapter 25 tells of the Sabbath and Jubilee years: Each seventh year, no crops were planted; the land was allowed a chance to rest. And every fifty years, there was a great reset: Debts were forgiven; slaves were freed; and land that had been sold reverted to its original owners. A slave, or their kinsman, also were given the right to redeem themselves out of slavery sooner than Jubilee, if they so desired and could afford to.


Covenant and Redemption

Chapter 26 lays out the contrasting choices and consequences associated with being God’s covenant nation: Peace and favor for obedience; hardship and conquest for disobedience. But even in punishment, God promises that His anger won’t last forever, and that He will forgive if His people repent and turn back to Him.

Chapter 27, the final chapter, sets aside the firstborn of every animal, and a tenth of the crops, as being dedicated to God. It allows for other things, such as property, to be voluntarily dedicated. It also allows for dedicated animals or crops to be redeemed for its cash value plus twenty percent, if the owner chooses to offer God the money instead of the item.

Leviticus is so detailed that it is not the easiest of books to read. But it yields so much information about God’s sovereignty and holiness, His pursuit of relationship with His people and His care for them, how He deals with sin and provides for atonement, and how He works to redeem and bring restoration to the damage that sin has done.