Book of Leviticus


Authorship, date, and background Leviticus is the third Book of Moses and, like the other four books of the Pentateuch, was composed during the last two decades of the fifteenth century B.C. The Hebrew title for the book comes from the opening phrase of the text, meaning "and he called." The title used in the Septuagint, Leviticus, means "pertaining to the Levites." Since the Israeli priests were Levites, the title is appropriate, for the book discusses the ministry of the Levitical priesthood in some detail.

The key verse of Leviticus is 11:45, which says, "Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy." God chose Israel to be his holy people; they were a nation peculiarly set apart for God and his purposes. God, as this book constantly reiterates, gave his laws and regulations through Moses, who either wrote them down or had them written down under his aegis (4:1; 6:1; 8:1; 11:1; 12:1; 13:1, etc.). Israel was commanded to keep God's injunctions, not in order to become acceptable in his sight by their works, but rather because the keeping of God's laws would be an outward manifestation of hearts in tune with God and an expression of their love for him.

Leviticus lays down the rules for the proper presentation of sacrifices and clearly states what is clean and unclean.

Characteristics and content Law and grace kiss each other in this book. Superficially it appears to be the most legalistic book in the Old Testament. God demands that his people conform their conduct to his rules and regulations. Yet the gospel is truly to be found here, for the obedience God requires is a response to the grace and mercy of God which his people must first receive as a gift. This underlying truth is fully revealed and developed in the New Testament in the writings of Paul, who champions the doctrine of God's free grace in Jesus Christ, and through James, who emphasizes the necessity of the believer's response to God's grace through works.

The pages of Leviticus contain the laws of sacrifices, the rules for the consecration of the priesthood, and the regulations for the separation of God's people from defilement with respect to foods, childbirth, diseases like leprosy, and also bodily secretions. Great emphasis is laid on the Day of Atonement, the place of sacrifice, and the necessity to shed blood for the remission of sins. Then follow the laws for practical holiness, a summary of the duties of the priesthood, and a list of the holy convocations together with their meanings and requirements.

Economic regulations are laid down. The people of Israel are given title to their lands in perpetuity. Mortgaged properties are to be returned to their owners in the Year of Jubilee. Stipulations govern the cost using the mortgaged lands, depending on how long they will be lost to their owners until the Jubilee. The sabbatical year for the land is set for every seventh year. The book comes to a close with the promise of God for blessings to be bestowed on the obedient and curses which accrue to the disobedient. The last chapter gives directions about vows and tithes.