Who wrote it?
Moses was the author of the book of Leviticus.
When(ish) was it written?
The book of Leviticus was written between 1440 and 1400 BC.
Why was it written?
Because the Israelites had been held captive in Egypt for 400 years, the concept of God had been distorted by the polytheistic, pagan Egyptians. The purpose of Leviticus is to provide instruction and laws to guide a sinful, yet redeemed people in their relationship with a holy God. There is an emphasis in Leviticus on the need for personal holiness in response to a holy God. Sin must be atoned for through the offering of proper sacrifices (chapters 8-10). Other topics covered in the book are diets (clean and unclean foods), childbirth, and diseases which are carefully regulated (chapters 11-15). Chapter 16 describes the Day of Atonement when an annual sacrifice is made for the cumulative sin of the people. Furthermore, the people of God are to set apart their personal, moral, and social living from the then-current practices of the heathen cultures around them (chapters 17-22).
Some Key Verses
He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. – Leviticus 1:4For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. – Leviticus 17:11You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 19:18
A Quick Summary
Chapters 1–7 outline the offerings required of all the people and the priests. Chapters 8–10 describe the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. Chapters 11–16 are the prescriptions for various types of uncleanness. The final 10 chapters are God’s guidelines to His people for practical holiness. Various feasts were instituted in the people’s worship of God, practiced according to God’s laws. Blessings or curses would accompany either the keeping or neglect of God’s commandments (chapter 26). Vows to the Lord are covered in chapter 27.
The primary theme of Leviticus is holiness. God’s demand for holiness in His people is based on His own holy nature. A corresponding theme is that of atonement. Holiness must be maintained before God, and holiness can only be attained through a proper atonement.
Much of the ritualistic practices of worship picture in many ways the person and work of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10 tells us that the Mosaic Law is “only a shadow of the good things that are coming” by which is meant that the daily sacrifices offered by the priests for the sin of the people were a representation of the ultimate Sacrifice—Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice would be once for all time for those who would believe in Him. The holiness imparted temporarily by the Law would one day be replaced by the absolute attainment of holiness when Christians exchanged their sin for the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
What does this mean?
God takes His holiness very seriously, and so should we. The trend in the postmodern church is to create God in our own image, giving Him the attributes we would like Him to have instead of the ones His Word describes. God’s complete holiness, His transcendent splendor, and His “unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16) are foreign concepts to many Christians. We are called to walk in the Light and to put away the darkness in our lives so that we may be pleasing in His sight. A holy God cannot tolerate blatant, unashamed sin in His people and His holiness requires Him to punish it. (A simple but effective metaphor here is to think of oil and water–they physically cannot mix.) We dare not be flippant in our attitudes toward sin or God’s loathing of it, nor should we make light of it in any way.
Praise the Lord that because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, we no longer have to offer animal sacrifices. Leviticus is all about substitution. The death of the animals was a substitute penalty for those who had sinned. In the same way, but infinitely better, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the substitute for our sins. Now we can stand before a God of complete holiness without fear because He sees us positionally in the righteousness of Christ.
Take a few minutes to review the Scripture from Leviticus 9:22-10:2; 16:1-22. What verses or ideas stand out to you from these passages? What questions do you have? What would you like to remember and apply to your life?
Why is the book of Leviticus valuable for us as Christ-followers today?
Through the Law, God put forth the specific ways that the Israelites would worship him and had specific consequences for those who did not follow his ways (Leviticus 10:1-2). Why does this frustrate many people in our current culture?
Read Hebrews 10:11-23. What does it mean for us to have access to God? How does this challenge you in your relationship with Him?
In the Law, God gave the Israelites ways to be reminded of the sacrifice needed to pay for their sins. What are some ways you can remind yourself on a regular basis of Jesus’s death on the cross for your sin?
One way we remember Jesus and what he did for us is by taking communion together. Read 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and take communion together as a life group.