Leviticus takes its name from the Levites and can be seen as a kind of instruction manual for the priests. Yet it does not only concern itself with the duties of the Levites but also with the order of worship performed in the Tabernacle (and the future temple). Therefore the book contains a list of laws and regulations pertaining to worship, ceremonial cleanness, morality, holy days, Sabbaths and the year of Jubilee. These instructions were given to the priests while Israel was camped beneath Mount Sinai. The book of Leviticus divides up into seven sections:
1) Laws concerning offerings (1:1-7:38)
2) Acceptable service in the Tabernacle (8:1-10:20)
3) Laws regarding purity and impurity (11:1-15:33)
4) The Day of Atonement (1 6:1-24)
5) Various laws (17:1-25:55)
6) Promises and warnings (26:1-46)
7) Laws concerning vows and tithes (27:1-34)
Basically the thought and teaching behind Leviticus concerns holiness: the holiness of God and man’s need for holiness in daily living (11:14,4445; 19:2; 20:7,26). We see in the book that physical perfection was a requirement for priesthood signifying outward holiness for those who minister in the Tabernacle of God (Chapters 8-10). Even the animals that were to be used in sacrifice must be perfect in every way (Chapters 1-7). Physical defects symbolised spiritual deformities in man. These defects are revealed in various ways in Leviticus. It could be a women haemorrhaging after giving birth or during her monthly period (Chapter 12, 15:19-33); Sores, burns and baldness (Chapters 13-14); any bodily discharge (15:1-18). All of these (and more) made a person unclean in the sight of God. Those who contracted any skin disorder were made to live outside the camp until the condition was healed and was pronounced clean by the priests. A perfect sacrifice was then to be offered to the Lord, second best was never acceptable, so that the person could re-enter the camp.
Through these things the Lord was revealing to Israel that He was the one who would govern their lives. In every way, be it religious or secular, they must be a holy people, separated unto God. Sin must be kept away from them and they were to be a sanctified people.
Leviticus also pays special attention to religious ritual, especially in relation to sacrifices and offerings, and what was to take place inside the sanctuary. No unholy thing or person was permitted inside the house of God. The priests were commanded to live holy lives and to instruct the people to live holy also. The animals used for sacrifice were not to have the slightest blemish upon them. Only a perfect sacrifice could cover the sins of the nation or the individual. The offerings that were commanded not only atoned for man’s sins but were a vehicle that was used by God to reveal man’s sin and His holiness. They made those participating aware of their need for personal holiness. These offerings include:
a) Burnt offerings (1:3-17; 6:8-13).
b) Meal offerings (2:1-16; 6:14-18).
c) Peace offerings (3:1-17; 7:11-36).
d) Sin Offerings (4:1-5:13; 6:24-30).
e) Trespass Offering (5:14-6:7; 7:1 – 10).
Apart from daily burnt offerings there were offerings made on the first day of the week, the first of each month, at Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles, and on the Day of Atonement (Chapter 23).
Aaron and his sons were separated and anointed by God to serve as priests. God commanded that special clothing was to be made for them so that they could stand before Him in holiness and represent the people (Chapter 8-9) They were responsible for offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. Aaron and his sons were ordained of God to serve Him in the specified ways and no one else was permitted to intrude upon their ministry. When Nadab and Abihu tried to offer “strange fire” unto the Lord they received the severest of punishments (Chapter 9). Holiness of worship and service had to be maintain at all times, therefore God would not receive any unholy worship or service no matter how sincere it may be.
Leviticus gives the priests details regarding:
a) The weekly Sabbath. This day was very important to the Jews. God commanded that it be a day of rest and worship.
b) Passover. A feast that speaks of redemption. It was celebrated once a year to
commemorate deliverance from Egypt and protect as the angel of death passed over the homes that had blood on the doors. The Feast of unleavened Bread, which lasted for seven days, always followed this feast.
c) Pentecost. This came fifty days after Passover and was also known as the Feast of Weeks. This was a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest. Two loaves of the best flour were used.
d) The Feast of Trumpets. Known to the Jews as Rosh Hashanah. The priests were to blow the trumpets to signify the voice of God.
e) The Day of Atonement. Known as Yom Kippur. This was the most solemn of days as the whole nation repented for their sins. A goat was slain and its blood used to
atone for their sins as the high priest entered the Holy of Holies. Another goat, called a scapegoat, was sent into the wilderness to symbolise that their sins were gone from them.
f) Year of Jubilee. This was celebrated every fiftieth year. It was also known as the Sabbath Year. The ground was allowed to lie fallow. It was a time when all property was returned to its original owners and outstanding debts were cancelled.
The book of Leviticus also contains prophetic instructions to Israel (Chapter 26). In these Moses calls the Jews to obey God and to receive the rewards that come from obedience to His voice. He points out to them that if they refuse to obey and follow the Lord then severe punishment would be meted out to them and they would be removed from the land. Though they would be led into captivity because of their unbelief, if they repented then the Lord would regather them according to His Covenant with them.
If there is a single phrase that describes the book of Leviticus it would be “Holiness unto the Lord”.