The word “Leviticus” (the English title of the book) comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (it is called the Septuagint) and means, “pertaining to the Levites” since this book is primarily a manual for the priests, who were from the tribe of Levi. Now that they had the Tabernacle…God gave them Leviticus as a handbook to show the Levites how to use it. However, it also contains many laws concerning all Israelites. The Hebrew title of the book comes from its very first word and means, “Then the LORD called”…speaking of God’s call to holiness (cf. 11:45).
What is the Septuagint?
The author of Leviticus is Moses…some 56 times it says that Moses wrote down these words as instructed by the Lord (cf. 4:1; 6:1; 8:1; 11:1; 12:1). Jesus spoke of Moses as its author (Mark 1:44; cf. Leviticus 13:49). Leviticus is the third of the 5 books written by Moses, called the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy).
The book of Exodus concluded with the assembly of the Tabernacle. One month and twenty days later, the people would depart from Sinai (Numbers 10:11). During the time before they departed, God gave Moses the book of Leviticus…so that they might know how the Tabernacle was to operate. It was written around 1450-1410 B.C.
Being a manual for the priests, Leviticus is full of language pertaining to their activities…such words occurring about: sacrifice-42 times; priest-189 times; blood-86 times; holy-87 times; atonement-45 times. The regulations it specifies pertain to holiness both of body and spirit. The New Testament refers to Leviticus about 90 times.
Outline of Leviticus:
Leviticus is divided into two parts:
- The Way to God…Sacrifice (God’s Foundation for Fellowship)
- The Walk with God…Sanctification (God’s Condition of Fellowship).
Someone has said that Leviticus is a picture book for the children of Israel to help them in their religious training. God is speaking visually through the symbolism of the Tabernacle…the Offerings, the Priests, the Feasts. Every picture pointed them forward to the work of Christ.
The Biblical Timeline Book by Book:
Genesis…history from Creation through entry into Egypt
Exodus…history from Exodus through Sinai
Leviticus…one year after the Exodus…Laws for living and instructions for the use of the Tabernacle…given during the month and 20 days between the setting up of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:17) and the departure of the people from Sinai (Numbers 10:11). The book begins with the word, “And,” or “Then,” (depending on the translation) since the children of Israel are still at Mt. Sinai and God is continuing to give His instructions to them.
Numbers…History starting one month after the close of Exodus and continuing through 39 years of wandering in the wilderness…concluding at the border to the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy…The addresses given by Moses during the final months of his life while Israel was camped across from the Promised Land.
In Genesis we see man ruined.
In Exodus we see man redeemed.
In Leviticus we see man worshiping.
In Numbers we see man serving.
In Deuteronomy we see man obeying.
In Genesis we see the Origin of the Nation.
In Exodus we see the Deliverance of the Nation.
In Leviticus we see the Life of the Nation.
In Numbers we see the Test of the Nation.
In Deuteronomy we see the Reminders to the Nation.
For a more extensive introduction to the book of Leviticus see:
The Way to God…Sacrifice Leviticus 1-10
Leviticus 1-7 Through the Offerings
Leviticus 1:1-Leviticus begins with the word "Then"...showing that it is a continuation after the book of Exodus. Chapters 1-7 deal with the Offerings and Sacrifices...5 offerings are mentioned (not including the mention of the peace offering in 7:32, and the drink/libation offering in 23:13). An offering is the means by which a man draws near to God (the root or basic meaning of the word “offering” is “to approach, to draw near”).
The 5 Main Offerings…
- To make payment for sins in general
- Showed a person’s devotion to God
- Christ’s Death was the perfect offering
- Lev. 1 - Voluntary
- Grain Offering
- To show honor and respect for God in worship
- Acknowledged that all we have belongs to God
- Christ was the perfect man, who gave all of him- self to God and others
- Lev. 2 - Voluntary
- Peace Offering
- To express gratitude to God
- Symbolized peace and fellowship with God
- Christ is the only way to fellowship with God
- Lev. 3 - Voluntary
- Sin Offering
- To make payment for unintentional sins of uncleanness, neglect, or thoughtlessness
- Restored the sinner to fellowship with God; showed the seriousness of sin
- Christ’s death restores our fellowship with God
- Lev. 4 - Required
- Guilt Offering
- To make payment for sins against God and others. A sacrifice was made to God, and the injured person was repaid or compensated
- Provided compensation for injured parties
- Christ’s death takes away the deadly consequences
- Lev. 5 - Required
For a more detailed explanation of the various sacrifices see:
For an explanation of the sacrifices from a Jewish perspective see:
How did the Jews offer sacrifices when they were deported into other countries and after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.?
Prayer and Study Replace Sacrifice.
The view that the sacrifice is such a substitute is clearly expressed in the prayer which R. Sheshet was wont to recite on the evening after a fast-day: "Lord of the World, when the Temple was standing one who sinned offered a sacrifice, of which only the fat and the blood were taken, and thereby his sins were forgiven. I have fasted to-day, and through this fasting my blood and my fat have been decreased. Deign to look upon the part of my blood and my fat which I have lost through my fasting as if I had offered it to Thee, and forgive my sins in return" (Ber. 17a). The study of the laws of sacrifice was regarded as a sacrifice in itself (Men. 110), and thereby one obtained forgiveness after the destruction of the Temple had rendered the offering of sacrifices impossible (Ta'an. 27b).
The thank- and food-offerings are more sacred than the sin-offerings. They are offered because it is not fitting that the table of man should be filled while the table of the Lord, the altar, is empty (Ḥag. 7a). There are, however, various sentences in the Talmud which show the different views as to the value of these sacrifices. According to one view they have an absolute value in themselves, and the sacrifices which a person brings are a meritorious work for which he will be rewarded by God. Thus King Balak of Moab was rewarded for his sacrifices to God by being permitted to become the ancestor of Ruth (Nazir 23b). Similarly the sacrifices which Israel offered to God are meritorious works by which it was distinguished from the other peoples (Meg. 12b), and God can not forget the sacrifices which Israel offered to Him in the wilderness (Ber. 32b). A sacrifice is meritorious in proportion to its value (Sanh. 43b). But the view is expressed also that the value of a sacrifice depends upon the spirit in which it is brought; it matters not whether a person offers much or little, so long as he offers it in a spirit pleasing to God (Men. 110a).
Subordination of Sacrifice.
A person must not imagine that his sacrifices are meat and drink for God nor that he has therewith fulfilled a wish of God and that therefore He will fulfil his wishes (ib.; this passage must be explained according to Maimonides, "Moreh," iii. 46, contrary to Rashi). The study of the Law is regarded as more valuable than sacrifices (Meg. 3b). Similarly, philanthropy is worth more than all sacrifices (Suk. 49b), and a modest and humble disposition is equivalent to all kinds of sacrifices (Sanh. 43b). One who intends to give wine for the altar should give it to those who devote themselves to the study of the Law (Yoma 71a); and if one shows hospitality to a student of the Law, it is the same as if he had offered the daily burnt offerings (Ber. 10b). Prayer is regarded as a substitute for sacrifice (Ber. 6b; Suk. 45a); indeed, it is even more than sacrifice (Ber. 15a, b; 32b).
1:1 spake unto him. All Scripture is verbally inspired, but there were various methods by which this was accomplished. The result, rather than the method, is the key issue. God “in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). The idea of direct divine dictation is often ridiculed by liberals or denied with embarrassment by conservatives, but the fact is that this method was actually claimed by the human writers in many cases. The book of Leviticus is a prime example, with Moses asserting that over 90% of its verses were dictated by God. Similar claims were made by many of the prophets. “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14).
The Levitical sacrificial system had five separate and distinct offerings. They are introduced in the first five chapters of Leviticus. They are:
- The Burnt Offering (Leviticus 1)…mentioned 197 times in Scripture
- The Meat Offering (Leviticus 2)…mentioned 123 times in Scripture
- The Peace Offering (Leviticus 3)…mentioned 119 times in Scripture
- The Sin Offering (Leviticus 4)…mentioned 43 times in Scripture
- The Trespass Offering (Leviticus 5)…mentioned 36 times in Scripture
The burnt, grain, peace, sin, and guilt offering composed the basic sacrificial system of Israel. These sacrifices were commonly used in conjunction with each other and were carried out on both an individual and a corporate basis. The sacrificial system taught the necessity of dealing with sin and, at the same time, demonstrated that God had provided a way for dealing with sin. Other offerings are mentioned in the Mosaic Law. These other offerings include those made for a vow (called votive), thank offerings, drink offerings, heave offerings, and wave offerings. However, these offerings are usually, if not always, a subset of the five major offerings.
Jesus was the fulfillment of all of the sacrifices:
JESUS CHRIST AND THE SACRIFICIAL SYSTEM
But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 10:12)
JESUS FULFILLED THE BURNT OFFERING (Leviticus 1)
As Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma (Ephesians 5:2)
JESUS FULFILLED THE GRAIN AND FIRSTFRUITS OFFERING (Leviticus 2)
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)
JESUS FULFILLED THE PEACE OFFERING (Leviticus 3)
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God though our Lord, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
JESUS FULFILLED THE SIN OFFERING (Leviticus 4)
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21)
JESUS FULFILLED THE GUILT OFFERING (Leviticus 5)
Who was delivered up because of our offenses and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:25)
You have made His soul an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10)
JESUS FULFILLED EVERY SACRIFICE FOR US!
"He is the Burnt-offering, the Meat-offering, the Peace-offering, the Sin-offering, and the Trespass-offering for His people. By His one oblation of Himself once offered, He has stood in all these different relations" (Jukes)
We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)
Leviticus 1:2-17-the Burnt Offering…to atone for sin and restore the relationship with God
- This is a voluntary offering of Dedication (Romans 12:1-2). It speaks of the fact that a person comes to God by offering all of his life to Him. Since it symbolizes that we must give all of our life to God…the animal is killed (death represents total surrender) and all of the sacrifice but the blood is burned. This sacrifice comes first.
- It is a Voluntary sacrifice and this makes it a sweet savour (something that is pleasing, acceptable) to God.
- It was one of the daily burnt offerings…the most common sacrifice. Christ offered Himself in the sinner’s place (Leviticus 1:4). We should offer ourselves daily to God.
- The one who made this sacrifice did so to restore the relationship with God and to atone for some sin. When Araunah offered to David his threshing floor, oxen, and wood without cost so that David could sacrifice, David refused. His explanation was that he could not offer burnt offerings that cost him nothing (2 Samuel 24:18-25 ). Christ voluntarily offered Himself in death without spot to God (Hebrews 9:14; 10:5-7). This sacrifice symbolized the offerer’s voluntary presentation of himself to God even as Jesus did (Hebrews 9:14; 10:5-7). It portrays the surrender of Christ for the world.
- The offering was to be an animal, "a male without defect"..."that he may be accepted before the LORD". The offerer was to "lay his hand on the head" (this symbolized that the animal was being offered up in his place, as his substitute, (:4) and "offer up in smoke all of it" (the word “burnt” literally means “ascent” since all of the offering, except the blood, was to be burned and it would ascend up in smoke). If the offering came from: the herd (bull) it was to be…brought to the doorway of the tent of meeting (:3); from the flock (sheep, goat)…northward side of the altar (:11); a bird (turtledove, pigeon)…eastward side of the altar (:16). The reason why different animals were allowed to be offered was to provide for people of different financial circumstances to be able to participate. For instance, a person in extreme poverty could afford to purchase a bird, but maybe not a bull.
- Burnt offering (olah ). The burnt offering was offered both in the morning and in the evening, as well as on special days such as the Sabbath, the new moon, and the yearly feasts (Numbers 28-29; 2 Kings 16:15; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 2 Chronicles 31:3; Ezra 3:3-6 ). Rituals performed after childbirth (Leviticus 12:6-8 ), for an unclean discharge (Leviticus 15:14-15 ) or hemorrhage (Leviticus 15:29-30 ), or after a person who was keeping a Nazirite vow was defiled (Numbers 6:10-11 ) required a burnt offering, as well as a sin offering.
The animal for this sacrifice could be a young bull, lamb, goat, turtledove, or young pigeon; but it had to be a perfect and complete specimen. The type of animal chosen for this sacrifice seems to be dependent on the offerer's financial ability. The one bringing the offering was to lay a hand upon the animal so as to identify that the animal was taking the person's place and then to kill it. The priest then collected the blood and sprinkled it around the altar and the sanctuary, and the worshiper cut up and skinned the animal. If a bird was brought, the priest killed it. After the priest arranged the various parts on the altar, the entire animal was burned as a sacrifice. The only portion that remained was the hide, and the priest received it (Leviticus 7:8 ). The one who made this sacrifice did so to restore the relationship with God and to atone for some sin. When Araunah offered to David his threshing floor, oxen, and wood without cost so that David could sacrifice, David refused. His explanation was that he could not offer burnt offerings that cost him nothing (2 Samuel 24:18-25 ).
Leviticus 2:1-16-the Grain (Meal) Offering…
It reminded the people that God provided them with their basic food and that in turn they should give Him their lives as a gift or tribute to Him. It was an offering of gratitude, thanksgiving (showing recognition for what God had provided)…which is what the Hebrew word for this offering means.
- This is an offering of daily Devotion…our gift of life. It reminded the people that God gave them their basic food and they in turn owed Him their lives.
- It is a Voluntary offering and was a sweet savour to the Lord.
- It typifies the life of Christ. The fine flour speaking of the character of Christ…the detail of His perfection in thought, in word, in action (Hebrews 2:17-18). It portrays our Service to Christ in Life.
- This offering was to come from the crop (an offering of baked goods). It consisted of unleavened cake of fine flour mixed with oil and frankincense...no leaven or honey may be used (:11). A portion of it is to be burned as an offering and the rest is given to the Priests for their personal use. This offering was to be made "As an offering of first fruits" (:12), and an "offering of early ripened things" (:14). Salt was to be added (:13) which represented the eternal covenant with God. Salt stands for permanence and incorruption (cf. Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5.).
- Grain offering (minchah; “meat offering” in KJV). An offering from the harvest of the land is the only type that required no bloodshed. It was composed of fine flour mixed with oil and frankincense. Sometimes, this offering was cooked into cakes prior to taking it to the priest. These cakes, however, had to be made without leaven. Every grain offering had to have salt in it (Leviticus 2:13 ), perhaps as a symbol of the covenant. Only a portion of this offering was burned on the altar, with the remainder going to the priests. While no reason is given for the grain offering, it may have symbolized the recognition of God's blessing in the harvest by a society based to a large degree on agriculture. The bringing of a representative portion of the grain harvest was another outward expression of devotion.
Why did the Priests keep a part of the offerings for themselves?
Deuteronomy 18:1–2 says that the Levites had a very special inheritance from God: “The Levitical priests—indeed, the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.” The other tribes of Israel received a land inheritance in Canaan, but the Levites received no land. Instead, the Levites were given certain cities within the other tribes’ territories.
The Levites’ inheritance was God Himself in the sense that they were the ones chosen to oversee the worship of the entire nation of Israel. The Levites were responsible for the tabernacle and its implements as well as overseeing the sacrifices and offerings of the people.
The priests were provided for through their service. Deuteronomy 18:3–4 offers a summary of the Law’s provisions: “This is the share due the priests from the people who sacrifice a bull or a sheep: the shoulder, the internal organs and the meat from the head. You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep.”
The fuller explanation of this teaching is found in Numbers 18. “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting. . . . They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites’” (verses 21, 23–24).
God was the unique inheritance to the Levites. He was the focus of their service, the source of their sustenance, and the significance of their calling. Their inheritance included cities, daily food, and a constant vocation, but it did not include the same type of land inheritance given to the other tribes of Israel.
Leviticus 3:1-17-the Peace Offering…an offering of thanksgiving for fellowship with God.
It illustrated fellowship with God (and with other men) on the basis of the blood sacrifice (life). It was literally an offering of happiness and was the only offering of which the offerer shared by eating a portion of it (7:15).
- This is an offering of Thanksgiving…representing fellowship and communion with God. It is the only offering in which the offerer ate part.
- Voluntary…sweet savour.
- It represents Christ, who has made our peace with God through His blood on the cross (Ephesians 2:14; Colossian 1:20). It portrays the Serenity of Christ in Life.
- The offering was to be an animal...a male, or a female. It was to be presented at the "doorway of the tent" (:2), "The fat was burned on the altar (:3), the offerer was to "lay his hand on the head" and “you shall not eat any fat or any blood" (:17).
- Peace offering (zebach shelamin; well-being in NRSV; “shared” in REB; “fellowship” in NIV). This consisted of the sacrifice of a bull, cow, lamb, or goat that had no defect. As with the burnt offering, the individual laid a hand on the animal and killed it. The priests, in turn, sprinkled the blood around the altar. Only certain parts of the internal organs were burned. The priest received the breast and the right thigh (Leviticus 7:28-36 ), but the offerer was given much of the meat to have a meal of celebration (Leviticus 7:11-21 ). As part of the meal, various kinds of bread were offered (and ultimately kept by the priest). The idea of thanksgiving was associated with the peace offering. It often accompanied other sacrifices in celebration of events such as the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8:63 ) or spiritual renewal (2 Chronicles 29:31-36 ).
Prayer: Lord, help me to offer my life daily as a living sacrifice to You...always ready for Your coming.