Introduction to Leviticus

Moses is believed to be the author of Leviticus (the writer of the entire Pentateuch for that matter: Genesis through Deuteronomy) by both Jewish tradition and the early Christian church. It was most likely written during Israel’s time in the wilderness after the Exodus. HCSB commentary notes two biblical corroborations for Mosaic authorship:

      1. In John 5:46-47 Jesus responded to His own Jewish critics who questioned His practices by saying: ‘If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

      2. Jesus and the New Testament writers repeatedly refer to the Old Testament as ‘Moses and the prophets’ (Luke 16:29, 31; 24:27) or the Law of Moses and the Prophets (Luke 24:44; Acts 28:23.)”

Leviticus picks up where the book of Exodus closes. Exodus concludes with the completion and dedication of the Tabernacle and the institution of the priesthood. The Israelites are camped out at the base of Mount Sinai and they remain in this location throughout the book of Leviticus. NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Now, in Leviticus, God spoke about His own holy nature, providing instructions about worship and conduct appropriate for Israel as His covenant people. […] Three main concerns are evident throughout Leviticus: the holiness of God, what is appropriate in worshiping a holy God, and how Israel was to be holy in relation to God. […] Each sacrifice and holy day teaches the Israelites about God and what He requires of them. God calls Israel to know Him and love Him (Deuteronomy 6:5, 11:1). As a result, they will also love and serve one another (Leviticus 19:18, 33-34). The rituals and regulations revealed in Leviticus teach the Israelites how to integrate love and service into their lives.”

An integral part of Israel’s worship was animal sacrifice. We know from other ancient cultures that animal sacrifice was not unique to Israelite tradition, however, the purpose and motivation of the sacrifice are what set Israel apart from their pagan contemporaries. NLT Illustrated Study Bible points out, “While surrounding nations offered sacrifices to their gods to appease them and gain their favor, Israel’s worship was not designed to manipulate God. Rather, the worship prepared and purified the people so that they could approach God.” Israel sacrificed for two reasons: to offer a gift to God and to effect atonement. HCSB notes, “It (atonement) specifically addresses the removal of sin (expiation) in order to effect reconciliation with God.”

HCSB also notes that sacrificial offerings to God were not initiated by Mosaic law, but preceded it. “God had prescribed offerings from the time of Abel (Genesis 4). After the flood, Noah offered burnt offerings (Genesis 8:20), as did Abraham (Genesis 22:9). In the New Testament Jesus focused on the underlying motivation for the sacrificial acts. HCSB writes, “The Old Testament sacrifices to God were types of the ultimate, climactic sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His sacrifice can never be repeated (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10), and now the most desirable sacrifice that anyone, rich or poor, can bring to God is a consecrated life (Romans 12:1; 15:15-16; II Corinthians 2:14-17; Philippians 2:17; 4:8; II Timothy 4:6; Hebrews 13:15; I Peter 1:15-16; Revelation 6:9.)”

Finally, observation of these laws (the sacrificial system, dietary laws, ceremonies, holy days, etc- together as a whole) was a way to distinguish Israel from other nations- a reminder that Israel was set apart to be a holy people.