Date: c. 1400 B.C. or c. 1200 B.C.
The Book of Leviticus served as a handbook for the ancient priests of Israel. Much of it is devoted to specific regulations concerning offerings, sacrifices, ritual purity, ordination, feasts, and festivals. There are also regulations that go beyond the religious institutions and that deal with the events of life. The implication of those regulations is that all of life is, in fact, religious. All that we do, whether in direct worship or not, is part of our relationship with God.
For example, we should not separate life into categories of sacred and secular, imagining that only the so-called sacred areas belong to God. God sees us as totalities, and all of lifework, worship, relationships, creativity, families important to him. That awareness is a source of great comfort in the book of Leviticus. It says that we should not worry that the writing is of no interest or value simply because these rules were formulated for a basically rural, agricultural, and ancient people, whereas we are, for the most part, urbanized, industrialized, and modern. Some may wonder about the rules themselves, which seem to have no bearing on contemporary life. A slight shifting of our mental gears should help us to overcome these problems. Looking at the basic idea rather than at the specific rule, we can see how each rule embodies a principle that is just as valid today as it was in Moses’ day. In fact, it is amazing how current the ideas are. For example, the rule about sexual purity (Leviticus 15:1-33) may be seen as emphasizing the sanctity of sex and warning against its casual treatment. The need for such advice today is obvious.
Theological Themes in the Book of Leviticus
The theological themes that run throughout the Book of Leviticus are of great value for us to consider. The first important theological theme in Leviticus is that God is holy, and that he expects his people to be holy. This practical holiness is to govern our whole life.
Second, all of life should be viewed as God’s. We must never imagine that we can cut God out of what we are doing. He is vitally concerned with all that we do.
Third, sin needs to be atoned for. The system of sacrifices established by God showed atonement in a graphic way and pointed to the great sacrifice eventually to be made in Christ. The blood of bulls and goats can never remove sin ultimately; the death of Jesus can and does do that.
Finally, our lives are to be lived horizontally as well as vertically. Our relationship to other human beings is just as important as our relationship to God. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus said that this was of equal importance to loving God with all our hearts and, in fact, formed a commandment with it (Matthew. 22:37-40; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27).
Our devotion to God is part of a total understanding of life; all of life is God’s. The Book of Leviticus was written to show the ancient Israelites, and us, too, how to live in a consecrated way before God.
Outline for the Book of Leviticus
Regulations about sacrifices and offerings Leviticus1:1-7:38
The priesthood and the tabernacle Leviticus 8:1-10:20
Regulations about human life Leviticus 11:1-15:33
The great day of atonement Leviticus 16:1-34
Holiness before God as ethical living Leviticus 17:1-22:33
Festivals, feasts, and various other regulations Leviticus 23:1-27:34