What does the word ‘Leviticus’ mean?
Moses, or one of his helpers, wrote Leviticus in the *Hebrew language. All the people called *Jews spoke the *Hebrew language. They belonged to the family that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob started. The *Jews called the Book of Leviticus ‘wayyiqra’. This is actually two *Hebrew words, ‘way’ and ‘yiqra’. They mean ‘and’ and ‘he called’. These words are the first words in the book in the *Hebrew language. When the *Jews translated their Bible into the *Greek language, they gave the book a new title. The new *Greek title meant ‘about the *Levites’. Our title ‘Leviticus’ is the *Latin word for ‘about the *Levites’. The people who lived in Greece spoke *Greek. The people who lived in Rome spoke *Latin. When Jesus came to the earth, many people spoke *Latin and *Greek.
Jacob had 12 children. One of them was called Levi. His *descendants became the *tribe of Levi. *Descendants are members of your family that live after you. A *tribe is a very large family. Members of this family were called *Levites. They had a special job to do. Some of them worked in the house of God. They were called priests. Other priests worked in every town in the country. They helped people to understand the Bible. The Book of Leviticus, (‘wayyiqra’), helped the priests to do their work. Remember that all the priests were *Levites.
But now there are no *Jewish priests with the same duties as they had at the time of Moses. But the Book of Leviticus is still important. The reason for this is that many things in the book *point to (describe) the life and death of Jesus! Leviticus was important after the *Jews left Egypt. Today, it is important after a person becomes a Christian. There is more about this below. But today, we could call the Book of Leviticus by another name. That name would be, ‘*Worship the *LORD in the Beauty of *Holiness’. ‘*Worship’ means many things. They include ‘love and obey’. *LORD is a special name for God. It probably means ‘always alive’. ‘*Holiness’ means that people always try to please God. God always thinks that this makes people beautiful.
Normally, it would not be possible for anyone to *worship the *LORD in the beauty of *holiness. The Bible says that all people are *sinners. By our own efforts, we cannot please God. But God has provided a method so that we can *worship him properly.
For the *Jews, that method was *sacrifice. They would give to God parts of the animals that they killed. Sometimes they gave the whole animal. The priests burned the gift on the *altar at the house of God. God accepted the animal’s death so that the *Jews could *worship him. The animal had suffered death so that the *Jews could live as friends with God.
For Christians, that method is also *sacrifice. But it is not the death of an animal. God has provided his own precious son, Jesus, to be the perfect *sacrifice. His death deals with every *sin of the people who invite him into their lives. He has freed them from *sin’s power so that they can *worship the *LORD in the beauty of *holiness. So we can all please God because of Jesus’ *sacrifice on the *cross.
Why is Leviticus important for Christians?
Before we read the Book of Leviticus, we must link Leviticus with Exodus. There are three main reasons for this.
Moses wrote Leviticus in the *Hebrew language. The first *Hebrew word in Leviticus is ‘way’. This *Hebrew word means ‘and’. It links the first sentence in Leviticus with the last sentence in Exodus. Moses wanted his people to read the two books together.
In Exodus, Moses described how his people should build the ‘house of God’. This was not God’s house in Jerusalem, called The *Temple. The *Jews did not yet live in Jerusalem. This house was a tent, which people could carry with them. Many ancient people did this, like the *Egyptians. A tent like this showed everybody that their god was with them. Moses’ tent showed people that the God of *Israel was with the *Jews. In Exodus we read how the *Jews made the tent. But in Leviticus, we learn what the priests had to do in God’s tent. All the priests belonged to the *tribe of Levi. They were God’s special servants.
The first 5 books of the Bible tell us about several periods in the life of each person. If that person is a Christian, then the books mean this:
Genesis … *Sin makes a person into a slave of the devil. *Sin is when we do not obey God. Everybody is in this group of people. ‘Everybody has *sinned’, Romans 3:23. We *sin when we do not obey God’s laws. Genesis also tells us about people who tried to obey God, including Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.
Exodus … God makes people free. So they are not slaves. They are like the *Jews who came out of Egypt. Christians are free. In other words, *sin does not still control them like slaves. God makes them free when they first believe in Jesus. They believe that Jesus died to save them from the devil. Now they are not the devil’s people. Instead they are God’s people. We call this ‘conversion’.
Leviticus … God wants his people to be friends with him. This is a special type of friendship that we call ‘*fellowship’. God brought the *Jews out of Egypt so that they could have *fellowship with him. And God frees Christians from *sin so that they can have *fellowship with him. This is what God wants very much. Leviticus tells us that we can have *fellowship with God. We can have *fellowship with God because Jesus died for us! That is why Leviticus is important for Christians.
Numbers … God’s people look for the *Promised Land. For the *Jews, it was the country called Israel. For Christians it is Heaven and the New Earth. Heaven is the home of God. We call this the Christian’s ‘walk’ with God. God shows his people the way to go. We often call this ‘guidance’, because God is guiding his people.
Deuteronomy … God’s people have reached the *Promised Land. They are ‘home’! Here are the rules that they must obey while still on this earth. There are no such rules in Heaven.
What is in the Book of Leviticus?
We can divide the Book of Leviticus into 8 sections.
1. Rules about the *sacrifices. (Leviticus 1:1 to 7:38)
2. Rules about how to make a priest. (Leviticus 8:1 to 10:20)
3. Rules about what is *clean and what is not *clean. (Leviticus 11:1 to 15:33)
4. The Day of *Atonement. (Leviticus 16:1 to 16:34)
5. Rules about religion. (Leviticus 17:1 to 22:33)
6. Holy days, weeks and years (Leviticus 23:1 to 25:55)
7. *Blessings and punishments. (Leviticus 26:1 to 26:46)
8. Rules about promises and *offerings. (Leviticus 27:1 to 27:34)
The 5 *sacrifices
In Leviticus chapters 1 to 7 we read about 5 types of *sacrifices. Below is a series of boxes. We call it a ‘table’. It helps us to understand the description and purpose of each *sacrifice.
|Name of *sacrifice||Where to find it in Leviticus||The purpose of this *sacrifice||What the people offered (or gave as a *sacrifice)||What they did with it|
|*Whole offering||Leviticus 1:1-17||To make God favourable. To give yourself humbly to God.||A perfect *bull, sheep, goat, or birds (called *pigeons or *doves).||They burned everything.|
|*Corn offering||Leviticus 2:1-16||To thank God and also to make him favourable to the offerer. To give your goods and your work to God.||Cake or bread with no salt or *yeast (*yeast makes bread to rise).||They burned some and the priests ate some.|
|*Peace offering||Leviticus 3:1-17 and 22:18-30||To thank God; to be at peace with God; to be happy with other people; to express love to God.Also, after you have carried out a promise completely.||A perfect male or female animal, whatever you can afford.||They burned the *fat; the priests and the offerer ate the rest of the animal.|
|*Sin offering||Leviticus 4:1 to 5:13||To ask God to forgive you when you *sinned by accident.||It depended who you were. There were various kinds of *sin offerings.||They burned the *fat for God; they burned the rest outside the camp|
|*Guilt offering||Leviticus 5:14-19||To ask God to forgive you when you *sinned against his holy things, or when you hurt somebody else.||A perfect male sheep.||They burned the *fat for God, but the priests ate the rest.|
The note at the start of this Commentary tells us that Leviticus is about God’s people. 3500 years ago, they were the *Jews. But Leviticus also tells us about Jesus. So, it also tells us about Christian people.
The *Jews gave these 5 *offerings at the *meeting tent. Christians do not give animals as their *offerings. Instead, Jesus is their *offering; he is their *whole, *corn, *peace, *sin and *guilt offering. Normally, only *Jews and Christians give these types of *offerings. They are gifts to God from God’s people.
That helps us to understand that the first three *offerings are not for *sin. They are for *fellowship. They bring God and his people together. They become ‘at one’. In other words, they have friendly relations with him; they are united as friends with him.
That is why Leviticus 1:4 has *atonement (or ‘at-one-ment’) in it. But it is not the usual meaning of at-one-ment. The usual meaning is when God forgives a *sinner for the first time. They become ‘at one’. In Leviticus chapters 1 to 3, it is when a *Jew or a Christian wants to be ‘at one’ with God in his daily life. That is why the word ‘wants’ in Leviticus 1:3 is so important. Also, it tells us why they burned everything in chapter 1. The Christian who wants *fellowship with God gives everything to God. Something to do number 1 tells us how Jesus did this for Christians (see the end of chapter 1).
So, as you read Leviticus chapters 1 to 7, remember this. It is only about God’s people. In Moses’ time, they were *Jews. Now, also, they are Christians.