Leviticus: Theological High Points

The book of Leviticus, is a manual of priestly regulations and duties and a handbook of instructions prescribing practical “holy living” for the Israelite covenant community. Though the book is rooted in priestly and liturgical writing, authorship is attributed to Moses. The documentary hypothesis of Biblical authorship would attribute the book of Leviticus completely to the P source. Whether Moses wrote the book remains unclear, however, the “content and arrangement of the legal materials were standardized very early in the Hebrew covenant experience. Hebrew rituals were unique among ANE traditions for many reasons, especially the idea of strict monotheism and an understanding of the origin and impact of human sin. The book centers on the concept of holiness, establishing procedures for Israel to follow in worship, through this they might enjoy the blessings of Yahweh’s presence. Everything in life for the Hebrews was either holy or common for the Hebrews. Leviticus institutes a cycle of sanctification for all things, which may be made either clean or unclean through rituals.

Another major theme of Leviticus is the idea of ritual sacrifice, allowing the Hebrew people to gain access to Yahweh. There are five basic types of sacrifices: grain offerings, peace offerings, burnt offerings, sin offerings, and trespass offerings. Leviticus 17:11 says “for the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” Therefore, it was necessary for the Hebrew people to atone for their sins through ritual sacrifices. It is accurate for one to connect the Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, ceremony with the death of Jesus Christ. Under the old covenant, one could be counted as righteous as long as they obeyed the covenant requirements and their faith in Yahweh. Lastly, Leviticus extends the ideological belief of holiness into the calendar. Levitical law created festivals and ordinances to foster social and economic equality among the Hebrew people.

The modern reader of Leviticus should seek to understand that the primary command to the Hebrew people is in Lev. 11:44-45 “consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” Leviticus provided a manual on holiness designed to instruct the Hebrew community. Because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God has extended the gift of salvation to those who willingly repent from their wicked ways and profess Christ Jesus as the one true God. Before the sacrifice of Jesus, however, the Israelites could engage God and experience forgiveness through ritual sacrifice and holy living. A modern reader could connect John 1:29 where John the Baptist said “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” to Leviticus 16 and the idea of atonement for sin. Leviticus invites the reader to see and identify with what God was doing with the faithfulness of the Israelites at that time to see what God was doing to establish real felt and lasting forgiveness. All of the faithful people of God have been able to engage God and understand what it means to be forgiven of sin.

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