Bible Book Number 3—Leviticus
Place Written: Wilderness
Writing Completed: 1512 B.C.E.
Time Covered: 1 month (1512 B.C.E.)
1. (a) Why is the name Leviticus fitting? (b) What other names have been given to Leviticus?
THE most common name for the third book of the Bible is Leviticus, which comes from Leu·i·ti·konʹ of the Greek Septuagint by way of the Latin Vulgate’s “Leviticus.” This name is fitting, even though the Levites are given only passing mention (at 25:32, 33), for the book consists chiefly of the regulations of the Levitical priesthood, which was chosen from the tribe of Levi, and the laws that the priests taught the people: “For the lips of a priest are the ones that should keep knowledge, and the law is what people should seek from his mouth.” (Mal. 2:7) In the Hebrew text, the book is named from its opening expression, Wai·yiq·raʼʹ, literally, “And he proceeded to call.” Among the later Jews, the book was also called Law of the Priests and Law of Offerings.—Lev. 1:1, footnote.
2. What evidence supports Moses’ writership?
2 There is no question but that Moses wrote Leviticus. The conclusion, or colophon, states: “These are the commandments that Jehovah gave Moses.” (27:34) A similar statement is found at Leviticus 26:46. The evidence previously noted that proves that Moses wrote Genesis and Exodus also supports his writership of Leviticus, as the Pentateuch evidently was originally one scroll. Moreover, Leviticus is joined to the preceding books by the conjunction “and.” The strongest testimony of all is that Jesus Christ and other inspired servants of Jehovah frequently quote or refer to the laws and principles in Leviticus and attribute them to Moses.—Lev. 23:34, 40-43—Neh. 8:14, 15; Lev. 14:1-32—Matt. 8:2-4; Lev. 12:2—Luke 2:22; Lev. 12:3—John 7:22; Lev. 18:5—Rom. 10:5.
3. What time period is covered by Leviticus?
3 What time period does Leviticus cover? The book of Exodus concludes with the setting up of the tabernacle “in the first month, in the second year, on the first day of the month.” The book of Numbers (immediately following the Leviticus account) opens with Jehovah’s speaking to Moses “on the first day of the second month in the second year of their coming out of the land of Egypt.” It follows, therefore, that not more than a lunar month could have elapsed for the few events of Leviticus, most of the book consisting of laws and regulations.—Ex. 40:17; Num. 1:1; Lev. 8:1–10:7; 24:10-23.
4. When was Leviticus written?
4 When did Moses write Leviticus? It is reasonable to conclude that he kept a record of events as they took place and wrote down God’s instructions as he received them. This is implied by God’s command to Moses to write down the doom of the Amalekites right after Israel had defeated them in battle. An early date is also suggested by certain matters in the book. For example, the Israelites were commanded to bring animals that they wanted to use for food to the entrance of the tent of meeting for slaughtering. This command would be given and recorded shortly after the installation of the priesthood. Many instructions are given for guiding the Israelites during their wilderness journey. All of this points to Moses’ writing Leviticus during 1512 B.C.E.—Ex. 17:14; Lev. 17:3, 4; 26:46.
5. What purpose was served by the laws concerning sacrifices and ceremonial uncleanness?
5 Why was Leviticus written? Jehovah had purposed to have a holy nation, a sanctified people, set apart for his service. From the time of Abel, faithful men of God had been offering sacrifices to Jehovah, but first with the nation of Israel did Jehovah give explicit instructions regarding sin offerings and other sacrifices. These, as explained in detail in Leviticus, made the Israelites aware of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and impressed upon their minds how displeasing it made them to Jehovah. These regulations, as part of the Law, served as a tutor leading the Jews to Christ, showing them the need of a Savior and at the same time serving to keep them as a people separate from the rest of the world. Especially did God’s laws regarding ceremonial cleanness serve the latter purpose.—Lev. 11:44; Gal. 3:19-25.
6. Why was detailed guidance from Jehovah now a special need?
6 As a new nation journeying toward a new land, Israel needed proper direction. It was still less than a year from the Exodus, and the living standards of Egypt as well as its religious practices were fresh in mind. Marriage of brother and sister was practiced in Egypt. False worship was carried on in honor of many gods, some of them animal gods. Now this large congregation was on its way to Canaan, where life and religious practices were even more degrading. But look again at the encampment of Israel. Swelling the congregation were many who were pure or part Egyptian, a mixed multitude who were living right in among the Israelites and who had been born of Egyptian parents and were raised and schooled in the ways, religion, and patriotism of the Egyptians. Many of these had undoubtedly indulged in detestable practices in their homeland only a short time before. How necessary that they now receive detailed guidance from Jehovah!
7. In what way do the regulations of Leviticus bear the stamp of divine authorship?
7 Leviticus bears the stamp of divine inspiration throughout. Mere humans could not have devised its wise and just laws and regulations. Its statutes regarding diet, disease, quarantine, and treatment of dead bodies reveal a knowledge of facts not appreciated by worldly men of medicine until thousands of years later. God’s law regarding animals unclean for eating would protect the Israelites while they traveled. It would safeguard them against trichinosis from pigs, typhoid and paratyphoid from certain kinds of fish, and infection from animals found already dead. These practical laws were to direct their religion and their lives that they might remain a holy nation and reach and inhabit the Promised Land. History shows that the regulations provided by Jehovah gave the Jews a definite advantage over other peoples in the matter of health.
8. How do the prophetic contents of Leviticus further prove inspiration?
8 The fulfillment of the prophecies and types in Leviticus further proves its inspiration. Both sacred and secular history record the fulfillment of the Leviticus warnings about the consequences of disobedience. Among other things, it foretold that mothers would eat their own children because of famine. Jeremiah indicates that this was fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., and Josephus tells of its happening at the city’s later destruction, in 70 C.E. The prophetic promise that Jehovah would remember them if they repented found its fulfillment in their return from Babylon in 537 B.C.E. (Lev. 26:29, 41-45; Lam. 2:20; 4:10; Ezra 1:1-6) Further testifying to the inspiration of Leviticus are quotations other Bible writers make from it as inspired Scripture. In addition to those previously noted in establishing Moses as the writer, please see Matthew 5:38; 12:4; 2 Corinthians 6:16; and 1 Peter 1:16.
9. How does Leviticus magnify Jehovah’s name and holiness?
9 The book of Leviticus consistently magnifies Jehovah’s name and sovereignty. No less than 36 times its laws are credited to Jehovah. The name Jehovah itself appears, on an average, ten times in each chapter, and time and again obedience to God’s laws is inculcated by the reminder, “I am Jehovah.” A theme of holiness runs throughout Leviticus, which mentions this requirement more often than any other Bible book. The Israelites were to be holy because Jehovah is holy. Certain persons, places, objects, and periods of time were set apart as holy. For example, the Day of Atonement and the Jubilee year were set aside as seasons of special observance in the worship of Jehovah.
10. What is stressed in connection with sacrifices, and what penalties for sin are noted?
10 In line with its emphasis on holiness, the book of Leviticus stresses the part that the shedding of blood, that is, the sacrifice of a life, played in the forgiveness of sins. The animal sacrifices were limited to creatures that were both domestic and clean. For certain sins confession, restoration, and the payment of a penalty were required in addition to a sacrifice. For still other sins, the penalty was death.
CONTENTS OF LEVITICUS
11. How may Leviticus be outlined?
11 Leviticus consists mostly of legislative writing, much of which is also prophetic. In the main the book follows a topical outline and may be divided into eight sections, which follow one another quite logically.
12. What kinds of blood sacrifices are there, and how must they be offered?
12 Regulations for sacrifices (1:1–7:38). The various sacrifices fall into two general categories: blood, consisting of cattle, sheep, goats, and fowl; and bloodless, consisting of grain. The blood sacrifices are to be offered as either (1) burnt, (2) communion, (3) sin, or (4) guilt offerings. All four have these three things in common: The offerer must himself bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, he must lay his hands upon it, and then the animal is to be slaughtered. Following the sprinkling of the blood, the carcass must be disposed of according to the kind of sacrifice. Let us now consider the blood sacrifices in turn.
13-16. (a) Outline the requirements for (1) burnt offerings, (2) communion sacrifices, (3) sin offerings, and (4) guilt offerings. (b) In connection with blood sacrifices, what is repeatedly forbidden?
13 (1) Burnt offerings may consist of a young bull, ram, goat, or pigeon or of a turtledove, depending upon the means of the offerer. It is to be cut in pieces and, except for the skin, is to be burned in its entirety upon the altar. In the case of a turtledove or a pigeon, the head must be nipped off but not severed, and the crop and feathers must be removed.—1:1-17; 6:8-13; 5:8.
14 (2) The communion sacrifice may be either a male or a female, of the cattle or of the flocks. Only its fatty parts will be consumed upon the altar, a certain portion going to the priest and the rest being eaten by the offerer. It is well termed a communion sacrifice, for by it the offerer shares a meal, or has communion, as it were, with Jehovah and with the priest.—3:1-17; 7:11-36.
15 (3) A sin offering is required for unintentional sins, or sins committed by mistake. The type of animal offered depends upon whose sin is being atoned for—that of the priest, the people as a whole, a chieftain, or an ordinary person. Unlike the voluntary burnt and communion offerings for individuals, the sin offering is mandatory.—4:1-35; 6:24-30.
16 (4) Guilt offerings are required to cover personal guilt due to unfaithfulness, deception, or robbery. In some instances guilt requires confession and a sacrifice according to one’s means. In others, compensation equivalent to the loss plus 20 percent and the sacrifice of a ram are required. In this section of Leviticus dealing with the offerings, the eating of blood is emphatically and repeatedly forbidden.—5:1–6:7; 7:1-7, 26, 27; 3:17.
17. How are bloodless sacrifices to be offered?
17 The bloodless sacrifices are to consist of grain and are to be offered either whole roasted, coarse ground, or as fine flour; and they are to be prepared in various ways, such as baked, done on a griddle, or fried in deep fat. They are to be offered with salt and oil and at times with frankincense, but they must be wholly free of leaven or honey. With some sacrifices a portion will belong to the priest.—2:1-16.
18. With what faith-strengthening spectacle is the installation of the priesthood climaxed?
18 Installation of the priesthood (8:1–10:20). The time now comes for a great occasion in Israel, the installation of the priesthood. Moses handles it in all its detail, just as Jehovah commanded him. “And Aaron and his sons proceeded to do all the things that Jehovah had commanded by means of Moses.” (8:36) After the seven days occupied with the installation, there comes a miraculous and faith-strengthening spectacle. The whole assembly is present. The priests have just offered up sacrifice. Aaron and Moses have blessed the people. Then, look! “Jehovah’s glory appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before Jehovah and began consuming the burnt offering and the fatty pieces upon the altar. When all the people got to see it, they broke out into shouting and went falling upon their faces.” (9:23, 24) Indeed, Jehovah is worthy of their obedience and worship!
19. What transgression takes place, followed by what?
19 Yet there are transgressions of the Law. For example, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offer illegitimate fire before Jehovah. “At this a fire came out from before Jehovah and consumed them, so that they died before Jehovah.” (10:2) In order to offer acceptable sacrifice and enjoy Jehovah’s approval, people and priest alike must follow Jehovah’s instructions. Right after this, God gives the command that priests must not drink alcoholic beverages while serving at the tabernacle, implying that intoxication may have contributed to the wrongdoing of Aaron’s two sons.
20, 21. What regulations cover cleanness and proper hygiene?
20 Laws on cleanness (11:1–15:33). This section deals with ceremonial and hygienic cleanness. Certain animals, both domestic and wild, are unclean. All dead bodies are unclean and cause those who touch them to become unclean. The birth of a child also brings uncleanness and requires separation and special sacrifices.
21 Certain skin diseases, such as leprosy, also cause ceremonial uncleanness, and cleansing is to apply not only to persons but even to clothing and houses. Quarantining is required. Menstruation and seminal emissions likewise result in uncleanness, as do running discharges. Separateness is required in these cases, and on recovery, in addition, the washing of the body or offering of sacrifices or both are required.
22. (a) Why is chapter 16 outstanding? (b) What is the Atonement Day procedure?
22 Day of Atonement (16:1-34). This is an outstanding chapter, for it contains the instructions for Israel’s most important day, the Day of Atonement, which falls on the tenth day of the seventh month. It is a day to afflict the soul (most likely by fasting), and on it no secular work will be permitted. It begins with the offering of a young bull for the sins of Aaron and his household, the tribe of Levi, followed by the offering of a goat for the rest of the nation. After the burning of incense, some of the blood of each animal is to be brought, in turn, into the Most Holy of the tabernacle, to be sprinkled before the Ark’s cover. Later the animal carcasses must be taken outside the camp and burned. On this day a live goat is also to be presented before Jehovah, and upon it all the sins of the people are to be pronounced, after which it is to be led off into the wilderness. Then two rams must be offered as burnt offerings, one for Aaron and his household and the other for the rest of the nation.
23. (a) Where do we find one of the Bible’s most explicit statements on blood? (b) What other regulations follow?
23 Statutes on blood and other matters (17:1–20:27). This section sets out many statutes for the people. Once again blood is prohibited in one of the most explicit statements on blood to be found anywhere in the Scriptures. (17:10-14) Blood may properly be used on the altar, but not for eating. Detestable practices, such as incest, sodomy, and bestiality, are forbidden. There are regulations for the protection of the afflicted, the lowly, and the alien, and the command is given, “You must love your fellow as yourself. I am Jehovah.” (19:18) The social and economic well-being of the nation is guarded, and spiritual dangers, such as the worship of Molech and spiritism, are outlawed, with death as the penalty. Again God emphasizes separateness for his people: “And you must prove yourselves holy to me, because I Jehovah am holy; and I am proceeding to divide you off from the peoples to become mine.”—20:26.
24. What does Leviticus outline as to priestly qualifications and seasonal feasts?
24 The priesthood and festivals (21:1–25:55). The next three chapters deal chiefly with Israel’s formal worship: the statutes governing the priests, their physical qualifications, whom they may marry, who may eat holy things, and the requirements for sound animals to be used in sacrifices. Three national seasonal feasts are commanded, providing occasions to “rejoice before Jehovah your God.” (23:40) As one man, the nation in this way will turn attention, praise, and worship to Jehovah, strengthening its relationship with him. These are feasts to Jehovah, annual holy conventions. The Passover, along with the Festival of Unfermented Cakes, is set for early spring; Pentecost, or the Festival of Weeks, follows in the late spring; and the Atonement Day and eight-day Festival of Booths, or of Ingathering, are in the fall.
25. (a) How is it shown that “the Name” must be held in honor? (b) What regulations involve the number “seven”?
25 In chapter 24, instruction is given concerning the bread and oil to be used in the tabernacle service. There follows the incident in which Jehovah rules that anyone abusing “the Name”—yes, the name Jehovah—must be stoned to death. He then states the law of punishment in kind, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” (24:11-16, 20) In chapter 25, regulations are found regarding the year-long Sabbath, or rest year, to be held every 7th year and the Jubilee every 50th year. In this 50th year, liberty must be proclaimed in all the land, and hereditary property that was sold or surrendered during the past 49 years must be restored. Laws protecting the rights of the poor and of slaves are given. In this section the number “seven” appears prominently—the seventh day, the seventh year, festivals of seven days, a period of seven weeks, and the Jubilee, to come after seven times seven years.
26. In what does Leviticus reach its climax?
26 Consequences of obedience and disobedience (26:1-46). The book of Leviticus reaches its climax in this chapter. Jehovah here lists the rewards for obedience and the punishments for disobedience. At the same time, he holds out hope for the Israelites if they humble themselves, saying: “I will remember in their behalf the covenant of the ancestors whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt under the eyes of the nations, in order to prove myself their God. I am Jehovah.”—26:45.
27. How does Leviticus conclude?
27 Other statutes (27:1-34). Leviticus concludes with instructions on handling vow offerings, on the firstborn for Jehovah, and on the tenth part that becomes holy to Jehovah. Then comes the brief colophon: “These are the commandments that Jehovah gave Moses as commands to the sons of Israel in Mount Sinai.”—27:34.
28. Of what benefit is Leviticus to Christians today?
28 As a part of the inspired Scriptures, the book of Leviticus is of great benefit to Christians today. It is of wonderful help in appreciating Jehovah, his attributes, and his ways of dealing with his creatures, as he so clearly demonstrated with Israel under the Law covenant. Leviticus states many basic principles that will always apply, and it contains many prophetic patterns, as well as prophecies, that are faith strengthening to consider. Many of its principles are restated in the Christian Greek Scriptures, some of them being directly quoted. Seven outstanding points are discussed below.
29-31. How does Leviticus emphasize respect for Jehovah’s (a) sovereignty, (b) name, and (c) holiness?
29 (1) Jehovah’s sovereignty. He is the Lawgiver, and we as his creatures are accountable to him. Rightly he commands us to be in fear of him. As the Universal Sovereign, he brooks no rivalry, be that in the form of idolatry, spiritism, or other aspects of demonism.—Lev. 18:4; 25:17; 26:1; Matt. 10:28; Acts 4:24.
30 (2) Jehovah’s name. His name is to be kept holy, and we dare not bring reproach upon it by words or by actions.—Lev. 22:32; 24:10-16; Matt. 6:9.
31 (3) Jehovah’s holiness. Because he is holy, his people must also be holy, that is, sanctified, or set apart for his service. This includes keeping separate from the godless world around us.—Lev. 11:44; 20:26; Jas. 1:27; 1 Pet. 1:15, 16.
32-34. What principles are outlined as to (a) sin, (b) blood, and (c) relative guilt?
32 (4) The exceeding sinfulness of sin. It is God who determines what is sin, and we must strive against it. Sin always requires an atoning sacrifice. In addition, it also requires of us confession, repentance, and making amends to the extent possible. For certain sins there can be no forgiveness.—Lev. 4:2; 5:5; 20:2, 10; 1 John 1:9; Heb. 10:26-29.
33 (5) The sanctity of blood. Because blood is sacred, it may not be taken into the body in any form. The only use permitted for blood is as an atonement for sin.—Lev. 17:10-14; Acts 15:29; Heb. 9:22.
34 (6) Relativity in guilt and punishment. Not all sins and sinners were considered in the same light. The higher the office, the greater the responsibility and penalty for sin. Willful sin was punished more severely than unintentional sin. Penalties were often graded according to ability to pay. This principle of relativity also applied in fields other than sin and punishment, such as in ceremonial uncleanness.—Lev. 4:3, 22-28; 5:7-11; 6:2-7; 12:8; 21:1-15; Luke 12:47, 48; Jas. 3:1; 1 John 5:16.
35. How does Leviticus sum up our duties toward our fellowman?
35 (7) Justice and love. Summing up our duties toward our fellowman, Leviticus 19:18 says: “You must love your fellow as yourself.” This takes in everything. It precludes showing partiality, stealing, lying, or slandering, and it requires showing consideration to the handicapped, the poor, the blind, and the deaf.—Lev. 19:9-18; Matt. 22:39; Rom. 13:8-13.
36. What proves Leviticus to be beneficial for the Christian congregation?
36 Also proving that Leviticus is outstandingly “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness” in the Christian congregation are the repeated references made to it by Jesus and his apostles, notably Paul and Peter. These called attention to the many prophetic patterns and shadows of things to come. As Paul noted, “the Law has a shadow of the good things to come.” It sets forth “a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things.”—2 Tim 3:16; Heb. 10:1; 8:5.
37. What fulfillments of types are described in Hebrews?
37 The tabernacle, the priesthood, the sacrifices, and especially the annual Atonement Day had typical significance. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, helps us to identify the spiritual counterparts of these things in relation to “the true tent” of Jehovah’s worship. (Heb. 8:2) The chief priest Aaron typifies Christ Jesus “as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass, through the greater and more perfect tent.” (Heb. 9:11; Lev. 21:10) The blood of the animal sacrifices foreshadows the blood of Jesus, which obtains “everlasting deliverance for us.” (Heb. 9:12) The innermost compartment of the tabernacle, the Most Holy, into which the high priest entered only on the annual Day of Atonement to present the sacrificial blood, is “a copy of the reality,” “heaven itself,” to which Jesus ascended “to appear before the person of God for us.”—Heb. 9:24; Lev. 16:14, 15.
38. How were the typical sacrifices fulfilled in Jesus?
38 The actual sacrificial victims—sound, unblemished animals offered as burnt or sin offerings—represent the perfect unblemished sacrifice of the human body of Jesus Christ. (Heb. 9:13, 14; 10:1-10; Lev. 1:3) Interestingly, Paul also discusses the feature of the Atonement Day where the carcasses of animals for the sin offering were taken outside the camp and burned. (Lev. 16:27) “Hence Jesus also,” writes Paul, “suffered outside the gate. Let us, then, go forth to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach he bore.” (Heb. 13:12, 13) By such inspired interpretation, the ceremonial procedures outlined in Leviticus take on added significance, and we can indeed begin to comprehend how marvelously Jehovah there made awesome shadows pointing forward to realities that could be made plain only by the holy spirit. (Heb. 9:8) Such proper understanding is vital for those who are to benefit by the provision for life that Jehovah makes through Christ Jesus, the “great priest over the house of God.”—Heb. 10:19-25.
39. How does Leviticus blend in with “all Scripture” in making known Jehovah’s Kingdom purposes?
39 Like Aaron’s priestly household, Jesus Christ as High Priest has underpriests associated with him. These are spoken of as “a royal priesthood.” (1 Pet. 2:9) Leviticus clearly points to and explains the sin-atoning work of Jehovah’s great High Priest and King and the requirements laid upon the members of His household, who are spoken of as “happy and holy” and as being ‘priests of God and of the Christ and ruling as kings with him for the thousand years.’ What blessings that priestly work will accomplish in lifting obedient mankind up to perfection, and what happiness that heavenly Kingdom will bring by restoring peace and righteousness to the earth! Surely, we must all thank the holy God, Jehovah, for his arranging for a High Priest and King and a royal priesthood to declare abroad His excellencies in sanctification of His name! Truly, Leviticus blends in wonderfully with “all Scripture” in making known Jehovah’s Kingdom purposes.—Rev. 20:6.