The third book of the Pentateuch, containing laws from God on sacrifices, purity, and other matters connected with Jehovah’s worship. The Levitical priesthood, carrying out its instructions, rendered sacred service in “a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things.”—Heb 8:3-5; 10:1.
Period Covered. Not more than a month is covered by the events given in the book. Most of Leviticus is devoted to listing Jehovah’s ordinances rather than recounting various happenings over an extended period of time. The tabernacle’s erection on the first day of the first month in the second year of Israel’s departure from Egypt is mentioned in the final chapter of Exodus, the book preceding Leviticus. (Ex 40:17) Then, the book of Numbers (immediately following the Leviticus account) in its first verses (1:1-3) begins with God’s command to take a census, stated to Moses “on the first day of the second month in the second year of their coming out of the land of Egypt.”
When and Where Written. The logical time for the writing of the book would be 1512 B.C.E., at Sinai in the wilderness. Testifying that Leviticus was indeed written in the wilderness are its references that reflect camp life.—Le 4:21; 10:4, 5; 14:8; 17:1-5.
Writer. All the foregoing evidence likewise helps to identify the writer as Moses. He received the information from Jehovah (Le 26:46), and the book’s closing words are: “These are the commandments that Jehovah gave Moses as commands to the sons of Israel in Mount Sinai.” (27:34) Besides, Leviticus is a part of the Pentateuch, the writer of which is generally acknowledged to be Moses. Not only does the opening “And . . . ” of Leviticus indicate its connection with Exodus, and therefore with the rest of the Pentateuch, but the way in which Jesus Christ and the writers of the Christian Scriptures refer to it shows that they knew it to be the writing of Moses and an unquestionable part of the Pentateuch. For example, see Christ’s reference to Leviticus 14:1-32 (Mt 8:2-4), Luke’s reference to Leviticus 12:2-4, 8 (Lu 2:22-24), and Paul’s paraphrasing of Leviticus 18:5 (Ro 10:5).
Dead Sea Leviticus Scrolls. Among the manuscripts found at the Dead Sea, nine contain fragments of the book of Leviticus. Four of them, believed to date from 125 to 75 B.C.E., were written in ancient Hebrew characters that were in use before the Babylonian exile.
Value of the Book. God promised Israel that if they obeyed his voice they would become to him “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:6) The book of Leviticus contains a record of God’s installing a priesthood for his nation and giving them the statutes that would enable them to maintain holiness in his eyes. Even though Israel was only God’s typical “holy nation,” whose priests were “rendering sacred service in a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb 8:4, 5), God’s law, if obeyed, would have kept them clean and in line for filling the membership of his spiritual “royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1Pe 2:9) But the disobedience of the majority deprived Israel of filling exclusively the place of membership in the Kingdom of God, as Jesus told the Jews. (Mt 21:43) Nevertheless, the laws set down in the book of Leviticus were of inestimable value to those heeding them.
Through the sanitary and dietary laws, as well as the regulations on sexual morality, they were provided with safeguards against disease and depravity. (Le chaps 11-15, 18) Especially, however, did these laws benefit them spiritually, because they enabled them to get acquainted with Jehovah’s holy and righteous ways and they helped them to conform to His ways. (11:44) Furthermore, the regulations set out in this portion of the Bible, as part of the Law, served as a tutor leading believing ones to Jesus Christ, God’s great High Priest and the one foreshadowed by the countless sacrifices offered in accord with the Law.—Ga 3:19, 24; Heb 7:26-28; 9:11-14; 10:1-10.
The book of Leviticus continues to be of great value to all today who desire to serve Jehovah acceptably. A study of the fulfillment of its various features in connection with Jesus Christ, the ransom sacrifice, and the Christian congregation is indeed faith strengthening. While it is true that Christians are not under the Law covenant (Heb 7:11, 12, 19; 8:13; 10:1), the regulations set out in the book of Leviticus give them insight into God’s viewpoint on matters. The book is, therefore, not a mere recounting of dry, inapplicable details, but a live source of information. By getting a knowledge of how God views various matters, some of which are not specifically covered in the Christian Greek Scriptures, the Christian can be helped to avoid what displeases God and to do what pleases him.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF LEVITICUS
God’s laws, especially concerning the service of the priests in Israel, with emphasis, for the benefit of the nation as a whole, on the seriousness of sin and the importance of being holy because Jehovah is holy
Written by Moses in 1512 B.C.E., while Israel was camped at Mount Sinai
Aaronic priesthood is installed and begins to function
Moses carries out the seven-day installation procedure (8:1-36)
On the eighth day, the priesthood begins to function; Jehovah manifests his approval by displaying his glory and consuming the offering on the altar (9:1-24)
Jehovah strikes down Nadab and Abihu for offering illegitimate fire; subsequently the use of alcoholic drinks when one is serving at the sanctuary is forbidden (10:1-11)
Requirements are outlined for those who will serve as priests; regulations are laid down about eating what is holy (21:1–22:16)
Use of sacrifices in maintaining an approved relationship with God
Instructions are handed down regarding the offering to be made on the day of the priest’s being anointed (6:19-23)
All offerings must be sound; defects making an animal unfit for sacrifice are listed (22:17-33)
Atonement Day procedures are outlined involving the sacrifice of a bull and two goats—one goat for Jehovah and the other for Azazel (16:2-34)
Detailed regulations to safeguard against uncleanness and to maintain holiness
Certain animals are acceptable as clean for food and others are prohibited as unclean; uncleanness results from contact with dead bodies (11:1-47)
A woman should be purified from her uncleanness after giving birth (12:1-8)
Procedures for handling cases of leprosy are detailed (13:1–14:57)
Uncleanness results from sexual discharges, and purification is required (15:1-33)
Holiness must be maintained by respecting sanctity of blood and by shunning incest, sodomy, bestiality, slander, spiritism, and other detestable practices (17:1–20:27)
Sabbaths and seasonal festivals to Jehovah
The manner of observing the annual Festival of Unfermented Cakes (following Passover) and the Festival of Weeks (later called Pentecost) is detailed (23:4-21)
The procedure for observing the Day of Atonement and the Festival of Booths is outlined (23:26-44)
Blessings for obedience, maledictions for disobedience
Blessings for obedience will include bountiful harvests, peace, and security (26:3-13)
Maledictions because of disobedience will include disease, defeat by enemies, famine, destruction of cities, desolation of land, and exile (26:14-45)