Overview of the book of Leviticus

The most important thing to remember about the book of Leviticus is that it’s a collection of laws showing how ancient Israel was to be a royal priesthood and a holy nation.

 History: Context & Background

Leviticus is the third book of Moses, also written in approximately the year 1400BC, soon after the Israelites left Egypt and Moses received the covenant on Mount Sinai.  As with the rest of the Torah, modern scholarship has questioned the origins of the book of Leviticus, but has not yielded any consensus in opposition to the traditional view.

 Literature: Style & Structure

Leviticus is a book purely of law.  Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy all contain significant sections focused on law, but Leviticus is the only book that is exclusively one genre of literature.

Overall, the book of Leviticus is bifid (having two parts), though the line between the two sections is not clear-cut, but instead transitions from the first focus to the second.  The first half of the book is concerned with the priesthood of Aaron and his sons within the tribe of Levi (from where the book derives its name).  The second half is concerned with the entire Israelite people living holy lives.

1-7

The Royal Priesthood

Five types of Sacrifices

8-10

Ordination of the Priests

11-15

Ceremonial Cleanness laws

16

The Day of Atonement

17

The Holy Nation

More Ceremonial Cleanness laws

18-20

Other religious & ethical laws

21-22

Priestly holiness

23-24

Liturgical seasons

25

Sabbath & Jubilee years

26

Blessings & Curses

27

Vows & Dedications

Because Leviticus is so focused on specific laws, there are fewer direct references from this book repeated in other parts of the Bible.  However, the content of this book is fundamental to understanding the godly legal mindset present throughout the rest of the Old Testament and in the Gospel books.  When the Prophets are preaching against Israel’s failings and Jesus is critiquing the lifestyles of the Pharisees, Leviticus contains much of the material that would be relevant to their discussions.

 Theology: Themes & Insights

Perhaps one of the most useful features of the book of Leviticus is its detailed prescriptions for the priesthood.  By reading about the Levitical Priesthood given to Aaron and his descendants, we can see the prototype for the priesthood of Jesus which the New Testament book of Hebrews expounds upon in great detail.  In examining the types of sacrifices in Leviticus, the Christian can come to deeper understanding of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ and the ongoing sacrifice of the Church.

One particularly special feature of this book is the description of the Day of Atonement in chapter 16.  The actions and prayers of the priests prefigure the actions and prayers of Christ Jesus in a remarkable way.  Comparing the priest’s prayer in Leviticus 16:3-16 with Jesus’ prayer in John 17 shows us just how correctly we refer to John 17 as Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer!”

Additionally, the laws about religious seasons, Sabbaths, and special years also factor in to the Prophets’ preaching, key events in the life of Christ, and the formation of the Christian calendar.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about spiritual formation, theology, biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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