The Story of Leviticus
The book of Leviticus is the story of how a sinful people can have a relationship with a holy God. The answer is to “be holy as I Am Holy” (Lev 11:45). The end of Exodus and the beginning of Leviticus show that Moses is on the outside of the Tabernacle and the tension is how can he go inside. Leviticus answers the question by laying out four concepts: Rituals, Purity, Priest, and the Day of Atonement.
Rituals include sacrifice (Lev 1-7) and the calendar (Lev 23-27). The people are told they can offer two types of thanksgiving sacrifices and three kinds of sin sacrifices. The details leave most readers bored. It can be like reading your iPhone terms and conditions except there is a lot of dead animals and blood. When two people made a covenant in the Ancient Near East, they would take an animal cut it down the middle and walk between it. The idea was that if you broke the terms of the covenant then may what happened to this animal happen to you. We see this happening in Genesis 15 when God reaffirms his covenant with Abraham. The purpose of the sacrifices was to remind the people of their covenant with God. When they violated the covenant, they would offer a sacrifice, and this would remind them of their sin and the seriousness of the offense.
The calendar included seven holidays, the weekly Sabbath, the Sabbath year, and the Year of Jubilee. You can read about these, but they had one primary purpose. These contain set dates on a calendar when the people would reflect and retell the story of Israel. This would include the Exodus, the wilderness wanderings, the Day of Atonement, etc. The beauty of this was to establish a rhythm of life and teaching so the people would never forget what God had done for his people.
Purity laws were broken down into two categories: ritual purity (Lev 11-15) and moral purity (Lev 18-20). Ritual purity is the food laws and washings. You had to be pure/clean to present yourself to God. You could break these laws, but you had to go through a purification process. The laws accomplished two purposes: you prepared to enter God’s holy presence, and it kept them from diseases. The food laws can be (slightly over) simplified into two groups, animals that carry parasites or transmit diseases (unclean) and those that do not (clean). The washings are partly good hygiene. If you touch a dead animal, then you have to wash your body and clothes. If you come in contact with a skin disease, you have to isolate yourself for 24 hours to make sure you don’t get it. The second group is moral purity, and it was a sin to do these. They are focuses on sexual purity, justice, and relationships.
The priests are ordained in Lev 8-10 and then given rules for being a priest in Lev 21-22. The role of the priest is to be mediators between God and man. They will be the ones who help make man holy before God. They did this by offering sacrifices. The entire book of Leviticus is about being holy as God is holy. The priests are the ones who perform all the sacrifices while the rest of the people are responsible for keeping the ritual purity laws.
Day of Atonement was a special day when the high priest would enter the holy of holies and take two goats and confess Israel’s sins over them. One will be sacrificed to atone for Israel sins, and the other goat is the “scapegoat,” he is sent out into the wilderness to symbolize that God had removed the sins of Israel to be remembered no more. The purpose of this day is God showing his love to his people while revealing to them the severe and destructive nature of sin. But God is providing a way to atone or restore their relationship to God.
Leviticus answers the question of how can a sinful people come into the presence of a holy God. They will do this by being pure or clean and through sacrifices. The priest will become the mediators whose job is to help the people to be holy so they can commune with God.