The title Leviticus comes from the Greek word meaning "relating to the Levites. In Hebrew, the name for the book is Vayikra, which means "and he called"—possibly relating to God calling on Aaron and his sons to fulfill the obligations of sacrificial law ("and he called" is the first thing said in the Hebrew version). Like the other four books of the Pentateuch (
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Leviticus is one of the most poorly understood books in the Bible if I do say so myself. People rarely read the book, but choose to cite random parts as it suits them, while neglecting the parts that do not suit them. Many people skim or completely skip over Leviticus under the impression that we are not bound by the Old Testament law; not only is this inaccurate, but one can really only understand Jesus' sacrifice and what it is He saved us from by reading and understanding Leviticus. Some of what Leviticus discusses, such as sacrifices, are practices we don't need today. Yet, it is precisely these sacrifices for which Jesus acted as our perfect lamb and absolves us from sin.
Leviticus is directly related to Exodus, specifically the construction of the tabernacle. In order for the people to receive God's presence, they had to live holy lives and maintain holy ethics. The laws presented to the Israelites in the book of Exodus serves to maintain the level of righteousness needed to have God dwell among them. The main focuses of the book are briefly highlighted below.
Holy is the attribute used to describe special people, places, and objects that God separates for Himself. Holiness of an object comes directly from God, therefore treating such people, places, or objects as common is considered a direct offense to God.
From as early as Genesis , we see the words clean and unclean, which are terms separating substances. Most commonly thought of being applied to animals, unclean is also applied to bodily emissions, skin diseases, and contamination. It is used to identify things God considered impure or things that could cause them harm. Cleansing and washing were daily rituals preformed to remind the Israelites to maintain their purity and their relationship with God.
The sacrifices were gifts given to God. Their purpose was also to atone for sins and provide for the priests. The 3 voluntary sacrifices were burnt, grain, and peace. The other offerings, sin and trespass, were required of the Israelites.
Atonement comes from the Hebrew word kipper (think Yom Kippur), which means to reconcile two estranged parties. In all cases where man and God are concerned, man is the offender and God is the offended, which means the Israelites needed to appease Him. A long with the physical sacrifice, genuine remorse and confession were (and still are) required.
God appoints Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. The Levites were to assist in caring for the tabernacle due to their willingness to stand for God after the golden calf incident. The priests were to make atonement for the sinner and act as an intercessory between God's people and God. Today, Jesus has this role; He took office after His resurrection from the cross. Now that He intercedes on our behalf, we do not need earthly priests like Aaron and his sons.
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- Holman Publishers. The Holman Study Bible. pg. 173, 175. 2014
- Leviticus (Vayikra). My Hebrew Dictionary. 2015