Leviticus is the 3rd book in the Bible, and part of The Five Books of Moses(the Torah). The “Levi” in the title refers to the descendants of Levi, son of Israel. When Moses was on Mount Sinai, many of the Israelites fell away from God. However, Moses and his tribe of Levi stayed with God and showed loyalty, so they were given the special privilege to serve as “priests” of God. Leviticus is the book that records the role of the Levites, as well as the many laws given by God.
Overview of Leviticus
There are many rituals, celebrations, and laws written in Leviticus, and is a very tough book to read through. Many people who read through Genesis and Exodus typically get stuck on this book.
The book of Leviticus is centered on chapters 16-17, and the beginning and end parts have similar contents :
- １−７： Rituals of offering
- ８ー１０： Ordaining of priests
- １１−１５： Purity and impurity in daily living
- １６−１７： Day of Atonement
- １８−２０： Purity and impurity in moral living
- ２１−２２： Conditions of priests
- ２３−２５： Rituals of celebration
So why is this book necessary? Let’s look into it.
Why do we need it?
At the end of Exodus, the Israelites had fallen away from God, and started to worship the idol they created. As a result, in Leviticus 1:1 “God spoke to him(Moses) from the tabernacle”, so Moses was not able to enter into the tabernacle and God was speaking to Moses who was standing outside. The reason he could not come close to God was because God is by nature “Holy”, and the Israelites were “impure”.
God is using the book of Leviticus on how an “impure” people can live together with God. There is a comparison of God to the sun. The sun gives us light and warmth, and is necessary in our daily life. However, if we get too close to the sun without proper protection, it is very dangerous, and we could die. Being with God is similar.
Offerings and rituals of celebration
The Israelites were commanded to give a variety of offerings to God. There are basically 2 types of offerings; Offerings to give as atonement for one’s sin, and offerings to give thanks to God. One’s sin does not actually disappear by the giving of sacrifices, but sacrifices serve to show the consequences of sin(sin results in death). The many celebrations that are explained later in Leviticus serves to remind the Israelites of the many miracles and wonders of God.
The role of the priest
Priests were the special positions given to those of the Levites. Aaron, Moses’ brother, and Aarons sons were chosen as high priests. These high priests were the only ones who could enter into the special place where the ark of the covenant was. In other words, only the high priests were allowed to meet directly with God. However, the high priests need to meet with God in the “right” way. We see that Aaron’s sons did not meet with God in the “right” way, and they were killed immediately.
Day of Atonement
In the middle of the book of Leviticus, there is an explanation the ritual of the “Day of Atonement”. There could have been people who did not give proper sacrifices for their sins, so there was a day every year which was dedicated for the representative of the Israelites to give sacrifice for all of the Israelite people. 2 goats were prepared, and one is killed as a sacrifice. On the other goat, all of Israel’s sins are placed, and it is let out into the wilderness. This goat is called the “scape goat”, or “Azazel’s goat”, and represents the “one who will take on all humanity’s sins”.
By God giving these laws and rituals, and the Israelites living by them, we start to see changes. At the beginning of Leviticus chapter 1, God was speaking to Moses “from” the tabernacle, but in the next book of Numbers chapter 1, we see that God was speaking to Moses “in” the tabernacle. Moses was able to speak directly with God again. To be close to God, we need to know who God is, and what He requires of humans!
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