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Reference: Leviticus


The third book in the Pentateuch; called Leviticus, because it contains principally the laws and regulations relating to the Levites, priests, and sacrifices. The Hebrews call it "the priests' law." In the first section, the various bloody and unbloody sacrifices are minutely described: the burnt offering, the meat, sin, peace, ignorance, and trespass offerings; the sins for which and the mode in which they were to be offered. The fullness of these details not only signified the importance of God's worship, but forbade all human additions and changes, that might lead to idolatry. The whole scheme was "a shadow of good things to come," typical of the Lamb "who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot unto God." Its best commentary is the epistle to the Hebrews.

A full account of the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests, is followed by the instructive narrative of Nadab and Abihu. Then are given the laws respecting personal and ceremonial purifications, a perpetual memento of the defilement of sin, and of the holiness of God. Next follows a description of the great day of Expiation; after which the Jews are warned against the superstitions, idolatry, etc., of the Canaanites; and laws are given guarding their morals, health, and civil order. The observance of their distinguishing festivals is enjoined upon them; and laws are given respecting the Sabbath and the jubilee, vows and tithes. The warnings and promises in the latter part of the book point their attention to the future, and aim to unite the whole nation in serving their covenant God. The book is generally held to be the work of Moses, though he was probably assisted by Aaron. Its date is B. C. 1490. It contains the history of the first month of their second year after leaving Egypt.


the third book of the Pentateuch; so called in the Vulgate, after the LXX., because it treats chiefly of the Levitical service.

In the first section of the book (1-17), which exhibits the worship itself, there is, (1.) A series of laws (1-7) regarding sacrifices, burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, and thank-offerings (1-3), sin-offerings and trespass-offerings (4; 5), followed by the law of the priestly duties in connection with the offering of sacrifices (6; 7). (2.) An historical section (8-10), giving an account of the consecration of Aaron and his sons (8); Aaron's first offering for himself and the people (9); Nadab and Abihu's presumption in offering "strange fire before Jehovah," and their punishment (10). (3.) Laws concerning purity, and the sacrifices and ordinances for putting away impurity (11-16). An interesting fact may be noted here. Canon Tristram, speaking of the remarkable discoveries regarding the flora and fauna of the Holy Land by the Palestine Exploration officers, makes the following statement:, "Take these two catalogues of the clean and unclean animals in the books of Leviticus [11] and Deuteronomy [14]. There are eleven in Deuteronomy which do not occur in Leviticus, and these are nearly all animals and birds which are not found in Egypt or the Holy Land, but which are numerous in the Arabian desert. They are not named in Leviticus a few weeks after the departure from Egypt; but after the people were thirty-nine years in the desert they are named, a strong proof that the list in Deuteronomy was written at the end of the journey, and the list in Leviticus at the beginning. It fixes the writing of that catalogue to one time and period only, viz., that when the children of Israel were familiar with the fauna and the flora of the desert" (Palest. Expl. Quart., Jan. 1887). (4.) Laws marking the separation between Israel and the heathen (17-20). (5.) Laws about the personal purity of the priests, and their eating of the holy things (20; 21); about the offerings of Israel, that they were to be without blemish (22:17-33); and about the due celebration of the great festivals (23; 25). (6.) Then follow promises and warnings to the people regarding obedience to these commandments, closing with a section on vows.

The various ordinances contained in this book were all delivered in the space of a month (comp. Ex 40:17; Nu 1:1), the first month of the second year after the Exodus. It is the third book of Moses.

No book contains more of the very words of God. He is almost throughout the whole of it the direct speaker. This book is a prophecy of things to come, a shadow whereof the substance is Christ and his kingdom. The principles on which it is to be interpreted are laid down in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It contains in its complicated ceremonial the gospel of the grace of God.

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Wayyiqra' is the Hebrew name, from the initial word; the middle book of the Pentateuch. The laws "which the Lord commanded Moses in Mount Sinai, in the day that he commanded the children of Israel to offer their oblations unto the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai" (Le 7:38). Given between the setting up of the tabernacle and its departure from Sinai, i.e. between the first day of the first month and the 20th day of the second month of the second year of the Exodus (Ex 40:2,17; Nu 10:11). Two chief subjects are handled:

(1) Leviticus 1-16, the fundamental ordinances of Israel's fellowship with Jehovah;

(2) Leviticus 17-27, the laws for hallowing Israel in this covenant fellowship. Privilege and duty, grace conferred and grace inwrought, go hand in hand.


(1) The law of offerings, Leviticus 1-7.

(2) Investiture of Aaron and consecration of priests, Leviticus 8-10.

(3) Rules as to clean and unclean, Leviticus 11-15.

(4) The day of atonement, the summing up of all means of grace for the nation and the church, annually.


(1) Israel's life as holy and separate from heathendom, in food, marriage, and toward fellow men, Leviticus 17-20; the mutual connection of Leviticus 18; Leviticus 19; Leviticus 20, is marked by recurring phrases, "I are the Lord," "ye shall be holy, for I ... am holy."

(2) Holiness of priests and of offerings, Leviticus 21-22.

(3) Holiness shown in the holy convocations, sabbaths, perpetual light in the tabernacle, shewbread, Leviticus 23-24.

(4) Perpetuation of the theocracy by the sabbatical and Jubilee years, the perpetual tenure of land, the redemption of it and bond servants (Leviticus 25); and by fatherly chastisement of the people and restoration on repentance, Leviticus 26.

(5) Appendix on vows, which are not encouraged especially, yet permitted with some restrictions (Leviticus 27).

The only history in Leviticus is that of Aaron's consecration, Nadab and Abihu's death, and the doom of the blasphemer (Leviticus 8-10; Le 24:10-23), a solemn exhibition of Jehovah's laws in their execution. Aaron's "holding his peace" under the stroke is a marvelous exhibition of grace; yet his not eating the sin offering in the holy place shows his keen paternal anguish which excused his violation of the letter of the law in Moses' judgment. As Jehovah drew nigh Israel in the tabernacle, so Israel drew nigh Jehovah in the offering. The sacrificial ordinances fall into three divisions, each division consisting of a Decalogue of directions, a method frequent in the Mosaic law. Many of the divisions are marked by the opening, "and the Lord spoke unto Moses" or such like, or by closing formulas as "this is the law," etc. (Le 7:37-38; 11:46-47; 13:59; 14:54-57; 15:32-33).

The direction as to the people's offerings is distinguished from that as to the priests' by a repetition of the same formula (Le 1:2; 6:9,19-20,24-25,21-22). In Le 5:6 translated not "trespass offering" which is the term for one kind of sin offering (Le 5:14), namely, for an injury done to some one, "a fine offering" (Nu 5:5-8), but "he shall bring as his forfeit," etc., asham. Also in Le 23:2 for "feasts" translated "the appointed times." The Epistle to the Hebrew is the New Testament commentary on Leviticus, showing the correspondence yet superiority of the Antitype to the typical sacrifices. Peter (1Pe 1:16) quotes Le 11:44, "be ye holy, for I am holy;" but New Testament holiness rises above the restrictions as to meats, seasons, and places (Joh 4:20-24; Acts 10,15).

Ps 89:15; "blessed is the people that know the joyful sound, they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance," alludes to the Jubilee year enjoined in Leviticus; Isa 61:1-3, and our Lord's application of the prophecy to Himself, show that the gospel dispensation is the antitype. The exhaustive consummation and final realization of the type shall be in the "times of restitution of all things," "the regeneration" of the heaven and earth," "the creature's deliverance from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God," "the adoption, to wit the redemption of the body" (Ac 3:19-21; Ro 8:19-23; Mt 19:28-29). Leviticus 16 is the grand center of the book. Previously it was shown that God can only be approached by sacrifice, next that man is full of "uncleanness" which needs cleansing.

The annual atonement now teaches that not by several cleansings for several sins and uncleannesses can guilt be removed. One great covering of all transgressions must take place to meet God's just wrath, and then Israel stands accepted and justified typically (Le 16:16,20). Hebrew 9 and Hebrew 10, explains antitypically how Christ by one offering once for all and forever perfected them that are being sanctified. In Le 18:18 the prohibition against marriage with a wife's sister is during the wife's lifetime. In Le 17:11 translated "the soul (nephesh) of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood which makes atonement by means of the soul." The two reasons of prohibiting blood as food are:

1. It is the vital fluid.

2. It was the appointed typical mean of atonement.

It is not blood as blood, but as containing in it the principle of life, that God accepted. The division into Decalogues is frequent throughout the Mosaic code, based no doubt upon the model of the Ten Commandments, each subject being set forth in ten ordinances, as Bertheau has observed (for details see his Commentary). Leviticus 1-3, contain the first Decalogue, namely, the burnt offering in three sections, the meat offering in four, and the peace offering in three. The second decalogue is in Leviticus 4-5, the sin offering in four cases; three kinds of transgression needing atonement; the trespass offering in three cases. Then, Leviticus 6-7, five Decalogues. Thus, there are seven Decalogues in all as to putting away guilt. The next seven chapters are about putting away impurity, Leviticus 11-16. Then, Leviticus 17-20 contain seven decalogues as to Israel's holiness. Lastly, Leviticus 21 - 26:2, contain the concluding seven decalogues.

This arrangement leaves unnoticed Le 23:39-44 and Leviticus 24; because Le 23:37-38, "these are the feasts," etc., evidently close chapter 23; Le 23:39-44 are appended as a fuller description of the feast already noticed in Le 23:34. And Leviticus 24 sets forth the duty of the people in maintaining public worship, and narrates the stoning of the blasphemer. The decalogues are closed with promises of rich blessing upon obedience, awful threats upon disobedience; the latter predominate, for already Israel had shown its tendency to disobey. The first division of the law, the covenant (Ex 23:20-33), ended with blessings only; for there Israel had not yet betrayed its unfaithfulness: But now (Exodus 32-33) when Israel had shown its backsliding tendency, the second division of the law ends here with threats as well as promises. Leviticus 27, is an appendix, Leviticus 26 having already closed the subject of the book with the words "these are the statutes," etc. The appendix however is an integral part of the whole, as is marked by its ending with the same formula, "these are the commandments," etc.

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1. Scope.

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Levit'icus Book of.

The title of this Book was copied from the Septuagint; but why it was so called is not known, the Levites are but seldom mentioned in it. The Hebrew has simply the first word of the book for its title. The book is occupied with the way of approach to God, who is looked upon as dwelling in the holy of holies. The people having been redeemed from Egypt, and having received God's covenant, and promised obedience thereto, are in relation with God, and come to Him as worshippers. They must approach in the way He directs and must be in a suited state to approach, which approach could only be accomplished through God's appointed priests. The Epistle to the Hebrews takes up many of the same subjects for the Christian, but there they often stand in contrast to what is found here. This is especially the case in the veil which here shut in the holy of holies, where the high priest could enter only once a year, and then with blood; whereas now the veil is rent, God has come out, with grace to all, and every Christian has access to the presence of God. In Leviticus there was a continued remembrance of sins; but by the one sacrifice of Christ He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

The opening of the book shows that it is not merely an addition to the law given at Sinai: God spoke it to Moses "out of the tabernacle of the congregation," except the last three chapters. He as among the people, directs everything. Lev. 1



The third book in the Pentateuch is called Leviticus because it relates principally to the Levites and priests and their services. The book is generally held to have been written by Moses. Those critics even who hold a different opinion as to the other books of the Pentateuch assign this book in the main to him. One of the most notable features of the book is what may be called its spiritual meaning. That so elaborate a ritual looked beyond itself we cannot doubt. It was a prophecy of things to come; a shadow whereof the substance was Christ and his kingdom. We may not always be able to say what the exact relation is between the type and the antitype; but we cannot read the Epistle to the Hebrews and not acknowledge that the Levitical priests "served the pattern and type of heavenly things;" that the sacrifices of the law pointed to and found their interpretation in the Lamb of God; that the ordinances of outward purification signified the true inner cleansing of the heart and conscience from dead works to serve the living God. One idea --HOLINESS-- moreover penetrates the whole of this vast and burdensome ceremonial, and gives it a real glory even apart from any prophetic significance.


LEVITICUS, a canonical book of Scripture, being the third book of the Pentateuch of Moses; thus called because it contains principally the laws and regulations relating to the Levites, priests, and sacrifices; for which reason the Hebrews call it the law of the priests, because it includes many ordinances concerning their services. See PENTATEUCH.