The dates of this book are roughly the same as what we find for Exodus. It provides detailed instruction for worship, picking up where Exodus stopped. The name of the book comes from a Greek phrase for “pertaining to the Levites,” that phrase being levitikon, which was then run through a Latin filter. During the course of this book, Israel is still camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai, at the beginning of their 40 years in the wilderness.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:1–2).
Summary of the Text
This book is about ritual righteousness—which must never be detached from actualrighteousness. Here the laws for worship are laid out, the Holiness Code is defined, and the annual calendar for the Israelites is established.
The Levitical Code is set out in the first sixteen chapters (1-16). This is followed by what is commonly called the Holiness Code (17-25). A few miscellaneous things conclude the book (26-27)—blessings and curses, vows and tithes.
The Second Greatest Commandment
This book is where the second greatest commandment is found (Lev. 19:18). It is sometimes easy to assume that the ritual precision that is required by a book like Leviticus means that they somehow didn’t understand the main point. But that is not the case at all.
Cleansing, Consecration, Communion
Whenever someone is exiled from the camp, remember that God dwelt with them in the center of the camp. God is holy, and is in the midst of the camp. This means that the camp had to be be kept holy as well.
Because Christ has come, we no longer worship God by means of actual physical sacrifices. Because of this—even though this is a great blessing for us—we oftentimes do not pay close enough attention to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. They were not all sacrifices for sin. They had a grain offering. They had a whole burnt offering, also considered as an ascension offering. This was a consecration offering, where the entire animal ascended to God in the column of smoke. There was a fellowship offering, also known as a peace offering. A purification offering took care of accidental defilements (4:1-5:13), and the guilt offering was for sin (5:14-6:7).
When sacrifices are mentioned together in the OT, the order is guilt/ascension/peace. This is why many churches (whether intentionally or not) follow a similar pattern—resting in Christ’s fulfillment of all of this—when they confess sin (guilt), when they sing and hear sermons (ascension), and when they partake of communion (peace). The order is biblical, but it also makes natural sense. You wash the day off your hands before coming to the dinner table, and not after.
Both Kinds of Cleanliness
Leviticus focuses on ritual cleanliness, but concerns about hygiene should not be dismissed. It is pretty clear that God, in giving these rituals, also had germs in mind. Cleanliness is next to godliness—but more about that in Numbers.
Jesus in Leviticus
So this book insists on holiness. The holy God has agreed to dwell in their midst, and because He is in the camp, the camp must be holy. The people of God had to be holy because God of the people was holy. We see in this in Levitcus 11:44-5, in our text here, and in Lev. 20:7.
But this is easier said than done. The apostle Paul quotes Leviticus several times to make this point (Lev. 18:5). Obedience means actually doing it, actually being holy. Not only that, but it means doing it by raw effort. “And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them” (Gal. 3:12). And in Romans he describes the same kind of guy, climbing up to Heaven on the rope of sand—the righteousness that is of the law quotes Lev. 18:5, instead of quoting Deuteronomy 30:12 like he should have done. And Jesus paraphrases it to the same effect (Luke 10:28), talking to a man who wanted to justify himself.
Without holiness, no one will ever see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). So how do we get from the righteousness of the law to the righteousness of faith? These verses in the Old Testament are not color-coded. How are we supposed to navigate this?
In the gospel of Christ, something mysterious happens. We are transformed from “strivers” to children, children who can be obedient children (1 Pet. 1:14). And what follows on after that? “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16).
Doing must come from being. This means that the foundation must be the absolute grace of God. If you try to attain to being by your doing, you will necessarily fail, time and time again. You can do nothing but fail. What is the problem with the strivers? They do, and they do, and they do some more. The problem is that they spend their lives doing, and nothing gets done.
Everything comes down to whether or not we see Jesus, and you can only see Jesus if you have eyes. And you can only have eyes if God gives you eyes. You can only have ears if God gives you ears.
If you have eyes, if you have God-given faith, you see Jesus everywhere in Scripture. Sometimes He speaks, but He is always present. If you do not have eyes, if you do not have God-given faith, you do not see Jesus anywhere. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).
It is not as though some verses are “law” and other verses are “gospel.” There is no division in the Bible this way. There is no law/grace hermeneutic. There is no way you could publish a study Bible will all the law verses in red and all the grace verses in blue. And why not?
Because the righteousness that is of the law turns everything to law. Like a King Midas of lead, every passage turns into a leaden dead weight that condemns and is obnoxious. This can even be done with passages that have GRACE written on their forehead. “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:15–16).
And eyes that have been opened by grace can see the grace of God everywhere and in everything. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7).
There is a sharp divide between law and grace. But it does not run between this verse and that one. It runs between the sheep and the goats.