Bible Commentary: Leviticus 1

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Leviticus 1

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Introduction to Leviticus

Moses evidently wrote much of Leviticus sometime in the first month [Abib or Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, corresponding to March-April] of the second year of the wandering of Israel (compare Exodus 40:17 Exodus 40:17And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up.
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; Numbers 1:1 Numbers 1:1And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying,
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; Numbers 10:11 Numbers 10:11And it came to pass on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from off the tabernacle of the testimony.
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)—perhaps putting it in its final form shortly before his death nearly 40 years later. The book’s Hebrew name, Wayyiqva, meaning “And He Called,” is taken from the first words of the book. The Greek title, from the Septuagint, is Leuitikon—Latinized in the Vulgate as Leviticus—which means “pertaining to Levites.” However, this title is somewhat misleading as the book does not deal with the Levites as a whole but more with the priests, the family of Aaron, a segment of the Levites. (The Levites as a whole are not sanctified until the book of Numbers.) Perhaps more appropriate titles for the book would be those found for it in the Jewish Talmud—”The Law of the Priests” and “The Law of the Offerings.”

The Aaronic priesthood was divinely ordained by God as a mediator between Him and the nation of Israel. As this book directed, the priests were to officiate over an elaborate system of sacrifices and rituals. The book of Hebrews tells us that “all this is symbolic, pointing to the present time [of Christ’s redemption]. The offerings and sacrifices there prescribed cannot give the worshipper inward perfection. It is only a matter of food and drink and various rites of cleansing—outward ordinances in force until the time of reformation” (9:9-10, New English Bible)—that is, the time of Christ’s death and resurrection followed by the giving of the Holy Spirit to the New Testament Church. Nevertheless, the sacrificial system was from God—and served a valuable purpose in that it was part of what was ultimately intended to lead people to Christ (see Galatians 3:24-25 Galatians 3:24-25 [24] Why the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. [25] But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
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). Indeed, there will again be sacrifices after Christ returns (see Ezekiel 46:1-15 Ezekiel 46:1-15 [1] Thus said the Lord GOD; The gate of the inner court that looks toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the sabbath it shall be opened, and in the day of the new moon it shall be opened. [2] And the prince shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate without, and shall stand by the post of the gate, and the priests shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings, and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate: then he shall go forth; but the gate shall not be shut until the evening. [3] Likewise the people of the land shall worship at the door of this gate before the LORD in the sabbaths and in the new moons. [4] And the burnt offering that the prince shall offer to the LORD in the sabbath day shall be six lambs without blemish, and a ram without blemish. [5] And the meat offering shall be an ephah for a ram, and the meat offering for the lambs as he shall be able to give, and an hin of oil to an ephah. [6] And in the day of the new moon it shall be a young bullock without blemish, and six lambs, and a ram: they shall be without blemish. [7] And he shall prepare a meat offering, an ephah for a bullock, and an ephah for a ram, and for the lambs according as his hand shall attain to, and an hin of oil to an ephah. [8] And when the prince shall enter, he shall go in by the way of the porch of that gate, and he shall go forth by the way thereof. [9] But when the people of the land shall come before the LORD in the solemn feasts, he that enters in by the way of the north gate to worship shall go out by the way of the south gate; and he that enters by the way of the south gate shall go forth by the way of the north gate: he shall not return by the way of the gate whereby he came in, but shall go forth over against it. [10] And the prince in the middle of them, when they go in, shall go in; and when they go forth, shall go forth. [11] And in the feasts and in the solemnities the meat offering shall be an ephah to a bullock, and an ephah to a ram, and to the lambs as he is able to give, and an hin of oil to an ephah. [12] Now when the prince shall prepare a voluntary burnt offering or peace offerings voluntarily to the LORD, one shall then open him the gate that looks toward the east, and he shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings, as he did on the sabbath day: then he shall go forth; and after his going forth one shall shut the gate. [13] You shall daily prepare a burnt offering to the LORD of a lamb of the first year without blemish: you shall prepare it every morning. [14] And you shall prepare a meat offering for it every morning, the sixth part of an ephah, and the third part of an hin of oil, to temper with the fine flour; a meat offering continually by a perpetual ordinance to the LORD. [15] Thus shall they prepare the lamb, and the meat offering, and the oil, every morning for a continual burnt offering.
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).

Jesus has, of course, become the true sacrifice for all mankind. Thus, there is no need for the sacrifice of animals at this time: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. Therefore, when He [Jesus] came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do Your will, O God.”’ Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:4-12 Hebrews 10:4-12 [4] For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. [5] Why when he comes into the world, he said, Sacrifice and offering you would not, but a body have you prepared me: [6] In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have had no pleasure. [7] Then said I, See, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do your will, O God. [8] Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin you would not, neither had pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; [9] Then said he, See, I come to do your will, O God. He takes away the first, that he may establish the second. [10] By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. [11] And every priest stands daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: [12] But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
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).

It should also be noted that the Melchizedek priesthood of Jesus Christ has now taken over from the Aaronic priesthood. Jesus is now the Mediator between God and man (see Hebrews 7-10). And, in fact, Christians are now priests serving under Him (1 Peter 2:5 1 Peter 2:5You also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
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, 9). Indeed, the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ was not the only thing typified in the various sacrifices of the Old Testament. They also represented our following Christ’s example today, presenting ourselves as offerings: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1 Romans 12:1I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
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). Realizing this amazing fact, as The Nelson Study Bible’s introductory notes on this book explains, “modern Christians can learn much from Leviticus. The holiness of God, the necessity of holy living, the great cost of atonement and forgiveness, the privilege and responsibility of presenting only our best to God, the generosity of God that enables His people to be generous—these are only some of the lessons. Leviticus reveals the holiness of God and His love for His people in ways found nowhere else in the Bible. Ultimately, Leviticus calls God’s people of all ages to the great adventure of patterning life after God’s holy purposes.”

Before looking at each of the five main offerings detailed in the first seven chapters of Leviticus, it is recommended that those wishing to study them in much greater depth read a 19th-century book by author Andrew Jukes titled The Law of the Offerings. It is available to order through the Internet or you can probably find it at your local library or Christian bookstore, as it is considered the standard work on this topic. While we would not agree with Jukes’ book in a number of particulars, it is biblically sound in many important respects and offers some incredible insights into the subject. Be warned, however, that because of its older and somewhat elevated style, it does not always make for easy reading.

Burnt Offerings

We often think of Old Testament sacrifices as simply typical of Christ’s death. But there is far more to it than that. As Andrew Jukes explains, offerings were “divided into two great and distinctive classes—first, the sweet savour offerings, which were all… oblations for acceptance; and secondly, those offerings which were not of a sweet savour, and which were required as an expiation for sin. The first class, comprising the Burnt-offering, the [Grain]-offering, and the Peace-offering—were offered on the [bronze] altar which stood in the Court of the Tabernacle. The second class—the Sin and Trespass-offerings—were not consumed on the altar: some of them were burnt on the earth without the camp; others the priest ate, having first sprinkled the blood for atonement. In the first class, sin is not seen or thought of: it is the faithful Israelite giving a sweet offering to [the Eternal]. In the Sin-offerings it is just the reverse: it is an offering charged with the sin of the offerer. Thus, in the first class—that is, the Burnt-offering, the [Grain]-offering, and the Peace-offering—the offerer came for acceptance as a worshipper. In the second class, in the Sin and Trespass-offerings, he came as a sinner to pay the penalty of sin and trespass. In either case the offering was without blemish…. But in the [sweet aroma offering], the offerer appears as man in perfectness, and in his offering stands the trial of fire—that is, God’s searching holiness; and accepted as a fragrant savour, all ascends a sweet offering to [the Eternal]. In the other, the offerer appears as a sinner, and in his offering bears the penalty due to his offences” (pp. 55-56).

In the case of the burnt offering, we are not “to consider Christ as the Sin-bearer, but as man in perfectness meeting God in holiness. The thought here is not, ‘God hath made Him to be sin for us’ [2 Corinthians 5:21 2 Corinthians 5:21For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
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], but rather, ‘He loved us, and gave Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savour’ [Ephesians 5:2 Ephesians 5:2And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling smell.
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]. Jesus… both in the Burnt-offering and Sin-offering, stood as our representative…. We have here what we may in vain search for elsewhere—man giving to God what truly satisfies Him” (pp. 56-57). But it is not only the way that Christ lived His life on earth 2,000 years ago that is pictured here. Rather, Christ lives in us today as the same burnt offering. Thus, we are enabled to present ourselves as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1 Romans 12:1I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
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)—offering a “sweet smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18 Philippians 4:18But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.
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) by giving ourselves wholly to Him (compare 2 Corinthians 8:5 2 Corinthians 8:5And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us by the will of God.
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). Indeed, the burnt offering was wholly consumed, symbolizing “that the worshiper must hold nothing in reserve when coming to God; everything is consumed in the relationship between God and the sincere worshiper” (Nelson Study Bible, note on Leviticus 1:3 Leviticus 1:3If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD.
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).

Jesus, of course, set the perfect example in this. Jukes explains: “Man’s duty to God is not the giving up of one faculty, but the entire surrender of all…. I cannot doubt that the type refers to this in speaking so particularly of the parts of the Burnt-offering; for ‘the head,’ ‘the fat,’ ‘the legs,’ ‘the inwards,’ are all distinctly enumerated. ‘The head’ is the well-known emblem of the thoughts; ‘the legs’ the emblem of the walk; and ‘the inwards’ the constant and familiar symbol of the feelings and affections of the heart. The meaning of ‘the fat’ may not be quite so obvious, though here also Scripture helps us to the solution [Psalms 17:10 Psalms 17:10They are enclosed in their own fat: with their mouth they speak proudly.
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; 92:14; 119:70; Deuteronomy 32:15 Deuteronomy 32:15But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: you are waxen fat, you are grown thick, you are covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.
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]. It represents the energy not of one limb or faculty, but the general health and vigour of the whole. In Jesus these were all surrendered, and all without spot or blemish. Had there been but one affection in the heart of Jesus which was not yielded to His Father’s will… then He could not have offered Himself or been accepted as ‘a whole burnt-offering to [the Eternal].’ But Jesus gave up all: He reserved nothing. All was burnt, all consumed upon the altar” (pp. 63-64). This is the same end to which we strive—through Christ living His life in us today.

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