The word Leviticus is used in the Septuagint – that is the Greek translation of the Old Testament by the ‘seventy’ – as a summary of the subject of this book. It is meant to express that this book is about the rituals and ceremonies for which the tribe of Levi is set apart. Yet this book is not so much about the service of the Levites as about the service of the priests, although of course they are also of the tribe of Levi.
The book of Leviticus, like the last part of Exodus, brings us into the sanctuary, into the heart of God. In what the sanctuary represents, we see what is in God’s heart. There God wants to have fellowship with us. Leviticus is the book of fellowship. Fellowship is ‘partnership’, having the same part. Our fellowship is with the Father and the Son (1Jn 1:33what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.). With the Father we share what we have seen of the Son. With the Son we share what we may know of the Father.
In Exodus God speaks to the people from the Sinai, shrouded in thunder and lightning. In Leviticus God speaks from the tent of meeting. Therein the glory of God has descended at the end of Exodus 40 (Exo 40:34-3534Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.35Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.). There He now dwells, among His people, to invite His people to come to Him to have fellowship with Him.
Fellowship is not a matter of obligation. God therefore starts this book with speaking about three voluntary offerings. There are also obligatory offerings, but the starting point is that God seeks desiring hearts that voluntarily want to have fellowship with Him. He does not ask if the people want to come to listen to Moses, however important that may be. The first thing God speaks of immediately after the tabernacle is established in the previous chapter (Exo 40:17-3817Now in the first month of the second year, on the first [day] of the month, the tabernacle was erected.18Moses erected the tabernacle and laid its sockets, and set up its boards, and inserted its bars and erected its pillars.19He spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent on top of it, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.20Then he took the testimony and put [it] into the ark, and attached the poles to the ark, and put the mercy seat on top of the ark.21He brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up a veil for the screen, and screened off the ark of the testimony, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.22Then he put the table in the tent of meeting on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the veil.23He set the arrangement of bread in order on it before the LORD, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.24Then he placed the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table, on the south side of the tabernacle.25He lighted the lamps before the LORD, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.26Then he placed the gold altar in the tent of meeting in front of the veil;27and he burned fragrant incense on it, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.28Then he set up the veil for the doorway of the tabernacle.29He set the altar of burnt offering [before] the doorway of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered on it the burnt offering and the meal offering, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.30He placed the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it for washing.31From it Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet.32When they entered the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.33He erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work.34Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.35Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.36Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out;37but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up.38For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.) is whether His people will come to Him to offer Him an offering. This offering can only relate to the Lord Jesus, for He alone satisfies the heart of God completely.
If there is fellowship with God, there are conditions attached to it. Thus God can only have fellowship with a holy people, a people who have been set apart for Him. Uncleanness, sin, may have no place therein. We do not find a book in the Bible that contains so many words formed with the words ‘holy’ and ‘clean’ (or ‘unclean’): ‘holy’ occurs about one hundred and forty-five times, ‘clean’ seventy-six times and ‘unclean’ about one hundred and forty-two times.
The book begins with the five main offerings, in which the sin offering and the guilt offering are so closely connected that we can also speak of four groups of offerings. They all speak of the Lord Jesus. In each of these offerings we see a certain aspect of His Person and His work. His Person is too versatile to be represented by one offering. We see this also in the Gospels, four of which we have for the same reason.
The four major groups of offerings are:
1. the burnt offerings;
2. the grain offerings;
3. the peace offerings;
4. the sin offerings.
We find them in Hebrews 10, where it also becomes clear that these offerings have their true meaning In Christ (Heb 10:5-95Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me;6In whole burnt offerings and [sacrifices] for sin You have taken no pleasure.7“Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’”8After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and [sacrifices] for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure [in them]” (which are offered according to the Law),9then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second.). There we also see that there are two main types of offerings: on the one hand the sin offerings and on the other hand the other offerings.
Subdivision of the book
As a result of ‘fellowship’ as the main theme of this book, we can make the following subdivision of Leviticus:
1. The content of the fellowship: the Lord Jesus, presented in the offerings (Leviticus 1-7).
2. The mediators of fellowship: the sons of Aaron, the priests (Leviticus 8-9).
3. The condition for fellowship: cleansing (Leviticus 10-15).
4. The foundation of the fellowship: the great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).
5. Miscellaneous fellowship regulations (Leviticus 17-22).
6. Special days of fellowship (Leviticus 23).
7. Maintain and break the fellowship (Leviticus 24).
8. Region and atmosphere of the fellowship (Leviticus 25-27).
Introduction to Leviticus 1
When God begins to speak of the offerings, He begins with the burnt offering. For the sinner, the sin offering comes first, because it speaks of the work of the Lord Jesus that is necessary to deliver him from his sins. The burnt offering represents the Lord Jesus in His work on the cross to glorify God. That is why God begins with that, for that aspect of the work of His Son is most precious to His heart.
Together with the next two offerings – a grain offering and a peace offering – the burnt offering is an offering “to a pleasant fragrance for the LORD”. That is not written about the sin offerings. The burnt offering represents the work of the Lord Jesus in which everything He does is entirely for God. It shows the glorification of God. God is glorified when all His glorious qualities become visible. They are made perfectly visible on the cross by His Son.
In the gospel to John we see the Lord Jesus as the burnt offering. In that gospel there is no talk of being made sin, no talk of three hours of darkness and being abandoned from God, no talk of Gethsémané. Everything there comes from the Lord Jesus: “While He Himself carried His cross, He went out” to Calvary (Jn 19:1717They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.). He also said: “Therefore the Father loves me, because I lay down my life” (Jn 10:1717For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.), which he himself did on the cross: “And he bowed his head and surrendered his spirit” (Jn 19:3030Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.). He can say it to his Father, seeing the work as already done: “I have glorified you on the earth, while I have completed the work that you have given me to do” (Jn 17:44I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.). Also other texts speak of His perfect devotion to and glorification of God (Psa 40:8-98I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.”
9I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation;
Behold, I will not restrain my lips,
O LORD, You know.
; Jn 10:1818No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”; 14:30-3130I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me;31but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.; Heb 9:1414how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?).