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Many years ago, I read a statement by Dr. S. H. Kellogg saying that he considered the Book of Leviticus the most important book in the Bible. I felt that he must have had his tongue in cheek to make a statement like that. Then I heard a great preacher in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Albert C. Dudley, say that he considered the Book of Leviticus the greatest book in the Bible.
Several years ago I made an experiment on our radio program, and actually I didn’t know what would happen as I began teaching this book. I wanted to study it and I wanted to see if it was such a great book, and I must confess that I had misgivings as to the value of Leviticus for a popular exposition on the Bible. However, I discovered that it is a thrilling book, and not only that, but I can now honestly say that I consider the Book of Leviticus one of the most important books of the Bible. If it were possible for me to get the message of this book into the hearts of all people who are trying to be religious, all cults and “isms” would end. A knowledge of the Book of Leviticus would accomplish that.
The Book of Leviticus was written by Moses. It is a part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.
In the Book of Leviticus, the children of Israel were marking time at Mount Sinai. The book opens and closes at the same geographical spot, Mount Sinai, where God gave the Law. You will remember that Exodus concluded with the construction of the tabernacle according to God’s instructions and then the filling of the tabernacle with the glory of the Lord. Leviticus continues by giving the order and rules of worship in the tabernacle. Leviticus is the great book on worship.
The book opens with the Hebrew word Vayick–rah, which means “and He called.” God has now moved to the tabernacle and speaks from there; He no longer speaks from Mount Sinai. He calls the people to meet with Him at the tabernacle. He tells them how they are to come and how they are to walk before Him. The exact meaning of the church, the ekklesia, is the “called out ones.” We are also those who have been called out. In that day, God spoke from the tabernacle and asked them to come to Him. Today, the Lord Jesus calls us to Himself. He says, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). So this book has a wonderful message for us today.
Leviticus is the book of worship. Sacrifice, ceremony, ritual, liturgy, instructions, washings, convocations, holy days, observances, conditions, and warnings crowd this book. All these physical exercises were given to teach spiritual truths. Paul wrote: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). In 1 Corinthians 10:6 he says, “Now these things were our examples …”. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
Peter tells us that the Old Testament holds spiritual truths for us. “Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you …” (1 Pet. 1:10–12). Hebrews 11:13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Leviticus has some wonderful instruction for us today for it reveals Christ in a most remarkable manner. Tyndale, in his Prologue into the Third Book of Moses, said, “Though sacrifices and ceremonies can be no ground or foundation to build upon—that is, though we can prove nought with them—yet when we have once found Christ and his mysteries, then we may borrow figures, that is to say, allegories, similitudes, and examples, to open Christ, and the secrets of God hid in Christ, even unto the quick: and can declare them more lively and sensibly with them than with all the words of the world.”
Worship for us today is no longer by ritual or in a specific place. You remember that the people of Israel had been going through ceremonies and they had their rituals, but Jesus said to the woman at the well in Samaria, “… Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21–24).
The keynote to the book is holiness unto Jehovah. The message of the book is twofold:
1. Leviticus teaches that the way to God is by sacrifice. The word atonement occurs 45 times in this book. Atonement means to “cover up.” The blood of bulls and goats did not actually take away sin. It covered over sin until Christ came to take away all sins. This is what Paul is referring to in Romans 3:25: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.”
The sins that are past are the sins back in the Old Testament. You see, God never accepted the blood of bulls and goats as the final payment for sin, but He required that blood be shed. It was an atonement to cover over the sins until Christ came. In other words, God saved “on credit” in the Old Testament. When Christ came, as the hymn accurately states it, “Jesus paid it all.” This is true as far as the past is concerned, and as far as the present is concerned, and as far as the future is concerned.
One of the key verses in Leviticus, dealing with atonement, is found in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” The way to God is by sacrifice and without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.
2. Leviticus teaches that the walk with God is by sanctification. The word holiness occurs 87 times in this book. “And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine” (Lev. 20:26).
God gave strict laws governing the diet, social life, and daily details involving every physical aspect of the lives of His people. These laws have a greater spiritual application to His people today. That is the reason I think we ought to study Leviticus. You see, access to God is secured for the sinner today through the shed blood of Christ. The writer to the Hebrews stated it this way: “Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world [literally, end of the age] hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:25–26).
Those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ must live a holy life if they are to enjoy and worship God. “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well–pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20–21).
Leviticus is a remarkable book, as the contents are considered in the light of the New Testament. This book is about as dull as anything possibly could be to the average Christian and you won’t find very many classes or individuals reading and studying the Book of Leviticus. Yet, it is a remarkable book.
- The five offerings which open this book are clear, crystal–cut cameos of Christ. They depict His hypostatical person in depth and His death in detail (chapters 1–7).
- The consecration of the priests reveals how shallow and inadequate is our thinking on Christian consecration (chapters 8–10).
- The diet God provided for His people was sanitary and therapeutic, and contains much spiritual food for our souls (chapter 11).
- Attention is given to motherhood and is a further example of God’s thinking concerning womanhood (chapter 12).
- The prominence given to leprosy and its treatment, in the heart of this book on worship, demands our attention. Why is there this extended section on leprosy? Those who have been given gracious insights into Scripture have found here a type of sin and its defiling effect on man in his relation to God. The cleansing of the leper finds its fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Christ as typified in a most unusual sacrifice of two birds (chapters 13–15). My friend, if you and I would escape the defilement of sin in this world, we need to know a great deal about the death and resurrection of Christ and the application of it to our lives.
- The great Day of Atonement is a full–length portrait of the sacrifice of Christ (chapter 16).
- The importance of the burnt altar in the tabernacle highlights the essential characteristic of the Cross of Christ (chapter 17).
- The emphasis in this book of instructions concerning seemingly minute details in the daily lives of God’s people reveals how God intends the human family to be involved with Him (chapters 18–22). God wants to get involved in your business, in your family life, in your social life. My friend, let us beware lest we shut Him out of our lives.
- The list of feasts furnishes a prophetic program of God’s agenda for all time (chapter 23).
- The laws governing the land of Palestine furnish an interpretation of its checkered history and an insight into its future prominence. There are a lot of prophecies in this book. The nation Israel and the Promised Land are intertwined and interwoven from here to eternity (chapters 24–27).
There is a relationship in the first three books of the Bible:
In Genesis we see man ruined.
In Exodus we see man redeemed.
In Leviticus we see man worshiping God.
We can also make a comparison and contrast between Exodus and Leviticus. In the Book of Exodus we see the offer of pardon; Leviticus offers purity. In Exodus we have God’s approach to man; in Leviticus it is man’s approach to God. In Exodus Christ is the Savior; in Leviticus He is the Sanctifier. In Exodus man’s guilt is prominent; in Leviticus man’s defilement is prominent. In Exodus God speaks out of the mount; in Leviticus He speaks out of the tabernacle. In Exodus man is made nigh to God; in Leviticus man is kept nigh to God.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 6: Leviticus (Chs. 1-14). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)