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If you’ve been following a “Read the bible in a year” type plan, it’s pretty likely that you’ve covered Leviticus by now. But what’s the deal with Leviticus? It’s so strange!

Leviticus is an often overlooked portion of the Bible even while it remains an integral part of the literary flow of the Pentateuch (First five books of the Bible), an integral part of the Torah (Law) delivered to Israel, and an integral part of the Salvation History that leads to Jesus the Christ. Leviticus appears dry in comparison to the exciting narratives of deliverance and war that surround it, however, it remains deeply rich in its significance to the ancient people of Israel and by extension to Christians.

Let me tell you how Leviticus fits in the Bible.


Integral part of the literary flow of the Pentateuch

The Latin name “Leviticus” derived form a Greek counterpart implies that this book is associated with the Levites. This is kind of misleading, because the Levites themselves are mentioned but once. However, the book does deal in large part with the Priests of Israel, who were from the tribe of Levi, and so it makes sense how we got the name. The later Jewish name draws a similar link calling the book “Instructions of the Priests”, given it was primarily instructions for the conduct of the priests themselves, or, for them to communicate to the people of Israel.

The best name for capturing the importance of the place of Leviticus in the Pentateuch is the traditional Hebrew name derived simply from the first few words of the book: “wayyiqrâ’” or “And he called.” These opening words immediately promote a question “What does this follow on from?” The opening of Leviticus seems to simply be a continuation of a previous account that needs no explanation. Even as one reads on further into the text, it is assumed the reader (or hearer) is familiar with the context.

It is possible that the Pentateuch was originally one continuous work that was divided into five volumes for convenience. This is quite evident in the awkward opening and closing of Leviticus that joins neatly with the end of Exodus and start of Numbers. While Leviticus does address themes somewhat differently to the style of its neighbouring books, it makes best sense when it is viewed as a middle portion of one work; The Book of Moses. We could look at the Pentateuch in the following way:

Prologue: Genesis “How Israel become a nation”

Part 1: Exodus 1-19 “How God rescued Israel”

Part 2: Exodus 20-Numbers 10:10 “How to live with God and in the Promised Land”

Part 3: Numbers 10:11-36 “Preparations to Enter the Promised Land”

Epilogue: Deuteronomy “Summary and Exhortations prior to entry”

The above breakdown is simplistic, but it does package the teaching portions into a centralised section surrounded by the story leading up to and away from Sanai where the law was delivered. This breakdown also places Leviticus as a large portion in the middle where, it could be argued, it takes central prominence in the whole. Regardless of prominence, seeing Leviticus in this light makes sense of the lack of introduction or conclusion and the way it relates to Exodus & Numbers as if they were a continuation of each other.

One of the key elements in demonstration this continuity is the ongoing and repeated phrase “And the Lord spoke to Moses…” This phrase or some variant thereof occurs over 200 times in the Pentateuch and is naturally followed by instructions received from God for the people of Israel. The vast majority of Leviticus sits in portions under one of these phrases, just like large parts of Exodus and Numbers.


How is Leviticus Structured?

It can be hard in the midst of all the laws and rules and instructions to get your head around the way that the whole book fits together. So lets look at an overview and see how it fits with what comes before and after.

The content of Leviticus naturally flows from the closing chapters of Exodus. The book ends with the erection of the Tabernacle by Moses and the filling of the Tabernacle by the Glory of the Lord (Ex 40). The opening of Leviticus answers the natural next question for Israel “Now that God Lives with us, how should we live with him?” Moses gives extended instructions on what offerings to bring and how to bring them (Le 1-7). After this, a section records the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests who are now able to carry out the aforementioned sacrifices and their duties at the newly erected tabernacle (Le 8-10).

Now the direction of the text changes somewhat from primarily addressing priest function to addressing ritual cleanliness laws for people in general (Le 11-15).  Note the literary progression has from the central Tabernacle (“God’s residence”), to the functions in the tabernacle court outward toward the people who live around the tabernacle. The progression continues, with rules about who is able to live closer and who must live outside the camp and then another sacrificial rite is outlined; the Day of Atonement (Le 16).

At first this may seem out of character with the progression of the text, but what becomes clear is that the outward movement is still active. This sacrifice continues to deal with cleanliness and sin but here is a ritual whereby sins are carried away from the people of Israel out into the wilderness. This marks point where the text now turns to deal with the holiness of the lifestyle (Le 18-22) after a short side note about sacrificial matters (Le 17).

This Holiness of Life theme overshadows the remainder of the book with the ordination of holy feasts, notes concerning blasphemy, Sabbaths and redemption (Le 23-25) as well as blessings and curses related to the holiness of the people (Le 26). The book closes out with instructions on vows and gifts for God (Le 27), subtly reminding the people of the expectation that they should be living in thankfulness toward God and willingly offering tithes and gifts.

The final words in the book are a little summary statement (Le 27:34), restating the claims of the text that the content was from God via Moses to the people while they were at Mount Sinai. This statement provides a natural break in the literary flow where the topic changes. It moves from the instruction of religious practices and lifestyle into more practical matters of counting, arranging and assigning responsibilities to the people of Israel (Nu 1-10:10). This theme change is notable as there has been extended attention since the arrival of Israel at Sinai on matters of morality, ethics, religious cult and lifestyle, whereas now Numbers begins to address the need for getting Israel on the move to the Promised Land. What has not changed in the flow of the text is the model of delivery; template is “The Lord spoke to Moses…” followed by instruction.


Integral part of Torah for Israel

Leviticus is in the Bible due to its necessity as part of the Torah. This Torah, “Law” or “Instruction”, basically formed a “Constitution of Israel”. National identity was tied up in the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the Torah is that body of instruction that ties Israel to YHWH in the fulfilment of those promises and their manner of life in response to the blessing. While the Pentateuch as a whole is the Torah of Israel, the didactic nature of those central portions (Ex 20 – Nu 10:10) causes Leviticus to take a central role in guiding the way for life for the Israelite in the wilderness and in Canaan.

Leviticus in this sense shows how the Covenant People, having being rescued and given a place of worship, now need instruction on the proper worship and relationships. The burning question at the foot of Sinai is “how can we live in proximity to God?” This is exemplified in Ex 20:18-21 where the people cannot bear to hear, let alone come near God’s earthly presence. Leviticus then promotes a culture of purity and holiness that must be maintained so that God may not depart from them, nor strike them down (see Le 26). It shows what it takes for people to live in the presence of the Holy God.

Using many and varied imageries God instructs Israel that He is qualitatively different from them and that even by virtue of the fact that they are human, they are separate from Him (e.g. Le 12-15). He also teaches them that God is life and that death may not be associated with Himself (e.g. Le 21), that God is whole and perfect (e.g. Le 12-15 & 22), that He is not like other gods (e.g. Le 18), that He can only accept those that are holy like Himself and that He does not tolerate divided loyalties (Le 19:1-4, 22:22-26) amongst other things. All of these ideas fit with the overriding theme of being able to dwell in the promised land and in the presence of the Holy God.


Integral part of Salvation History

The book of Leviticus is a powerful apologist of the need for a Messianic figure to repair the decimated relationship between God and man. The Pentateuch opens with a beautiful picture of God walking and talking with man in a good land (Ge 1-2), but by the time we get to Leviticus mankind needs to obey hundreds of laws in order for God to even tolerate their presence. They constantly need to repair their relationship with blood atonement. The separation is so clear in Leviticus, and the laws illustrate the means by which such a separation can be remedied. However, one wonders how long such a system could be maintained and if there is a better way to reconcile Man to God.

This creates a desire for a better system that could deal with all sin, and do it comprehensively. This is ultimately answered by Christ who comes to make a once for all Day of Atonement sacrifice that removes the sin of His people forever by his own blood. He also comes as a greater and better High Priest who can purify his people, leading them unblemished into the very presence of God.

Leviticus shows us the holiness of God, and leaves us hungering for a better way to be reconciled to God, something that only Jesus can do!



Leviticus is an integral part of the literary flow of the Pentateuch, an integral part of the Torah delivered to Israel and an integral part of the Salvation History that leads to Jesus the Christ. The Redeemed people at the foot of Sinai needed and received instruction on how to live in the presence of a Holy God, and Leviticus primarily expounds how that is achieved by ritual and purity. The Lexham Bible Dictionary sums up well the message of Leviticus and its importance to salvation history: “[God’s] redemptive act requires that His redeemed people act redeemed. Many years later, the ultimate sacrifice of God’s Son would not diminish these characteristics but bring the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and God’s willingness to intentionally attach Himself to man into sharper focus.”[1]



[1] D. Jeffrey Mooney, “Leviticus, Book of,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015).