1. Learning to Love Leviticus
Leviticus used to be the first book that Jewish children studied in the synagogue. In the modern Church it tends to be the last part of the Bible anyone looks at seriously. … In practice then, though not in theory, Leviticus is treated as though it does not really belong to the canon of Scripture.1
A certain lady, on being asked if she had ever read the Bible right through, replied: “I have never read it through, though I have read much of it consecutively. Three times I have started to read it through, but each time I have broken down in Leviticus. I have enjoyed Genesis and Exodus, but Leviticus has seemed such dull reading that I have become discouraged and have given up.”2
I believe that these comments aptly describe the attitude of 20th century Christians toward the Book of Leviticus. I was attending a banquet the other night and was seated next to a Christian woman whose child attends the same school as our children. She commenced our conversation by politely asking what I did for a living. I responded that I was a preacher. As the conversation developed, I told this woman that I would soon be beginning to teach in the Book of Leviticus. That brought an immediate response. She told me that she had been involved in Bible Study Fellowship and that she had been assigned to study and to teach the Book of Leviticus. She went on to say that she went off by herself and sat down to read the book for two hours, after which time she was convinced she could come up with nothing whatever to say on this text.
A number of Christians would agree with her analysis. There is a kind of mental block which most Christians seem to have about certain books—especially Old Testament books, and particularly the Book of Leviticus. In this lesson I want to try to identify some of the reasons for our mental block about this book. I want to isolate some of the reasons why people think that Leviticus is an impossible book to read, to study, and most of all, to teach. I then will seek to show that these reasons are not valid. In the process, I hope to show why we should study the Book of Leviticus.
Characteristics of the Book of Leviticus
(1) Leviticus is largely a code book, a book of regulations. If any book of the Old Testament could be called a “book of the law” surely the Book of Leviticus is such. The book is filled with regulations.
(2) The Book of Leviticus is, to a great degree, a book of priestly regulations. In the Hebrew text the first word of the Book of Leviticus, translated “and He called,” serves as the title of the book. The English title, Leviticus, is borrowed from the Latin Vulgate, which, in turn, is derived from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew text.3 Leviticus is not an inappropriate title for this, the third of the books of the Pentateuch written by Moses. It focuses on the levitical priesthood, who are prominently featured in this book.
(3) The Book of Leviticus contains many regulations pertaining to the laity, as well as to the priests. It should be pointed out, however, that the book is not written exclusively for the levitical priests, but has much instruction directed to the Israelite layman.4
(4) The Book of Leviticus is a book of regulations which is given by God through Moses, spoken to him from the tent of meeting. The very first words of the Book of Leviticus are: “Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, …’” (Lev. 1:1-2a).
The regulations of Leviticus are a direct revelation from God to and through Moses.
(5) The Book of Leviticus is essentially a narrative form of literature. As Wenham has pointed out, “Leviticus is a book of laws set within a narrative framework …”5 One of the frequently found phrases in the Book of Leviticus is, “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, …” It is thus to be understood that this book, as a piece of literature, is to be interpreted as a narrative. This means, as Wenham further emphasizes,6 that the legislation given in the book is that which is likely laid down in response to actual incidents which required a divine response. The laws and regulations of this book are the divine response to real life situations which came up in Israel’s wilderness sojourn.
(6) Leviticus is closely connected with the entire Pentateuch, and especially with Exodus and Numbers.7 In the original text the Book of Leviticus begins with a connective which is essentially equivalent here to “and,” indicating to the reader that the book simply follows on with the events and content of the Book of Exodus.8
The continuity of Leviticus with Exodus is immediately apparent, as can be illustrated by several common factors. In Exodus, God told Moses that He had chosen the Israelites to be a priestly nation (Exod. 19:6). In Leviticus there are many priestly regulations laid down. In the Book of Exodus the design for the tabernacle is given (Exod. 25-31, 35-40), while in Leviticus the “user’s manual” for the tabernacle is given. At the very conclusion of the Book of Exodus the presence of God descends upon the tabernacle. In Leviticus, the implications of the presence of God are spelled out.
(7) Essentially, Leviticus can be divided into two major divisions, separated by chapter 16, which deals with the annual day of atonement.9 Chapters 1-15 deal with what we might call “priestly holiness” for they give instructions about sacrifices and rituals which ceremonially relate to one’s holiness. Chapters 17-27 deal more with what we could call “practical holiness,” that is holiness which is worked out in one’s daily walk, rather than by one’s religious or ritualistic activities.
(8) Leviticus is quite frequently quoted or referred to, but in the Old Testament, perhaps no other book is more influenced by Leviticus than the prophecy of Ezekiel.10
(9) Leviticus makes a great deal of some distinctions. Much of the Book of Leviticus is devoted to distinguishing between what is “clean” and “unclean,” and that which is “holy” from that which is “profane.”11
(10) Leviticus does not press the distinction between ceremonial holiness and civilian holiness. While Leviticus does press the distinctions between clean and unclean, holy and profane, it does not press the distinction between the sacred and the secular.12 Holiness should be seen in the tabernacle and the sacrifices, and in the fields and workplace.
So What’s Your Problem With Leviticus?
Up to this point in time the Book of Leviticus has been the “liver and onions” book of the Bible to me. That is, I know that it must be good for me, but I just don’t seem to have a taste for the stuff. To others, the Book of Leviticus is something like camping … they tried it once and that was enough to last them a lifetime. Having briefly looked at the Book of Leviticus, let us get down to the issue of “taste” which must be settled before we will ever benefit from this portion of God’s word. The first thing we must seek to do is to identify the reasons why we tend to dislike and thus to avoid this book. Here are some of the ones which I have isolated.
(1) Leviticus is boring, it is not exciting enough. Dull after all the excitement of Genesis and Exodus. My children would probably say of the Book of Leviticus, “That’s boring.” Adults are more sophisticated about how they put it, but they mean the same thing. A young Jewish man, after hearing my analogy that Leviticus was like liver and onions, responded, “I like liver and onions better.”
My first response to this criticism of Leviticus is not to deny the charge. If I had to choose between reading the exciting narratives in Genesis or Exodus and the levitical codes I would quickly opt for reading in the books of Genesis and Exodus. Compared to other portions of the Bible Leviticus is dull.
My second response is that our culture has concluded that anything which is not entertaining is not worth listening to. The media has the task of grabbing a person’s attention, of taking them from whatever they are doing and setting their eyes and their minds on the printed page or the television screen. They do this in competition with other media, trying to do the same thing. And so we have come to the conclusion that we deserve to have all communication be entertaining and exciting.
I would like to suggest that in most (not all) cases the level of drama and hype is directly related to the irrelevance of what we are watching. You have to spice up the kinds of things we see in the media because they have little value, other than entertainment. On the other hand, the greatest and most significant communications of history have not been particularly entertaining. The Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution of the United States are not written to entertain us. If we want to be entertained we turn to writings which begin, “once upon a time,” and end “happily after.” If we want to be informed about things vital to the present and to eternity, we most often must set aside our desire for entertainment.
How many of you go to the Richardson Public Library and check out the city code book for entertaining reading? No one does, but they do read the city codes very carefully if they plan to build a house in Richardson. The Texas Driver’s Manual is not great entertainment either, but anyone who wants to get their driver’s license had better study it well.
The Book of Leviticus is a book of regulations, regulations concerning how men are to relate to God and to their neighbors. Failure to observe these regulations can lead to death, and has eternal implications. Thus, the very form and content of the Book of Leviticus, which in the past may have caused us to avoid the book, is that which signals us to the vitally important communication from God which is contained in this book. No law book should be taken lightly, especially one which comes from God.
(2)The Book of Leviticus is too bloody. I was talking about Leviticus with a friend this week. When I started listing some of the reasons why people resist this book he interjected, “Blood on the ears.” It took me a moment to grasp what he was saying, but then I remembered that Moses took some of the blood of the “ram of ordination” and placed it on the right ears of Aaron and his sons, as well as on the big toes of their right feet (Lev. 8:22-24). This is a bloody book.
But then anyone who understands Old or New Testament faith understands that blood is required to be shed in order for sins to be forgiven and for men to be able to approach God. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). For the full and complete forgiveness of sins of both Old and New Testament believers, the blood of Christ was shed:
And not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how 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? (Heb. 9:12-14).
Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
(3) The Book of Leviticus is too difficult to understand. Anyone who has attempted to study the Book of Leviticus would have to agree that it is not an easy book to understand. The fact is, however, that all biblical revelation in not only hard to fathom, it is impossible, apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit:
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God … But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:11-12, 14-16).
Thus the Spirit of God enables us to comprehend the truths of God which are otherwise impossible to fathom or to accept.
The level of difficulty of understanding Leviticus (or any other Scripture, for that matter) is not without purpose. God never “casts His pearls before swine” (cf. Matt. 7:6). The richest truths of the Word of God seldom lie on the surface, for all to see. They have to be “mined,” as it were, showing our love for God and our diligence to know His will. As Proverbs puts it,
Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the LORD, And discover the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding (Prov. 2:2-6).
The wisdom of God is for those who diligently seek it. That is precisely what the psalmist did with regard to the law of God (Ps. 119). Let us determine to do likewise.
(4) The Book of Leviticus is not relevant to the New Testament Christian. There is no disputing the fact that Leviticus is “foreign” to the 20th century Christian. We are separated from the ancient Israelite culturally and geographically, not to mention the separation of centuries of time and of different dispensations in God’s dealing with men. How, then, can we find this ancient book relevant to our lives?
First, we must see that any objection which we raise concerning the relevancy of Leviticus is equally applicable to any other portion of the Old Testament, of which Leviticus is a part. In fact, if we are to object on the grounds of a distant place and time and a different culture, we would have to object to the New Testament books as irrelevant on the same grounds.
Second, we must approach Leviticus and all other Old Testament Scriptures in the light of the apostolic assertions of the relevance of their message to us:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable … (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Now these things [Israel’s experiences at the exodus and afterward in the wilderness] happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Cor. 10:11).
For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Rom. 15:4).
The Old Testament books are indeed relevant to us. And since Leviticus is included in the word “all” (All Scripture is inspired …), it must be profitable to us as well.
The difficulties which we might have in understanding, interpreting, and applying Old Testament is a matter of our hermeneutic, our method of interpreting Scripture.13 I hope that in our study of the Book of Leviticus we will be able to articulate and apply a hermeneutic which will enable us to get from the Old Testament all that Paul says we can.
There are those who would quickly set aside Leviticus on dispensational grounds, maintaining that this book contains “ceremonial law,” which is not relevant to the New Testament saint. Those who have come to this conclusion should carefully consider these words:
Christians customarily divide the OT law into three parts: the moral, e.g., the ten commandments, the civil, i.e., the legislation for OT society, and the ceremonial, i.e., the sacrificial and ritual laws. Many, despite Paul’s teaching that ‘all Scripture is inspired and profitable’ (2 Tim. 3:16), assert that only the moral law binds the Christian. The position faces three main difficulties. First, the NT does not seem to distinguish between the different types of law in this way. Second, it is difficult to draw the line between moral precepts and other law. … Third, much of the civil legislation is grounded on moral judgments, often expressed in the ten commandments.14
In one sense then the whole ceremonial law in Leviticus is obsolete for the Christian. We are interested in the sacrifice of Christ, not in animal sacrifice. But in another sense the levitical rituals are still of immense relevance. It was in terms of these sacrifices that Jesus himself and the early church understood his atoning death. Leviticus provided the theological models for their understanding. If we wish to walk in our Lord’s steps and think his thoughts after him, we must attempt to understand the sacrificial system of Leviticus. It was established by the same God who sent his Son to die for us; and in rediscovering the principles of Old Testament worship written there, we may learn something of the way we should approach a holy God.15
Also, I must say that our preoccupation with the relevance of any text of Scripture points out that Christians today are far too “relevancy oriented.” We are very pragmatic in our orientation. We are not very interested in truths that do not immediately and practically relate to our lives. This is similar to the thinking of the ancients, who thought that the sun must rotate around the earth, rather than the earth around the sun. Preachers are told to introduce their sermons by addressing some “felt need” and then to show how the truth of the text meets that need. The whole orientation thus is around self, and not God. Enough! I must protest.
We smile (sometimes) at the little child’s foolishness, who, when given a quarter, spends that quarter for immediate gratification. He goes out and buys a candy bar, rather than to deny himself an immediate pleasure in order to obtain something far better in the future. When we come to the Bible, we are far more interested in finding candy than we are in learning those truths and those principles which will put us in good standing in the future. Let us determine that we will study Leviticus (as well as other Scripture) for what God has for us in it, whether or not it immediately addresses and soothes some need. In a day when warmness and fuzziness is held at a premium I must tell you that God’s word often does not promise us a “warm fuzzy.” It is high time that we began to orient ourselves to God, and not insist that God orient Himself and His word to us.
The Book of Leviticus is relevant. If we are to understand its relevance to our lives then we must do so in the light of the use of this book by other inspired writers. How do the New Testament writers, who quote or refer to Leviticus at least 40 times in Scripture,16 see this book as relevant to New Testament saints? Let us briefly survey the way in which the New Testament writers use the teaching of Leviticus.
The Lord Jesus referred to the teachings of Leviticus on several occasions. In Matthew 5:43-48 our Lord based His teaching that we should be perfect, even as the Father is perfect, on the command of Leviticus 19:2, showing that the vengeance which characterizes men is not consistent with the teaching of Leviticus, which instructs us that we must “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18).17
It is not just the teaching of our Lord which attests the relevance of the Book of Leviticus, but His life and sacrificial death. When Jesus first presented Himself to Israel as her Messiah, John the Baptist proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). In this one statement John summed up the fact that Jesus was the culmination and consummation of the Old Testament sacrificial system, which is one of the central themes of the Book of Leviticus. Thus, we learn that the key to understanding the life, ministry, and death of Christ is to be found in the Old Testament sacrificial system, which He fulfilled and brought to a close. The extensive treatment of the work of Christ and its relationship to the old covenant is further proof of the importance of our understanding of the Book of Leviticus.
The apostle Paul also referred to the teaching of the Book of Leviticus. In both Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14 Leviticus 19:18 is cited. Peter made even more use of Leviticus. In 1 Peter chapter one Peter based his argument for the Christian’s personal holiness on the commandment found in Leviticus (11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7). In the second chapter of this same epistle Peter taught that the church, the body of Christ, is a priestly nation. Thus the priestly regulations of Leviticus must have relevance to the priestly people, the church.
Not only do other biblical writers frequently cite passages from the Book of Leviticus, but the subject matter emphasized in Leviticus is that which is very relevant to Christians today. I believe that if you were to select a half dozen words which summarized the essence of the Christian faith you would find that most, if not all, were prominent themes in the Book of Leviticus.
In his commentary on the Book of Leviticus, Wenham has identified four key elements in the theology of the book.18 These are:
- The Presence of God
- The Role of Sacrifice
- The Sinai Covenant
Each of these themes is of great importance to the New Testament Christian. If time would permit, we could probe each area, showing its key role in New Testament Christianity.
To this point I have suggested that the New Testament testifies to the importance of Leviticus by (1) the citation of Leviticus by New Testament writers, and (2) by the fact that the theological themes of Leviticus are also primary focuses of New Testament theology. There is yet one more way in which the New Testament testifies to the importance of the Book of Leviticus: The New Testament writers frequently employ Old Testament sacrificial terminology to express their own point of view. If we are to understand what the New Testament writer meant for us to understand, we must understand his Old Testament figures of speech and terminology.
Let me illustrate what I mean by a couple examples from the New Testament. Our Lord, Paul and other writers use sacrificial terminology to describe New Testament acts of worship and obedience:
“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:49-50).
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Rom. 12:1).
But I have received everything in full, and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God (Phil. 4:18).
We have an altar, from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Heb. 13:10-16).
In the Mark 9 passage cited above, I believe that the key to the interpretation to this text is to be found in understanding the role salt played in some of the Old Testament sacrifices, such as found in Leviticus 2:13. The same can be said of the other portions of the New Testament where New Testament concepts are conveyed in Old Testament terminology. If we don’t understand the Old Testament terminology and concepts, we will not grasp the New Testament meaning.
We then have three compelling testimonies from the New Testament of the importance of a study of the Book of Leviticus. First, there is the citation of texts from Leviticus by our Lord and His apostles. Second, there is the recurrence of Old Testament theology in the New. And third, there is the dependence of the New Testament writers on Old Testament terminology.
Rightly, then, J. Sidlow Baxter concludes that this book has great relevance and value to Christians today:
Now, any fair study of Leviticus will quickly dispel these misgivings; for, as we shall see, it simply abounds in spiritual values; it has a living voice to our own day; its revelation of the Divine character is unique; and it is built together according to a clear plan. Its Mosaic authorship and Divine inspiration are attested by the Lord Jesus. It is referred to over forty times in the New Testament. All that follows it in the Scriptures is coloured by it; and, therefore, a clear knowledge of it contributes greatly towards comprehending the message of the Bible as a whole.20
I would like to ask you to do several things as we come to the conclusion of this message. First, I would like to ask you to agree with those who have studied the Book of Leviticus carefully and have concluded that it is a book which has great value for us. I want you to agree in particular to the fact that Leviticus is inspired of God, and that it is thus profitable to you for doctrine, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that you can be equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Second, I would like for you to act on this acknowledgment. I would like you to commit yourself to study this book. That you would read it consistently, consecutively, and in large portions at a time. I ask you to ponder (meditate) its teachings and to pray that God would give you insight and understanding as to its meaning and its application in your life. Finally, I ask you to do what you have committed to do, for the glory of God, in obedience to Him, and for your good.
1 Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. vii.
2 J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing house, 1960 [Six volumes in one]), I, p. 113.
3 “The opening word of the book, ‘wayyiqra,’ ‘and he called,’ was used as a title by the Jews, who also described Leviticus by such designations as ‘the law of the priests,’ ‘the book of the priests,’ and ‘the law of the offerings.’ These latter characterized the general contents of the book, recognizing it as a work intended principally for the Hebrew priesthood. The Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament entitled the book Leuitikon or Leueitikon, i.e., ‘relating to the Levites.’ The Vulgate, which was a revision of the Old Latin version, rendered the Greek heading by the phrase Liber Leviticus, from which the title in the English Bible was derived. Although the book is much more concerned with the duties of priests than of Levites, the English title is not entirely inappropriate, since the Hebrew priesthood was essentially levitical in character (cf. Heb. 7:11).” R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), p. 13.
4 Leviticus is a fairly appropriate title for the book for it deals largely with priestly matters, and the priests were drawn from the tribe of Levi. … It would be wrong, however, to describe Leviticus simply as a manual for priests. It is equally, if not more, concerned with the part the laity should play in worship. Many of the regulations explain what the layman should sacrifice. … Most of the laws apply to all Israel: only a few sections specifically concern the priests alone. …” Wenham, p. 3.
5 Ibid., p. 15.
6 “One striking feature of the Levitical laws is so obvious that it can be overlooked. At the beginning of nearly every chapter, and often several times within a chapter, it says, ‘The Lord spoke to Moses.’ In other words, all the laws are set within a narrative framework. … This historical setting accounts for some features of the book that seem out of place if the book were arranged in a purely logical fashion. For example, the instructions to the priests in ch. 10 are placed in their present position because they were given then, and the same motive may account for the law on blasphemy in ch. 24. … The laws were thus intended to meet immediate pressing problems… Leviticus is part of the Pentateuch. It is preceded by Exodus and followed by Numbers and therefore cannot be looked at in isolation. … Israel’s goal was Canaan, not the wilderness, and indeed until the disastrous episode of the spies (Num. 13-14) the Israelites expected to enter the promised land very shortly. Guidance as to the conduct befitting a holy people was therefore welcome at this stage of their development. Many of the laws in chs. 18-27 could only apply to a sedentary agricultural community, not to wandering nomads. … The actual quantity of narrative in Leviticus is very small. … Yet it is essential to recognize that all the laws are set within this historical frame if their arrangement is to be appreciated.” Ibid., pp. 5-6.
7 “Since Leviticus is basically a manual of priestly regulations and procedures, it is only natural that the purely historical element should be subordinated to ritual and legal considerations. Nevertheless, historical narratives are interwoven with sections of law and instructions concerning sacrificial procedures in such a way as to make it clear that Leviticus is closely connected historically with Exodus and Numbers.” Harrison, p. 13.
8 “On purely stylistic grounds alone Leviticus is linked with Exodus 20-40, and the association is demonstrated in the Hebrew text by means of the opening word of Leviticus, the very first consonant of which is a ‘waw consecutive,’ indicating a direct connection with what has just preceded it …” Ibid.
9 “The first fifteen chapters deal broadly with sacrificial principles and procedures relating to the removal of sin and the restoration of persons to fellowship with God. The last eleven chapters emphasize ethics, morality and holiness. The unifying theme of the book is the insistent emphasis upon God’s holiness, coupled with the demand that the Israelites shall exemplify this spiritual attribute in their own lives.” Harrison, p. 14.
10 “… the book of Ezekiel quotes or alludes to Leviticus many times (e.g., Lev. 10:10//Ezek. 22:26; Lev. 18:5//Ezek. 20:11; Lev. 26//Ezek. 34).” Wenham, p. 9.
11 J. Sidlow Baxter (Ibid., p. 113) has cited four basic reasons why Christians tend to avoid the Book of Leviticus. Briefly summarized these are: (1) The belief that it is impossible to master all the ritual and symbol so as to get much profit from the exercise. (2) Since the Leviticus is of another dispensation, there is no application or relevance to today. (3) Some of the teaching (either its severity or its seeming insignificance) seems inconsistent with the nature of God. (4) Genesis and Exodus are essentially historical narrative, so that the flow of the argument is quickly and easily discerned—not so with Leviticus.
12 “… thus the two series of laws in Leviticus are placed in unmistakable correspondence to one another.” C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, trans. by James Martin (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968 [reprint]), II, p. 264.
13 Wenham’s comments on his hermeneutical are helpful and accurate: “The approach favored in this commentary takes with equal seriousness both the plain original meaning of the text and its abiding theological value. The primary duty of every commentator is to elucidate what the author of the book meant and to recover what the earliest readers understood it to mean. But Christian commentators are bound to go further and say what the sacred text has to teach the church today, remembering Paul’s words that “whatever was written in former times was written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4). Wenham, p. vii. … “In this commentary the following position is assumed: the principles underlying the OT are valid and authoritative for the Christian, but the particular applications found in the OT may not be. The moral principles are the same today, but insofar as our situation often differs from the OT setting, the application of the principles in our society may well be different too.” Wenham, p. 35.
14 Ibid., p. 32.
15 Ibid., pp. 36-37. In pages 32-37 Wenham points out that there is a great deal of continuity, consistency, between the Old Testament and the New. I recommend that the reader consult these pages.
16 Baxter, I, p. 114.
17 Harrison writes, “The importance of levitical law in the mind of Christ can be seen from His remarks (Mt. 22:39) concerning the ‘golden rule’ (Lv. 19:18). In the synoptic gospels this aphorism is mentioned in Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31; and Luke 10:27.” Harrison, p. 32.
18 Wenham, pp. 15-32.
19 Wright comments on holiness in Leviticus: “Holiness is the biblical ‘shorthand’ for the very essence of God. This makes the command of Leviticus 19:2 quite breath-taking. Your quality of life, it said to Israel, must reflect the very heart of God’s character. No less breath-taking, of course, was Jesus’ own echo of the verse to his disciples: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt. 5:48).” Christopher J. H. Wright, An Eye for An Eye: The Place of Old Testament Ethics Today (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 27.
20 Baxter, I, pp. 113-114. Of the Abiding Value of the book, Baxter further writes, “First, Leviticus is a revelation of the Divine character to ourselves today, as much as it was to Israel of old. God has not changed. Second, it is a symbolic exposition of the basic principles which underlie all dealing between God and men, just as truly today as in the past; for although the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices are now done away, the spiritual realities which they pictorially declare abide for all time. … Third, Leviticus provides a body of civil law for the theocracy; and although some of the details in it are now otiose, the principles of it are such as should guide legislation today. Religion and State, Capital and Labour, land-ownership and property rights, marriage and divorce—these and other matters, which are all to the fore today, are dealt with in Leviticus. … Fourth, Leviticus is a treasury of symbolic and typical teaching. Here are the greatest spiritual truths enshrined in vivid symbols. Here are the great facts of the New Covenant illustrated by great types in the Old Covenant. Supremely, it is in these ways an advance unveiling of Christ.” Baxter, I, pp. 114-115.
Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines