Overview of Leviticus
and Study of Leviticus 1-4
January 28th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

Click here for a print-friendly version


Leviticus is the third of the five books from the Pentateuch (also known as the Torah or the Law). Moses is assumed to be the author of Leviticus and all of the other books of the Pentateuch. There is some debate over whether he actually wrote all of these books or not, but he is generally accepted as the author. The stories of Genesis may have been passed down orally until Moses transcribed them, but in the other four books of the Torah Moses provided a first-hand account from the period in which he lived.

The book of Leviticus is named after the tribe of Levites who had been designated as the priests for the nation of Israel. However, there is very little narrative about the Levites. Instead, most of the book consists of the written recording of God's words to Moses regarding the roles of these priests and guidelines of holy living for the Israelites. The theme of holiness weaves through the scripture for both topics. In fact, the word holiness is mentioned more times in this book than in any other book of the Bible (152 times)(1).

The primary responsibilities of the priests included leading worship and offering sacrifices in order to intercede with God on behalf of the people. The principles in the book can be applied to Christians of any period, because all of us are called to be priests who spread the word of God, as noted by the Apostle Peter when he addressed the early Christians:

    But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God's instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

    - 1 Peter 2: 9-10 (MSG)

The events in the book of Leviticus are assumed to have taken place during a one-year period while the Israelites were camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, sometime around 1445 B.C. By one account, Leviticus was the most important book of the Hebrew Scriptures for the Israelite people living before and during the time of Christ. The evidence we have is that the collection of Dead Sea Scrolls, in which there was multiple copies of scrolls for many books of scripture, but the book of Leviticus was the most frequently occurring book in the set that was discovered (2).

These scrolls were found in a set of caves in the Khirbet Qumran region of Israel during the mid-20th century. The scrolls were presumed to have been used and maintained by a group of Hebrews living in that area in the centuries just before Christ and after his birth and resurrection. Fourteen copies were found in Qumran, and two were found in other caves. This book was also the most often mentioned in the non-biblical scrolls found at the site, so clearly it had significant value for the priests of that community (3). Therefore, if we want to understand the important scriptures taught and referenced by Jesus, then it's essential for us to become familiar with Leviticus.

The book can be divided up in a number of ways. The first seventeen chapters address the topic of worshiping a holy God but also includes a number of historical accounts, such as the ordination of the first group of priests in chapter 8. The last group of chapters describes how all people can live a holy life. We will divided up our study as follows:

    Leviticus 1-4 (Four Types of Sacrifice) - January 28th
    Leviticus 5-7 (Additional Rules for Sacrifice) - January 29th
    Leviticus 8-10 (Ordination of the First Priests) - January 30th
    Leviticus 11-13 (Rules for Cleanliness) - January 31st
    Leviticus 14-15 (Additional Rules for Cleanliness) - February 1st
    Leviticus 16-18 (The Scapegoat) - February 2nd
    Leviticus 19-20 (Crimes and Punishments) - February 3rd
    Leviticus 21-23 (Holiness for Priests and Feasts) - February 4th
    Leviticus 24-25 (Sacred Objects and Sabbaticals) - February 5th
    Leviticus 26-27 (Final Terms) - February 6th

References used for the analysis of this book include the following

  • Abegg, Martin Jr., Flint Peter, and Ulrich, Eugene; The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, HarperCollins Publishers, NY, NY, 1999
  • Bible Gateway website (www.biblegateway.com)
  • Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984
  • Cole, Alan R., Exodus, An Introduction and Commentary,, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, 1973
  • Doll, Rev. Gregory, "Study of the Old Testament," Noroton Presbyterian Church, January - May 2011
  • Fee, Gordon D., Stuart Douglas, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 4th Edition, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2014
  • Fee, Gordon D., Stuart Douglas, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002
  • Harrison, R.K. Phd, D.D., Leviticus, an Introduction and Commentary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester England, Downers Grove, IL; 1980
  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men’s Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005

Leviticus 1-4 (Four Types of Sacrifices)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

“‘When anyone brings a grain offering to the Lord, their offering is to be of the finest flour. They are to pour olive oil on it, put incense on it and take it to Aaron’s sons the priests.'"

- Leviticus 2:1-2 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

The book of Leviticus begins where Exodus left off. The Israelites are still camped near the foot of Mount Sinai and have a fully functioning mobile tabernacle. In these first four chapters God describes four types of sacrifices, which can be interpreted as follows (4):

    1. Burnt offering to gain divine favor (chapter 1)
    2. Cereal or grain offering for thanksgiving and securing divine goodwill (chapter 2)
    3. Peace (fellowship) offering for gratitude to God, fellowship with him, and public rejoicing (chapter 3)
    4. Sin offering for purification from sin or defilement (chapter 4)

These chapters provide detailed instructions on how to prepare the sacrifice. For example, in chapter 1, the LORD describes the rules for burnt offerings of animals. He indicates the required characteristics of the animal and the parts of its body that should be used:

    And if his offering be of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice; he shall bring it a male without blemish.

    And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before the Lord: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall sprinkle his blood round about upon the altar.

    And he shall cut it into his pieces, with his head and his fat: and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar:

    But he shall wash the inwards and the legs with water: and the priest shall bring it all, and burn it upon the altar: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord. .

    - Leviticus 1:10-13 (KJV)

In the discussion of sin offerings in chapter 4, the LORD defines specific types of sacrifices for unintentional sins by different categories of people: The whole nation, the priests, the leaders, and individual people.

Reflection and Application

One truth that has not changed since the time of Moses is that it’s essential to go to God for forgiveness and to also repent by sincerely seeking to avoid repeat offenses.

In the days of Moses and subsequent generations the priests interceded by preparing and offering sacrifices that had been contributed by the people. The contribution of a young, defect-free animal was a financial sacrifice because that animal represented future food or future income.

We no longer need to bring animals or grain to our worship ceremonies because Christ offered himself as the unblemished lamb for the ultimate sacrifice. Instead of a tabernacle where God can dwell, we have the body of Christ who came to earth to interact directly with all types of people, as we shall read much later in the year. What can we sacrifice? We can be living sacrifices, as described by the Apostle Paul:

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

    - Romans 12:1 (NIV)

We can learn a humble attitude from the models of sacrifice presented in these chapters. Note that the primary focus is on recognizing God’s divinity and goodness. None of these sacrifices were designed to ask God for any particular outcome, except fellowship and forgiveness. This is a good approach to remember when we pause our busy lives to pray with God. This type of focus is similar to the popular prayer model called ACTS:

    Supplication (petitions for God’s intervention)

In this model we begin by recognizing God’s sovereignty, then confess our sins and give thanks before we ask for anything. This sequence helps us to get in the right frame of mind for a discussion with the almighty. We provide an illustration of the ACTS model in our "Running with God" page on this web site.

Notice that the categories of people identified in Leviticus 4 who might need sacrifices for their sins are all inclusive. God knows that all of us are subject to transgressions and offers a way to reconcile with him. For more thoughts on the Grain Offering, we suggest a brief essay from The Compelling Truth website: "What was the Old Testament grain offering?"

"Come to the Cross," Michael W. Smith

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What are your morning rituals?
    2. What would be on your mind today if you were offering a sacrifice of gratitude to God?
    3. How can we be living sacrifices for God?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help me to understand what it means to be a living sacrifice for you and then help me to do it!

    Suggested Prayer Concerns


    (1) Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1991
    (2) Abegg, Martin Jr., Flint Peter, and Ulrich, Eugene; The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, HarperCollins Publishers, NY, NY, 1999, p. 77
    (3) IBID, pp..xiv, 78
    (4) Harrison, R.K. Phd, D.D., Leviticus, an Introduction and Commentary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester England, Downers Grove, IL 1980 p.39

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Leviticus 5-7 (Additional Rules for Sacrifice)

    Comments and Questions
    If you have comments or questions, please add them to our Comments page, email to the author at ted@listeningforGod.org, or share your comments or questions via the Listening for God Twitter account

    Click to follow Listening for God(@listeningforgod)