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 1:3). 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 40:34-35). 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 40:17-38) 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’.
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 10:5-9). 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 19:17). He also said: “Therefore the Father loves me, because I lay down my life” (Jn 10:17), which he himself did on the cross: “And he bowed his head and surrendered his spirit” (Jn 19:30). 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 17:4). Also other texts speak of His perfect devotion to and glorification of God (Psa 40:8-9; Jn 10:18; 14:30-31; Heb 9:14).