The Book of Leviticus


The Book of Leviticus is the third of five books of the Law of Moses, also known as the Torah or Pentateuch. The Law includes the Books ofGenesisExodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The Book in Hebrew is named after the first word Wayiqra, “and he called” – as the Lord called the Israelites to be a holy nation. The Greek Septuagint called the Book Λευιτικον after the priestly tribe, the Levites, and this was translated to Leviticus in the Latin Vulgate version of the Holy Bible.

The Book of Leviticus opens with God calling Moses from the Tabernacle. Leviticus is a book about the rites of Jewish liturgy. It contains laws about worship in general and rules and customs on ceremonies in consecrations and sacrificial offerings. Behind the various offerings lies a deep conviction that God is the Lord of all creation. The laws pertaining to religious observances are generally divided into the following parts: Rituals concerning Sacrifices (Chapters 1-7); Ceremony of Ordination of Priests (8-10), which begins with the ceremonial consecration of Aaron the Levite (8:1-36); Laws regarding Legal Purity (11-16); the Laws of Holiness (17-26), such as Chapter 24:5-9 which describes the Bread for the Tabernacle; and Chapter 27 on Vows and Tithes. The Book of Leviticus closes with the following: “These are the commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sinai” (27:34).

The defining word in Leviticus is קָדוֹשׁ – qadosh – holy, which occurs 77 times, more than any other book of the Bible!
The Lord God directs us three times: “Be holy, for I am holy” (11:44, 11:45, 19:2).

Leviticus 2 relates cereal offerings to the Lord. 2:4 refers to unleavened cakes of bread – חַלּוֹת מַצֹּת – Ḥallot Matsot. Leviticus 7:12 specifies fellowship offerings: “If he offers it as an expression of thankfulness, then along with this sacrifice of thanksgiving he is to offer cakes of bread made without yeast and mixed with oil. In the ordination sacrifices of Aaron and his sons, Leviticus 8:26 notes that “from the basket of bread made without yeast, which was before the Lord, he took a cake of bread, and one made with oil, and a wafer.

Leviticus 16:1-34 is the first reading on the Day of Atonement – יוֹם כִּפּוּר – Yom Kippur – the holiest day in Judaism, and occurs on the tenth day following Rosh Hashanah. The intermediate ten-day period of repentance, a return to the Lord, is known as Teshuvah – תְּשׁוּבָה.

Leviticus relates the laws pertaining to proper conduct. Leviticus calls for us to help the poor (19:10) and to love our neighbor as ourselves (19:18)! The traditional laws on marriage, and the prohibitions against adultery, incest, and homosexuality are explicit in Leviticus Chapters 18-19. We are to refrain from tattoos (19:28) or consult fortune tellers (19:31).

Leviticus 23 lists the Festivals of the Lord. In addition to the weekly Sabbath, the seven yearly Feasts of the Lord include Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the First Fruits, Pentecost or Shavuot (Feast of Weeks), Rosh Hashanah or New Year’s Day (Feast of Trumpets), Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles known as Sukkot.

Leviticus 24:5 also refers to Ḥallah (Challah) – חַלָּה – a cake or loaf of unleavened bread to be offered to the Lord on the Sabbath. “And you shall take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes of it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake.” The Bread of the Tabernacle was to be offered each Sabbath as a sign of the everlasting Covenant between God and Israel (24:5-9). See also Numbers 15:20.

Chapter 25 describes the Year of Jubilee, occurring every 50 years. The word Jubilee is derived from the Hebrew word   יוֹבֵל – jobel – which means “ram’s horn,” used as a trumpet (Leviticus 25) on the Day of Atonement to announce the beginning of the Jubilee year. Leviticus 25:10 declares Liberty – דְּרוֹר – deror – in the Year of Jubilee – “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” – a founding principle of Western civilization, and which is inscribed on the Liberty Bell of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America were written.

The Book of Leviticus also serves as a reference point for the New Testament, especially when there is reference to sacrifices, feasts or liturgy, such as the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:24), when the ritual of the sacrifice of two turtledoves or two young pigeons is recalled (Leviticus 12:8). Christ makes the precept to love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27), and this precept echoes throughout the New Testament (Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8). Leviticus is particularly evident in the Book of Hebrews, where Jesus Christ is the perfect Sacrifice to God our Creator.


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