Introduction to the Book of Leviticus

“Introduction to the Book of Leviticus,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)


Why study this book?

The word Leviticus is a Latin word that has reference to the Levites—one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Levites held the lesser priesthood and were given the responsibility to officiate in the tabernacle and later at the temple in Jerusalem (see Numbers 3:5–10). The book of Leviticus contains instructions on performing priesthood duties, such as animal sacrifice and other rituals that would help teach the children of Israel about Jesus Christ and His Atonement (see Alma 34:13–14). The Lord revealed a primary purpose for the instructions He gave in the book of Leviticus: “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2; see also Leviticus 11:44–45; 20:26; 21:6). As students study this book, they can deepen their understanding and appreciation of the Savior’s Atonement. Students can also learn important truths that will help them to be holy, meaning spiritually clean and set apart for sacred purposes. Living these truths will prepare students to serve Heavenly Father and His children.

Who wrote this book?

Moses is the author of Leviticus. Moses and his older brother, Aaron, were both members of the tribe of Levi (see Exodus 6:16–20). While Aaron was called to preside over the lesser priesthood (see Exodus 27:21; D&C 107:13), Moses held the authority and keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which “holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the offices in the church in all ages of the world, to administer in spiritual things” (D&C 107:8; see also D&C 84:6; 107:91–92). Therefore, Aaron, his sons, and all others in the tribe of Levi who held the lesser priesthood functioned under Moses’s prophetic leadership.

When and where was it written?

There are varying opinions on when Leviticus and the other books of Moses were written, and we do not know exactly where Moses was when he wrote this book.

What are some distinctive features of this book?

The book of Leviticus has been described as a priesthood handbook for Aaron and his sons (who served as priests) and for the Levites generally. However, throughout the book the Lord’s instructions to the Levites alternate with those He gave to all of Israel. Through these instructions, we learn about the laws, rituals, ceremonies, and festivals that would teach Israel how to be clean, holy, and different from the world. For example, one such law includes the Lord’s instructions concerning which foods were clean (acceptable for consumption) and which foods were unclean (to be avoided).

Central to the book of Leviticus is the concept of atonement; the word atonement occurs more frequently in this book than in any other book of scripture. Leviticus describes in detail the system of animal sacrifices that served to remind Israel that “it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). Thus, these sacrifices symbolically pointed Israel forward to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who would shed His blood to atone for the sins of mankind.

Outline

Leviticus 1–7 Through Moses, the Lord gives instructions concerning the offering of various sacrifices, including burnt offerings, meat (or meal) offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and trespass offerings.

Leviticus 8–10 Aaron and his sons are washed, anointed, clothed, and consecrated in preparation to serve Israel in the priest’s office. The Lord sends fire to consume the sacrifice Aaron offers as an atonement for himself and Israel. Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons, offer unauthorized sacrifices, and the Lord kills them with fire.

Leviticus 11–17 The Lord reveals laws establishing which foods are clean and which are unclean. He also gives instructions about purification for those who have experienced childbirth, have suffered diseases, or are ritually unclean for other reasons. Aaron and his brethren receive instructions about blood sacrifice and the Day of Atonement.

Leviticus 18–22 The Lord commands Israel to be holy. He gives laws that will help the people be sexually clean and avoid unholy practices. He also commands the priests to be holy and gives them specific laws that will help them remain ritually undefiled.

Leviticus 23–27 The Lord establishes holy days and feasts for Israel to observe. The laws of the camp of Israel are set forth, directing that all people be treated fairly and justly and that proper restitution be given to injured parties. The Lord establishes the Sabbath year and the year of jubilee. The Lord outlines ways in which He will bless the Israelites for their obedience and punish them for their disobedience to His commandments. Laws concerning tithing and the consecration of property are set forth.