Getting My Bearings
About a month ago my family and I were in Maui. We had spent a few days enjoying the pool at the hotel, and the aquarium but now we were ready for an adventure.
I had read about the famed Road to Hana over the years and I was itching to drive at least part of the road. In case you aren't familiar with it, it is a curvy 64-mile road that travels along the east coast of the island of Maui. The lanes are small, the turns are often, and the scenery is beautiful. It is also the kind of road that preparation makes so much more enjoyable. We didn't want to be stuck without enough gas, with sick children in the car and no way to care for them, or loosing light as we tried to make it back to our hotel for the night. We left armed with dramamine, a tank full of gas, an itinerary, a list of places to stop so that the snacks could be plentiful, and a map. Because of the preparation, the trip was so much more fun. It was an adventure instead of a disaster.
Before I dive into the nitty-gritty of the Jewish sacrificial system, the role of priests, and all the other things that come with exploration of Leviticus, there are a few things I want to make sure I have straight so that I don't find myself lost or running out of gas. I want to make sure I understand who wrote this book (if we know), the context in which it was written, what type of writing this is, and the general subject matter of this book. As much as this seems unnecessary, I think that knowing these things will help me understand the book in a deeper way, and will help make this more fun.
These details are found primarily through the notes in the NLT Illustrated Study Bible, Holiness to the Lord by Allen P. Ross, and The New American Commentary on Leviticus by Mark F. Rooker. All these resources and others can be found on the list of general resources and resources for Leviticus.
This ended up being a little bit complicated. For most of history the author of this book has been assumed to be Moses. Starting in the 1800's there has been some criticism about the authorship of this book and the Pentateuch in general. Some scholars have suggest that there are up to four authors to this book. There are some scholars who think that Leviticus was written during Israel's exile in Babylon way beyond the time of Moses. This explanation doesn't explain why the Israelites would be so interested in the Tabernacle and priesthood instead of the Temple/synagogue and rabbi. Because this book specifically says that it is the Lord speaking to Moses, I am going to use the traditional view of authorship and setting.
The title Leviticus might make you think that this books is primarily about the Levites but they are only mentioned in this book once. The English title came from the Latin Vulgate which came from the Greek Septuagint title. A better english title would be "priestly laws" or "laws of offerings". The greek meaning was probably closer to this meaning because in the Hellenistic times "Levites" meant priests. (Holiness to the Lord by Allen P. Ross) Using traditional titles of works in the ancient Near East, the Hebrew name of Leviticus comes from the first word of the book, "and he called." (The New American Commentary Leviticus vol. 3A by Mark Rooker)
Leviticus comes in the middle of the first five books of the Old Testament, and continues the story that begins in Genesis with the story of God making a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12, Genesis 15 and Genesis 17-18) that his family would become nation that would be a blessing to others, and God freeing Abraham's descendants from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 3-15). This book takes place while the Israelites are camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai before they wander in the wilderness or enter the promised land of Cannan. God has already established his covenant with the people of Israel. The people had already received the 10 Commandments, the plans for building the Tabernacle have been given and executed, and the institution of priesthood has already been established.
God was using forms of worship that his people would have been familiar with, and using them to help them understand and get ready for his plan of salvation.
Type of Writing
This is a book of laws. It is God's instructions directly from his mouth to Moses. It presents the religious system of ancient Israel.
Leviticus records how God who is Holy should be worshipped and what it means for Israel to serve the Lord.