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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Leviticus Introduction


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The Third Book of Moses(Leviticus)


Contents, and Plan of Leviticus

The third book of Moses is headed תיקרא in the original text, from the opening word. In the Septuagint and Vulgate it is called Λευΐτικόν, sc., βιβλίον, Leviticus, from the leading character of its contents, and probably also with some reference to the titles which had obtained currency among the Rabbins, viz., "law of the priests," "law-book of sacrificial offerings." It carries on to its completion the giving of the law at Sinai, which commenced at Ex 25, and by which the covenant constitution was firmly established. It contains more particularly the laws regulating the relation of Israel to its God, including both the fundamental principles upon which its covenant fellowship with the Lord depended, and the directions for the sanctification of the covenant people in that communion. Consequently the laws contained in this book might justly be described as the "spiritual statute-book of Israel as the congregation of Jehovah." As every treaty establishes a reciprocal relation between those who are parties to it, so not only did Jehovah as Lord of the whole earth enter into a special relation to His chosen people Israel in the covenant made by Him with the seed of Abraham, which He had chosen as His own possession out of all the nations, but the nation of Israel was also to be brought into a real and living fellowship with Him as its God and Lord. And whereas Jehovah would be Israel's God, manifesting Himself to it in all the fulness of His divine nature; so was it also His purpose to train Israel as His own nation, to sanctify it for the truest life in fellowship with Him, and to bless it with all the fulness of His salvation. To give effect to the former, or the first condition of the covenant, God had commanded the erection of a sanctuary for the dwelling-place of His name, or the true manifestation of His own essence; and on its erection, i.e., on the setting up of the tabernacle, He filled the most holy place with a visible sign of His divine glory (Exo 40:34), a proof that He would be ever near and present to His people with His almighty grace. When this was done, it was necessary that the other side of the covenant relation should be realized in a manner suited to the spiritual, religious, and moral condition of Israel, in order that Israel might become His people in truth. But as the nation of Israel was separated from God, the Holy One, by the sin and unholiness of its nature, the only way in which God could render access to His gracious presence possible, was by institutions and legal regulations, which served on the one hand to sharpen the consciousness of sin in the hearts of the people, and thereby to awaken the desire for mercy and for reconciliation with the holy God, and on the other hand furnished them with the means of expiating their sins and sanctifying their walk before God according to the standard of His holy commandments.

All the laws and regulations of Leviticus have this for their object, inasmuch as they, each and all, aim quite as much at the restoration of an inward fellowship on the part of the nation as a whole and the individual members with Jehovah their God, through the expiation or forgiveness of sin and the removal of all natural uncleanness, as at the strengthening and deepening of this fellowship by the sanctification of every relation of life. In accordance with this twofold object, the contents of the book are arranged in two larger series of laws and rules of life, the first extending from ch. 1 to ch. 16, the second from ch. 17 to ch. 25. The first of these, which occupies the earlier half of the book of Leviticus, opens with the laws of sacrifice in ch. 1-7. As sacrifices had been from the very beginning the principal medium by which men entered into fellowship with God, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of the world, to supplicate and appropriate His favour and grace, so Israel was not only permitted to draw near to its God with sacrificial gifts, but, by thus offering its sacrifices according to the precepts of the divine law, would have an ever open way of access to the throne of grace. The laws of sacrifice are followed in ch. 8-10 by the consecration of Aaron and his sons, the divinely appointed priests, by their solemn entrance upon their official duties, and by the sanctification of their priesthood on the part of God, both in word and act. Then follow in ch. 11-15 the regulations concerning the clean and unclean animals, and various bodily impurities, with directions for the removal of all defilements; and these regulations culminate in the institution of a yearly day of atonement (ch. 16), inasmuch as this day, with its all-embracing expiation, foreshadowed typically and prefigured prophetically the ultimate and highest aim of the Old Testament economy, viz., perfect reconciliation. Whilst all these laws and institutions opened up to the people of Israel the way of access to the throne of grace, the second series of laws, contained in the later half of the book (ch. 17-25), set forth the demands made by the holiness of God upon His people, that they might remain in fellowship with Him, and rejoice in the blessings of His grace. This series of laws commences with directions for the sanctification of life in food, marriage, and morals (ch. 17-20); it then advances to the holiness of the priests and the sacrifices (ch. 21 and 22), and from that to the sanctification of the feasts and the daily worship of God (chs. 23 and 24), and closes with the sanctification of the whole land by the appointment of the sabbatical and jubilee years (ch. 25). In these the sanctification of Israel as the congregation of Jehovah was to be glorified into the blessedness of the sabbatical rest in the full enjoyment of the blessings of the saving grace of its God; and in the keeping of the year of jubilee more especially, the land and kingdom of Israel were to be transformed into a kingdom of peace and liberty, which also foreshadowed typically and prefigured prophetically the time of the completion of the kingdom of God, the dawn of the glorious liberty of the children of God, when the bondage of sin and death shall be abolished for ever.

Whilst, therefore, the laws of sacrifice and purification, on the one hand, culminate in the institution of the yearly day of atonement, so, on the other, do those relating to the sanctification of life culminate in the appointment of the sabbatical and jubilee years; and thus the two series of laws in Leviticus are placed in unmistakeable correspondence to one another. In the ordinances, rights, and laws thus given to the covenant nation, not only was the way clearly indicated, by which the end of its divine calling was to be attained, but a constitution was given to it, fully adapted to all the conditions incident to this end, and this completed the establishment of the kingdom of God in Israel. To give a finish, however, to the covenant transaction at Sinai, it was still necessary to impress upon the hearts of the people, on the one hand, the blessings that would follow the faithful observance of the covenant of their God, and on the other hand, the evil of transgressing it (ch. 26). To this there are also added, in the form of an appendix, the instructions concerning vows. The book of Leviticus is thus rounded off, and its unity and independence within the Thorah are established, not only by the internal unity of its laws and their organic connection, but also by the fact, so clearly proved by the closing formula in ch.Lev 26:46 and Lev 27:34, that it finishes with the conclusion of the giving of the law at Sinai.

Next: Leviticus Chapter 1