Leviticus: The Mosaic Law. Sacrifices, the Feasts and Festivals; Jesus and the Law
The Book of Leviticus and Sacrifices
As we read the book of Leviticus we may be saying, "What does all the sacrificing of animals and ceremonial laws mean to me today?"
1 Corinthians 10:1-11 encourages us not to be ignorant of Israel’s history. Moses instituted the law, and their experiences are ‘written for our instruction.’ We can learn from their experiences and mistakes.
What can I learn from Leviticus?
It took the Israelites only one night to get out of Egypt, but it took forty years to get Egypt out of them!
In Leviticus the Jews are taught how to fulfil their priestly call. In the New Testament we are called priests. God ‘has made us kings and priests to our God’ Revelation 5:10.
For every law in the Bible we must ask, "What principle lay behind it? How can I apply this principle in my life?" We need to beware of Legalism (Galatians 5:1) and be careful how disagreements are handled (Romans 14). Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth (John 16:13). Look out for the picture of Christ in Leviticus.
Overview of Leviticus
The Israelites have moved from the bondage of Egypt in Exodus, to redemption and service in Leviticus, giving us instructions and regulations for worship and obedience to God; there are about 630 rules and regulations!
Leviticus falls into two sections: Sacrifice chapters 1-17 and sanctification (being made holy) 18-27.
Sacrifice always come at a price. Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22) and King David refused to offer anything which had cost him nothing (1 Chronicles 21:24).
What has God asked you to sacrifice? We are to ‘take up our cross daily’ and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). To be holy means to be ‘set apart’ or ‘separated.’ We are told to ‘be holy’ as ‘God is Holy’ (1 Peter 1:16). We are living in this world but we are not of the world. We are meant to be ‘salt and light’ (Matthew 5:13-14), distinctively different people, those who have come out of darkness into the marvellous light.
In Leviticus we can see four main themes:
The recognition of sin as sin
Our personal attitude and actions towards sin, including, guilt, health, individual sin and national sin. (’The wages of sin is death…’ Romans 6:23).
The importance of worship, substitutional sacrifice, accountability and the priests as mediators.
Jesus is our High Priest, our Mediator and was the sacrificial Lamb of God, Hebrews 9:11 & 1 Timothy 2:5 & John 1:29.
Social dimensions of a community
The feast and celebrations speak of the redemptive activity of God.
‘You shall be Holy’ Leviticus 19:2. The Day of Atonement, Exodus 30:10.
The sacrificial system
Sacrifice was a ritual through which the Jewish people offered the blood or flesh of an animal in payment for their sins (Leviticus 17:11). Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sins (Ephesians 1:7 & Colossians 1:14) ‘Without shedding of blood there is no remission’ (forgiveness) Hebrews 9:22.
Sacrifices originated in the garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve had sinned they hid from God; they were ashamed of their nakedness. God killed some animals and made tunics for them (Genesis 3:21). This symbolised that sinful man could come before God without fear of death. Even though sin had entered into the world, God still wanted to have fellowship with them. But their sin needed a covering.
After God had poured out His judgement on mankind by the great flood as ‘their thoughts and the intent of their hearts was evil continually’ (Genesis 6:5). Noah the ‘righteous preacher’ (2 Peter 2:5) left the ark and built an altar and sacrificed animals. It was a ‘soothing aroma’ for God, Genesis 8:21. Abraham regularly worshipped God by offering sacrifices to Him (Genesis 12:7).
Three central themes of sacrifice
In the Mosaic Law (Law of Moses) - sacrifice has three central ideas:
Both the Old and New Testament confirm that sacrifices were symbolic. The Israelites sinned and had to offer another life (an animal) in place of their own. These substitutes pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:1-18), who laid down His life willingly for the sins of all mankind.
‘Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again’ John 10:17.
Hebrews 9:11-14 ‘But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh. How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’
Specific sacrificial offerings called for in the Mosaic Law:
The burnt offering - which pointed to Christ's atoning death for sinners (2 Corinthians 5:21) and His total consecration to God (Luke 2:45).
The meal offering - which symbolically presented the best fruit of human living to God; Christ's sinless service. (Hebrews 10:5-10).
The peace offering - which celebrated the covering of sin, forgiveness by God, and the restoration of a right relationship with God (Judges 20:26). It’s a type of the fellowship that we can have through the cross.
The sin offering - in which guilt from the worshipper was transferred symbolically to the animal through the laying on of the offerers hands (Leviticus 16:8-10). This typifies Christ as our guilt bearer. The trespass offering typifies Christ's payment for the damage of sin.
Feast and Festivals
There were three major feasts in the Old Testament, Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.
All the Jewish males were required to travel to the temple in Jerusalem once a year to observe these events. (Exodus 23:14-19 & Acts 2:1-11). Below are those compulsory attendance feasts and other feast, which were introduced to be observed annually so as to remind the next generation of Israel’s history.
This annual feast recalled the Israelite's deliverance from Egypt when the angel of death ‘passed over’ those who had applied the blood of the spotless lamb to their doorpost (Exodus 12:1-13:16). We need Jesus blood to cleanse us and protect us from the devil.
The firstborn of every Egyptian family who was not covered with the blood died. Pharaoh's response was to let God’s people go.
A custom connected with Passover was the Feast of Unleavened Bread to symbolise that the Israelites left in haste (12:11). Bread with leaven in it took time to rise and did not last as long as unleavened bread.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread used bread made without yeast, involving several assemblies and making designated offerings (Exodus 12:15-20, 13:3-10, 23:15, 34:18, Leviticus 23:6-8, Numbers 28:17-25, Deuteronomy 16:3b, 4a, 8. It was to remind the people how the Lord brought them out of Egypt in haste. In the New Testament it is mentioned in Mark 14:1,12, Acts 12:3 and 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.
Leaven speaks of sin or wickedness; Jesus likened it to the Pharisees' doctrine and He condemned them! If we don’t move in haste with the things of God, then we may become lazy and sinful or legalistic (The Galatian church had this problem). Genesis 4:7 ‘Sin lies at the door, its desire is for you, you must rule over it.’ We have to run after God and get as close to Him as we can; like Enoch let us desire to walk with Him.
Jesus entered Jerusalem five days before the Passover (John 12:1,12, 11:15); the Jews kept the Passover lamb for fourteen days (so they could thoroughly inspect it; Jesus was examined by the High Priest etc).
For five days the lamb would be taken into the home (Exodus 12:3-6), the exact time as Jesus entered Jerusalem when all eyes were on Him.
Jesus was crucified during the Passover week, outside the walls of Jerusalem. He was the spotless Lamb of God. None of His bones were broken; the two criminals on both his sides had their legs broken to hasten their death, but Jesus was pierced to see if he was already dead. The lamb in its entirety had to be eaten (Exodus 12:8-10) even the flesh and head! Jesus is all or nothing and we are told to eat His flesh (John 6:54-56).
Exodus 12:48 said that no one of uncircumcised flesh could eat of the Passover; circumcision meaning a cutting or rolling away of the flesh. Our flesh life is meant to die as we are crucified with Christ (Romans 6:5-6, Galatians 2:20).
The stone had been rolled away from the grave, Jesus had risen and the reproach of death had disappeared. 1 Corinthians 5:7, ‘Christ our sacrifice, our Passover for us’. Exodus 12:1-2 denoted the first day of the year from the day of the Passover, a new start. When we are in Christ then we have a new start and then we start to live for God; we are ‘a new creation’ 2 Corinthians 5:17.
After the Passover (Leviticus 23:1-14) the priest gathered the first fruit of the harvest very early in the morning (spring time) and the priest was to go into the Temple at dawn and wave them before the Lord, the day after the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:11). At this time the first fruit of God, Jesus, was rising from the grave. The Sabbath for the Jews was Friday evening to Saturday evening and for us it is Sunday and we celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
It was also known as the (Feast of Weeks 7x7=49 +1day =50) and the Feast of First Fruits. (Leviticus 23:15-21). This was held fifty days after the Passover.
It was a harvest festival where the Israelites expressed thanksgiving to God for the harvest. They waved a sheaf of the first barley as a wave offering, and made burnt offering and a grain offering (Numbers 28:26-31).
In the New Testament this was when the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the people representing various nations at the feast (Acts 2:1-4. It was the beginning (first fruit) of the outpourings that will continue till the last days (Joel 2:28-29).
It was to recognise the Lord’s bounty in the land. Romans 8:23 speaks of the first fruit of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 speaks of Christ as a first fruit.
This feast commemorated the years of wandering in the wilderness by the Israelites, due to their unbelief they did not enter into the Promise Land (Deuteronomy 16:13-17).
It was also known as the Feast of Ingathering and the Feast of Booths. The Israelites were commanded to live for seven days in booths (like a tent), a temporary shelter that was made from tree branches. They remembered the time when they had no permanent place of abode (Leviticus 23:42-43); as they moved from one location to the next as the cloud of God lifted.
The Hebrew word for booth is ‘succot’; it is the same word used in 2 Corinthians 5:1 ‘If our earthly house, this tent is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’. It is worth noting that as the shelter was only up for a week, the structure would have been good but not perfect like a house.
As the centuries progressed the book of Ecclesiastes was read at this time of the year during the feast, as a reminder of the brevity of life and the futility of it, if you are without God. It was so that the Israelites could memorialise the journey from Egypt to Canaan and to give thanks that Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey. Jesus is the ‘One Shepherd’ ( Ecclesiastes 12:11) who offers abundant life (John 10:9-10). In John 7:2, 37 the feast is mentioned.
Day of Atonement
This day was in a sense the most sacred of the year as it was the day when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place; it happened once a year (Leviticus 16 & Numbers 29:7-11).
He entered first to make atonement for his own sin, by blood sacrifice and then another blood sacrifice for the sins of the nation of Israel. ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin’ Hebrews 9:22 & (Leviticus 17:11).
This feast was actually a day of fasting and afflicting one's soul, humiliation and a day of no work (Leviticus 16:29-31).
Jesus is our ‘Great High Priest’, ‘our mediator’, and He is also the spotless ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (Hebrew 9:11 & 1 Timothy 2:5 & John 1:29).
Jesus once and for all made atonement for mankind, unlike the priest from Aaron’s lineage who had to come once a year, every year. The purpose of this feast was to cleanse the people from their sin and to purify the Holy Place.
Romans 3:24-26, speaks of Christ’s redemption by His blood and Hebrews 9:7, 10:3, 19-22 speaks of Jesus as the mediator and that we can enter the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus.
Feast of Purim
The feast of Purim (Esther 9:32) reminded the Jews of a plot that Haman hatched to annihilate the Jewish race, (Esther 3:6).
The Jewish people were in captivity by the Persians. God raised up a young lady called Esther who eventually became King Ahasuerus' (the world ruler of the day) wife, ‘for such a time as this’.
She pleaded for the life of her people, Haman was hanged and the Jews were allowed to defend themselves against their enemies (9:1) throughout all 127 provinces of the Kingdom (1:1).
Purim means ‘lots’ in Hebrew. Evil Haman cast lots to find out the dates for the Jewish people’s destruction (3:7). The feast is also known as the Feast of Lots. It became a festival after the Israelites' exile and it is observed annually even today. It is a day of joy and feasting and giving of presents. It reminds the Israelites of their national deliverance in the time of Ester.
Feast of Trumpets
The Feast of Trumpets was later Rosh Hashanah-New Year's Day. It was observed by blowing of the trumpets and the offering of animal sacrifices; it was an annual holiday, a day of rest (Leviticus 23:24-32 & Numbers 29:1-46).
It may have been observed during Israeli captivity whilst in Babylon to counteract the influence of the Babylonian's New Year festival (They had different calendars which would have upset the dates by which they had to observe their feasts). But nobody is really sure why it is observed. Some say that it is a time to present Israel before the Lord for His favour.
Feast of Dedication
This is celebrated as the restoration of worship in the temple after its desecration by the pagan ruler Antiochus Epiphanes in BC 166. He sacrificed a pig on the altar of God, which being an unclean animal in such a holy place caused mass rioting as the Maccabean war of independence from the Greeks continued.
This took place during the 400 silent years of God between Malachi in the Old Testament and Matthew in the New Testament.
The Feast of Dedication is also known as the Feast of Lights or Hanukkah. It is not found in the Bible, but in the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees (Found in some Catholic Bibles). It is not the inspired Word of God, but is a quite accurate account of the Maccabean revolt. 2 Maccabees is not a factual book of history.
Other sources for the background history can be found in Josephus, a Jewish/Roman Historian who is most famous for his account of Masada where nearly a thousand Jews killed themselves, to spare themselves from being captured by the Romans after three years of living in the Masada fortress.
You can visit the site in Israel; it is well worth a visit and the views are amazing. This feast is mentioned in John 10:22.
Other Sacred Days
The Sabbath Day
The Sabbath was a day of rest for both man and beast. After six days work, the people could rest on the seventh (Exodus 20:8-11). For the Jews the Sabbath would have been from Friday sundown till Saturday sundown.
Today’s believers usually have their Sabbath on the Sunday. In Matthew 12:1-13 the Pharisee’s went to an extreme to prevent people from working on the Sabbath, even healing! But Jesus said that ‘it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath’ (v12).
The Sabbath Year
The Sabbath Year was a year of rest for the land (Exodus 23:10-11, Leviticus 23:3. The land was worked for six years and on the seventh it was rested. This is a practice that is still used by some Christian farmers today so that the ground’s nutrients can be replenished.
The Year of Jubilee was the fiftieth year where debts were cancelled, (Leviticus 25:8-55, 27:17-24) and slaves were liberated. Land was returned to its original owners within each family tribe so that the tribe’s inheritance was never lost. The jubilee was never practised in Israel. Ezekiel 22:23-31, Jeremiah 25:11 speaks of the Sabbaths being broken and a warning of the judgement to come.
The Sacred Assembly
Sacred Assembly was a day of convocation, rest and offering sacrifices, which was to commemorate the closing of the feasts. Leviticus 23:36b, Numbers 29:35-38.
Jesus and the law
We learn from Leviticus about the three types of law: ritual, moral and social, (The Jews did not divide up the laws in this way).
We need to obey those laws that can be repeated in our time. E.g. adultery is wrong; the law tells us to stone the adulterer. But Jesus gave a higher law, "Let Him who is without sin cast the first stone"(woman caught in adultery John 8:1-11). Jesus pointed to the heart attitude, not just the action, "If you look at a woman lustfully, you have sinned" (Matthew 5:28).
The law says ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ (Deuteronomy 19:21) Jesus says, "Love your enemy" (Matthew 5:43-44). We are to "Love our neighbour as ourselves" (James 2:8) and so fulfil the royal law.
Luke 10:25-27 tells us that the summing up of the law (v26) is to love God with all that you have and to love your neighbour as your self (v27) & (Matthew 22:36-40).
Matthew 7:12 ‘Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’
Abolish or fulfil?
Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus fulfilled the law in every sense of the word!
Matthew 5:18 ‘Not one jot or tittle will pass away till all is fulfilled.’ A jot and tittle is the subtle difference between two Hebrew letters. The closest we have in the English language is the difference between the look of the letters Q and O.
Jesus fulfilled the law. Once the law was fulfilled it passed away.
Jesus fulfilled the law, which was a tutor to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Today we live by faith through the grace of God, and we are warned not to go back to the law (Galatians 2:14-21) because if you trust in your own righteousness you will be in trouble (Matthew 5:20, 23:2-3,28).
Jesus fulfilled this by being the perfect High Priest and the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. This has done away with of the old rituals like blood sacrifice and cleansing. This is the theme of the book of Hebrews.
Jesus as the great Physician, (Mark 2:17 & Luke 4:23) the healer; He fulfilled this law by bringing wholeness to those that lack it. (Matthew 11:5). He restored their place in society, as the sick were beggars or outcast in the case of a leper (Leviticus 21:16-24 & 13:45,46).
The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, and leads us to repentance. The cleansing of water speaks of the Holy Spirit; the priests had to wash themselves every day in the Bronze Laver (that was inside the Tabernacle courtyard) before they could minister. (It was made out of the Egyptians polished bronze mirrors). They could see their reflection and whether they were dirty or not.
1 Corinthians 6:11 ‘But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.’ (Titus 3:5) ‘For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer’ (1 Timothy 4:5) We are made holy because of what Jesus has done for us, but we are also being made holy, renewed day by day as we surrender our lives to God.
Jesus fulfilled this by rewriting it for his followers. The Jews were an isolated people group who were forbidden to intermarry with other nations (1 Kings 11:1-2 & Leviticus 18:19-30) or take up other nations’ practices.
The Jewish people had to stop working and travel to Jerusalem to hold the feasts (Exodus 23:14-19). This was not too difficult whilst living in Israel but once they moved outside of those borders it was more costly and difficult and very unpractical.
Imagine it today, having to take at least three holidays a year to Israel; or living in a tent in Russia for the Feast of Booths! When they were in captivity they were unable to perform the feasts or major parts of them i.e. the sacrifices and days of solemn rest. They were God’s own special people, different from everybody else.
Today we are the body of Christ, a great international community living in many different cultures and societies.
The Jews needed to re-assess their laws; whilst living in tents they were given laws concerning leprosy in the house (Leviticus 14:33-34). They were also forewarned about the consequences of their future disobedience (Deuteronomy 17:14-20 & 28:14-68).
We are saved by grace and we are no longer under law (Ephesians 2:8-9 & Galatians 2:16, & chapter 3). The law gave an outward appearance of holiness, but Jesus demanded that it came from the heart. He wants an inner obedience, not from fear, but because of love for the Master (Matthew 5:21-48). ‘If you hate your brother you’re a murder’ 5:21-22.
The moral law is essentially the Ten Commandments and what flows from them. The Pharisees were good at having a holy appearance but inwardly they were full of greed and pride. Jesus condemned these people at they were only interested in the praise of men (Matthew 23:13-33). 1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
Major Social Concerns in the Covenant
Ex =Exodus Dt = Deuteronomy Lev = Leviticus Nu = Numbers
Major Social Concerns in the Covenant
Major Social Concerns in the Covenant
See also The Priesthood, the Urim and the Thummim, Temple Duties, Singers and Musicians Go