Sailhamer, John H. The Pentateuch As Narrative. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.
Chapter 3, “Leviticus” pp. 323-367.
Part 1, “The Offerings and Sacrifices (1:1-17:16)” pp. 323-345.
“Leviticus is a continuation of Exodus. We should not, in fact, think of it as a new book. The title itself, Leviticus, is the Latin rendering of the Greek translator’s λευιτικόν, meaning ‘pertaining to the Levitical priests’” (Sailhamer 1992, 323). Sailhamer places Leviticus as occurring in the month between the dates in Exodus 40:17 and Numbers 1:1. “The book intends to show how Israel was to fulfill its covenant responsibility to be a ‘Kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (Ex. 19:6; Lev. 26:5)” (Sailhamer 1992, 323).
In the first 17 chapters we find a brief description of offerings and sacrifices. “They are not intended as an exhaustive explanation of the sacrificial system” (Sailhamer 1992, 323). Sailhamer sees them as introductions to the concepts, much as the genealogies are left incomplete but indicative of patterns. In the initial chapters we see procedures for bringing offerings in the new tabernacle worship. The text of Leviticus details the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. Most of the offerings as detailed in chapters 1-6 are left for the priests and often the worshiper to eat (Sailhamer 1992, 325-27).
In Leviticus 6:8 there are special instructions which pertain to priests. The care for the fires and for appropriate ceremony was very important in the worship. In chapters 8-9 the priests are consecrated in accord with the instructions given in Exodus 29. The priests could enter the tabernacle and bless the nation. “The next chapter (Lev 10) gives a negative lesson of the same truth in the example of Nadab and Abihu: the blessing of God’s people will come only through obedience to the divine pattern” (Sailhamer 1992, 330). “The purpose of the instructions for sacrifice and work at the altar, which have been outlined in detail in the previous chapters, was to provide a means of treating God as holy and honoring him before all the people. Thus this narrative shows that behind the rebellious offering of Nadab and Abihu was a disobedient heart” (Sailhamer 1992, 331). Sailhamer concludes, based on Aaron’s judgment not to eat of the sacrifice in Leviticus 10 that the high priest was shown to be a reliable judge.
In Leviticus 11 the author begins making distinctions of “clean” and “unclean.” Uncleanness separated one from worship. The unclean are divided into various categories and are treated in some detail in chapters 11-15. Sailhamer reminds us these are creatures which God declared good in Genesis 1 but which are not to be used by humans (Sailhamer 1992, 332-3). The insertion of a description of the “impurity” of a woman giving birth is indicative of the whole legal code. “Impurity is not defined in terms of a vague notion of taboo but in terms of acceptance or restriction from worship. The sense of impurity is thus defined with respect to the goal of the covenant . . . that is, the worship of God” (Sailhamer 1992, 334). Sailhamer see the narratives about pure and impure as an analogy of sin versus salvation, with the idea of blood and flesh being tied directly to the Fall (Sailhamer 1992, 336). The consideration continues when, beginning in ch. 13, we see the priest evaluating skin diseases and potential plagues. In each situation the “unclean” person is separated from the community worship and then re-enters with an offering when “clean.”
In Leviticus 16 the annual day of atonement is described, when “a Sabbath was proclaimed and atonement was made for the sins of the whole nation” (Sailhamer 1992, 341). The corporate worship is very important, as seen in chapter 17 when the Israelites are commanded not to make sacrifices except at the tabernacle. God calls his people to approach him at the times and in the places and ways he has appointed (Sailhamer 1992, 342).