Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Reading Leviticus

If you’re on my Bible reading plan (there are at least two of you that I know of :)) or any other similar plan, there’s a good chance you’re finding yourself smack-dab in the middle of Leviticus right now. That’s not an easy place to be.

For most Christians, the new year’s zeal and the intruiging narrative which kept us on schedule through Genesis and the first half of Exodus has lost its power. Somewhere around Exodus 25, when Moses was receiving the instructions for the building of the tabernacle, it became tough-sledding. 

Do we really need to read it all? What difference do all these laws make to us now? Was it really a temptation for them to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk? Why did God inspire this? These are all questions that plague us as many of us find it hard to make it through this section of Scripture.

Here are three things I’ve found helpful for getting through:

  1. Buy an ESV Study Bible. This is going to sound funny, but it’s not intended to be: There are pictures in this Bible. It seriously helps. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. I feel like I understand the layout of the tabernacle better now than after any other time making it through Exodus. 
  2. Look for Patterns. When going through a book like Leviticus, it is easy to get caught up in the details and miss the big point. For example, did you notice any recurring phrases as you read through the last 3/4 of Leviticus? From chapter 11 on the phrase ‘I am the Lord’ is repeated 49 times. That’s significant. You’ll want to read the book noticing those kinds of patterns and asking, ‘Why is this said so many times?’ That will help you understand the book as a whole.
  3. Read it as Literature. While there are so many lists of laws, they are not randomly strewn together. There are particular narrative incidents given in between particular laws and commands. Why? What’s the point in putting that particular story right where it is, after that particular event? Those are the types of questions that will help you benefit from Leviticus, because they’ll keep you focused on big picture issues, rather than particular case laws.

And don’t give up! Keep on going! Every single word that is there is God-breathed, and it is all useful. The soul who perseveres will be blessed!


  1. I just read Mark Dever’s section on Leviticus from The Message of the Old Testament and that helped me a lot. Just clarified WHY it is all important. I read through almost every year and this is my best time through this section. I also just purchased an ESV study Bible as well, so will have to check that out as I am reading out of the MacArthur Daily Bible.

  2. Thanks for those tips, Julian. I just read Leviticus 24 and 25 right now, before checking the blogworld. A couple of times in my margin I worte the words, “Remember Egypt.” It appeared to me this morning that all thee laws and regulations are grounded in Gospel truths – “For I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt…”

  3. One other things that I’ve found helpful as I am currently reading through Leviticus is developing a greater thankfulness for Christ completed work and being free from the law.

    For example, Leviticus 17:10-16 prohibits eating meat with blood in it. That means if I am Old Testament Jew I can’t eat a nice juicy medium-rare steak. The reason for this is because the blood is important for the sacrifice and atoning for sins. Because of Christ blood that has been poured out for my sins, I do not need the blood of animals to atone for my sin and can eat a juicy steak because Christ blood has paid for my sins! For this I am thankful for the cross!

  4. I think much of the “Oh man this is terrible” reaction to Leviticus is intended. We should feel frustrated by the law. We should feel overwhelmed. And, we should then look back to the one who KEPT IT, Abraham, and strive for faith that he had. The contrast is startling. In a few words (“Abraham had faith…”) we see Abraham’s righteousness, whereas Moses had to keep chapters upon chapters upon chapters of rules to be counted as righteous.

    Faith > Law !!!

  5. I think we should be careful not to fall into the trap of believing that Leviticus, as part of the old covenant, is not relevant for us today. The principles behind all the laws still remain, of course, because God has always been the same.

    We ignore so many of the laws, thinking of them as archaic and outdated and irrelevant, when in fact they are vitally important – they point towards Christ. The prohibition against eating the blood of an animal points towards the eventual fulfillment of Christ, whose blood saves us all. (Symbolically, Christ turned this old commandment on its head at the Last Supper when he took the wine and described it as His blood of the new covenant and instructed them to drink it.)

    The writers of the epistles often reference terms and concepts from Leviticus, especially when they talk about “redemption” (a Leviticus concept that literally means a kinsman “purchasing back” someone who has sold their self into slavery). The epistles also discuss Christ as an offering, referring to Him in Levitical terms. And the book of Hebrews presupposes an familiarity with Leviticus.

    Leviticus 18 is much derided in today’s culture-at-large for it’s prohibitions against homosexuality, but it also prohibits incest, bestiality, pedophilia, child sacrifice, etc. (I’m curious if the culture thinks those things are permissible?) These are things where God is basically saying, “The Canaanites have sunk to the lowest depths of depravity by doing these things. Do not follow in their footsteps, or you will meet the same end.”

    The chapter on skin diseases is particularly hard for me to read, though. It goes into detail discussing certain wounds, rashes, infections, etc and I find it stomach-turning.

    Which is probably only weakly describes how God feels about sin.

  6. Err… those first couple paragraphs were not to say that Christians are still under the OT regulations – we aren’t – but rather to point out that they are still important to understand.

  7. I’ve gotten a lot out of Leviticus myself; it shows us a lot about God’s nature and how we should react to Him. And, if I may, I’d like to offer <a href=”http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/2007/09/5-questions-to-help-your-devotions.html”>my suggestions on ways to deal with some of these more obscure passages.

  8. I’ve gotten a lot out of Leviticus myself; it shows us a lot about God’s nature and how we should react to Him. And, if I may, I’d like to offer my suggestions on ways to deal with some of these more obscure passages.

  9. These are helpful pointers, Julian, especially, I think,your third one. I have been blessed and instructed way beyond what I ever imagined as I’ve read, for the first time ever, through Genesis, Exodus and now Leviticus. God’s Word is great! 🙂

  10. One way that helps me get through most of the old testament is read while your listen to it. Go to esv.org and read while you listen. For those who don’t want to read the bible in front of the computer, follow these instruction provided on the ESV blog to download to your iPod: http://www.esv.org/blog/2009/02/memorizing.scripture.with.your.ipod

  11. Dude, these are some excellent observations. Thanks.

  12. Great discussion.

    In your faith>law comment there might be some confusion. Abraham’s faith and Moses’ faith was the same. As I’ve been explaining to my congregants, Leviticus comes after Exodus. In Exodus God has delighted to rescue his son and shed the blood of lambs and Egyptians for their salvation. The call of Leviticus is the call to sanctifcation by faith in light of salvation by faith. The obedient faith of Israelites (demonstrated by putting blood on the doorposts) received the gift of salvation from the Death Angel. The law was given for their sanctification not justification.

    Keep up reading Leviticus as it is quite rewarding. Every wednesday I study Leviticus with university students right in the middle of a cafe where lesbians are kissing and people are doing homework. It is God’s gracious word and shows his desire to make all this new by first making his people unique, holy, and a servant to the nations surrounding them plunged in slavery to sin.

  13. I was in the homosexual lifestyle for so many decades since
    I was a teen-ager.Then I came to know our Lord Jesus Christ
    as my God and Saviour, I repented and I turned away from
    homosexuality. Now I realize since I started reading and
    studying the Bible that homosexuality indeed is the lowest
    form of depravity and an abomination before God. And God
    is changing me from inside to outside, now when I look at
    homosexuality there is this kind of disgust within me and
    I don’t even want to go to places where homosexuality is
    rampant. I thank God for the salvation.

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