Leviticus 1-7


“The Book of Leviticus, the third book of the Pentateuch, gets its name from the tribe of Levi, the priesthood tribe of ancient Israel.  It can be called Israel’s ‘priesthood handbook,’ for in it are contained the laws and ordinances that governed the duties of the ancient Aaronic Priesthood.  Leviticus was written for the priests, and most of what it contains was restricted to the sphere of priestly activity. While it was important for the operation of priestly functions during the Mosaic dispensation, today its value lies primarily in its contributions to our understanding of the history and religion of ancient Israel.  Both with regard to its theology and the ordinances and regulations contained in it, Leviticus has been superseded by later revelations, and it no longer serves as a standard for policy or doctrine among the Saints today.

“Yet Leviticus is a significant book.  It is perhaps the most Christian book in the Old Testament, since it teaches better than any other book the consequences of sin and the redemptive nature of vicarious sacrifice.  It teaches that holiness is the primary goal of worshipers of the Lord and that it can only be achieved on the principles of Justice and Mercy.  Leviticus teaches better than any other book the Justice of God, while at the same time it teaches that his Mercy is provided so his children can reenter his presence.” (Studies in Scripture: Genesis to 2 Samuel, Jackson and Millet [Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, 1989], 155)

Leviticus 1:3  If his offering be a burnt sacrifice… let him offer a male without blemish

Most of us understand that the sacrifice of animals pointed to the great atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the offering should be a male without blemish, as Jesus was.  The offering was to make atonement (a term used only once in the New Testament, [Rom. 5:11] but used commonly in Leviticus), which means that the separation between God and man would be removed, that man could become one with God again and dwell in his Presence. 

Note the other elements of the sacrifice.  It must be offered willingly, “if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God” (Moro. 7:8), “for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).  Isaiah declared, “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land” (Isa. 1:19).

“At the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” meant that it could be seen from outside the temple.  In essence, the sacrifice was done before the people as a witness to them than atonement was necessary.  Next, the text says, “before the Lord.”  It might as well say, “And now this sacrifice is offered before God, angels and witnesses outside the tabernacle.”  It is the same principle.  A witness is made before God, angels, priests, and the people.  All such ordinances are reckoned at the judgment bar based on these witnesses.

Hugh Nibley

The blood actually cleanses them of what most needs cleansing by transferring their sins to another. Leviticus deals with the matter in detail. It begins with every man in Israel who is for Jehovah bringing his offering from the herd, a male animal without blemish, as a personal, voluntary offering. He, not the priest, lays his hand on the animal's head, after which it represents him as an offering and a ransom for his sins (Leviticus 1:2-4). The conditions of the atoning sacrifice are given; all follow the same pattern. (Temple and Cosmos, [Deseret Book, FARMS, 1992], 56 – 57)

Leviticus 1:5-17 The offering of bullocks, sheep, and fowl

Bullocks are young cattle which were of great monetary value in an agrarian society.  We should always remember that the offering was a monetary sacrifice, for “sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.”  Depending on one’s means, the offering might be cattle, sheep, or fowl.  The poor were more likely to offer fowl, hence the offering of Joseph and Mary at the circumcision of Jesus (Lu. 2:24).  The rather horrifying image of the priest wringing off the head of the turtledoves makes me glad we don’t do that anymore (v. 15).

Leviticus 1:10-17 the sheep…the goats… on the side of the altar northward… the fowls… beside the alter on the east part

Take this for what it is worth.  Why were these three sacrifices performed in three different locations—bullocks at the door of the tabernacle, sheep/goats on the north, and fowls on the east?  The practical answer is that if all three were offered in the same place the line would go around the entire Israelite camp.  The three lines that formed for sacrifice were probably long enough as it was.  Some commandments are just practical.  God is practical—more so than we think.

leviticus 1 altar.jpg

Leviticus 2:1-11 offer a meat offering unto the Lord

Every time you see the term meat offering in the Old Testament, think of it as a meal offering.  It is either bread or flour and oil; it does not mean the flesh of cattle, sheep, or fowl as we think of meat today.  Certainly, the priests were offering the meat of cattle, sheep, fowl, etc., but a meat offering in the Old English is different.

Leviticus 2:4-7 a meat offering baken in the oven

Apparently, the way in which the bread offering was cooked was not important.  You want to bake it in the oven? You can bake it in the oven.  You want to bake it in the pan? You can bake it in the pan.  You want to fry it in the pan?  You can fry it in the pan.

The important part is that the bread offered represents the Bread of Life.  Jesus said, “I am that bread of life… if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:48, 51).  So the flour had to be fine to represent the purity of the offering.

What about the oil?  Oil nearly always represents the Spirit, signifying the gift of the Holy Ghost which Jesus promised his disciples after his resurrection (John 14:26)

“As would be anticipated, the ritual is rich with symbolism. This bread offering obviously represented Christ as the bread of life. The fine flour, or bruised corn as Isaiah called it (Isaiah 28:28), represented Christ in the deepest of suffering. It may also betoken that there is no unevenness in him. The oil was the constant emblem of the Holy Spirit. As the oil was poured on the flour, so the Holy Ghost would descend upon the Messiah or Anointed One as he commenced his ministry. Frankincense brought to the offering sweetness and fragrance. All were inseparably mixed together. Honey and leaven were forbidden, for these are agents of corruption, and none such were to touch the symbol of our salvation. The last ingredient was salt, which stood in opposition to honey and leaven, as the agent of preservation.” (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Gospel Symbolism [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1999], 88)

Leviticus 2:10 that which is left of the meat offering shall be Aaron’s and his sons

On a visit to Jerusalem (2015), the author visited the Temple Institute, where Jews are preparing the altars and tables for the Third Temple which is yet to be built in Jerusalem.  In discussing the table of showbread in the days of Herod’s Temple, the guide said that there were 12 loaves placed on the table at the beginning of the week.  There they remained for a week.  But miraculously, when the priests took the bread off the table to eat it as commanded in Leviticus, it was still warm as if it had been freshly baked.  It was considered a great privilege to eat of this bread.  We should feel the same way about partaking of the sacrament.

Leviticus 2:12-13 every oblation of the firstfruits… shalt thou season with salt

The Jews were also required to bring in the first bushels of crops as an offering to the Lord.  Some of it was offered as a burnt offering and the rest was for the priests.  The salt was required with every offering as a preservative.  The Jews of Galilee knew this when the Master taught them, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it (the offering) be salted? It (the offering) is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” (Matt. 5:13)

The term firstfruits again points to Christ, the “firstfruits of them that slept.”  As Paul said, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20)

Joseph Smith

It is a very prevalent opinion that the sacrifices which were offered were entirely consumed. This was not the case; if you read Leviticus, 2:2-3, you will observe that the priests took a part as a memorial and offered it up before the Lord, while the remainder was kept for the maintenance of the priests; so that the offerings and sacrifices are not all consumed upon the altar—but the blood is sprinkled, and the fat and certain other portions are consumed.

These sacrifices, as well as every ordinance belonging to the priesthood, will, when the temple of the Lord shall be built, and the sons of Levi be purified, be fully restored and attended to in all their powers, ramifications, and blessings. This ever did and ever will exist when the powers of the Melchizedek Priesthood are sufficiently manifest; else how can the restitution of all things spoken of by the holy prophets be brought to pass? (Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Alma P. Burton [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 57 - 58)

Leviticus 2:16 part of the beaten corn thereof, and part of the oil thereof, with all the frankincense thereof

“If a man, with a thankful sense of God's goodness in giving him a plentiful crop, was disposed to present an offering to God, let him bring the first ripe and full ears. Whatever was brought to God must be the best in its kind, though it were but green ears of corn. Oil and frankincense must be put upon it. Wisdom and humility soften and sweeten the spirits and services of young people, and their green ears of corn shall be acceptable. God takes delight in the first ripe fruits of the Spirit, and the expressions of early piety and devotion. Holy love to God is the fire by which all our offerings must be made. The frankincense denotes the mediation and intercession of Christ, by which our services are accepted. Blessed be God that we have the substance, of which these observances were but shadows. There is that excellency in Christ, and in his work as Mediator, which no types and shadows can fully represent.” (http://biblehub.com/leviticus/2-12.htm)

Leviticus 3:1-5 a sacrifice of peace offering

The peace offering is different than other burnt offerings, sin offerings, or trespass offerings.  The animal sacrificed in this ordinance does not represent the Messianic sacrifice.  Hence, the offering could be male or female, still without blemish, but either gender of cattle, lamb, or goat.  One translation calls these well-being offerings, “the animal is eaten by the offerer and invited guests as a festival meal ‘in the Lord’s presence.” Well-being offerings are thus the natural expression of gladness, the worshipper celebrating by feasting in the presence of God in acknowledgment of His loving-kindness. The feast is a sacrifice because ownership of the animal is first transferred to God, after which the portions eaten by the priest and the worshipper are considered to have been given to them by God.” (The Jewish Study Bible, ed. by A Berlin & MZ Brettler [New York, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2014], 200)

“Both offerer and priest were fed upon that which was not symbolically consumed by God. In this respect it differed from all other offerings. God, man, priest, and even his family were all to partake of this offering and find satisfaction in it. However, none of the priest's family could eat of the offering unless they were clean (Leviticus 7:20). Such is the peace enjoyed only by those who can feast together in perfect unity and harmony.” (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Gospel Symbolism [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1999], 89)

“A peace offering in the Old Testament Law is described in Leviticus 7:11–21. It was a voluntary sacrifice given to God in three specific instances. First, a peace offering could be given as a freewill offering, meaning that the worshiper was giving the peace offering as a way to say thank you for God’s unsought generosity. It was basically just a way to praise God for His goodness. The second way a peace offering could be given was alongside a fulfilled vow. A good example of this was when Hannah fulfilled her vow to God by bringing Samuel to the temple; on that occasion she also brought a peace offering to express the peace in her heart toward God concerning her sacrifice—it was a way to say, “I have no resentment; I am holding nothing back in the payment of my vow.” The third purpose of a peace offering was to give thanksgiving for God’s deliverance in an hour of dire need. None of these three reasons to sacrifice had anything to do with propitiation, with appeasing God, or with pacifying Him.” (https://www.gotquestions.org/peace-offering.html)

Leviticus 4-7  the sin offering, the trespass offering, the meat offering, the heave offering

Russell M. Nelson

“Scriptures teach us more about the word atonement. The Old Testament has many references to atonement, which called for animal sacrifice. Not any animal would do. Special considerations included:

  • the selection of a firstling of the flock, without blemish, [See  Lev. 5:18; Lev. 27:26]

  • the sacrifice of the animal’s life by the shedding of its blood, [See Lev. 9:18]

  • death of the animal without breaking a bone, and [See Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12]

  • one animal could be sacrificed as a vicarious act for another. [See Lev. 16:10]

“The Atonement of Christ fulfilled these prototypes of the Old Testament. He was the firstborn Lamb of God, without blemish. His sacrifice occurred by the shedding of blood. No bones of His body were broken—noteworthy in that both malefactors crucified with the Lord had their legs broken. [See John 19:31–33]  And His was a vicarious sacrifice for others.

“While the words atone or atonement, in any of their forms, appear only once in the King James translation of the New Testament, [See Rom. 5:11] they appear 35 times in the Book of Mormon.  As another testament of Jesus Christ, it sheds precious light on His Atonement, as do the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Latter-day revelation has added much to our biblical base of understanding.” (www.lds.org/general-conference/1996/10/the-atonement?lang=eng&media=video#watch=video)