Leviticus, as the sacrificial law of the land of Israel (no pun intended on any front), is a recapitulation of the redemption history of Israel and is the basis for which the future of Israel would be written. This post will examine how Leviticus recapitulates the past and symbolically designs the future.
Leviticus is a book mostly ignored in Christian Churches. It is a detailed exposition of the laws of Israel, detailing in precise language the steps that Israel was supposed to take in order to keep itself pure and retain Yahweh’s presence in the midst of his people. Leviticus is more than a manual for sacrifices: it is a manual of worship. It shows us exactly how God expects us to worship him and the exact ways that we should bring our offerings to Him. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, expands on how Christ, the Great High Priest (also compare Romans 3:21-25 and Romans 8:1-4) fulfilled the Old Covenant system of worship in himself, thereby fulfilling the law. But Leviticus is still a manual for worship, and it teaches us how to read history and transform it into worship.
Leviticus speaks in the language of Liturgical Code. It symbolizes and recapitulates history, and provides models that history can be examined on. This post will deal explicitly with how Leviticus codifies, and demystifies, Israel’s history and examine the Liturgical code Leviticus speaks in as an effort to explain the story of the Bible and some of the codes and structures it speaks in. Understanding history, and specifically where Leviticus intersects with other portions of history, can illuminate both history and Leviticus and the future. For example, seeing the places where Leviticus overlaps with the story of Adam will flesh out the story of Adam beyond the three chapters of Genesis. I will not deal with how Leviticus teaches us to worship.
Much credit is due to James Jordan for pointing out the chiasm of Leviticus, and showing me biblical symbolism and how it is all connected. My main role in this post is to pull all of the research done by great minds such as Peter Leithart, James B. Jordan, and my friend Seraphim all into one cohesive argument, providing explanations and expanding on sections left for the reader to tease out, and bridge these connections.
Leviticus, first of all, is a seven part chiasm recapitulating the seven days of creation.
A. The Offerings in chapters 1-7 recapitulate the first day of Creation. They begin with God speaking order into unordered Israel so as to live properly with his presence among them. God’s presence among the people, which creates life, corresponds to God’s Spirit hovering over the face of the deep. The chapter is addressed to ‘adam, who becomes a nephesh in chapter 2, who is to be the light to the world (goyim, nations).
B. The ordination of the priests in chapters 8-10 detail the creation of the mediators, those who would go back and forth across the firmament as messengers of God and mankind. The priests were in charge of making the offerings (ishishah) which were celebrations of the marriage between Yahweh and Israel. The firmament is not able to be passed as detailed in the fall of Nadab and Abihu (chapter 10).
C. The laws of uncleanness and sanctuary defilements recapitulate the third day of creation, the separation of land and sea. The Epistle of Barnabus is a reflection of early Christian beliefs which tell us that the unclean and clean animals were reflections of Gentiles and Jew, respectively. The separation of clean and unclean recapitulate the separation of land and sea on the third day.
D. The hinge of the chiasm is the Day of Atonement (chapter 16). The fourth day is the creation of the stars which symbolized the rulers of the world. The Day of Atonement was the purification of the rulers of the world that they might shine as originally intended.
C’. The laws of society and land defilements (chapters 17-20) recapitulated the winged host and the land hosts. The righteous host were marked out by the Levitical separation between Jew and Gentile.
B’. The priestly regulations (21-24) detail the creation of a new Adam who was created on the sixth day. Unfortunately, we see a fall here, too. The unnamed Israelite is stoned, signaling another fall in Israel just as Adam sinned.
A’. The Jubilee and consecrated things (25-27) recapitulate the day of God’s rest.*
Leviticus then finds itself part of a recapitulation of the redemption history, from Creation to the Covering of Adam and Eve:
A new Garden sanctuary is developed in two heptameous sections (35:1-36:7//40:18-19; 36:8-37:9//40:20-21; 37:10-16//40:22-23; 37:17-24//40:24-25; 37:25-29//40:26-27; 38:1-20//40:28-33; 38:21-31//40)*. These two weeks of creation (themselves recapitulating Genesis 1 and 2 respectively), give way to the proper way to approach Yahweh (Leviticus 1-7). The Nearbringings to Yahweh are assigned to Adam (Leviticus 8-9), who fails in his effort to be a faithful priest*** (Leviticus 10). Adam and Eve are cursed****: some animals, which symbolize the serpent and Gentiles, are made unclean to eat (Lev 11); the sweat of the brow is imagined as leprosy and skin defilements causing early on-set glorification (which is false glory; Lev 13-14); and sex now causes impurity alongside pain in childbirth (Lev 15). Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden, but are clothed in the skin of animals (Leviticus 16).
Leviticus 1-3***** recapitulates, specifically, Adam’s role as priestly leader of humanity’s worship. The commands are issued to Adam (Lev 1:2; cf. Gen 2:7a). Chapter 2 details the Nearbringing of a nephesh, or soul, which is Adam with the indwelling spirit (Lev 2; cf. Gen 2:7b). Food is introduced, some of it not being available to eat (Lev 3; cf. Genesis 2:16-17). This shows us that Adam was expected to bring the grain that he cultivated to Yahweh in a Nearbringing to Him as Yahweh walked with man. Adam was expected, when Yahweh visited on the Sabbath, to come near to Him by bringing him a meal of the plants that were cultivated by his work.
The order of the sacrifices is important. The first offering that should be brought is the Trespass Offering for intentional sins. The second is the Purification Offering that is made for unintentional sins. The third is the Ascension Nearbringing, where the sacrificer is brought to God and consumed as food. The fourth is the Tribute Nearbringing, and the fifth is the peace meal shared between God and man.
Looking at Leviticus alone, the five sacrifices recapitulate all of Genesis*******: The Trespass Offering (Lev 5), the offering for heavy-handed or intentional sins, must be brought out first. Adam sinned intentionally against God by taking from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil before he was ready. Adam was supposed to wait, mature, and take from the Tree when he was ready to lead. Instead, the Serpent convinced him to take it early and he ate before his time. Abraham is to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to atone for that sin, but God provides a ram instead. The second offering that should be offered is the Purification Offering (Lev 4), the offering for unintentional sins. Isaac did not hear the word of Yahweh to Rebekah directly; Jacob was to still obey Rebekah’s message from Yahweh that Jacob was to rule Esau. Isaac unintentionally sinned by wanting to bless Esau rather than Jacob. Rebekah makes a purification offering, deceiving Isaac into seeing his sin, but cooking two goats for Jacob and Esau, where Jacob is sent away and Esau is devoted to destruction by conversion just like the two goats in Leviticus 16. The Ascension Nearbringing (1:3-17) is the means by which the sacrificer dies with the burnt animal and ascends to God. Jacob begins his ascent to God when he sees the Ladder at Beth-El. The Tribute, or cereal offering (Leviticus 2) is a bread offering (wine is added later in Numbers at the Promised Land) and is offered as a pleasing aroma to God. In chapter 4, the priest sprinkles the veil seven times before moving toward the direction of the Presence of God, just as Jacob blesses the whole world by finding the firmament ladder between God and man and consecrates that place (Lev 4:6-7, 17-18). Joseph is brought as an aroma offering to Egypt when he is brought by traders of spice. The final offering, the Peace Offering (Leviticus 3) is offered and shared between man and God, which is established when Moses and the 70 elders eat with God (this is recapitulated in Romans 5 when we have peace with God through Christ: Moses stands for Israel and the 70 elders stand for the 70 nations of the world).
Joseph lives out the first four stages of the offering: he is “killed” by his brothers when they throw him in a pit; his robe is taken from him and shown to his father; he rises from two pits (as a High Priest) to take second in command of Egypt; he gives Egypt a Tribute offering by feeding Jew and Gentile bread and wine. He also sacrifices his brothers by separating them (physically), exposing their sin to each other and to God, and by having a peace meal with them. Joseph is a new Adam, a High Priest who feeds Jew and Gentile alike after his death and resurrection.
Leviticus then moves to a present concern: the concern of God’s presence among them. God cannot dwell among death, so Israel offers peace to God. After the Day of Atonement, chapter 17 ends with peace. Leviticus 19 has 70 commands for Israel, including laws of peace (19:5-8). Chapters 21-22 detail exclusions, rules for eating, and also have laws for peace (22:17-23). The lex talionis laws are described as peace laws (24:18). The Jubilee culminates in peace (26:6). While recapitulating the past, Leviticus sets us peace in the present.*******
There are some numerical concerns that deal with the present: The word fat is used 12 times in chapter 3: the twelve-fold fat is the twelve-fold Israel, whom only God can consume. Blood, the life of the creation, is twice seen in creation terms (chapters 6:1-7:38 and 14). Fire can either bring the Nearbringer up to God or it can judge: it is used 7x times in 8-10:7, the seventh time being a Sabbatical judgment against Aaron’s sons (10:2). The land is seen as a new creation land in chapter 19, the last use in 19:36 (land is used 7 times). Creation is seen as a gift, because give is used in chapter 20 seven times.
Leviticus draws near its end by recapitulating itself. The Levitical chiasm of the book matches the chiasm of the seven feats of Leviticus 23:
A. The Sabbath festival recapitulates chapters 1-7 dealing with the means by which man and law achieve rest.
B. The Passover section deals with how Israel might be freed of death (8-10). The Passover and priesthood are both concerned with marriages with Yahweh.
C. The Feast of Firstfruits deals with the separation of the first offering and the rest. Christ is the Firstfruits Offering of the saints (John), and the saints are offered the rest of the year (Revelation).
D. The Feast of Pentecost refers to the ultimate authority of the redeemed people.
C’. The Feast of Trumpets calls together the righteous host who are given commands in 17-20.
B’. The Day of Covering is an act performed by the priests, the new adams of Israel (21-24).
A. The Feast of Tabernacles deals with the final dwelling of God with the man, the truest Sabbath (25-27).
Revelation is structured similarly to Leviticus, also structuring itself after the feasts:
A. Jesus is the Shining Light of the Sabbath (Rev 1)
B. The Mediating Churches are told how to be spared the coming destruction of Rome/Egypt – Passover (Rev 2-3)
C. The Call to the Throne shows the saints following the First Fruit sacrifice to Heaven (4-5)
D. The Book and the Seven Seals detail the ultimate Pentecost (6-7)
C’. The Judgments show us the land creatures (Israel) and sea creatures (Gentiles) and air creatures (Church) in a true separation of the righteous and unrighteous hosts (8-15)
B’. The False City is judged and the true Bride is established by being Covered by the blood of the Lamb (16-20)
A’. The Bride meets her Groom and they live together forever without Tabernacles (21-22)
When we properly understand the seven fold nature of the Book of Revelation as it stands in relation to the seven Feasts and the seven days of Creation, we can better understand the subsections. We understand Revelation 1 more when we understand the Sabbath and first day of creation better; it’s a never ending cycle that feeds each other. The better we understand the Passover the better we understand Revelation 2-3, and so on.
God also threatens a future decreation in chapter 26:
A. The ways of Israel would be desolated (v 22)
B. Their sanctuaries would be desolated (v31)
C. Their land desolated (v 32a)
D. Their enemies would be desolated (v32b)
C’. Their land would be depopulated and Israel’s hosts would be scattered (v34)
B’. Yahweh would give the land rest like Adam was
A’ A Sabbath judgment would be ruled against Israel (v43)********
The Day of Atonement would also provide a model for future atonements:
(This first structure was provided by Seraphim Hamilton)
1. High Priest takes off robes of glory and beauty, puts on linen garments.
2. High Priest kills bull as purification offering, ascends with incense to the Most Holy, cleanses the Covering with blood (Mercy Seat).
3. The High Priest kills the goat marked for the Lord (symbolizing the people), ascends with the incense to the Most Holy, and cleanses the Covering with blood.
4. The blood of the bull and the goat together are then used to purify the Courtyard Altar.
5. The goat marked for destruction is sent away to destructon.
6. The High Priest is reinvested with robes of glory and beauty.
7. An ascension offering is made.
8. The fat of the purification offering is burned up to God.
There are many comparisons I could draw which recapitulate the Day of Atonement, but they are too numerous for a single blog post. I will use one, an obvious one: Esther:
1. Queen Esther takes off her royal robes that signify her status as queen and puts on sackcloth and dung (Esther 14:1-2)
2. Esther ascends in an incense cloud of the prayers of her handmaidens to the throne of the King and has a banquet for him as a way to earn his trust for herself. She sacrificially offers herself and cleanses herself by her own sacrifice
3. Esther then ascends again to beg for the lives of her people.
4. Israel is purified when the King accepts Esther’s request to save her people.
5. Mordecai is killed on the device he set up to destroy the Jews. The enemies of Israel are now also allowed to be put to death by the sword.
6. Queen Esther retakes her seat with the King
7. The Jews are allowed to fight back and sacrifice the Gentiles to Lord, thereby securing their ability to go back to the Land and rebuild Israel.
8. This point is actually connected to the last point. In Mordecai’s dream, he sees that the righteous are exalted and then “consume” those held in honor.
The more we understand the Day of Atonement and meditate on it, the better we can understand other days of Atonement (such as the Passion). Any understanding of the Passion of our Lord that doesn’t account for the Day of Atonement is a biblical deficient one.
Levitical worship recapitulates creation because liturgy is a restoration of the order of the universe as a whole. In the Creation Week, Yahweh ordered the world according to his will, separating land from sea, water from water, and man from animal. Those who worshiped under the Levitical liturgy took part in God’s creative ordering by separating clean from unclean, death from life. The Levitical separations were part of the way that Israel would experience unity by Yahweh, otherwise than the mutual consumption of Yahweh and sacrifice. Of course, the New Covenant believer participates in the creative energy of Christ by our union to Him through the Spirit.
The Levitical liturgy recapitulated the redemption history as a way for the Israelite to participate in its own past. Christ, according to St. Irenaeus, recapitulates the entire history of Israel. Our unity with Christ brings us into the history of Israel, as does our celebration of the liturgical feasts of the Church calendar.
The Levitical liturgy recapitulated the role of Adam in a way for Israel to redeem humanity. Abram was called to be the father of a new nation, a new Adam who would bless the world and commit the nations to Yahwist worship. Our unity with the Last Adam is the foundation of the way in which every believer recapitulates the work of Adam.
The Levitical liturgy forms the present of Israel, that they are always a people who look back to the gracious revelation of Yahweh through Creation and through the Exodus, constantly reminding them of his liberatory power to save and his mighty acts of wonder. The liturgy was formed in a way that would create a unity between Yahweh and the believer in such a way that they would live in Him and have life in Him.
Because Leviticus is a book about the present and past, it is also a book about the future. The life of the believer is an eschatological life. It is a life that looks forward to the final consummation of all things when Christ becomes all in all and puts the whole world beneath his feet. Understanding the rhythms of Leviticus is key to understanding the rhythms of the future.
Understanding Leviticus’s language is not just a game for those who wish to find something in the Bible that isn’t there. The Scriptures speak in a different language all over, and the better we understand the language of the Bible the better we understand the work that the Lord is doing in renewing creation through his Son and Spirit. The Gospel writers were fluent in the language of the Torah: the better we understand the Torah, the better conversational partners we become with the apostles. May the Spirit guide us as we try and interpret the Scriptures and become conversant with its ancient language.
*Credit due to James Jordan for pointing out the seven point chiasm of Leviticus
**Credit due to James Jordan for pointing out the two weeks of Exodus
***Credit due to Peter Leithart for showing Adam’s priestly lineage
*****Special thanks to Seraphim Hamilton for showing me this
******Credit due to Peter Leithart for showing me this
******Credit due to James B. Jordan for showing me this
*******Credit to James B. Jordan
********Credit to Peter Leithart,