I. Setting the Story (1:1)
The Lord speaks to Moses at the "tent of meeting" (the tabernacle) and instructs him to speak to the Israelites. The statement, "The LORD spoke to Moses," is repeated many times throughout Leviticus, followed by the content of God's speech, that is, the laws.
II. Laws Concerning Offerings and Sacrifices (1:2-7:38)
Moses receives detailed instructions on how to conduct various sacrifices: burnt offerings, grain offerings, offerings of well-being, sin offerings, and guilt offerings.
III. Ordination, Worship, and Disobedience (8:1-10:20)
A. The Ordination of Aaron and His Sons (8:1-36)
Acting on God's instructions, Moses ordains Aaron and his sons into the priesthood. The ordination ritual uses special vestments, sacrifices, and anointing with oil. After the ritual, Aaron and his sons are instructed to remain at the tabernacle for seven days, which is the period of ordination.
B. Worship on the Eighth Day (9:1-24)
The Israelites assemble in front of the tabernacle on the eighth day, and Aaron and his sons offer sacrifices for themselves and for the people. The glory of the Lord appears to the people, and fire comes out from the tabernacle to consume the sacrifices.
C. Aaron's Sons Offer Unholy Fire and Die (10:1-7)
Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu offer "unholy fire" at the tabernacle and are consumed by fire from the Lord. Aaron and his remaining sons are forbidden to mourn, but the Israelites are allowed to do so.
D. Instructions to Aaron (10:8-11)
The Lord speaks to Aaron directly, instructing him about his duties to "distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean" (10:10).
E. Priestly Error and Resolution (10:12-20)
Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's two remaining sons, treat the sin offering incorrectly and are reprimanded by Moses. Aaron speaks to Moses, and the issue is resolved.
IV. Laws concerning Ritual Purity and Impurity (11:1-15:33)
A. Clean and Unclean Animals (11:1-47)
The Lord gives laws to Moses and Aaron about clean and unclean animals, that is, those that can be eaten by the Israelites, and those that are forbidden to them.
B. The Ritual Impurity of Childbirth (12:1-8)
The Lord instructs Moses about the ritual impurity of a woman after childbirth and the sacrifices prescribed for her to become clean again.
C. The Ritual Impurity of Skin Disease (13:1-14:57)
Moses and Aaron receive detailed instructions about skin diseases: the different kinds of skin disease; when a person should be confined and/or declared ritually unclean by the priests; what should be done with clothing or houses infected by "skin disease" (mold); and the purification ritual for a person healed of a skin disease.
D. The Ritual Impurity of Bodily Discharges (15:1-33)
The Lord instructs Moses and Aaron on the ritual impurity of bodily discharges, such as blood and semen, and prescribes procedures for restoring ritual purity.
V. The Day of Atonement (16:1-34)
Moses receives instructions from the Lord about the Day of Atonement, the one day a year when the high priest enters the holy of holies, the innermost part of the tabernacle where the ark of the covenant resides. The high priest offers there sacrifices for himself, his fellow priests, and the people, to atone for sin.
VI. The Holiness Code (17:1-27:34)
Marked by the refrain "I am the LORD," these chapters of Leviticus are commonly called the Holiness Code by biblical scholars. These chapters are concerned not so much with sacrifice and ritual purity/impurity as they are with ethics and holy living.
A. The Slaughtering of Animals and the Eating of Meat (17:1-16)
Instructions are given for the slaughtering of animals for food. The eating of blood is prohibited.
B. Laws concerning Sexual Practices (18:1-30)
The Lord gives instructions to Moses about prohibited sexual practices and warns that the land will be defiled if the Israelites engage in such behavior. A theme is sounded here that is repeated throughout the rest of the book: the Israelites are to distinguish themselves from the nations around them, who do not follow these laws.
C. Laws concerning Ritual and Moral Holiness (19:1-20:27)
The Lord gives laws to Moses for the Israelites. These laws govern many aspects of life: the Sabbath, sacrifices, harvest, sexual matters, agriculture, the occult, respect for elders, and justice in legal matters and in the market. A refrain is repeated many times, "I am the LORD your God." The Lord calls the people to holiness: "You shall be holy to me; for I the LORD am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine" (20:26).
D. Laws concerning the Holiness of Priests (21:1-24)
The Lord gives laws to Moses for the priests, who must maintain a higher form of holiness than the general population.
E. Laws concerning the Offering of Animals at the Tabernacle (22:1-33)
Moses receives instructions from the Lord about who can eat the meat of sacrifices and about what kinds of animals are acceptable as sacrifices.
F. The Liturgical Calendar (23:1-44)
The Lord instructs Moses about the appointed festivals the Israelites are to observe: the Sabbath, Passover, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Offering of First Fruits, the Festival of Weeks, the Festival of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Festival of Booths.
G. The Lamp and the Bread for the Tabernacle (24:1-9)
The Lord instructs Moses about the tabernacle lamp and the bread offered weekly in the tabernacle, bread to be eaten only by the priests.
H. A Blasphemer and Laws concerning Bodily Injury (24:10-23)
The son of an Israelite and an Egyptian blasphemes the name of God and is killed, according to the word of the Lord. The Lord also instructs Moses about the punishment for murder and bodily injury: "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (24:20).
I. The Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee (25:1-55)
The Lord instructs Moses about observing a sabbatical year every seventh year, when the land lies fallow. The Lord also instructs Moses about the Year of Jubilee, observed every fifty years, when the land lies fallow, Israelite slaves are released, and property sold because of economic hardship is returned to its rightful owners.
J. Blessings and Curses (26:1-46)
The Lord promises blessings for the Israelites if they obey the laws given to them, and curses if they do not obey. The curses include exile from the land of Israel, but the Lord promises not to destroy the Israelites completely for the sake of the covenant made with their ancestors--with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
K. Vows and Consecrated Offerings (27:1-33)
Moses receives instructions about the making of vows; the consecration of houses, land, and animals; and the offering of other things to the Lord.
L. Concluding Statement (27:34)
The last verse of Leviticus sums up the setting for the book: "These are the commandments that the Lord gave to Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai."
AUTHOR: Kathryn Schifferdecker, Associate Professor of Old Testament