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Understanding Leviticus as Part of the Pentateuch

In an essay, C. S. Lewis described how he conceived The Chronicles of Narnia: "The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood . . . [when] I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’"

What all goes into writing of a good book? How does an author go about gathering his material? Even with Scripture, we might wonder how much each author allowed their own intentions to shape the books they wrote. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but they still brought their unique perspectives to the writing task.

Moses is generally credited with authorship of the first five books of the Bible. These five books, or the Pentateuch, were originally composed as a single book and separated at a much later date. This probably reflected the practice of dividing long books into separate scrolls for the sake of ease. Moses wrote at the time when the nation was poised to enter the Promised Land. This book (or five books) was meant to shape their understanding of God and their identity as His people. There was no more critical time for transferring the important stories of the past for future generations.

Leviticus, whose name means, "pertaining to the Levitical priests," is a book divided into two parts: the Priestly Code (chapters 1–16) and the Holiness Code (chapters 17–27). It describes the regulations for sacrificial worship, which was instituted within a year of the Exodus, just after the completion of the construction of the tabernacle.

As we will see this month, this is not an outdated, irrelevant book. Leviticus is a book rich with symbolism and threaded with theology.

Apply the Word

Leviticus is not a book we often hear taught or preached. We might avoid it for fear of its hard-to-understand passages. What can help us at the beginning of our study is to remember that all Scripture is given to teach and transform us. Pray for God to move you beyond your reluctance of studying Leviticus and into a wide-eyed curiosity and eagerness.

BY Jennifer Michel

Jen Pollock Michel is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog. Her first book, Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith, is published by InterVarsity Press. Jen earned her BA in French from Wheaton College and her MA in Literature from Northwestern University. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and five children, and serves on staff at Grace Toronto Church.

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