For most Christians today, there is no message of the book of Leviticus, for it often goes unread. Yet Leviticus was the first priority in Jewish instruction of the law of Moses. Jesus and His hearers knew Leviticus well and took its teachings to heart.
The Documentary Hypothesis (separate JEDP portions later redacted) that reigned supreme over Pentateuchal studies for most of the twentieth century undercut the internal coherence of Leviticus that swayed the Jews of the New Testament period speculating that Leviticus was the nostalgic revisionist history of Judaic reformers in exile, rather than Leviticus originating with Moses. But more recently, such theories have fallen from favor, and Leviticus is being reconsidered for its historical representation of the ancient and foundational era of the Jews.
Derek Tidball explores the picture in Leviticus of Israel being brought together under the law of Moses. Here is a definitive presentation of what life as the people of God was to be like: the civic, cultic, religious, moral, legal, family, and ritual expectations of the covenant community. He reveals the message brought to the Jews by Leviticus in their day, making room for us to grasp its message to us in our day.
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“The bearing of God’s image means more than that all humans have dignity. It also means that all humans belong to God and are his possession. So someone who extinguishes a life is accountable to God on two counts: such a person has both desecrated God’s image and fatally damaged God’s property. We hold life as a sacred trust from him.” (Page 211)
“Leviticus is good news. It is good news for sinners who seek pardon, for priests who need empowering, for women who are vulnerable, for the unclean who covet cleansing, for the poor who yearn for freedom, for the marginalized who seek dignity, for animals that demand protection, for families that require strengthening, for communities that want fortifying and for creation that stands in need of care. All these issues, and more, are addressed in a positive way in Leviticus.” (Page 17)
“The point being made, then, is that ignorance of God’s law is no excuse: sins have consequences that need remedying whether their perpetrator is aware of them or not, and guilt is a real condition that needs atoning for whether the sinner feels guilty or not.” (Page 71)
“At the very heart of their understanding of holiness was the call to reflect the character of their God in their lives” (Page 37)
“The grain offering is a tribute in recognition of the sovereignty of God over the lives of those who offered it” (Page 52)
Derek Tidball was principal of the London School of Theology for twelve years and is currently visiting scholar at Spurgeon's College, London. A Baptist minister, he has served as pastor of two local churches, in denominational leadership and in various roles in theological education. His numerous books include Ministry by the Book, Signposts, and The Message of Holiness and The Message of the Cross in IVP's Bible Speaks Today series.