Feb 24, 2009

Reading Through Leviticus

Many people who have attempted to read through the Bible start to get stuck around Leviticus. This is unfortunate for at least two reasons. First, the reader might not complete their reading through of the Bible. Second, the reader might remain unexposed to the historical and spiritual richness of Leviticus. To this end Julian Freeman offers the following three suggestions to help one read through Leviticus.

1.Buy an ESV Study Bible. This is going to sound funny, but it’s not intended to be: There are pictures in this Bible. It seriously helps. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. I feel like I understand the layout of the tabernacle better now than after any other time making it through Exodus.

2. Look for Patterns. When going through a book like Leviticus, it is easy to get caught up in the details and miss the big point. For example, did you notice any recurring phrases as you read through the last 3/4 of Leviticus? From chapter 11 on the phrase ‘I am the Lord’ is repeated 49 times. That’s significant. You’ll want to read the book noticing those kinds of patterns and asking, ‘Why is this said so many times?’ That will help you understand the book as a whole.

3. Read it as Literature. While there are so many lists of laws, they are not randomly strewn together. There are particular narrative incidents given in between particular laws and commands. Why? What’s the point in putting that particular story right where it is, after that particular event? Those are the types of questions that will help you benefit from Leviticus, because they’ll keep you focused on big picture issues, rather than particular case laws.

To these suggestions I would add this. Keep a notepad and pen nearby for jotting down passages or questions that you have as you read. This allows you to keep reading without getting bogged down by looking to a commentary or some other resource. After you have accumulated a number of questions then look for answers in commentaries, study guides, etc. all at the same time. For a good mid-level commentary I would suggest Mark Rooker's commentary on Leviticus in the New American Commentary series.

HT: Tim Challies


Anonymous said...

I just completed a study of the book of Leviticus, and want to add to this great post about studying it. I'll admit that I choose to study the book due to a class requirement, but that I really enjoyed the fruits of the study, for two reasons: (1) Mark the phrase: "The Lord spoke to Moses" wherever you see it. It will help you to see the different sections of the book. (2) Create a chart of the book, based on the sections of the book by summarizing each in a single sentence.

Charles Savelle said...

Both of these are excellent suggestions. I am glad that you have been able to work your way through this rich book.

Bryan said...

These are very good suggestions. The other thing I would add is to think about why the priests would want to have included so much detail. Why are there different kinds of animals for each of the 3 major offerings in chapters 1-3? What is different about the way that Aaron is treated during his ordination as High Priest, and the way that his sons are in their ordination as priests? What is the unifying principle of the various "be holy" laws in chapters 18-20? And so on.

Also, there is some really bad Christian-oriented interpretation of Leviticus out there. Supplement that (at least) with some Jewish interpretation by Jacob Milgrom or Baruch Levine.