In Leviticus, God gives some laws common in a democratic government, like “Do not steal”. However, the laws foreign to us—for instance, to execute the daughter of a priest if she becomes a prostitute—reflect life under what we would call a “theocracy”, a government under God’s rule. The people believed that God alone could judge right and wrong and that they must obey His commands because they knew His power, rule, and salvation. Hardly anyone today believes we should obey every law in Leviticus, even as the church.
Leviticus legislates concerning the tabernacle, priesthood, and Israel’s call to live as a unique representative of God’s salvation to the nations. We misread the Bible if we don’t grasp this. God gave these gifts so that He might live in fellowship with a particular people. History shows that even after God gives Israel land and the permanent tabernacle of the temple, they could not dependably live as His emissaries to the world. Because Israel never consistently follows the law faithfully, In all of Leviticus God continues to prepare His people for a better tabernacle (John 1:14-18), a better priesthood (cf. the Book of Hebrews), and even a better Israel (cf. the Gospel of Matthew). When Jesus came, he fulfilled in His life all the obligations given to Israel and the priests so that God could write a new law on our hearts (Hebrews). When we understand the place of Leviticus in the history of God’s salvation we appreciate the book’s teachings better. This book showcases God’s ongoing pursuit of people and the nations, the necessity of atonement for sin, and God’s willingness to bring salvation on His terms. We ought to take seriously the laws in Leviticus precisely because they prepare the way for God’s great salvation through Jesus, whose fulfillment of the law provides us fellowship and atonement as well.