Cover image via Gospel Media Library.

As miraculous and important as leaving Egypt was, it did not entirely accomplish God’s purposes for the children of Israel. It was not even future prosperity in the land of promise that was God’s eventual goal for them. He wanted a holy people. “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Although they had known only captivity for generations, the Lord sought to make his people holy by giving them covenants and laws that, when kept and obeyed, would change their very hearts. He commanded them to create a place of holiness to the Lord. When they neglected to keep their covenants, he commanded them to make animal sacrifices to symbolize atonement for their sins. All these sacrifices were meant to point their minds to the ultimate sacrifice of the Savior, the Redeemer of mankind. We are invited to turn to Jesus Christ who has promised, “I am able to make you holy” (Doctrine and Covenants 60:7). Indeed, holiness is the theme of the book of Leviticus.

While on Mt. Sinai, the Lord revealed to Moses a glorious plan to redeem the children of Israel.  This plan extended to them the opportunity to receive a fulness of his glory. As part of this plan, Moses received the revelation detailing the plans for building the tabernacle, its purpose, and the duties of those who were to officiate in it. (see Exodus 25-30). When he came down, Moses and the children of Israel began the actual construction of the tabernacle (see Exodus 35-40). Because the revelations of Moses were used to guide the construction, these two descriptions closely parallel each other.[i]

Seeking Holiness through Sacrifice

The Lord told Moses that the children of Israel had to demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice to build his sanctuary. (Exodus 25:2, 8-9) Despite their other failings, when Israel heard what the Lord asked, they responded with liberal generosity. (see Exodus 35:20-22, 25-26, 29) Finally Moses had to restrain them from giving, for they gave “much more” than was needed for the tabernacle. (Exodus 36:5-7) This is a symbol of true repentance—a doing “more than enough” attitude.

The tabernacle consisted of three areas on increasing holiness—the outer court, the holy place, and the Holy of Holies. The outer court was surrounded by a woven portable wall hung between pillars, creating “sacred space” for the worship of the Lord, and could represent a telestial level of glory. It contained the laver and the altar of sacrifice and could be entered by the Levites as well as the people.

The bronze laver was used by the priests to become ritually clean before serving in the tabernacle. Before they offered sacrifice, they would ritually wash their hands and their feet, symbolizing the need for purity of actions in their service to God. After offering sacrifice, they would ritually wash themselves again before entering the holy place to light the menorah or worship at the altar of incense. Normal Israelites could only come to the altar of sacrifice, and only the priests ritually washed in the laver. The laver was made from the brass mirrors of the women who served at the door of the tabernacle (see Exodus 38:8). These polished brass mirrors gave a vague reflection of the person using it. As the priests used the laver, they would look into the reflective bronze and the water, and perhaps be reminded of their need to inspect their spiritual cleanliness on a daily basis.[ii] 

The altar of sacrifice was a powerful type of the sacrifice of the Messiah. It was the largest of the furnishings of the tabernacle and was constructed from acacia wood, one of the few available trees in the deserts where the Israelites wandered. It was overlaid with bronze, which made it able to resist the heat of the many sacrifices that were offered upon it. Each corner of this square altar contained a horn, which was a symbol of refuge, as Israelites who had sinned could take hold of the horn and be promised refuge until they could receive a fair trial. The Bible describes the other brass implements used in sacrifice, including basins and shovels for removing the ashes, bowls to hold the blood, meat forks to place the sacrifice on the altar, and the firepans used for taking coals from the altar to be used in burning incense. Through the shedding of blood, Israel could make reconciliation for their sins, a powerful lesson that would lead them to Christ.

The tabernacle itself was woven of fine linen in blue, scarlet, and purple. It was to be covered by a curtain of goat’s hair, perhaps similar to felt (Exodus 26:7-13.) This layer was also to be covered by two additional coverings—“a covering of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of badger skins” Exodus 26:14). The dying of the badger skins red would have impressed upon the minds of the Israelites that this was indeed a place of sacrifice. Using these badger skins as a covering  would have made the tabernacle water-resistant and durable but it would have made it appear dull and gray. The beautiful colors of the linen would have been hidden from onlookers. The Lord does not look upon outward appearances, but is concerned with what is on the inside.

The holy place contained the table of shewbread, the holy candlestick, and the altar of incense. It could only be entered by ordained priests, and represents a terrestrial degree of glory. The Holy of Holies contained the ark of the covenant and could only be entered by the High Priest, and only once a year, and represented a celestial degree of glory.

The Ark of the Covenant

The Lord begins by describing the most important furnishing of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:10-21), the ark of the covenant or “the ark of the testimony.” Its height and width formed a perfect square—a symbol of perfection. It was to be crafted from shittim (acacia) wood,  which is incredibly strong and durable, just as our covenants should be. It was to be overlaid with pure gold, both inside and out, and the top surrounded by a crown. God wants a kingdom of priests. Gold is priceless, why cover the inside with it when no one will see? Again, we need to use our spiritual minds to try to understand these instructions.

The ark of Noah was pitched “within and without” to give it a double layer of protection. This double covering, the Hebrew word for atonement, would keep us from sinking—into temptation, despair, or casual indifference to the things of God. To “cover” the ark with gold inside and out is a powerful symbol. The blood of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is more precious than gold could ever be.

Even the rings and staves which were created so that the ark could be moved were to be covered with gold and “they shall not be taken from it” (Exodus 25:12-15). The covenant itself must be as portable as the tabernacle. It must be taken with us everywhere we go. There should not be a place we go where we feel we must leave it behind. We must be ready to follow the directions of God at a moment’s notice, like the Israelites at Passover.[iii]

Hebrews 9:4 describes the sacred contents of the ark—”the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant.” These can also be viewed symbolically, the manna representing the need for daily spiritual nourishment through the scriptures, the rod representing priesthood power, and the tablets of stone representing the commandments.

The lid, or covering, is rendered in the King James Version as “mercy seat.” It was the same dimensions as the Ark of the Covenant. It translates the Hebrew word kapporeth which means “atonement-cover.” Indeed, it prefigures the atonement of Christ which “covers” the sins of all mankind and enables us to become “at one” again with God. Symbolically, God’s mercy is an exact fit for his justice.

The Table of Shewbread

A golden table was to be constructed onto which twelve loaves of bread were to be placed.  They called it “shewbread” (Exodus 25:23, 30), which in Hebrew, means the “bread of faces,” or the “bread of the presence,” signifying that this bread was placed “before the face of the Lord or in his presence.” [iv] These loaves were made of finely ground wheat and were of considerable size, over ten pounds each. They were placed in two stacks, and upon each stack was placed pure frankincense that was later burned on the altar of incense. The bread was changed each Sabbath and was eaten by the priests. (see Leviticus 24:8-9) Most scholars and Jewish tradition holds that wine was also placed on the table along with the bread, in small cups or spoons. Accordingly, it is easy to see the parallels between the items placed on the table of shewbread and the emblems of the sacrament. The sacrament table at the front of every chapel can be thought of as our “table of shewbread,” where the body and blood of Christ are “shown” to us. There we can come “face-to-face” with the person we are trying to emulate.[v]

The Golden Candlestick

The source of light for the tabernacle was the sacred candlestick. It did not hold candles, but oil into which a wick was inserted and lit. (Exodus 25:31) The seven-branched candlestick, or menorah, was made with tree images and was a symbol of the tree of life. The number seven has sacred significance in the Old Testament, connoting wholeness or perfection. Thus, the light provided in the house of the Lord symbolized perfect light. The oil for the seven lamps had to be pure olive oil that had been especially consecrated for that purpose. 

The Jewish festival of Hannukah, or festival of lights, celebrates the time when Judas Maccabeus finally drove the Greeks from the temple in Jerusalem around 165 B.C. According to Jewish tradition, the Maccabees found only enough consecrated oil for the sacred lamps to last one day. The consecration of new oil took eight days—yet miraculously, the meager supply burned until a new supply could be properly prepared. [vi]

Olive oil represents the Holy Ghost, producing both light and cleansing fire. In the parable of the ten virgins, those that were wise and took extra oil with them, had “taken the Holy Spirit for their guide.” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:56-57)

The Altar of Incense

The altar of incense stood before the veil of the temple in the holy place. Aaron and other priests were to burn incense upon it every day as part of their priestly duties, both morning and evening (see Exodus 30:7-10).  Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4 compare the incense ascending to heaven to “the prayers of the saints.” It was not a place of sacrifice, but once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the horns of this altar were anointed by the High Priest with the blood of the sin offering. As the incense burned on the altar daily, it was a reminder of this atoning blood

The Veil of the Temple

The holy place was separated from the Holy of Holies by a veil which was embroidered with blue, purple, and scarlet. (Exodus 26:31) The cherubim depicted on this veil symbolize the angels that guard the entrance to the presence of God. Brigham Young said:

Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell. [vii]

Hebrews 4:16 reads, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace.” To get to the throne of God, the ark of the covenant, one had to pass through the veil of the temple. However, only one man was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, the High Priest, and he  could only do so once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. When Christ died on the cross, the temple veil was rent from the top down to the bottom, thus opening up the throne of grace to all men, not just the high priest. The Lord wants a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (See exodus 19:6) The veil represents Christ’s body which was rent to enable all men to have access to the Father’s grace.

The Garments of the Holy Priesthood

Although the children of Israel forfeited their right to the higher priesthood, the Lord established the Levitical priesthood to be a schoolmaster to bring the people to Christ. Through this preparatory gospel, the people received continual reminders of the sacrifice of the future Messiah, who was symbolically represented by the officiating priest. The official clothing of the high priest was given by revelation and had symbolic significance, giving us many insights into the responsibility of the priesthood. “These “holy garments” were to be worn during priesthood service and were to be passed from father to son along with the high priestly office itself.

The ephod was worn over a blue robe and was made of blue, purple, and scarlet material, with designs of gold thread skillfully woven into the fabric. This ephod was fastened at each shoulder and had an intricately woven band with which it could be fastened around the waist. In gold settings on each shoulder were two onyx stones, each engraved with six of the names of the twelve sons of Israel as a ‘memorial’ as the priest served before the Lord. (See Exodus 28:9-10, 12)

This “apron,” as it is sometimes translated, signified a beautiful concept. With the two onyx stones, which fastened the ephod on the shoulders, the High Priest (and also Christ and his authorized servants) entered the tabernacle carrying Israel on his shoulders. A priesthood leader should bear those for whom he has stewardship on his shoulders. A bishop bears the names of those in his ward on his shoulders.  Those women who have been delegated priesthood authority to preside over organizations bear the names of those whom they serve upon their shoulders. Ministers bears the names of the families they serve on their shoulders. They feel responsibility for them.

Fastened to the ephod was a breastplate. Aaron’s breastplate was made of fabric rather than of metal and was woven of the same material that was used in making the ephod. It was twice as long as it was wide and when folded became a square pocket into which the Urim and Thummim was placed. Upon the exposed half of the breastplate were precious stones inscribed with the names of each of the tribes of Israel. Thus, the symbolism of the High Priest wearing the breastplate over his heart is powerful. Priesthood leaders and those with delegated authority should hold those in their charge close to their hearts. They should look upon these souls as “jewels.”

The mitre, or cap, worn by each priest was woven of fine linen. The High Priest wore a golden band on his mitre on his forehead on which was written HOLINESS TO THE LORD, like the crown of a king. This could be a good symbol of having the Lord “on your mind” as you enter the temple. 

The Rites of Purification for the Priests

The way individuals are consecrated, or set apart, to officiate in the tabernacle anciently can teach us how to prepare to enter the house of the Lord.  Because the Israelites disqualified themselves for the higher ordinances, only the priests went into the most sacred parts of the tabernacle. The consecration and setting apart of priests symbolizes in many ways what all must do to prepare for temple worship.

Aaron and his sons were washed with water, representing being cleansed. (Exodus 29:4) They put on sacred clothing, representing putting on the “new man” and becoming a new person in the Lord. (Exodus 29:29) These garments were to be passed from father to son along with the high priestly office itself.  They were anointed with oil. (Exodus 29:7 ) Pure olive oil was a sacred symbol of the spirit, and its use signified the sanctification of the person or object anointed.  (Exodus 30:29) The olive tree from the earliest times has been the emblem of peace and purity. It has been considered more sacred than any other tree.[viii] (Exodus 30:26-28) Even the furnishings of the tabernacle were anointed with oil to signify that they were sanctified by the spirit and prepared for use in the service of God.

Thus prepared to officiate in their priesthood duties, Aaron and his sons offered a sin offering, representing the sacrifice of all unrighteousness.(Exodus 29:36) Neal A. Maxwell has said, “So it is that real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed! Such is the ‘sacrifice unto the Lord . . . of a broken heart and a contrite spirit,’ a prerequisite to taking up the cross, while giving away all our sins in order to know God.” [ix]

The burnt offering (Exodus 29:16, 18), represented the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. [x] “And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and the great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.” (See Alma 34:14)

Then,  something was done that our twenty-first century minds have difficulty comprehending. The priest placed some of the blood of the sacrificed ram on the right ear, right thumb, and right big toe of Aaron and his sons. (Exodus 29:20-21)  Symbolism was a big part of the rites in these writings of Moses. This was done so that “the organ of hearing with which he hearkened to the voice of the Lord, and those used in acting and walking according to his commandments might be sanctified through the atoning blood of the sacrifice.” [xi]

Thus we see that Aaron and his sons had much in common with Adam. The Lord explained to Adam that each of us must be born again by the water, the spirit, and the blood (see Moses 6:57-60) and by this process, be able to “dwell in his presence.”  Adam was told that “by the water you keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified. “

This pattern is seen in the consecration of Aaron and his sons. They were washed, which symbolically allowed them to put on new clothes, or become a new person. They were anointed with oil, representing the Holy Ghost. After receiving this symbolic anointing of the Spirit, sacrifices were offered to justify them before God. They were anointed with blood to sanctify them, or make them holy through the blood shed for them, in their case by an animal.

Aaron and his sons ate the sacrifice “wherewith the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them.” (Exodus 29:31-33a) These are the same reasons we partake of the sacrament today. The sacrament signifies the atonement that was made for us, and partaking of it symbolizes making the atonement a part of our lives.

Symbolic Significance of the Tabernacle and Its Ordinances

After the tabernacle was completed, it was ready to be dedicated to the Lord. (Exodus 40:34-38)  “A cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”  God accepted his house and the people were willing to follow God’s lead. “When the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: but if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. Thus, the cloud was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night.” These verses teach us how to follow the Holy Ghost. We go where the Spirit directs.  We let the Spirit direct us—not hoping that the spirit will go where we go.

It was originally intended that an Israelite could move from the outer court of the tabernacle to the inner and more holy precincts and observe, in so doing, that the ornamentation became increasingly more intricate, ornate, and secluded, until at last, the ritual placed them before the holy presence, the Holy of Holies. These ordinances could have been the bonding agent between Israel and her God. This symbolic journey was denied Israel because of her own pride and rebellion. Therefore, Israel lost these higher blessings and became dependent on the officiating priests who acted as proxy through a lesser order of priesthood. The tabernacle and its plan and the ordinances illustrate the symbolism of man’s upward progress from a state of being alienated from God to one of communion with him. InHebrews 9-10, the apostle Paul discusses the true spiritual meaning of the tabernacle of ancient Israel.

Principles Taught by the Book of Leviticus

The book of Leviticus means “having to do with the Levites,” and was like their “Priesthood Manual.”  It contained detailed instructions of how to perform sacrificial ordinances associated with the tabernacle. Many people wonder why it is still important to read Leviticus, since we no longer perform sacrifices. If we  read between the lines, we will be able to see that Leviticus contains special instructions that can apply to everyone about how to become HOLY. 

It is interesting that the word holy or an associated word like sanctify appears over 150 times in the book of Leviticus. Why did the people in Moses’ day need such specific guidelines as the law of Moses? How might their handbook of instruction be of value for us today? 

The book of Leviticus contained instructions on four basic principles of the law of Moses:

1.  Sacrifice.  Animals were sacrificed to teach the people that a Savior, Jesus Christ, would sacrifice his life for their sins. The people understood this principle as vicarious atonement. An animal would bear the punishment in their place in order to satisfy the law of justice. In Moses 5:6-7, Adam was taught the meaning of the sacrifices he was offering, that they were “a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father.” The way each sacrifice was performed reminded the people of Jesus’ future atonement. Only sacrificial animals that met certain requirements were selected, so that they were symbolic of Jesus Christ. 

2.  Cleanliness.  Under the law of Moses, the people were required to maintain physical cleanliness. This included eating properly and avoiding people and animals that were unclean or diseased. These practical laws also helped remind the people to be clean from sins through obedience and repentance. 

3.  Separation.  The Lord commanded the Israelites not to intermingle with the wicked people of the world. This taught them to separate themselves from worldliness and sin.  Because they would eventually live among a very wicked people (the Canaanites), they needed to remain distinct with their own lifestyle and standards of behavior. They were not to intermarry with nonbelievers. [xii]

4.  Remembrance.  The law of Moses helped the Israelites remember how the Lord had previously blessed them, their heritage (the examples set by their fathers), and that they were the Lord’s chosen covenant people.  Feasts, celebrations, and Sabbath day observance helped the Israelites better remember the Lord. 

Vicarious Sacrifice

What made an animal acceptable for an offering to God? (Leviticus 1:3) It needed to be perfect, “without blemish” in order to remind them that the Savior is without sin.  At each sacrificial offering, we immediately take note of the presence of three parties: the OFFERER, the OFFERING, and the PRIEST. Christ is all three at once. He is the offering. He is the offerer. He is the priest. His body was his OFFERING and he willingly offered it. We see him as the innocent victim.  As OFFERER, we see him as the One who became man to fulfill God’s requirements.  As PRIEST, we see him as mediator, God’s messenger between man and Israel.

Why did the offerer place his hands on the offering and how did this offering make atonement for him (the offerer)?  (Leviticus 1:4) The laying on of hands was an important part of every sacrifice. It pointed to the substitution of the sacrifice for the sacrificer. This practice had a dual symbolism. First, it represented the fact that only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ could ultimately bring remission of sins. Second, the laying on of hands showed a transfer of identity—the offerer put his own identity on the sacrificial animal. Thus, as the animal was sacrificed, sinful man was dead, and a new spiritual man could be born again. The Hebrew word translated “atonement” comes from a  word meaning “to cover” or “to hide.” The connotation is not that the sin no longer exists, but that it has been “covered over” or blotted out before God. The power of sin to separate man from God has been taken away.[xiii] 

Why is there such an emphasis on blood?  (Leviticus 1:5) Depending on the offering, the blood was either dabbed upon the horns of the altar, sprinkled on all four sides of the altar, or dumped at the base of the altar. The Lord chose blood to dramatize the consequences of sin and what was involved in the process of reconciliation. Blood symbolized both LIFE and the GIVING OF ONE’S LIFE. Separation from God, or spiritual death, is the consequence of sin and the animal is slain to show what happens when man sins. Also, the animal was a type of Christ.  Through the giving of his blood for man, one who is spiritually dead because of sin can find new life—thus blood was a symbol for the whole process by which man becomes reconciled with God. 

What was the purpose of dividing the animal in pieces?  (Leviticus 1:6)  One author described this division as symbolizing our giving to the Lord our heart, mind, might, and strength. The head is the representation of THOUGHTS, the legs the emblem of THE WALK, the inwards the symbol of the FEELINGS AND AFFECTIONS OF THE HEART, and the fat the general HEALTH and VIGOR of the individual. The washing of the legs and inwards suggests that one must be spiritually pure, not only in what one does, but in what he desires.[xiv]

The Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur

Of all the religious days in the Hebrew calendar, the Day of Atonement was the most solemn and sacred. Instead of being a time of celebrating, it was instead a time for “afflicting” one’s soul by fasting. It was a day to cleanse oneself from sin, and a day for prayer and meditation. It signified that the sins of Israel had been atoned for and that the nation and its people were restored to a state of fellowship with God. Although the Israelites did not realize it, the central focus of the Day of Atonement was the Atonement of Jesus Christ. This is what the law of Moses was all about. The most perfect similitudes were displayed before all the people once each year, on the Day of Atonement.

On one day each year, the High Priest was privileged to enter the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and there make atonement for the sins of the people. He had to go through meticulous preparation to be worthy to act as officiator for the rest of the house of Israel.  In the course of much sacrificial symbolism, he cleansed himself and his house, and sprinkled sacrificial blood on various objects in the sanctuary itself. He put off the official robes he usually wore, and clothed himself in simple white linen garments, which according to Revelation 9:8 represent the “righteousness of the saints.”

Two goats were selected, lots were cast, and the name of Jehovah was placed on one goat—the other was called Azazel, the scapegoat. The Lord’s goat was then sacrificed as the great Jehovah would be sacrificed in due course. The high priest took its blood into the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and sprinkled it on the lid of the ark of the covenant, the mercy seat, and thus made atonement for the sins of all Israel.

The scapegoat was brought before the high priest, who, as the law required, lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confessed all the sins and iniquities of the children of Israel.   This burden the scapegoat then carried into the wilderness to a land not inhabited, even as the promised Messiah should bear the sins of many. Ironically, the High Priest Caiaphas offered the Lamb of God (Jesus) as a sacrifice just as the Aaronic High Priest offered the scapegoat.

The symbolism and meaning of the ceremonies performed on the Day of Atonement are set forth by Paul in the book Hebrews. Christ is the great High Priest who, unlike the High Priest of the Aaronic priesthood, was holy and without spot and did not have to make atonement for his own sins before he could be worthy to officiate for Israel and enter the Holy of Holies. (Hebrews 7:26-27) His perfect life was the ultimate fulfillment of the symbol of the wearing of white garments. The true tabernacle or temple is in heaven, and the earthly tabernacle made by Moses was to serve as a shadow or type of the heavenly one. (Hebrew 8:2-5) Christ is the Lamb of Jehovah as well as the High Priest. Through the shedding of his blood he became capable of entering the heavenly Holy of Holies where he offered his own blood as payment for the sins of those who would believe in him and obey his commandments. (see Hebrews 9:11-14, 24-28; 10:11-22) [xv]

Although the rituals of the Day of Atonement were highly symbolic, the rite did have power to bring about the atonement of Israel’s sins. James E. Talmage has written:

The sacred writings of ancient times, the inspired utterances of latter‑day prophets, the traditions of mankind, the rites of sacrifice, and even the sacrileges of heathen idolatries, all involve the idea of vicarious atonement. God has never refused to accept an offering made by one who is authorized on behalf of those who are in any way incapable of doing the required service themselves. The scapegoat and the altar victim of ancient Israel, if offered with repentance and contrition, were accepted by the Lord in mitigation of the sins of the people. [xvi]

“Ye Shall Be Holy: For I the Lord Your God Am Holy” Leviticus 19:2

The Lord expects his people to separate themselves from the world and become pure and holy.  When the Lord says, “Don’t sow mixed seed or wear cloth made of two fibers,” he is saying,“Don’t weave yourself with the world.”

In the following scriptures, notice the commandment in each verse and how that commandment would have helped Israel remain separate from the wicked practices of the world. Over and over again, the phrase is repeated, “I am the LORD your God.” The Lord wants to make sure that his children know just who is giving these commandments. Although some of them might appear to be peculiar, they would know that “I the Lord” is the one giving them. They needed to trust in his wisdom.

Leviticus 19:3 Honor parents, keep the sabbath.
Leviticus 19:4 Don’t worship idols.
Leviticus 19:9-10 Leave food for the poor.  
Leviticus 19:11 Don’t lie or steal.
Leviticus 19:12 Don’t swear falsely or profane the name of God.
Leviticus 19:13 Be honest with your employees.
Leviticus 19:14 Be kind to the handicapped.
Leviticus 19:15 Don’t show favoritism to the rich or the humble.
Leviticus 19:16 Don’t gossip.
Leviticus 19:17 Don’t hate anyone
Leviticus 19:18 Don’t hold grudges.

All the sins listed, which the Lord wanted the Israelites to avoid, were prevalent at that time. At first, the laws found in these verses may seem to have little application for the modern saint.  They may even seem puzzling as a requirement for ancient Israel. For example, what did the cutting of one’s hair and beard have to do with righteousness? But in the cultural setting of ancient Israel, these prohibitions taught a powerful lesson related to Israel’s heathen neighbors. What benefits come to us today when we forsake worldliness?

We heard a lot about letting go of negative feelings in April 2022 Conference. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke about the power of forward thrust in keeping us upright and moving forward. He pointed out, “It requires letting some things go and letting other things grow.”

Who knew that “Love thy neighbor as thyself” was in Leviticus 19:18? Most people think of it as a New Testament scripture.


The Lord took a people who had known nothing but captivity for generations and sought to make them free. He taught them how to use their newfound freedom by giving them covenants and laws to guide their actions and, ultimately, to change their hearts. He sought to make them holybycommanding them to create a place of holiness to the Lord—a tabernacle in the wilderness. When they fell short in their efforts to keep the laws he had given them, he commanded them to make animal sacrifices to symbolize atonement for their sins. In all this, the Lord tried to point their hearts toward the Savior and his ultimate redemption. He is the true path to holiness.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson has said:

If we yearn to dwell in Christ and have Him dwell in us, then holiness is what we seek, in both body and spirit. We seek it in the temple, whereon is inscribed “Holiness to the Lord.” We seek it in our marriages, families, and homes. We seek it each week as we delight in the Lord’s holy day. We seek it even in the details of daily living: our speech, our dress, our thoughts. As President Thomas S. Monson has stated, “We are the product of all we read, all we view, all we hear and all we think.” We seek holiness as we take up our cross daily.[xvii]

The Lord has promised, “I am able to make you holy.” “Every moment of [our lives] must be holiness to the Lord.”[xviii]  God loves us and wants us to be like him. “Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name” Moses 7:35). He gave us His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us. He is the Son of Man of Holiness. Sister Carol McConkie has observed that most often it is the sacrifices we make to keep our covenants that sanctify us and make us holy. [xix] Becoming “holy,” might sound overwhelming, but as we daily strive to keep our covenants and make our lives a sacred offering, we can become so through the Holy One of Israel.

[i] See chapter 13 of the Old testament Institute Manual available in the Gospel Library, “The House of God in the Wilderness.” The bulk of the information in this article is from this source.

[ii] Messages of Christ, Finding Christ in the Bronze Laver  and Finding Christ in the Altar of Sacrifice

[iii]  Many of these ideas are from Jared Halvorson’s insights into these verses from his program “Unshaken.”

[iv] Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “shew, shew-bread,”  388; Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “shewbread,” 847). In Old Testament Institute Manual.

[v]  These ideas are also from Jared Halvorson.

[vi] Josephus, Antiquities 12:7:6

[vii] Doctrines of Brigham Young, 416

[viii] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 3:180 in Old Testament Institute Manual.

[ix]  Conference Report, April 1995.

[x] As has been pointed out by some careful and spiritually minded non‑Latter‑day Saint scholars:

The Levitical sacrifices were . . . [designed] to impress upon the sacrificer a sense of identification with the victim (see Leviticus 1:4). The offerer was sacrificing not only a choice animal which he had raised but a substitute for himself. The whole sequence of acts he performed could not help but impress him with the penalty invoked for sin: it cost a life. . . .

Throughout the law of the offerings the blood is emphasized. . . . Both the fact and the symbolism in this insistence upon blood sacrifice must be understood. It lies also at the heart of the Christian faith, both in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and in the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper. The fact is simple: the shedding of blood means the death of the victim. The symbolic meaning lies in identifying the one making the sacrifice with the victim, for it symbolizes the death of the sinner. The penalty for sin is death, but the animal dies in place of the sinner. . . .

The God and Father of Jesus Christ is a holy God, offended by sin, who requires that blood be shed to remove sin. He has provided the substitute “lamb” in the person of his own Son, through whom has come “atonement.” . . . Without understanding the language and symbols of Leviticus, how can one fully understand the deepest meaning of the New Testament?

Thus ancient Israelites were symbolically cleansed of their sins, in similitude of the real cleansing from sin that would come through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  (LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 154-156.)

[xi] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:387–88, emphasis added) in Old Testament Institute Manual.

[xii] Later, in their apostasy, Jewish leaders carried this to an extreme, which Jesus had to correct. I think the Israelites needed that strict separation to begin in order to strengthen themselves before reaching out to others. Similarly, the early Latter-day Saints gathered in one body in order to gain unity and strength. Today, we are encouraged to be leaven to the whole world, while still keeping ourselves unspotted from the sins of the world.

[xiii] Old Testament Institute Manual.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Lund, “Old Testament Types and Symbols, ”Old Testament Symposium, 187-88.

[xvi] Articles of Faith, 70.

[xvii]  Elder D. Todd Christofferson, “The Living Bread Which Came Down from Heaven,” 2017.

[xviii] Brigham Young, “Remarks,” Deseret News, Apr. 2, 1862, 313.

[xix] Carol. F. McConkie, “The Beauty of Holiness,” Ensign, 2017.