Leviticus 1-4

The Books of Moses that make up the Pentateuch continue in Leviticus. Exodus described how the LORD led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, and how he handed down to them the law. In Leviticus, much of that law is described. Today's reading, the first four chapters, all deal with specific details for various offerings. Chapter one describes, in detail, the process for making a burnt offering. Chapter two describes the grain offering and chapter three, the "fellowship" offering. Chapter four describes the steps for making the sin offering.

Thoughts, questions, issues

Leviticus 5-8

Chapter five begins talking about sin and "unclean"ness. Among the sins specifically mentioned are refusing to testify when one has knowledge and taking an oath "thoughtlessly." This is quickly followed up with an extension of the discussion of the rituals of cleansing. Anyone guilty of any of these sins must confess and bring a lamb or goat or two doves or two young pigeons as a sacrifice. There are specific instructions for the priest as to how to perform the sacrifice. If he cannot afford any of the previous prices mentioned, the sinner should bring flour for his sin offering. And the LORD is clear in his instructions that the sin occurs when the LORD's commands are broken, even if the guilty party does not realize it.

Chapter 6 identifies more specific sins, including deceiving one's neighbor about something left in his care, or finding lost property and not returning it. The guilty party much make restitution in full plus 20% more, and make a guilt offering. This is followed by further instructions for the specific rituals to be associated with the burnt offering, the grain offering and the sin offering. Then chapter 7 offers the regulations for the guilt offering and the fellowship offering. And, as part of the regulations, the Israelites are forbidden from eating fat or blood.

In chapter 8, the LORD tells Moses to bring Aaron and his sons, the priestly garments, the anointing oil, a bull, two rams and basket of unleavened bread, and to gather everyone at the tent of meeting. Then Moses washed Aaron and his sons with water, and dressed Aaron in the garments. He anointed the tabernacle and everything in it with the oil. They offered the bull for the sin offering and the ram for the burnt offering. The ram was sacrificed for the ordination of Aaron and his sons, and blood was put on their ears thumbs and toes and sprinkled on the altar. So Aaron and his sons were consecrated as the LORD had instructed.

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Leviticus 9-11

In chapter nine, Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and his elders, "on the eighth day." They gathered to begin the priestly ministry of Aaron and his family. Aaron offered a calf as a sin offering from himself and a lamb as a burnt offering. He then sacrificed a goat as a sin offering for the people. He offered hte burnt offering and the grain offering. He then sacrificed an ox and a ram as a fellowship offering for the people, then he turned and lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. Moses and Aaron entered the tent and blessed the people when they came out. And the glory of the LORD appeared, and fire came out and consumed the offerings on the altar, and the people prostrated themselves.

Chapter ten opens with Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron's sons, offering unauthorized fire before the LORD, and fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them. Moses told Aaron that the LORD had warned people not to approach him in an unworthy fashion. He then called two of Aaron's cousins and had them remove the dead bodies outside the camp. He then warned Aaron and his other two sons Eleazar and Ithamar to maintain a calm demeanor "or you will die and the LORD will be angry with the whole community." And he told them that they couldn't leave the entrance to the Tent of Meeting because they had the anointing oil on them. Then the LORD gave Aaron and his sons more instructions, including that they were not to drink when they went to the Tent of Meeting. "This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, 11 and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses."

Moses told Aaron and his sons to take the grain offering left over and eat it "in a holy place, because it is your share." When he asked after the goat from the sin offering and discovered that it had been burnt up, he was angry, but Aaron asked, "Would the LORD have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?" That appeased Moses.

In chapter 11, the LORD began to lay out the dietary laws to Moses and Aaron.

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Leviticus 12-14

Chapter 12 deals with purification after childbirth. The process of giving birth leaves a woman "ceremonially unclean" for seven days after giving birth to a boy and two weeks after giving birth to a girl. There is an offering specified at the end of "the days of her purification."

Chapters 13 and 14 deal extensively with leprosy and other infectious skin diseases. The symptoms are described, and the people facing them need to see a priest, who will examine and quarantine the sufferer. Eventually, some will be cleansed, and others will be essentially outcast, forced to wear their hair and clothes in such a way as to make it obvious to all that they are afflicted. In addition to skin diseases, these chapters also deal with spreading mildew, on cloth and in houses.

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Leviticus 15-18

Leviticus 15 deals with "bodily discharges" and uncleanness. The specifics of the discharges are left to the imagination, but the discussion tends to deal with things that men and women sit or lie on. In general, the requirements involve cleaning or destroying the things that the afflicted sit or lie on, followed by a period of days which ends with a ritual sacrifice.

In chapter 16, the LORD describes the actions to be taken by Aaron, and the priests, when entering the Holy of Holys behind the curtain in the tabernacle. And a process of purification and sacrifices to be performed once a year as a Day of Atonement. Among the things to be done is the sacrifice of one goat, and the loading of sins upon another, a scapegoat, to be led into the desert and left there. And the LORD said that "this is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites." Chapter 17 deals with more aspects of the ritual sacrifice, and includes, again, the injunction not to eat blood, "for the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life."

Chapter 18 expounds on the 7th commandment, "thou shall not commit adultery." It deals with all sorts of sexual immorality, from incest to homosexuality to bestiality. It also explicitly commands them not to "give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech." The LORD said, "you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you."

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Leviticus 19-21

Leviticus 19 contains instructions from the LORD to the Israelites, through Moses, on a variety of topics. Many of these instructions are either reiterations of, or expansions and commentaries upon, the Ten Commandments. There are admonitions to honor parents, observe the sabbath, abhor idols and false gods, not to lie or steal or swear falsely or defraud or pervert justice, and to honor the LORD and follow his commands. There are instructions to leave the edges and corners of the harvest and the vineyard for the poor and the alien. Verse 27 contains the admonition not to "cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard," which results in the distinctive look of the orthodox.

In chapter 20, the LORD follows the behavioral instructions with appropriate punishments. For many of the sexual sins outlined in chapter 18, the specified punishment is death. The methods specified include stoning and burning. Chapter 21 contains rules intended specifically for the priests who, even more than the community as a whole, "must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Because they present the offerings made to the LORD by fire, the food of their God, they are to be holy." The priests had to marry virgins, not divorced or widowed or "defiled by prostitution," they couldn't shave their hair or beards, and they musth not be "blind or lame, disfigured or deformed."

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Leviticus 22-24

In chapter 22, the LORD emphasizes the importance of proper handling of the sacred offerings by the priests "so they will not profane my holy name." The priests must be clean, and if any condition of uncleanness occurs, they must be cleansed before handling the sacrifices. "The priests are to keep my requirements so that they do not become guilty and die for treating them with contempt. I am the LORD, who makes them holy." He also reiterates the instructions regarding the sacrifices - they are to be "without blemish."

in chapter 23, the LORD repeats the instructions for the appointed feasts. The sabbath is "a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work." The Passover, the festival of the First Fruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Trumpets and the Feast of Tabernacles are all mentioned with times and rituals.

Leviticus 24 features the first narrative of any kind since the deaths of Nadab and Abihu in chapter 10. First, the LORD commands the Israelites to bring clear olive oil for the lamps and tells them that Aaron is to tend the lamps continually in the Tent of Meeting. Then, in verse 10, a son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father got into a fight with an Israelite and "blasphemed the Name with a curse." They put him in custody "until the will of the LORD should be made clear to them." The LORD told Moses to take him outside the camp, and that the entire assembly should stone him, "anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death." He reiterates the principle of justice, "eye for eye, tooth for tooth." And the Israelites took the blasphemer outside the camp and stoned him, as the LORD had commanded.

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Leviticus 25-27

Chapter 25 of Leviticus contains the LORD's instructions for the sabbath year and the Jubilee year. As the seventh day of every week is a sabbath for the people, every seventh year "the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD." So the people would not sow or reap every seventh year. Every 50th year, the LORD decrees a Jubilee year, where the people are to return to their own clan and their own property. The LORD also gave laws regarding the selling of land, but only to fellow Israelites and "the land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants." Instructions include dealing with the poor, slaves, hired workers, temporary residents and those who sell but want to redeem their property.

Leviticus 26 is another exhortation from the LORD to follow his commands, the law which he has been handing down on Mt. Sinai. And he emphasizes the benefits that will accrue from doing so. If the Israelites follow GOD's laws, they will have "rain in its season and the ground will yield its crops...I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid." But just as obedience brings its rewards, disobedience results in punishment. If they do not follow the LORD's commands, "I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you." And the book ends in chapter 27 with rules and instructions for dedicating persons, and sacrifices and property to the LORD.

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