Leviticus (day 91 – day 117)

Leviticus 1 (day 91)

            1-2: But the Israelites won’t actually leave Mt. Sinai until the 12th chapter of the book of Numbers. There are lots more rules to cover and lots more arrangement to be made before they are ready to continue their journey. The book of Leviticus is that book of rules. The first rules to be covered have to do with the kinds of offerings the people may bring. Animal offerings are divided into two categories; those that come from the herd (bulls) and those that come from the flock (goats and sheep). It is said that these laws are given to Moses by the LORD at the tent of meeting, not at the tabernacle, although there is increasingly some confusion between the two.

            3-9: Offerings from the herd must be of a male with no obvious injuries or defects. It is brought to the entrance of the tent, where the priests (Aaron’s sons for now) slaughter it and sprinkle some of its blood against all four sides of the altar. The owner lays his hand on its head while it is being slaughtered as a visible sign that it is his offering and it is accepted by the priests for his atonement. The priests butcher the carcass, separating out and washing its entrails and legs while a fire is being built on the altar. Then the entire animal is burned on the altar. It is (to them, at least) a pleasing odor, and they imagine that God considers it so as well.

            10-13: A sheep or goat may be offered following the same process except that an offering from the flock is to be made on the north side of the altar.

            14-17: Two kinds of birds may be offered: turtledoves and pigeons. The bird’s head is removed by the priest and burned on the altar. Its blood is drained against the side of the altar. Its innards are removed and thrown onto the ash heap. Then it is torn apart by its wings and burned on the altar. I would not want to be a bird.

Leviticus 2 (day 92)

            1-3: We enter the kinder, gentler world of grain offerings. Whereas the animal sacrifice is for atonement — to make oneself right with God — the grain offering is more along the lines of thanksgiving. It is also a prayer for crops to thrive. The grain is ground into flour, mixed with oil and an aromatic resin called frankincense, and brought to the priest. The priest takes a handful of it and burns it on the altar. The rest is for the priests’ pantry.

            4-10: Baked or fried cakes or wafers may also be presented as offerings. They are spread with oil and brought to the priest. The priest burns a token portion of it on the altar and keeps the rest for the pantry.

            11-13: Some additional rules for grain offerings: leavening or yeast must never be used, but they must always use salt. In this way each grain offering becomes a reminder of their rescue from slavery in Egypt and the Passover meal they ate on the night of the 10th plague, the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians.

            14-16: Rough grain just harvested may also be offered as an offering of first fruits without grinding it into flour. It is offered with oil and frankincense (and presumably salt as well) just as the other grain offerings. We might wonder, of course, where they are to harvest grain in the Sinai wilderness. The answer is that many of the laws given in Leviticus will not apply until they have settled in the land of Canaan.

Leviticus 3 (day 93)

            1-5: The offering of well-being is described. Think of this as a thanksgiving for God’s blessings and/or as a petition for continued or renewed blessings. This offering may be of a male or female animal, unblemished of course, of the flock or the herd. If it is of the herd the animal is brought to the entrance of the tent. In this case it seems pretty clear that the owner himself slaughters the animal. The priests dash its blood against the four sides of the altar. The owner then butchers the animal and gives the priests the fat from the abdomen along with the kidneys and liver and these are burned on the altar. The disposition of the remainder of the carcass is not specified here.

            6-11: Offerings of well-being from the flock may be of either goat or sheep, male or female. The sheep sacrifice is the same as what was described for the cattle sacrifice, except it is specified that the tail of the sheep (which contains a great deal of fatty tissue) is to be offered along with the other fatty portions.

            12-16: If a goat is offered, the procedure is identical to that of the cattle offering.

            17: Neither the fat nor the blood is to be eaten from any sacrifice. If an animal is sacrificed to the LORD, the blood is to be poured out after some of it is dashed against the altar, and the fat is to be burned on the altar.

            All of this, of course, sounds strange to our ears. Animals, however, represented the wealth of the family. Even today we offer our wealth to the LORD; it is just that we have converted our wealth into paper before we bring it to the altar. We should, however, recover the attitude with which these animal sacrifices were made: It is given in trust that God is involved in and in charge of every aspect of life on earth.

Leviticus 4 (day 94)

            1-2: This next section (4:1-5:13) covers the so-called “sin offerings,” which are made for the purpose of atoning for unintentional sins. Intentional sins are not atoned for by sacrifices, but by punishment.

            3-12: If a priest commits an unintentional sin — that is, unintentionally does what is not supposed to be done (no specific examples are given) — he must bring an unblemished bull ox to the entrance of the tabernacle, place his hand on its head and slaughter it (by slitting its throat). He is to collect the blood in a bowl and carry it into the tent where some of it is sprinkled seven times on the ground in front of the curtain hiding the most holy place, some is dabbled on the horns of the little incense altar, and the rest of it brought back outside and poured at the base of the large altar of burnt offering. The bull is butchered and all the fatty parts removed and burned on the altar. The rest of the animal is carried outside the camp and burned on a wood fire at the ash heap — the camp’s garbage dump. In other words, the choice parts are offered to God while the defiled or common parts are removed from the camp, thus representing the removal of the effects of the priest’s sin from the people.

            13-21: If the congregation errs unintentionally (again no example is given) the same procedure is followed except that the elders place their hands on the bull ox as it is slaughtered and a priest carries out the blood ritual and the sacrifice on the altar and the removal of the remainder of the carcass.

            22-26: This paragraph covers the sin offering of a ruler. “Ruler” is not defined and we are left to wonder to whom, aside from Moses, this may refer. The sin offering is different in this case. As soon as the sin is discovered the ruler brings a male goat to the altar and lays his hands on its head while it is slaughtered. The blood is not taken into the tent, but a priest smears some of it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pours the rest on the ground. The fatty portions of the goat are burned on the altar, but no mention is made of carrying the rest of the carcass outside the camp. Perhaps the symbolism is that if a ruler sins the ruler can be forgiven but the effects of the sin are never really removed from the people.

            27-31: If an ordinary citizen commits an unintentional breach of the Law the same process is followed as with the ruler except that the animal to be sacrificed in this case is a female goat.

            32-35: Alternatively, in the case of a common citizen, a female sheep may be brought rather than a female goat.

Leviticus 5 (day 95)

            1-6: An odd assortment of examples is given. The first is the case of someone who has refused to come forward with evidence. It is hard to imagine how such a circumstance could be an “unintentional” sin, and indeed the text says that such a one is “subject to punishment.” The second case is of one who has unknowingly come into contact with a dead thing; such a one is “unclean” and “guilty.” The third case is of one who touches any kind of “human uncleanness.” This can be touching a dead body, or the blood of menstruation, or handling human waste; but again it is hard to imagine how this can happen “unknowingly.” In this third case the party is apparently not “guilty” until the transgression is pointed out to him or her. The fourth case is of one who “utters aloud a rash oath” unknowingly (?!). Once the offense is made known to that one, he or she becomes guilty. These four scenarios are offered as examples of the kinds of things that might prompt someone to bring a sin offering to the altar. The sin offering can be a female sheep or goat, and the procedure is followed that was described earlier (4:27-35).

            7-10: But what if the offending person has no flocks from which to bring a sin offering? Well, then he or she may bring two doves or two pigeons. The priest offers the first as a sin offering (for the person’s forgiveness) and the second as a burnt offering (as an act of renewed allegiance to the LORD).

            11-13: But what if you cannot bring even two birds? In such a case it is sufficient to bring a measure of flour, a portion of which the priest shall burn on the altar.

            14-16: I can make little sense out of this paragraph. It seems at first to be another example of how to deal with an unintentional sin, but this time the offering is a ram (a male sheep). Its value is computed according to prevailing standards and the owner of the ram apparently gives the priest money equal to 120% of the value of the ram. Either that, or the ram is sacrificed and the 20% (1/5) is given to the priest. But why a male sheep instead of female as listed in every other case? And is the animal actually slaughtered or only redeemed by paying the priest for its value plus 1/5? And what is the nature of the offense that is different from the other cases already enumerated?

            17-19: This paragraphs seems to be a repetition of the last one but I can think of no reason why it should be repeated, and I can find here nothing to distinguish the situation described from the one before. At times the Bible can be a most curious book.

Leviticus 6 (day 96)

            1-7: This paragraph deals with cheating one’s neighbor. Again it seems the emphasis is on doing the thing unintentionally because the law applies when one realizes one’s guilt.  The value of the thing taken + 20% is the specified fine to be paid to the one wronged, and then for atonement the male sheep is sacrificed.

            8-13: Here are rules about regular offering and sacrifices and the perpetual fire that is to be kept in the altar — a symbol of the abiding presence of God, although it is hard to imagine how it could be kept when they are on the move. The priest is required to dress in his linen undergarments and vestments when the ashes are removed from the altar in the morning, then to change into “ordinary” clothing to remove the ashes to a site outside the camp. This notion of holy dress to honor God is carried over today in the practice of many congregation to come to worship dressed in one’s “Sunday clothes.”

            14-18: The provision for the priests is reiterated concerning grain offerings. A portion of the offering is to be eaten by the priests, but only within the tabernacle; holy food must be eaten in the holy place. The priests themselves are deemed to be holy, and therefore anything that touches them (or that they touch?) becomes holy. This idea will result in excesses on the part of unscrupulous priests down the road.

            19-23: If a priest brings a grain offering, it has to be entire consumed by fire on the altar. When a priest is ordained, he is to prepare the grain offering personally, baking it with oil on a griddle. This is in keeping with the overall idea of the priests being set apart for God.

            24-30: These verses present the rules about sin offerings made by the priests, and specify what may be eaten by whom and where.

Leviticus 7 (day 97)

1-6: We repeat the procedure for the guilt offering, this time specifically in reference guilt offerings made by the priests. The priests are not exempted from making atonement and restitution.

            7-10: The priests’ compensation package is covered here, at least as much as it has to do with feeding the priests. The priest on duty gets to eat the specified part of each burnt offering, meat and grain. However, every other grain offering is divided equally between all the priests, not just the one who happens to be on duty at the time.

            11-18: Another kind of offering is covered here; the well-being offering, which may be given as a thanksgiving offering or as a votive, or free-will, offering, made simply because the person wishes to do so out of esteem for the LORD. The disposition of the sacrifices — the parts to be burned, eaten, or discarded — follows the pattern described before.

            19-21: Here we learn of meat that has become unclean, and the punishment that accrues to those who eat such meat. They shall be “cut off from their people.” I think this is the first occurrence of that phrase. The exact meaning of it is not clear, and guesses range from excommunication to execution.

            22-27: It is forbidden to eat fat or blood, and anyone who does is subject to being “cut off.” This is a curious regulation to our way of thinking, but in their culture the blood was God’s life-gift, and the fat was the choicest part of the animal.

            28-36: Meticulous rules govern the sacrifice of well-being as with the other kinds of sacrifices. As before, the thigh and breast of well-being sacrifices are given to the priest who makes the offering.

            37-38: These verses summarize the types of sacrifices treated thus far.

Leviticus 8 (day 98)

            1-5: The time has come to ordain Aaron and his sons as priests. The ritual specified in Exodus 29 is closely followed.

6-9: First, Moses washes Aaron and his sons, and then he clothes Aaron with tunic, sash, robe, ephod, breastpiece, turban, and crown.

10-13: He anoints the tabernacle and everything in it 0with oil, and then anoints Aaron. Then he brings Aaron’s sons forward and dresses them.

14-17: A sin offering is made for them by Moses, following the prescribed procedure.

18-21: Then a burnt offering, a ram, is brought forward. Aaron and his sons place their hands on its head and it is sacrificed according to God’s instructions.

22-29: The second ram is the offering of ordination. The blood of the ordination ram is placed on Aaron’s right ear, right thumb, and right big toe, then the sons get the same treatment (Exodus 29:19-21). Aaron and his sons are then given a thigh from the sacrifices, and a grain cake, which they raise on high. The grain and thigh is burned on the altar (Exodus 29:22-25). The breast is given to Moses.

30: Aaron and his sons are consecrated with the anointing all and the blood of the sacrifice.

31-36: Moses gives the remainder of the meat and bread to Aaron and his sons and tells them to eat it inside the enclosure. They cannot leave the tabernacle, he says, for 7 days, and the sacrifices are to be repeated each day.

Leviticus 9 (day 99)
             1-7: After seven days of ordination sacrifices and rituals Moses announces that God is going to appear to them on the eighth day. More sacrifices are brought: a male calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering for Aaron; a male goat as a sin offering, a yearling calf and a yearling lamb for burnt offerings, an ox and a ram for offerings of well-being, and a grain offering, all for the people. Moses orders Aaron to sacrifice all the animals. The combination of offerings for Aaron and for the people signifies that Aaron will be their high priest, and his priesthood will be thus inaugurated.
             8-11: Aaron slaughters his sin offering. His sons present the blood to him, which he applies according to established order. The fatty parts he burns on the altar and the rest of the animal he burns outside the camp.
             12-14: Then he slaughters his burnt offering, burning all of it on the altar according to established procedure.
             15-17: Next he slaughters the people’s sin offering and burnt offering and sacrifices them, then their grain offering. This is going to take all day, isn’t it?
             18-21: Finally he slaughters the offerings of well-being according to instructions.
             22-24: Everybody is waiting for God to show up. Aaron turns and blesses the people. Then he and Moses go inside the tent of meeting. What did they do in there? They come out and again bless the people, and finally it happens: fire shoots out from the LORD (from the tent?) and consumes what is left of the sacrifices on the altar. The people shout (wouldn’t you?) and fall on their faces. But nobody asks what Moses and Aaron did in the tent just before the fire shot out.

Leviticus 10 (day 100)
             1-3: Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons, are tragically burned to death while burning incense in the tabernacle. Their death is attributed to their having offered “unholy fire before the LORD,” a phrase that is difficult to understand, but may mean no more than that they don’t follow the prescribed procedure (which probably includes certain safety factors, one of which we will see a few verses down) and disaster follows. Aaron is poised to complain, as would any father, but Moses stays him by pointing out that through their death God is somehow glorified.
             4-7: Moses orders two of his and Aaron’s first cousins, Mishael and Elzaphan, to carry the bodies outside the camp. No burial is mentioned, which makes me wonder if they aren’t so badly burned that no burial is needed. Moses allows the family and the congregation to mourn, but Aaron and his two remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, are not permitted to assume the visible signs of mourning (torn clothes and disheveled hair), and are not permitted to leave the tabernacle. Their duty as God’s servants is to take precedence over their grief.
             8-11: The LORD tells Aaron that he and his sons must not drink wine or other alcoholic beverages when they go into the tent of meeting. The reason for this rule is not given, but is likely related to the incident that causes the death of Nadab and Abihu. It could be that they were drinking on the job while playing with fire — a dangerous mixture indeed.
             12-15: Moses issues a ruling regarding the priests’ portions of the sacrifices and where it is to be eaten. He rules that the unleavened grain offering is to be eaten within the enclosure where the altar of burnt offering is located. The meat portions may be shared with their families in any “clean place.” Moses’ callous refusal to acknowledge Aaron’s grief is striking to me.
             16-20: But now something happens to make Moses a little more caring. He discovers that the sacrifice of the goat for the sin offering has not been properly carried out. The portion that was to have been eaten by Aaron and his sons was burned on the altar instead. Moses is angry with Eleazar and Ithamar. Aaron’s response is that it would not have been right for them to have eaten the sin offering because it is a day of mourning for them. Moses is mollified and lets the matter drop.

Leviticus 11 (day 101)

            1-8: The list of “clean” and “unclean” animals seems to have no rhyme or reason other than as a way to make God’s people different from everybody else. Camels, badgers, rabbits and pigs are unclean. Go figure.

            9-12: Likewise, fish with fins and scales are “clean,” but every other aquatic creature is “unclean.”

            13-19: The list of “unclean” birds is extensive, but no rules are laid out to explain why. The birds on the list don’t seem to have any characteristics in common.

            20-23: Grasshoppers and their kin are the only insects they are permitted to eat, although why anyone would want to eat a locust is beyond me. Insects, of course, have six legs rather than four according to modern taxonomy, but the two forelegs of grasshoppers are small and ineffectual for jumping.

            24-28: Anyone who happens to come into contact with the carcass of an “unclean” animal is just as “unclean” as the animal, but only until sundown.

            29-38: The list of “unclean” creatures that crawl is given. I can’t imagine eating any of them anyway. There follows a complicated and curious set of rules about what to do with objects touched by the carcass of an unclean creature. However, the idea that some things can contaminate others is basic to our modern understanding of diseases, isn’t it?

            39-40: Now here’s a curious thing. If you touch the carcass of a “clean” animal you’re still unclean until sunset. You can eat it, though! But if you eat it you have to wash your clothes and be “unclean” until sunset. However, if you kill the beast and cook it and eat it, you apparently aren’t considered “unclean.” Still, while these rules seem artificial to us I suppose it is necessary to have some way of knowing what to do in various situations so that you don’t violate the covenant.

            41-45: You can’t eat snakes or houseflies. That’s okay with me.

            46-47: So, God’s people are given instructions about the diet they are to follow, and in that way they are set apart from other people in the world and are readily identified as people of the covenant.

Leviticus 12 (day 102)

            1-5: Since blood and the shedding of blood carries all kinds of spiritual repercussions, special attention has to be given to the monthly menstrual cycles of women and the bloody discharge that accompanies childbirth. In the case of the birth of a male child, she is to be regarded as “unclean,” meaning that she cannot enter the courtyard of the tabernacle or handle things dedicated for sacred use. The period of uncleanness is to last for seven days. On the eighth day the child is to be circumcised, thus marking him as one of God’s people but also curtailing the length of her prescribed purification. She is to stay away from the tabernacle and things dedicated for sacred use for another 33 days, making her time of ritual “uncleanness” a total of 40 days. The number 40 symbolizes the time required for life transitions toward some fulfillment of God’s will. If the birth is of a female child the time of purification is doubled, perhaps because in that case no blood is shed by circumcision.

            6-8: When the prescribed length of time is completed she is to bring a burnt offering (a yearling lamb) and a sin offering (a pigeon or dove) which the priest will offer as a sacrifice for her atonement and thus provide the community a visible sign that her time of uncleanness is ended. If she cannot afford the lamb, a bird will suffice. Thus Mary, mother of Jesus, presents “a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons'” (Luke 2:24). Mary and Joseph could not afford a yearling lamb.

Leviticus 13 (day 103)

            1-8: Illnesses, especially the kinds that leave visible marks, are a source of particular concern for the people. Ancient people saw a connection between skin diseases on the one hand and mildew and fungus in buildings and other surfaces on the other hand. Leprosy and various other maladies are treated here. It is a tedious chapter unless you’re interested in medical things. Rashes and other skin eruptions are to be treated with the greatest of care lest it proves to be a contagious disease that can be devastating to the community. Specific instructions are spelled out for the examination of such ailments and the sufferer is quickly quarantined in case the condition is contagious.

            9-17: The rationale for the diagnosis escapes me. Nevertheless, it is a way of protecting the community from diseases that can be contained. The designation of “clean” or “unclean” have to do with participation in the worship life of the people. Once it is certain that the person is leprous they need not be confined, but they cannot enter the tabernacle court.

            18-23: A boil that bursts and results in scarring the skin is seen a cause for pronouncing one “unclean.”

            24-28: The priest has a great deal of power over individuals in the camp because he is given the authority to pronounce whether a person is “clean” or not. These rules help insure that the priest does not wield that authority entirely arbitrarily.

            28-37: Skin irritations occurring on the scalp or beneath the beard require special attention.

            38-39: A mere rash is seen as harmless.

            40-44: If a person goes bald, the priest is called for an examination to see if he or she is “clean” or “unclean,” depending on the condition of the skin that has been exposed in the bald area.

            45-46: Here are the rules governing the “unclean” person’s participation in the community. He or she must wear clothing that readily identifies him or her as being “unclean,” must cover his or her upper lip when out and about in the camp, and must call out that he or she is unclean so that others may keep a respectable distance. He or she must also live outside the main camp; such places will be known as “leper colonies.”

            47-52: Mold or mildew is considered to be as debilitating to an article of clothing as leprosy is to a person. The priest puts the garment aside for a week to see if the discoloration spreads. If it does the item must be burned.

            53-55: If after a week the area is no larger, the item is washed. If that doesn’t get rid of the discoloration, the article is burned.

            56-59: That stained article of clothing receives more scrutiny than an albino alligator. I suppose in their setting clothing is not all that easy to come by, so they have to take extra care that all is well.

Leviticus 14 (Day 104)

            1-9: While chapter 13 has to do mostly with diagnosis, this chapter moves on to specify the rituals of purification for skin diseases and what they considered similar maladies in articles of clothing and in the walls of houses — what we would probably call mold and mildew. A man or woman who has been pronounced by the priest to be “clean” of leprosy has to undergo a public ritual to demonstrate their new condition. They are taken out of the camp (actually, if they have been pronounced “unclean” they are already out of the camp) and examined by the priest. If they are “clean,” two birds are brought (the text doesn’t say who is responsible for purchasing the birds) along with a block of cedar, a length of crimson yarn and a branch of hyssop (a shrub that grows in arid conditions). One of the birds is to be slaughtered over a clay bowl of fresh water. The other bird, the cedar and the hyssop are dipped in the bloody water and the subject is sprinkled with it seven times. Then the priest pronounces the subject to be “clean” and the living bird is released. The subject is to wash his or her clothes and shave off all his or her hair and bathe. He or she can then return to the camp, but not to his or her tent. He or she must wait seven days, shave again, wash his or her clothes and bathe again, and that does the trick.

            10-20: But not completely. The next day the subject must bring two male and one female yearling lambs, a grain offering and a “log” of oil to the priest, who presents all of it at the tent of meeting. One of the lambs is slaughtered for a guilt offering. The subject’s ear lobe, thumb and big toe are dabbled with the blood and also with the oil. The rest of the oil is put on the subject’s head. Then another lamb is slaughtered for a sin offering. It is very difficult to be restored to full participation in the community if you ever have the misfortune of being diagnosed with leprosy.

            21-32: If the subject is poor, only one male lamb need be brought, along with two pigeons or doves and a grain offering with oil. The lamb is slaughtered for a guilt offering. The blood and oil are dabbled on the subject. The birds are offered, one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering.

            33-42: Once they settle in the land and move into houses built with stones, certain procedures are specified should mold or mildew be found in a house.

            43-47: If that doesn’t do the trick the house is to be torn apart and hauled out to the city dump.

            48-57: If, upon further inspection the house remains free of the mold and mildew, a ritual is prescribed by which two birds are offered as sacrifices to signify that the house is okay to live in once again. Such are the rules when a person or a house or clothing is found to be infested with a “leprous” condition.


Leviticus 15 (day 105)

            1-12: Laws governing purification rituals for bodily discharges related primarily to sexual activity are given in this chapter. The first case is that of a man who has a discharge, presumably from his penis. Everyone and everything he touches is considered “unclean.” They and their clothes must be washed. Earthen vessels he touches must be destroyed and wooden ones must be washed. The uncleanness remains until the beginning of a new day at sunset.

13-15: The man with the discharge is “unclean” himself as well. When the discharge ceases he is “unclean” for another seven days. Then he washes his clothes and bathes and is considered “clean” again. The next day he is to bring two pigeons or doves to the tent of meeting where the priest offers one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering and thus makes atonement for the poor fellow.

16-18: If the discharge is seminal, he has to wash everything the semen touches and bathe himself and be “unclean” until the new day begins at sunset. If he is sleeping with a woman she, too, must bathe and be unclean until sunset.

19-24: In the same way, a woman’s menstrual cycle renders her unclean and she must undergo similar purification rituals.

25-30: If a woman has a bloody discharge apart from her cycle, she is to be considered unclean along with everything she touches and the prescribed rituals for bathing are followed. When the discharge ceases she is to observe the same ritual of sacrifices prescribed for the man above.

31: Refusing to follow these rules for purification might prove to be fatal.

32-33: Some see in this chapter stricter rules for women, which they interpret as a sign that women were considered to be of lesser worth, but it is probably not valid to overlay such an interpretation that arises out of contemporary sensibilities. The reason a woman is “unclean” during her monthly period is actually a protection for her, and the prohibition against engaging in sexual activity during that time is as much to remind the husband that God, not he, is her Lord as well as his Lord.

Leviticus 16 (day 106)

            This chapter stands alone in Leviticus. It outlines the rules for keeping the annual “Day of Atonement,” when Aaron (and subsequent high priests) offers sacrifices for all the people and secures their atonement, or forgiveness, so that their covenant with God is annually renewed. Today among Jews the “day of atonement” is known as Yom Kippur. Rabbis refer to it simply as Yoma, “the Day,” for it holds the central place in Israel’s annual worship calendar.

            1-5: Aaron can’t enter the most holy place in the sanctuary of the tabernacle any time he wants. He must bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. Then he must bathe and dress in the linen undergarments and the linen robe. From the community he must take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

            6-10: The sin offerings are first. Aaron’s bull is sacrificed, and then the two goats are brought to the entrance of the tent and lots are cast to determine which is to be released to “Azazel.” In earlier translations “Azazel” is rendered “scapegoat.” More recently many scholars have come to regard it as the proper name of a demon that was believed to inhabit the wilderness. This is the only chapter in the Bible in which the name occurs. One goat is sacrificed, the other released into the wilderness. The symbolism seems to be that that the sins of the people are carried away and left out in the desert.

            11-14: Some of the hot coals from the altar are taken by Aaron into the most holy place along with incense and some of the blood from the bull. The incense is burned until its smoke covers the ark, and the blood is sprinkled before the mercy seat seven times. Thus he makes atonement for himself.

            15-19: The goat is sacrificed for the people and some of its blood is sprinkled before the mercy seat. Then some of the blood from the bull and from the goat is smeared on the points of the altar and sprinkled seven times on the ground before the altar, thus drawing a connection between God’s throne and the place where the offering is given.

            20-22: Once the sacrifices have all been made, the live goat is now brought forward. Aaron places his hands on its head and confesses over it all the sins of the people. Then it is sent into the wilderness and set free.

            23-28: Once all the sacrifices are made, Aaron removes the linen garments inside the tent (but not in the most holy place), bathes again, and dons the priestly vestments. He then offers the remaining animals as burnt offerings. The unused parts of the carcasses are removed from the camp. The man who takes the scapegoat into the wilderness and those who carry the remains out of the camp are to bathe before they are allowed to reenter the camp.

            29-34: This ritual is set aside as an annual observance that has come to be known as Yom Kippur, “Day of Atonement,” to be observed on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei in the Jewish calendar. On our calendar this may occur from mid-September to mid-October.

Leviticus 17 (day 107)

            1-7: The people Moses is leading have been accustomed to all kinds of religious practices common to various cultures of that time that must now be put aside in order for them to be God’s covenant people. Therefore it is important that they understand that they are no longer to offer sacrifices just anywhere or to any deity. Their sacrifices must be brought to the tent of meeting and offered to the LORD by an ordained priest. This helps to insure that the people do not fall into the worship of other gods.

            8-9: The penalty for making offerings aside from the prescribed method is to be “cut off” from the people. That is, they will no longer be part of the covenant God has offered.

            10-13: Kosher food is always drained of blood before it is prepared for eating. The understanding is that blood represents life. It is a gift from God which can only be exchanged for making atonement.

            14-16: If you should eat the meat from a “clean” animal that has died of natural causes or that has been killed by wild animals, you cannot be certain that the blood has been properly drained from the meat. Therefore it is necessary to undergo a ritual of bathing yourself and your clothes so that you will be ceremonially “clean” again.

Leviticus 18 (day 108)

            1-5: The people are warned that the practices of the Egyptians and the Canaanites are not compatible with the covenant God offers Israel.

            6-18: The chapter continues with a discussion of sexual relations – always a special concern in any human community. Moses outlines what God views as acceptable and unacceptable with regards to sexual activity. Some of the rules are obviously designed to protect the passing of estate wealth from one generation to another. Other rules are concerned with protecting covenant relationships of marriage within the community. Some of these rules seem to have to do with avoiding contention within families.

            19: The reason a woman is not to engage in sexual activity during menstruation has to do with the whole concept of ceremonial cleanliness. Contact with blood renders one “unclean,” and therefore should be avoided whenever possible. If it is not possible, as is the case with women, then previous rules prescribe the steps to be taken to restore the person to being “clean.”

            20: Adultery defiles both parties.

            21: Scholars debate whether or not this verse refers to actual child sacrifice or to some other practice that has to do with dedicating children to a pagan god. In either case it is not to be allowed.

22: The law against male homosexual activity has drawn much attention in recent years, and many see it as an example of limited understanding among ancient people and therefore not binding in modern times. However, it is clear that the Holiness Code in Leviticus does not consider homosexual activity between men (homosexual activity between women is not considered here) to be acceptable among God’s covenant people. Most scholars think the reason has to do with humanity’s created nature as male and female, the joining of which is part of what it means to be made in God’s image. Homosexual activity is thus an affront to the will of God as revealed in our created nature. Remember that the purpose of these laws is to set God’s covenant people apart from the rest of the world.

23: Sexual relations with animals is prohibited for the same reason: it violates our created nature and thus is an affront to the will of God.

24-30: It is reiterated that the Canaanites do “all these things.” Their behavior has resulted in the land being “defiled,” and thus they are being “vomited out.” If the people of Israel do not obey God in the way they relate to one another, they, too, will be cast out of the land.

Day 109: Leviticus 19

            1-4: Leviticus 19 continues the Holiness Code (chapters 17-26). Many of the provisions in this chapter form the basis for some of our own laws. Of course, the first three provisions, reverence for parents, keeping the Sabbath and not turning to other gods are no longer considered the proper subjects for modern legislative prohibitions, but are still essential to the worshiping community that wants to depend on God’s blessings.

            5-8: Sacrifices must be treated reverentially according to the prescribed procedures. Doing otherwise makes a person unsuitable to continue living in community with God’s people. Verse 7 offers a definition of “abomination:” it means “unacceptable” to God and to God’s people.

            9-10: Leave some of your crops for poor people to gather.

            11-12: Don’t steal. Don’t cheat. Don’t lie — especially don’t bring God into it if you do.

            13-14: Ditto on the stealing and cheating. Also, don’t hold on to your employees’ wages, and don’t put down deaf and blind people.

            15-16: Don’t judge unfairly. Don’t be partial to anyone based on the size of their bank account. Don’t tell tales about people and don’t try to make a profit from somebody’s death.

            17-18: Don’t hate your fellow citizens or hold a grudge against them. If you see somebody doing wrong, point it out to them.

            19: Don’t interbreed your animals or mingle your crops or tack your clothes together willy-nilly. You’re somebody; act like you know how God wants things to be.

            20-22: Just because a woman is a slave doesn’t mean you’re free to have sex with her.

23-25: Fruit and nut trees are to be left alone for three years. The fourth year harvest is for praising God. After that you can do as you like with it.

26-28: Don’t act like or try to look like the people of the land who are not God’s people.

29-30: Don’t prostitute your daughter. And, by the way, KEEP THE SABBATH!

31: God doesn’t call people to be mediums or wizards. Don’t go to such for advice or help.

32: Respect the elderly.

33-34: Love your neighbors, even if they’re different.

35-37: Don’t use loaded weights and scales or short yardsticks like they did to you down in Egypt. Remember that you are God’s people.

Day 110: Leviticus 20

            1-5: Parents who sacrifice or dedicate their children to Molech (one of the primary Canaanite deities) are to be stoned to death. This is the first place in the Holiness Code in which stoning is prescribed as a specific punishment, although it is a common form of execution in that day (Exodus 8:26, 17:14, 19:13, 21:28). Furthermore, this sentence is considered so important that if they refuse to carry it out God will disown them.

            6-9: Consulting mediums and wizards is cause for removal from the community. Cursing one’s parents is a capital offense. The protection of the community’s integrity as the people of God is all-important.

            10-12: Adultery is punishable by death, though the form of execution is not specified.

            13: Homosexual sexual intercourse is also punishable by death, the method again not specified.

            14: Here is a specific case: if a man takes a woman as his wife and also her mother, they are to be burned to death. It is thought by some that this practice was common among pagan people. This is the first of only two places where immolation is the prescribed method of execution. The other is a few verses down in 21:9.

            15-16: Sexual intercourse with animals is a capital offence, probably because it denies God’s will as revealed in the creation of various species. It thus indicates a complete lack of scruples on the part of the guilty party.

            17-21: Within families, sexual restraint is particularly important; so much so that violating any of the rules listed here is cause for banishment.

            22-26: It is again emphasized that they must not behave as the Canaanites do, because they are set apart to be a peculiar people in covenant with the LORD. Strict observance of the Holiness Code, including the distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals, is demanded.

            27: Wizards and mediums are common in Canaan, and the people go to them for advice and guidance instead of depending on God. Therefore they are not to be tolerated among God’s people. The punishment is rather severe.

Day 111: Leviticus 21

            1-9: This chapter consists of rules for the priests who are set apart to “offer the food of your God.” This phrase should not be taken to mean that they are feeding God, but simply that the food they offer belongs to God. Priests are the ones who stand between the people and the Most High, and therefore must observe a stricter code of holiness. They must not touch a corpse, unless it is to care for the body of a deceased parent, child, brother or unmarried sister. Priests also must observe a stricter code when it comes to marriage; a list is given of women they cannot marry. The stricter code accrues also to the priests’ daughters — the sons will become priests and other restrictions will apply to them. If the daughter of a priest engages in prostitution she is to be burned — only the second place in scripture where burning is the prescribed form of execution (see 20:14), and in both cases sexual sin across generational lines is involved.

            10-15: High priests (“the priest who is exalted above his fellows”), who are the only ones authorized to ever enter the Most Holy place, must observe even stricter rules. They are not allowed to handle any corpses at all, even of parent or child. They may only marry a virgin. The reason given for these greater restrictions is that the priest serves in an office that brings them into closer proximity to the throne of God. In our time, those who are set apart for ministry are expected to have a more exalted code of behavior than the average person in the pew, but that expectation seems to be fading in more recent times.

            16-24: Priests who have a “blemish” are not allowed into the Most Holy place nor may place offerings upon the great altar, although they are entitled to eat the portions reserved for priests. This restriction seems cruel to us who live in a culture that is increasingly emphasizing the notion of inclusiveness. But in their time it is an appropriate restriction; it acknowledges that the office of the priests who minister in the tabernacle is neither a right nor a privilege of the descendents of Aaron, but rather a duty assigned by God. It does not mean that God rejects persons who have a “blemish,” but simply reflects the conviction that the closer one gets to the throne of God (the “mercy seat” on the ark of the covenant), the narrower the qualifications should be.

Day 112: Leviticus 22

            1-9: Animal and grain offerings that are returned to the donor or to the people to be eaten as part of the prescribed ritual must not be partaken by those who are “unclean” according to the earlier definitions of “clean” and “unclean.”

            10-16: Other offerings, the so-called “sacred donations” that are reserved for the priests only, may not be partaken of by anyone but the priests and their immediate families. If this rule is violated accidentally, the guilty party has to pay a fine.

            17-25: The rule about offering animals without blemish is repeated and specific examples are added.

            26-30: More rules are repeated about the animals that can and cannot be used and when it is acceptable to eat the meat that remains from the sacrifice.

            31-33: The importance of following the rules regarding sacrifices is emphasized: to disobey the rules is to dishonor God.

Day 113: Leviticus 23

            1-2: In order to remain faithful to the covenant, the people are expected to observe special periodic occasions.

            3: Every seven days they must observe the Sabbath.

            4-5: A list of annual observances follows. First is the Passover sacrifice, to be kept on the 14th day of the first month (corresponding to mid-March through mid-April on our calendar) after sunset. That is a Thursday evening.

            6-8: On the Friday evening following Passover they are to observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days. The last day of the festival is to be kept as though it is a Sabbath day even though it is the day before the next Sabbath.

            9-14: When they are settled in the land, every year they are to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tabernacle the first sheaf of the grain harvest. They must not eat any of the harvest until the sheaf has been presented. This is the offering of First Fruits, and is to be observed every year when the harvest is ready.

            15-21: The next observance is the Festival of Weeks. It is calculated by counting 50 days from the day after the Sabbath after the offering of First Fruits. Later it will be known as Pentecost (from the Greek word for 50). Each settlement or village is to bring grain offerings, drink offerings, 7 yearling lambs, a young bull and 2 rams as burnt offerings. In addition they must bring a male goat for a sin offering and 2 male yearling lambs as an offering of well-being. That day also must be observed as a Sabbath day, with no labor.

            22: And don’t forget, leave some of your crops in the fields for the poor people to glean!

            23-25: A Festival of Trumpets is to be observed as a holy day of rest with burnt offerings on the first day of the seventh month — mid-to-late September. (It is this occasion that the priest Ezra chooses for the reading of the Law to the people after the Exile — see Nehemiah 8:2.)

            26-32: The next observance is called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is to be kept on the 10th day of the 7th month (mid-September to mid-October). It is described in detail in Chapter 16. It is to be kept as a Sabbath day and as a day of fasting.

            33-44: The next is the Festival of Booths, or Succoth, to be kept on the 15th day of the seventh month. The seventh month is thus loaded with holy observances, corresponding to the seventh day of creation. (It is also the month in which the ark came to rest from the waters of the flood — see Genesis 8:4.) The people are to dwell in shelters to be reminded of their sojourn in the wilderness.

Day 114: Leviticus 24

            1-4: The people are told to bring oil for the lamp that is inside the tabernacle, just outside the curtain that encloses the most holy place where the ark of the covenant is kept. The lamp is to burn continually, replenished by the priest who enters every morning and evening. The eternal flame becomes in later prophecy (Isaiah 49:6) a symbol of Israel as a “light to the nations.” According to the description of the making of the lamp stand which we read several weeks back, it is the menorah, with seven branches. In the book of Revelation the seven lamps are used as a symbol of the seven churches in Asia.

            5-9: The bread of presence is the daily consecration to God of the labor and work of the people.

            10-16: Beginning at verse 10 we are given an account of what happens when someone blasphemes the name of the LORD. There are several interesting aspects to the case: 1) the Israelite who blasphemes the name of God has an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father, which reminds us that we have only just recently left slavery behind in Egypt. 2) It also indicates that, although the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, there must have been a great deal of cross — culturalization. 3) God simply will not tolerate any rebellion on the part of the people — disrespecting God is a capital crime, punishable by stoning to death.

            17-23: The story of the blasphemer segues into a list of criminal acts which merit various penalties, from death to restitution. Verse 20 is the famous “eye for an eye” saying. These verses seem pretty brutal to us, but represent a breakthrough for human rights in ancient society. You aren’t allowed to kill somebody for breaking your arm or knocking out your tooth; injuries could only be avenged in kind.

Day 115: Leviticus 25

            1-7: The people must practice holiness (be set apart from other people in the way they live) even in their ownership and use of the land. Although their entry into Canaan will not be for another 38 years, as far as Moses knows it is imminent, so he tells them that when they enter the land they must understand that the land itself is holy to the Lord and must be allowed to observe a Sabbath rest of one year every seven years. They may eat whatever the land produces of itself but they may not plant or cultivate during the seventh year.

            8-12: Every 50th year, called jubilee, is also to be an observance of Sabbath rest for the land.

13-17: It is expected that the land as allocated to the twelve tribes will remain with the tribes as allocated. Therefore in the jubilee year all land is to be returned to the family of its original owners. The Jubilee year thus makes necessary other provisions having to do with the value of land that is sold or bought because it is really being leased for the number of years remaining until the next jubilee year. Most scholars find little evidence that the jubilee year was ever regularly observed.

            18-24: The people are assured that the land will produce enough in the sixth year for them to lay aside stores for the sabbath and jubilee years. They are to understand that the land belongs to God, and they to be the caretakers of it. A high level of stewardship is demanded of God’s people.

            25-28: Rules are laid out to cover the repurchase of land that is sold because of financial difficulties.

            29-34: Houses in walled cities may change hands permanently because the land does not belong to the individual, but houses in the small villages are on land belonging to the individual and are subject to the jubilee laws. Houses and lands belonging to Levites receive a special consideration because of their unique situation regarding land ownership.

            35-38: Kinfolk are to be treated as family. Don’t turn them away if they need a place to stay and don’t charge them interest if they borrow from you. Obviously God hasn’t met some of my kinfolk.

            39-46: It is decreed that God’s people may never buy or sell one another into slavery. They may become indentured should poverty make that necessary, but must be released in the jubilee year. Foreigners, however, may be acquired as slaves and bequeathed to one’s heirs as any other property. This sounds inhuman to us today, but certainly is more humane that the practice of most cultures in the time of Moses. Note, too, that the acquisition of slaves seems to be based upon the needs of the person who is being bought, not on the needs or desires of the person doing the buying — in other words, it is a way of ameliorating the effects of poverty.

            47-55: The people of Israel are to be God’s servants and nobody else’s. If, by reason of poverty, they sell themselves to a resident alien, the law of the land is that they may be redeemed at any time by a relative or by themselves, the price of redemption decreasing as the year of jubilee approaches. In the year of jubilee any Israelite held as a slave must be freed.

            Slavery was a common practice in those days, but it was nothing like the organized and barbaric slave trade developed during the colonization of the western world in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Day 116: Leviticus 26

            1-2: This is the last chapter of the Holiness Code, and it is the chapter that deals with the consequences of obedience and disobedience. But first the people are asked to recall the first 4 of the 10 Commandments, each of which have to do with the community’s relationship with God. Note that Sabbath-keeping is once again the ultimate expression of obedience.

            The rest of the chapter reminds us of the creation story in Genesis 1, for seven movements are described:

            3-13: The first movement has to do with “if you obey.” Obedience brings certain blessings ending with, “I will walk among you,” which recalls the Garden of Eden story.

            14-17: The 2nd movement begins a long section on the consequences of disobedience. In this round, Israel’s enemies will be victorious over them.

            18-20: The 3rd movement escalates the punishment of disobedience: The sky is like iron, the earth like copper, so that crops fail and trees cannot fruit. Remember the 3rd day of Creation — the bringing forth of vegetation. This movement reverses that part of creation for Israel.

            21-22: The 4th movement presents a sevenfold punishment, and now wild animals abound to the destruction of civilization in Israel.

            23-26: The 5th movement presents a second “sevenfold” punishment, now the cities of Israel are besieged by their enemies — destruction at the hands of other human beings.

            27-33: The 6th movement presents a third “sevenfold” punishment; the sieges result in the populace resorting to cannibalism, and they are forced into exile. Clearly the escalation of punishment here mirrors what is happening to Israel towards the end of the dynasty of David when Jerusalem is besieged, destroyed, and the people exiled to Babylon.

            34-39: The 7th movement grants a Sabbath rest to the land (surprised?), which of course corresponds to the 7th day of the Creation story in Genesis 1.

            40: But now an 8th movement is described: if they confess their sins, the land and the people will be restored. This may be thought of as an “8th day of creation,” a new beginning.

Day 117: Leviticus 27

            This chapter is a sort of clean-up list for the book of Leviticus as it outlines the rules for vows and offerings not covered in the rest of the book.

            The duties described in Chapter 27 are not obligatory on anyone, but have to do with votive (voluntary) offerings and vows. They are not required. There are perhaps 3 reasons for such vows: to procure some blessing from God, to give thanks for some special favor received, and to spontaneously express one’s love and devotion to God.

            This chapter settles certain questions that would have arisen: for example, what kinds of things can you offer to or devote to God? If you made such a vow or offering and then changed your mind, could you get it back since it was not required? What conditions and/or penalties might be involved if you took such offering or vow back?

            And so we have rules for:

            The dedication of person (verses 2-8) Note that the values placed on different classes of people are based on the value of the labor the person is capable of, not on the person’s intrinsic value as a human being. We know that old people were especially revered, yet they are assessed a lower “value” because they are less able to perform heavy work. They are not less important.

            The dedication of clean animals (9-10)

            The dedication of unclean animals which are not to be used for sacrifice (11-13) “Unclean” does not mean “useless.” Camels and donkeys are most useful animals, but do not meet the definition of “clean.”

            The dedication of houses (14-15)

            The dedication of land (16-24)

            Assorted rules on other types of vows (verses 25-37)

            Scholars have long noted that these laws presuppose an elaborate religious system more suitable to a settled nation of people than to nomadic tribes.

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