We have concentrated our study on the sacrificial system itself since most of the references in the future books of the Bible will mention the Tabernacle complex, its furnishings, and the priests. Being familiar with the types of offerings and their purpose will be useful along with the rules about blood and regulations about clean and unclean, which we read about all the way into the New Testament. We also finished the section about the laws for holy living in everyday life for the common Jew.
This final chapter will briefly review the priestly regulations for holy living, the responsibilities of the nation as a whole to witness its holiness, and finally the purpose behind these laws, the reward/punishment attached to them from God, followed by the vows to keep by the people.
I. Priestly Responsibilities – Leviticus 21:1-22:33
These two chapters are often referred to as the Handbook for the Priests in that they deal with their daily work life experiences. In the nation of Israel, all were holy as God's people, but because they served the people before God, the priests were more holy and held to a higher standard, and the High Priests who ministered in the Holy of Holies was considered the most holy and was judged against the highest of standards. These chapters provided the following guidelines for priests. They begin with rules that applied to all priests.
A. Mourning for the Dead – Leviticus 21:1-6
Basically, they were not permitted to mourn or do the things mourners did to express their grief. Things like:
- Touching the body.
- Shaving heads, trimming beards (pagan practice).
- Cutting their flesh (pagan practice).
- Tearing their clothing, putting ashes on their heads.
- Attending a funeral.
The exception was for nearest family – parents, children, brother, virgin (unmarried) sister, wife (not mentioned, but assumed). To mourn beyond these would be to profane himself. The idea was that as a priest, the constant requirement to mourn extended family, leaders of the people and friends would render him unclean too often and interfere with his more important daily tasks at the Tabernacle.
B. Marriage – Leviticus 21:7-9
No marriage to a divorced woman or a harlot because this would make him ceremonially unclean and thus unable to serve. Maintain the behavior of his children for same reason. People were to help the priests maintain holiness by considering and treating them as such.
C. Rules for High Priest – Leviticus 21:10-15
The rules for mourning and marriage are combined for High Priest.
- He was not to mourn for anyone, including his wife. He couldn't leave the Tabernacle and interrupt his work if someone died while he was there. He could not express grief while at the Tabernacle complex.
- He could only marry a virgin Israelite woman. This was necessary since the High Priesthood was hereditary and had to be handed down to a birth son, not adoptee.
D. Defects That Disqualified One from Priesthood
It was very simple – priests were to be perfect physically, just as the animals offered had to be without blemish. The list of imperfections are representative.
- A deformed limb – any limb
- Blind, deaf or speech impediment
- Any skin disease, deformation, scarring – anything not normal disqualified them, unless temporary like a cold or sprained ankle, etc.
- Being disqualified from the priesthood did not exclude them from the priestly family. The one disqualified still ate the priest's portion of sacrifices offered, and benefitted from the tithes paid to support the priest and his family.
- He could also do other priestly functions but could not enter the Holy place or the Holy of Holies.
The idea was that only those without physical impairments living under the highest moral standards could approach God with unblemished sacrifices and only for a moment with all things done according to strict rules under penalty of death. This was done to emphasize the holiness of God and the degree of holiness required by men in order to come before Him, only for a brief moment. All of this would eventually demonstrate the value of Christ's gift that would allow every man/woman to interact with God in ways the priests could not even imagine in their day.
E. Requirements to Eat the Priestly Portions – Leviticus 22:1-16
The priests who offered sacrifices received a share of the animal as a form of support for their work (Peace Offerings), however there were two regulations that limited them in doing so:
- They had to be ritually clean to partake – Leviticus 22:1-9. People in the priestly family who were ritually unclean (i.e. touched a dead thing) had to first become ritually clean before they could eat of the meat sacrificed.
- They had to belong to the priest's family – Leviticus 22:10-16. These included wives, sons, daughters living at home, or a slave bought by the family – all others were not permitted.
F. Requirements for Sacrificial Animals – Leviticus 22:17-25
This section is addressed to the people in general (including foreigners living among them). Verse 21 specifies that the Lord is referring to "peace" offerings of which there were three kinds (Thanksgiving, Votive/Vow, Free will) and which were shared with the priests. Just as the priests who offered the sacrifices had to be without defect physically – so did the animals they sacrificed, otherwise they would not be acceptable to God. The only exception was for a freewill (offered as thanks and shared with others) offering where an animal with minimal birth defects were accepted.
G. Additional requirements – Sacrifices – Leviticus 22:26-33
1. Couldn't sacrifice a mother and its young together.
- A practice of some pagan religions.
- Depleted the herd/flock too quickly.
2. The animal offered was to be eaten by the people on the day that it was sacrificed.
- Doing so completed the offering and confirmed God's acceptance.
In verses 31-33 God reinforces the necessity to obey His commands because:
- The Lord is God.
- He is holy and thus they need to be holy.
- He both saved and made a covenant with them that He would help them keep.
II. National Responsibilities – Leviticus 23:1-25:55
After a brief introduction, God gives Moses seven "appointed" times or feasts to observe in various ways where both the priests and the people would make a united and public witness of their faith in order to both remember and teach what their Holy God had done for and with them. There were seven of these convocations, assemblies, feasts or appointed times and each one included three elements:
- A gathering of God's people for worship.
- An offering of sacrifice at the sanctuary.
- A day of rest where the people did no work.
The seven appointed days were the following:
1. The Sabbath Day – Leviticus 23:3 – Observed on the 7th day (Saturday); complete rest; time for assembly and worship; a day devoted to the Lord; observed by all.
2. Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread – Leviticus 23:4-8 – Passover is the first feast given to the Jews (Exodus 12:3-13) and is the first public feast to appear on its religious calendar (14th of Nissan / Abib). It is a remembrance of the final plague where God's angel took the life of every firstborn Egyptian both human and animal, but passed over every Jewish house that had sacrificed a lamb and painted its blood on the door frame of their homes.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the day after the Passover (15th of Nissan) and continued for seven days. The Jews had to follow these instructions to celebrate this Feast of Unleavened Bread:
- Not eat any leavened bread for seven days.
- On the first and seventh day, the people were not to do any laborious work.
- On the first and seventh day the people were to assemble and worship.
- On each of the seven days they were to offer a sacrifice burnt on the altar.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread was one of three feasts where the men were to make a pilgrimage to the main sanctuary in Jerusalem.
3. Offering of the First Fruits – Leviticus 23:9-14 – Given as something the Jews would do once they were settled in the Promised Land (they had no crops while wandering in the desert). It was not a separate festival, but connected to the Passover and Unleavened Bread, occurred in the spring, which coincided with the early harvest period, which would be the barley crop. The Lord's instructions concerning the "First Fruits" were as follows:
- Each bought a "sheaf" (of barley) to the priest sometime before the Sabbath (The Sabbath Day after the Passover). This represented the entire crop.
- This sheaf along with a lamb, grain, and wine was offered as a sacrifice to the Lord on the day after the Sabbath.
- The people would not eat of the harvest until this sacrifice of first fruits was made to God.
4. Feast of Weeks – Leviticus 23:15-22 – From the Sabbath day (after the Passover) seven weeks were counted off and then the Feast of Weeks was celebrated the next day. This feast has been referred to in different ways:
- Feast of Weeks – Exodus 34:22 – Seven weeks after Passover.
- Feast of Harvest – Exodus 23:16 – Came at the beginning of Wheat Harvest.
- Day of First fruits – Numbers 28:26 – During Harvest Period.
- Day of Pentecost – Greek for 50 – 50 days after Passover.
It was observed in the following way at the Temple:
- Grain offering made (first fruits)
- Several animals, grain, and wine were sacrificed.
- No work on this day. Also, a feast requiring pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
- Remember the poor – vs. 22.
'When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God.'"
- Leviticus 23:22
5. Feast of Trumpets – Leviticus 23:23-25 – This feast occurred on the first day of the seventh month. The people were called together by the blowing of trumpets (Numbers 10:10). The day was to be observed as a day of rest. They also held an assembly and offered sacrifices. In later years, Israel's seventh month became the first month of its civil calendar and the Feast of Trumpets became its New Year's Day. They still keep the festival and celebrate the day under the name of "Rosh Hashanah" (head or first of the year).
6. The Day of Atonement – Leviticus 23:26-32 – We have reviewed this feast before in Leviticus 16, seeing the priestly responsibilities for this day. In this chapter instructions are given for what the people are to do to observe this occasion. The feast was on the tenth day of the seventh month and the people were to humble their souls and make appropriate sacrifices. This usually meant a day of fasting and no work. This is when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies (for the only time in that year) to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice above and in front of the Ark of the Covenant. All year, individuals brought sacrifices to atone for their personal sins, on the Day of Atonement the sins of all the people, including the priests and High Priest were atoned for.
7. The Feast of Booths (or Tabernacle) – Leviticus 23:33-44 – This was the last feast in the cycle – it began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and went on for seven days. No work during this period. There was an assembly on the first day as well as the eighth and final day. Different types and quantities of sacrifices were offered on each day the feast lasted. These were in addition to the regular sacrifices (AM/PM sacrifices).
The Jews were also required to build outdoor shelters (booths) from branches and leafy trees in which they would live for seven days – hence the name "Feast of Booths." This was done as a reminder of how they lived after God freed them from Egyptian slavery. The feast was held after the grape and olive harvests and was a time of great rejoicing as they thanked Him for present abundance, as well as His constant care and provision while they were in the wilderness – often living in temporary shelters before entering the Promised Land.
These feasts generally followed the agricultural calendar of that time, but God combined these with spiritual elements that gave opportunity to give prayer and thanks for abundant harvests as well as recognize their unique status as God's holy people. Other nations had various religious feasts tied to the agricultural cycle but no one else had a Day of Atonement or a Passover acknowledging God's actual, personal involvement in a nation's life.
Israel's worship teaches seven basic truths about worship in general.
- Worship creates a community distinct from the world.
- Worship is about remembering and learning.
- Worship is about praising and thanking God.
- Worship is about giving.
- Worship is about seeking and obtaining forgiveness.
- Worship is about renewing our commitment to God.
- Worship is about rejoicing.
These all factor into both the Jewish worship of God as well as the Christian worship to God. The methods are different but what links the two together is the common concept that both have been called upon to be the holy people of God and their worship is to reflect that.
III. Special Responsibilities for Priests – Leviticus 24:1-23
In a "Handbook for Priests" chapter 24 would have had the title "miscellaneous" since it deals with disparate things.
- (24:1-4) The daily care of keeping the lamp stand within the Holy Place burning from evening to morning each day with specially pressed olive oil designed for this purpose. This was the responsibility of the High Priest.
- (24:5-9) Instructions concerning the bread of presence on the table reserved for this purpose, situated in the Holy Place as well.
- Twelve cakes of bread were made from fine flour, no leaven.
- Placed on table of pure gold – two stacks of six cakes each.
- Frankincense was put on the bread, however, when the bread was removed the Frankincense was burned as an offering to God.
- New loaves were laid out every Sabbath Day, and this was to be done in perpetuity.
- Only priests were to eat the old bread in a holy place.
- (24:10-16) Instructions concerning Punishment (Blasphemy/Sabbath observance).
- A case of blasphemy (improper use of God's name) was brought to Moses for action. Moses sought God's will in the matter and He replied that the punishment of blasphemy or cursing God was death by stoning.
- The witnesses were to lay hands on the man's head (to confirm their witness) and the people would bring him outside the camp (not to defile it) and they would carry out the punishment.
- (24:17-22) Punishment for other cases.
- Punishment for murder – death.
- Punishment for various crimes (killing an animal, injuring someone, etc.) each case was considered separately and a just compensation was calculated and paid by the guilty party.
- This was the idea of eye for eye/tooth for tooth = fair compensation.
- (24:23) The punishment for the blasphemer is carried out as a warning and example.
IV. National Responsibilities – Continued – Leviticus 25:1-55
The previous chapter contained some miscellaneous information on consequences of breaking certain laws, but quickly returns to the main theme of this section of the book, the national responsibilities of a nation devoted to the pursuit of holiness. The special or appointed times to keep given previously, dealt with special days, weeks, and months. In this chapter the appointed times deal in years – the Sabbath year and the Year of Jubilee.
1. Sabbatical Year – 25:1-7
This meant that once they entered the Promised Land, they could cultivate the land for six years, but had to leave it fallow on the seventh year. They could eat and use whatever grew naturally, but were not allowed to cultivate or work land in any way. This demonstrated not only their submission and respect for the idea that it was God's land, but also that He would provide for them even if they lost the produce of that resource for a season every seven years.
2. Year of Jubilee – 25:8-55
The Year of Jubilee occurred every 50 years (after seven cycles of Sabbatical years). The year was announced by blowing a ram's horn from which the term "jubilee" comes from. The jubilee had two objectives:
- Returning land that was sold, lost, or transferred somehow back to the individual from one of the twelve tribes who originally owned it back at the time the land was distributed by Moses and Joshua to the twelve tribes. The land belonged to God and portions were divinely distributed to each of the twelve tribes. Jubilee restored the original portions to the descendants of the original owners.
- Israelites, not foreigners, who had become slaves by indebtedness (most common), war, or other means, were given their release and freedom along with a "stake" to help them start over and succeed as free men. These changes had enormous economic and social impact on the people, and chapter 25 provides details and instructions necessary to guide the people involved in land transfers or the release of slaves.
The year was announced by blowing ram's horns on the Day of Atonement, the tenth day of the seventh month in the last day of the seventh cycle of the Sabbatical years (49th year). The prime objective of the Year of Jubilee was to provide a 'release" to all of Israel – release of the land to its original owners, release of slaves back to their homes and families. Chapter 25 provides the details concerning how this was done, and practical details with proper instructions to smooth out an orderly transfer of both land and people.
V. Reasons or Practicing Holiness: Blessings and Curses – Leviticus 26:1-46
As we near the end of the book, the author turns from his main teaching – that God is holy and His people must learn to be holy if they want to have a relationship with Him. Most of the book follows this theme and provides instructions on the what and how of holiness, this chapter focuses on the why of holiness. Why pursue holiness? Why obey God? Why follow the rules? The answer? Blessings if you do, curses if you don't. The chapter breaks them down in the following way:
A. Blessings – 26:3-13
- Abundant crops (26:3-5) – Everything needed for this (rain, good weather, regular harvests).
- Peaceful existence (26:6-8) – Eliminate harmful beasts, no threats of war, victory in war.
- Growing population, abundant food (26:9-10) – Fertile women, food to sustain a growing population.
- God's presence (26:11-13) – God would be with them to continue blessing them.
B. Curses – 26:14-43
The curses are progressive (you do…then I will do). Also, the curses were not only meant to punish but to lead the people to repentance and restoration as a result.
- Disease, crop failure, and defeat – 26:14-17.
- Drought and its consequences – 26:21-22.
- A plague of wild beasts – 26:21-22.
- War, pestilence, and hunger – 26:23-26.
- Destruction, deportation, and desolation – 26:27-33.
- Captivity and desolation – 26:24-39.
Taken together these curses would bring the Israelites back full circle into being a people with no leader, no land, no wealth, and no freedom – just as they were in Egypt, before God freed them from slavery.
C. Repentance – 26:40-43
God, the Holy God, still held out the possibility of saving them if they repented which included:
- Confessing their sins and the sins of their fathers.
- Humbling themselves before God – acknowledging that He was God and they were in submission to Him.
- Accepting their punishment and situation, and trusting God for liberation, deliverance, and reestablishment.
D. God's Promise – 26:44-45
44Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. 45But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.'"
- Leviticus 26:44-45
Despite all that had happened, God promised not to reject or abandon His people. Why?
- The Covenant – He was true to the promises He had made, even if they were not.
- He was the Lord – This was how the Holy God acted.
E. Summary – 26:46
The book closes with a summary of facts contained in Leviticus. He (the Lord) gave the statutes and laws to Moses (the human author), who gave them to the people on Mt. Sinai.
VI. Evidence of Holiness – Vows and Valuations – Leviticus 27:1-34
This final chapter deals with vows made to God. The large part of Leviticus teaches what God required of man. This section describes things that God did not command, but man wanted to offer to God anyways. A vow was a promise made by someone to give something to God if God would enable him to accomplish his objective. At that time God had made no laws requiring vows, however if a person made a vow, he was bound to keep it. In most situations, the things or people vowed to the Lord were replaced by a money gift. This chapter provided guidelines in determining the value (in monetary terms) of what was being offered.
1. Valuation of persons dedicated to God – 27:1-8
The coinage used was the shekel of the sanctuary – to guarantee a consistent weight of silver which was kept by the priests. Money vowed was given to priests for ministry.
- Male – 20-60 years (50s); 5-20 years (20s); 1 month – 5 years (5s); 60 plus (15s)
- Female 20-60 years (30s); 5-20 years (10s); 1 month – 5 years (3s); 60 plus (10s)
Men were worth more for agricultural work because of their physical strength. There were discounts for the very poor.
2. Valuation of animals – 27:9-13
One could not exchange clean animals for money. An unclean animal could be exchanged for its value of 20% (a donkey or a blemished clean animal).
3. Valuation of property – 27:14-25
Vowing a house, property, or field was evaluated in two ways:
- Condition of house or production of land.
- Proximity to the Year of Jubilee (far/near).
4. Un-vowed Gifts (things/people) that God did not permit:
- Firstborn person or animal (already belonged to the Lord) 27:26-33
- People or property won in battle against pagans (unclean).
- The tithe (already owed to God).
These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses for the sons of Israel at Mount Sinai.
- Leviticus 27:34
The final statement repeats that all the Laws previously recorded in this book are from God, given to Moses at Sinai. This means:
- Moses wrote Leviticus at Sinai not long after they left Egypt.
- They are God's commandments to the Jews as part of their covenant with God.
- They were to be obeyed by the Jews under pain of punishment and death.
- We, who are under the new covenant with Christ, are not subject to these laws.
23But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
- Galatians 3:23-25
This completes our class on Leviticus. For more information on this book, please refer to "Truth for Today" commentary on Leviticus by Coy D. Roper.