John Jelinek


Author. Since general questions about the authorship of the Pentateuch are addressed elsewhere in this volume (see the introduction to Genesis), this section addresses corollary supporting information found in Leviticus itself. The substance of the book is the direct speech of God with Moses ("the Lord called to Moses," 1:1), revealed over some span within the forty days (cf. Ex 40:17 with Nm 1:1) when the people were near Mount Sinai. The book repeatedly designates Moses as the recipient of the Lord’s words (e.g., 1:1; 4:1; 6:1, 8, 19, 24; 7:22, 28; 8:1). If there were a red-letter edition of the Bible in which God’s speech in the OT directed to an individual or individuals was highlighted, nearly all of Leviticus would be in red. In this sense God is the Author of Leviticus and Moses recorded the inspired revelation as he received it from the Lord.

Date. With the exception of Jerome and later Ibn Ezra (12th century) and Andreas Carlstadt (Luther’s rival), few challenged the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch before the 19th century (for examples, see G. Herbert Livingstone, The Pentateuch in its Cultural Environment [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1974], 220–21). Arguments for the documentary hypothesis and its atomistic and evolutionary approach to texts that arose in the 19th century are not justified in an impartial reading of the books. As Allen Ross has observed,

Whatever one thinks about the formation of the Pentateuch, it is clear that Leviticus cannot be isolated from its present setting in the Pentateuch. Its teachings assume the reality of the sanctuary with all of its furnishings (recorded in Ex 25–31) and the existence of that sanctuary assumes the reality of the covenant itself. That covenant was made with promises to the fathers.… All the legal and cultic instructions that follow form the content of the covenant, providing the details for the worship and service of the covenant people (Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of Leviticus [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002], 19).

The content of Leviticus with the rituals and purity rites fits with what is known of other cultures in the same period. Julius Wellhausen advocated that the language in Leviticus is later than that of Exodus. But linguistic analysis and intertextual studies have raised doubts as to the validity of this theory (A. Hurvitz, "Linguistic Criteria for Dating Problematic Biblical Texts," Hebrew Abstracts 14 [1973], 74–79, and Mark Rooker, Biblical Hebrew in Transition: The Language of the Book of Ezekiel [New York: Continuum, 1990], 54–64). In sum, there are compelling reasons to consider Moses as the author of Leviticus as well as the entire Pentateuch, and therefore to date the composition 1440–1420 BC (see the introduction to Genesis for a discussion of the Documentary Hypothesis).

Purpose. Soon after God delivered His people from Egypt He gave Moses numerous instructions for Israel, including many details on how they could access His presence for fellowship and worship. Leviticus explains the role of worship in the nation of Israel. When Moses told Pharaoh that God required His people to sacrifice to Him and thus acknowledge His higher authority over them (cf. Ex 3:18; 5:3), God had these prescriptions for worship in mind. Whereas many read the book as a litany of outdated rituals pertaining to an alien and bygone era, when properly interpreted, it is vitally instructive on how to approach God in worship.

Some might wrongly conclude that nothing of value can be derived from the outdated rituals of the emerging nation of Israel. Does not Jesus’ death on the cross eliminate the need for animal sacrifices? Is not Leviticus outdated with its bloody rituals that have no bearing on the present day? Yet Paul wrote that all Scripture is profitable (2Tm 3:16–17). After all, Leviticus was written in the context of the struggling nation of Israel and its departure from Egypt. It had relevance then, as now, in that God’s law was given to address the kinds of daily situations the people would encounter en route to and within the promised land.

Contribution. Why is this book here? What relevance does it have to anyone reading it today? Leviticus gives a deepened understanding of the holiness of God to a people who were not fully acquainted with His character. One should study Leviticus for these five reasons.

First, proper interpretation of the book will deepen one’s understanding of the nature of sin as an offense before the holy God. The book deals repeatedly with the obstacle of man’s sin and fallen condition. Sin is presented as affecting man’s experience in several ways.

First, sin excludes man from nearness to God (sacred space is to be maintained in order to accommodate the distance sin creates between men and God). Leviticus thus assists in rounding out the revelation of the nature of God that He personally revealed to the patriarchs in Genesis, to Moses, and to the nation in Exodus (showing the extent and excellencies of His holiness in liberating them from bondage in keeping with His promises to Abraham). Also, the tabernacle was the observable display of the Lord among His people. The establishment of His covenant with them at Mount Sinai had marked that spot as holy—a place where the Israelites had encountered the divine. But the mountain was not the permanent residence of God’s people. How then could they retain the holiness and the sanctity of this location after they left? The layout and rituals assigned to the tabernacle answer this problem (James K. Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai [New York: Oxford University Press, 2005], 201–2). Though small in comparison to Mount Sinai, the tabernacle was portable and, more importantly, it was designed by the Lord Himself. There the encounter with the divine could take place on a regular basis. It would house, as it were, the holiness of the Mount Sinai experience and the very presence of the Lord as Israel traveled to the promised land.

Second, sin excludes humanity from having a true knowledge of God (it prevents proper perceptions and application of truth that honors God).

Third, sin excludes humanity from communion or fellowship with God, the Creator. God’s relationship with sinners is assumed throughout the book, including their need for reconciliation to Him.

Second, exploring atonement symbolism will expand one’s understanding of the nature of the redemption God provides for sinners. The way to redemption is highlighted wherever there is substitution in the worship rituals. One life or one thing is presented in place of another. Substitution implies humanity’s guilt, the need for atonement, and the need for propitiation (satisfaction of the divine wrath against sin). Further, in God’s plan for redemption there is imputation, the transference of guilt from the guilty party to another through substitution. Then there is death. Sacrifice requires the death of the substitute (i.e., unblemished animals). The redemption God has provided is based on His righteousness and the satisfaction of that righteousness, not His pity. God’s redemption is possible only through the blood of innocent victims (cf. Heb 9:22). Redemption is intended to produce holiness. God’s redemption does not excuse people from the need to be holy and distinct in their behavior.

The animal and grain sacrifices of the OT were symbolic of the way the Lord extended His justice tempered by His mercy to sinful people. When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, their God distinguished Himself from the Egyptian gods as the God of redemption. The God who revealed these rituals for His people is the same God with whom people are to relate today. Learning about the rituals points to the character of the God behind them. He is a redeeming God who, though unseen by human eyes, desires interaction between Himself and His people. Involvement with the God of Israel focuses on sacrificial prayer, praise, and giving. These same relational and redemptive elements are found in Israel’s legislation and its symbolism. The God who brought Israel out of bondage to slavery still redeems His chosen ones from slavery. Believers today hear His call to be a "holy nation" (1Pt 2:9, though the Church is not the new Israel) and will be brought into His dwelling place at the end (Rv 21:3).

Third, one will grasp more deeply God’s desire to dwell in holiness with a holy people and grow in appreciation of the incarnation of Christ. One of the things humanity learns about God in reading the Pentateuch is that the world is in the state it is in because people are out of fellowship with the holy God. God created humanity for fellowship with Him and even created a place, Eden, where humanity could live in fellowship with Him. Eden was a "sacred space," as John Walton has called it (Old Testament Today: A Journey from Original Meaning to Contemporary Significance [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004], 122–24). Leviticus gives a glimpse not only of what was lost when Adam sinned, but also a sense of the measures that must be taken to restore a temporal, earthly sacred space. As such, it is vitally instructive for one’s attempts to worship God today. Further, it foreshadows the act of Messiah taking on human flesh to tabernacle among mankind (cf. Jn 1:14).

Fourth, comprehending the sacrificial system can assist in evangelism, for it portends the Messiah’s ultimate and final sacrifice for sin. The sacrifices serve as illustrations or life lessons that depict the richness of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. No singular sacrifice prefigures all that was accomplished at the death of Jesus, but collectively there is a richness and a fullness that point distinctly forward to that event. Someone reading a textbook on the anatomy and physiology of sharks, but who has never seen a shark, has a wholly different appreciation of sharks than the one who has seen sharks at an aquarium. The one who has not only seen sharks, but has swum with sharks, has an even greater appreciation than one who merely casually observes them from a distance at an aquarium. The textbook presents the "shadows" of shark existence, but an encounter with a shark is the "substance." Similarly, one can appreciate salvation without reading all of Leviticus, but to understand Jesus Christ’s sacrifice in its fullness one must understand what the Father did in bringing His Son to that moment on the cross that effected our salvation. The picture of God as found in Leviticus prepares believers for a fuller understanding of the final sacrifice of Jesus, and it can help explain why the death of Christ was needed to expiate (remove the guilt of) sin and propitiate (turn away) God’s just anger against sin.

Fifth, through Leviticus readers gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of certain Old and New Testament passages (particularly in Romans and Hebrews). Leviticus provides a framework for understanding the millennial sacrifices (Ezk 40–48). Many NT texts are better understood against the background that Leviticus provides (e.g., Paul being "poured out as a drink offering," Php 2:17). The finality of the offering of Christ as presented in Hebrews assumes a knowledge of Leviticus (cf. Heb 7:26–28; 9:12, 26, 28).

The Lord’s desire to maintain His presence in the midst of His people prompted the record that is known as Leviticus. What that record teaches about His character is still relevant and instructional today.

Background. The events of the book of Leviticus occurred during Israel’s exodus from Egypt to Canaan in an approximately one-month period between Ex 40:17 and Nm 1:1. Exodus 40 states that God’s instructions for erecting the tabernacle in the wilderness were completed "and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (v. 34). On a larger scale the whole of Leviticus is encompassed by the narrative of the treaty between God and His people at Mount Sinai, extending from Ex 19 through Nm 10 (see David A. Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999], 72). In this broader setting the holiness of God forms the theological basis (Ex 19–20) on which the liturgy for worship was built. Leviticus communicated to God’s people the steps necessary to ensure His presence in their midst as they set out for Canaan.

Leviticus records the historical fulfillment of commandments given by God in Ex 29 (the legislation to ordain priests) and Ex 40:1–16 (the command to ordain the tabernacle as a center of worship with its priesthood). Leviticus expands on Ex 40:17–38, which records the partial record of that fulfillment. Leviticus gave the nation of Israel a guide on how to maintain the place where God dwelt with His people and how they would be holy before Him.

As has been noted above, many portions of the Bible make sense only in light of God’s instruction in this book. The death of Christ and all that is implied and explicit in the atonement of our Lord finds its origin in the Levitical portrait of the holy God.

In some ways Leviticus can be classified as legal literature with its apodictic (prescribing) and casuistic (if … then) elements. Apart from the brief narrative section in chap. 10, the book presents the legislation of Israel’s manner of approach to God. Legal literature, however, may seem daunting to the average person, as seen, for example, in an attorney’s office with its volumes of technical court cases. The legal literature of Leviticus, however, involves the practical aspect of worship of the one true God. Most contemporary believers do not think of prescriptions for the order of worship because the NT does not prescribe a specific worship form or liturgy. Compared to the freedom and spontaneity with which believers today worship the Lord, the rituals in Leviticus may seem like empty repetition. Yet in Leviticus, the priest, when properly exercising his duties, was looking for far more than just external obedience on the part of worshipers. Without a clear and sustained vision of God’s holiness, any act of worship could quickly degenerate into an irreverent routine.

Structure. A popular, two-part approach to Leviticus considers the means by which believers can approach God, and the means by which their approach can be maintained before God. In this light the book may be viewed as having two major parts:

Part 1: The Means of Access to God: Sacrifice (chaps. 1–10).

Part 2: The Walk before God: Sanctification (chaps. 11–27).

However, the book may be more appropriately divided along the lines of chaps. 1–16 and 17–27. If God was to dwell among His people according to His revealed purpose at Sinai (cf. Ex 25:8; 33:17) and in keeping with Moses’ petition for the Lord’s very presence to accompany the nation (cf. Ex 33:15–16), then "sacred space" must first be created (establishment of the tabernacle, Ex 40:1–33; Lv 1–16) and a national holiness and purity must be maintained (Lv 17–27) (Richard Averbeck, "Sacred Space and Sacred Community in the Old Testament and the New Testament," paper read at the Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting, Danvers, MA, November 18, 1999.)

Leviticus 16 is the theological center of the book. On the Day of Atonement, the holiness of the tabernacle and the holiness of the nation are central. Thirteen times in chap. 16 the word "atonement" is used in referring to the result of the five varied sacrifices performed on that day. Two blood atonements were made on behalf of the priests and the people (vv. 3, 5); a scapegoat offering was made on behalf of the entire congregation (vv. 20–22); and two burnt offerings were presented for the priests and the people (vv. 23–24). The point is clear: atonement for sin is required in order to maintain a "space" in which God may dwell with His people. These rituals not only cleansed the tabernacle of God’s dwelling with blood (vv. 32–33, referring back to vv. 11–19), but they also cleansed the people (vv. 29–31), making them fit for His inhabitation as well.


I. Divine Instruction Ensuring a Sanctified Dwelling Prepared for the Lord’s Presence among His People (1:1–16:34)

A. God’s Holiness Must Be Maintained by Those Who Secure His Dwelling through Presentation of Appropriate Sacrifices and Offerings (1:1–7:38)

1. The Law of the Whole Burnt Offering: an Offering Conveying God’s Wrath against Sin and a Worshiper’s Acceptance by God (1:1–17)

2. The Law of the Grain Offering: an Offering Conveying a Believer’s Recognition of the True Source of His Life as Found in God (2:1–16)

3. The Law of the Peace Offering: a Community Celebration of a Believer’s Peace with God and the Communion Available between God and Man (3:1–17)

4. The Law of the Sin Offering: an Offering Presented for an Individual’s Unintentional Sin (4:1–5:13)

a. Rituals to Atone for Unintentional Sin (4:1–35)

(1) The Purification Offering for the High Priest (4:3–12)

(2) The Purification Offering for the Congregation (4:13–21)

(3) The Purification Offerings for Leaders and Commoners (4:22–35)

b. Illustrations of Offenses Requiring the Sin Offering (5:1–6)

c. Concessions for the Poor in the Sin Offering (5:7–13)

5. The Law of the Reparation Offering: an Offering Presented When Making Amends for Unwittingly Defrauding God or Man (5:14–6:7)

a. Abusing the Lord’s Property Unwittingly (5:14–19)

b. Abusing Man’s Property and the Lord’s Name (6:1–7)

6. Additional Priestly Administrative Instructions Pertaining to the Sacrifices (6:8–7:38)

a. In the Ritual of the Whole Burnt Offering, the Priest’s Actions and Dress Convey the Availability of Access to an Ever-Present God through an Ever-Available Atonement (6:8–13)

b. In the Ritual of the Grain Offering of the Common Person, the Priest’s Actions Should Express God’s Acceptance of Offerings Presented in Faith (6:14–18)

c. In the Ritual of the Grain Offering of the Priest, the Priest Was Expected to Demonstrate His Own Devotion to the Lord (6:19–23)

d. In the Ritual of the Sin Offering of the Priest, the Priest Was Expected to Demonstrate His Awareness of the Seriousness of Sin before God (6:24–30)

e. In the Ritual of the Reparation Offering, the Priest Reinforced Confession and Repentance of Sin (7:1–10)

f. In the Administration of the Peace Offering and Its Variant Forms, the Priest Ensured the Integrity of the Offering by Instructing Laypersons concerning the Proper Consumption of the Offerings (7:11–21)

g. The Priests Ensured the Layperson’s Knowledge of the Lord’s Right to the Fat and the Blood (7:22–27)

h. Through Proper Handling and Consumption of Dedicated Portions of the Peace Offering the Priests Conveyed Reverence for God (7:28–38)

B. Those Ordained to Present Offerings, and the Land and People They Represent, Must Demonstrate the Holiness of the Lord in Their Midst by Ensuring That All That Enters the Lord’s Presence Is Itself Holy (8:1–16:34)

1. God’s Holiness Must Be Maintained by Those Who Secure His Dwelling through the Consecration and Presentation of Themselves in Unique Holiness (8:1–10:20)

a. The Consecration of the Levitical Priests (8:1–36)

b. The Inauguration of the Tabernacle Worship (9:1–24)

c. Violation of God’s Holiness and the Resultant Statutes Pertaining to Priestly Tabernacle Duties: Nadab and Abihu Offer Strange Fire (10:1–20)

2. God’s Holiness Must Be Maintained by His People in Their Presentation of Themselves and All That They Own and Do in Unique Holiness (11:1–15:33)

a. God’s People Distinguish Themselves as His People in What They Regard as Clean and Unclean, Consuming Only That Which God Has Prescribed (11:1–47)

b. God’s People Distinguish Themselves as His among All People by Virtue of Their Respect for Blood That Enters His Holy Presence (12:1–8)

c. God’s People Distinguish Themselves as His Unique People in the Ways in Which They Deal with Disease and Contamination (13:1–14:57)

d. God’s People Distinguish Themselves as His Unique People in the Ways in Which They Seek to Honor God with Their Stewardship of Their Bodies (15:1–33)

3. God’s Holiness Requires a Particular Day of Atonement on the Part of His People and Priests (16:1–34)

II. Divine Instruction Ensuring the Preservation of a Holy Land and a Holy People Declaring the Lord’s Presence (17:1–27:34)

A. Reminders on Sacrificial Offerings: Sacrifice to God Alone, Treat the Blood as Holy, and Approach God in Purity (17:1–16)

B. Exhortations toward Community Holiness: God Is To Be Honored in the Sexual, Social, and Ethical Lives of His People, and in His Exclusive Right to Their Worship (18:1–20:27)

1. God Is To Be Honored by a Sanctified Sexuality among His People (18:1–30)

2. God Is To Be Honored by the Sanctified Social and Ethical Practices of His People, and Is To See His Holiness Reflected in Their Lives (19:1–37)

3. God Is To Be Honored by the Exclusive Nature of the Sanctified Worship and Family Practices of His People (20:1–27)

C. Things or Persons That Are Holy (Set Apart) with Instruction to Maintain Their Holiness (21:1–27:34)

1. Matters Related to the Defilement or Disqualifications of the Priests or the Holy Offerings (21:1–22:33)

a. Priestly and High Priestly Qualifications (21:1–24)

b. Rules to Preserve the Holiness of Offerings to the Lord (22:1–33)

2. Calendric Convocations: Stipulations Ensuring That Israel Sanctifies Time to the Lord (23:1–44)

3. Things To Be Treated as Holy in the Service of God: Bread, Oil, and the Sanctity of the Divine Name (24:1–23)

4. The Land As Holy in the Service of God: Regulations for the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee (25:1–55)

5. The Land as Holy in the Service of God: Experiencing Conditional Covenantal Blessings in the Land and the Consequences of Disobedience to the Lord (26:1–46)

6. The Holiness of Gifts Offered at the Sanctuary of God and the Regulations That Ensure Proper Dedication to the Lord (27:1–34)


I. Divine Instruction Ensuring a Sanctified Dwelling Prepared for the Lord’s Presence among His People (1:1–16:34)

The average Israelite who followed Moses out of Egypt may not have had a clear understanding of the nature of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The years of enslavement in Egypt with exposure to the Egyptian pantheon of gods and religious rituals no doubt left many in Israel without a distinct sense of their relationship to God. Israel may not have lacked a monotheistic perspective, but they may have been deficient in their understanding of God and how to approach Him. These deficiencies needed to be corrected by a clear word from God.

The first 16 chapters of Leviticus, therefore, focus on the rituals and circumstances that ensure that God would accompany His people in the wilderness experience and abide with them in the land. God’s divine name Yahweh had been revealed to Moses in his mission (cf. Ex 3:14). As Moses reintroduced Israel to her God, the symbolism and theology of access were vital in helping the nation form a concrete and distinct identity from the pagan nations that would surround her in her land. The regulations and rituals of Leviticus codify and thus prescribe the liturgy of the nation’s relationship to God. Further, they helped solidify Israel’s national identity. What the rituals taught Israel about the nature of God and man is still instructive for believers today. Worship is to be less about what people want than it is about a focus on the worthiness of God. Worship is to be directed to God and it is for Him. Unfortunately, much of worship is based on the assumption that what pleases the worshiper (aesthetically or culturally) must be pleasing to Him. But worship that focuses solely on what people enjoy misses the point as surely as worship that focuses only on traditional and approved forms. Worship should focus on the centrality of God’s holiness and on man’s need for atonement in order to approach Him and to maintain fellowship with other worshipers. Although worship today may take a variety of forms, one’s attitude in worship is basic.

At the center of OT worship are the sacrifices described in Lv 1–7. Of course, this was not the beginning of God’s sacrificial system. Adam knew of sacrifice (Gn 3:21), as did Cain and Abel (4:3–4), and Noah (8:20–21). In these sacrifices the worshiper expressed his inferiority to God and unworthiness to approach Him without due recognition of his sin. The sacrifices also acknowledge God’s gracious provision for giving worshipers access to Him. By the sincere expression of these rites the worshiper was accepted by God, union with Him was achieved, and guilt was removed. These rites were not displays of magic, as pagans in their contemporary rituals believed. The external action was effective (efficacious) only if the inner convictions and attitudes of the worshiper were right. In other words, the believer’s salvation was by grace through faith in God’s provision. Without faith it has never been possible to please God, and these rituals reinforced that very teaching.

A. God’s Holiness Must Be Maintained by Those Who Secure His Dwelling through Presentation of Appropriate Sacrifices and Offerings (1:1–7:38)

1. The Law of the Whole Burnt Offering: an Offering Conveying God’s Wrath against Sin and a Worshiper’s Acceptance by God (1:1–17)

The Hebrew name for the book can be translated from the first word, "And He [the Lord] called" (1:1). Leviticus is part of the historical narrative found in Exodus and Numbers (Ex 19:1–Nm 10:10). God’s law was given in the context of Israel’s encounters with Him. The contents of Leviticus were revealed to Moses during the thirty days between the completion of the tabernacle (one year after the exodus from Egypt, Ex 40) and the first day of the second month of that second year (Nm 1:1). As noted above, Leviticus should be read in close proximity to Ex 34–40. At the outset, Leviticus contains God’s requirements for the various sacrificial offerings given to Israel, as seen in the chart below.

The Laws of Sacrifice

Name Sacrifice Procedure Meaning Application
Cattle, Sheep, Goats, Birds Offerer—lay on hand and kill animal Priest—sprinkle blood on side of altar, put on fire. Entirely burned Complete consecration
“Offer up in smoke all of it”
Present ourselves as living sacrifices
(Rm 12:1)
Raw Flour, Cooked Cakes, Roasted New Grain Flour—labor Oil—anointing Incense—soothing aroma Acceptable service to God All our labor should be offered to God as acceptable service (Col 3:17)
Cattle, Sheep, Goats Blood on sides of altar Fat portions burned Meat shared by priests and offerers Celebration meal (Gratitude/Free Will) We should celebrate the Lord’s Table (1Co 10:16–18)
Cattle, Sheep, Goats, Birds Substitution Identification Death Exchange of Life Forgiveness by faith in a substitutionary sacrifice We must receive forgiveness by faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of the Messiah
Rams Blood around altar Fat burned Make restitution to God (5:15–16) or to people (6:4–5) Be reconciled and make restitution for wrong done (Mt 5:23–24)

1:1–9. God called to Moses (1:1) in this context. The burnt offering was to be a voluntary offering made by a believer as an expression of communion or fellowship with God. This offering was not a private worship act like personal prayer, or the observance of the Passover in which celebrations could be conducted within groups or families. The burnt offering was to be a dedicatory, public witness and testimony that God could be approached (v. 3). As an act of worship made in communion with God, it was instructional to all who observed and participated. The presence of a sinner in God’s sanctuary (and thus the holy presence of God) was possible only on the basis of a substitutionary atonement by blood sacrifice. The book of Leviticus began with a sacrifice that brought together two disparate thoughts: (1) Sin separates man from the holy God, and (2) communion with God is possible only for those who approach Him through an appropriate sacrifice.

That the entire animal was consumed indicated that it was completely received by God (it ascended in smoke, v. 9), and it portrayed God’s burning wrath against sin. The offering thus symbolized the complete surrender to God by the offerer and God’s complete acceptance of the offerer. The animal offered could have no defects at all (vv. 2–3). A male without defects was a costly animal for the worshiper who either raised the animal for himself, or purchased it from a farmer or shepherd. The ability of the offerer to give could affect the type of animal given (vv. 10, 14), but the worshiper must only bring an acceptable animal as his gift. This requirement suggests to NT believers that the Lord desires gifts from them that are costly and call for sacrifice. God desires complete dedication to Him by living sacrifices (Rm 12:1–2).

Having selected an animal according to his means, the worshiper brought it to the tabernacle and laid one hand on the head of the burnt offering (v. 4). Laying a hand on the animal symbolized the worshiper’s identification with the sacrifice and his transfer of guilt to the animal (cf. 8:14; 16:21; Nm 27:18–20). An Israelite presenting his sacrifice held the animal with one hand and slit its throat with the other. The animal died at his own hands, thereby dramatizing that the spilt blood should have been his own. The expiation or purgation of sin through sacrifice resulted in God’s wrath being turned away (cf. Lv 16:16–19). As atonement was made, the relationship between God and man was restored.

God’s provision for forgiveness and atonement has always required the shedding of blood (cf. Gn 4:4; Nm 17:11; Heb 9:22). The sacrifices in Leviticus were repetitive, bloody, and in many ways, troubling. Moderns are not used to reading such details about blood. Most people today never see where their meat comes from; it is already packaged and sanitized by the time people purchase it. But animals were the basis of the economy for ancient people, and thus the idea of animal sacrifices was relevant to their spiritual lives.

Messiah is the antitype (fulfillment) of these offerings, as the NT authors make clear. Like the burnt offerings, the death of Christ was complete (cf. Heb 10:5–7). In His final sacrifice there was the complete exhaustion and satisfaction of God’s wrath. The emphasis on the unblemished, perfect sacrifice portrays Christ’s flawless sacrifice. By this same offering He presents His church spotless (cf. Eph 5:27), a sweet savor to the Father (Lv 1:9). The offering in this way typifies the effectual work of Christ. Those who worship God must still approach Him on the basis of a substitutionary sacrifice.

In Leviticus the Lord made it clear that the offering was not to be made just anywhere, but before the Lord (v. 3) at the tent of meeting (vv. 3, 5; cf. Dt 12:13–14). To be accepted by God the sacrifice was given publicly. The priests who supervised the offering collected the blood from each sacrificed animal and sprinkled it on the altar (v. 5). The blood belonged to God exclusively and was the divine provision for forgiveness. The blood cried out to God that punishment had been exacted through death (cf. Heb 12:24).

The priest was allowed to keep the skin as a source of clothing and income (Lv 7:8). God has always provided for the basic needs of His people in the exercise of individual and corporate worship. Offerings to the Lord through the church today in support of those who minister accomplish this same sacred ministry.

The burnt offering was arranged on the altar (1:7) to be completely consumed by fire (1:9), thus signifying the complete acceptance of the offering before the Lord. This is the only posture to assume in presenting oneself before God; one must sacrifice to God all he is and has.

The burnt offering was to make atonement (1:4). This term for sacrifice means "to appease" or "to ransom" (removing the guilt and thus the need for punishment; cf. Gn 32:20; 2Sm 21:3–4). The rendering of "atone" in Is 6:7 is "taken away." The idea is that to atone means to "remove iniquity." So the purpose of this sacrifice is to "turn away" or "appease" God’s judgment on sin. In Ps 78:38 the word is translated "forgive." The point is that no worshiper can approach God without first having his sin and defilement atoned for, turned away, forgiven.

In the burnt offering an unblemished life was taken in the place of the blemished or sinful worshiper. The ritual for this substitution involved the blood of the animal being offered (vv. 5, 11). The lesson is at least threefold. First, to provide God’s forgiveness a sacrifice had to include the offering of blood. Second, the blood signifies life (cf. Lv 17:11). The blood (i.e., the life) belonged to God exclusively. It was God’s provision for forgiveness. Third, Jesus, as the only way to God, had to offer Himself as a spotless offering with His blood shed (cf. Heb 12:24).

The priest collected the blood from the sacrificed animal in a basin and sprinkled it around on the altar (1:5, 11). (For a bird, where the blood would be less, the blood would be allowed to run down the side of the altar.) The offerer then skinned the animal and cut it into its pieces (v. 6). The priest put the parts on the altar—the cut-up parts, head, and fat (v. 8)—and the entrails and legs were washed and then put on the altar (v. 9). Any unclean elements had to be removed before an animal could be used as a spotless substitute. The offering was followed by a meal offering and a drink offering (cf. Nm 6:13–17 [the Nazirite vow]; Nm 5:22–24; also during Pentecost, cf. Lv 23:18).

The overall point made in the imagery of the offering is that God accepted the offering completely as a soothing aroma (v. 9), and thus the offerer was accepted as well (provided the sacrifice was given in faith). Jesus Christ fulfills the typology of these sacrifices in that He too was "unblemished" (cf. Heb 7:25–27).

1:10–17. Verse 10 refers to other animals—a sheep or one of the goats—that could be offered in place of a bull from the herd. This is a common feature in the book. At times the differences in animals accommodate the poor, and at other times the reasons for the differences are not stated.

God allowed worshipers to offer according to their means. If they could not afford an animal from their herd or flock, they could offer a bird (a turtledove or pigeon, v. 14). No one would be unable to approach God because of his poverty. God does not show favoritism in worship to the rich, and neither should believers (cf. Jms 2:5). Even Joseph brought a turtledove offering (cf. Lk 2:24). The birds to be offered were common and could have been snared or otherwise secured by the worshiper. The bird’s crop and feathers were removed (v. 16), and the bird was split by pulling on its wings to show its helplessness (v. 17).

Even in the offering of smaller animals God intended a lesson for the Israelites: God allows a substitutionary sacrifice to expiate the distance between Himself and His worshipers (vv. 3, 10, 14). Every worshiper must bring an acceptable substitute for sacrifice. To be acceptable it had to be an animal without a blemish. A sacrificial animal could have no defects at all. A bull, sheep, or goat without defect could be a costly, prized animal, one that was hard to give up.

Also, every worshiper must present his offering in unqualified obedience. The sacrifice was a gift, one that was to be completely burned up. The sacrifice was called the ‘ola (one that ascends in smoke, i.e., a whole burnt offering), and the noun qorban identified it as a gift. The animal could not be a wild animal. According to Dt 14:5, wild game could be eaten, but not offered in sacrifice because it would be an offering to the Lord that cost nothing, and this was not complete obedience.

The soothing aroma to the Lord (v. 13) is an anthropomorphism of an olfactory sensation (v. 13). God did not "smell" the offering, but He was pleased with it. In "smelling" the burning flesh, God wanted the worshiper to know that the aroma signified His acceptance of the gift. Similarly, the death of Christ is called "a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma" (Eph 5:2). God was well pleased with Christ’s offering.

The whole burnt offering typified the effectual work of Christ that makes the believer acceptable before God. The faith of the believer is pictured by the offerer laying his hand on the sacrifice, an act of identification and appropriation. With the blood being shed, the life was taken away, and so sin was expiated. The worshiper deserves death in the presence of the holy God, but His holiness has been satisfied in the pouring out of His wrath on Christ.

2. The Law of the Grain Offering: an Offering Conveying a Believer’s Recognition of the True Source of His Life as Found in God (2:1–16)

Leviticus 2 describes how the meal or grain offering (the only bloodless offering) was to be carefully prepared and then given to the priest for consecration to God. The grain offering could be offered publicly or privately. If it were done publicly, it might be presented in the form of twelve loaves of showbread in the tabernacle, or the sheaf on the day of Pentecost, or the two wave loaves presented at the festivals of Harvest (cf. Lv 23:9–14) and Pentecost (cf. Lv 23:15–22). If privately, the offering could be brought to the tabernacle at any time except with the sin or trespass offerings.

2:1–8. The chapter begins with nephesh, the Hebrew word for "life." In the grain offering, as in any offering a believer might present, the believer gave back to God a token of his life to show that he recognized that God was the source of his life. No Israelite believed that he was somehow sustaining God symbolically or physically with his offering. That some OT offerings were called "food offerings" in some translations reflects the human standpoint of the offering.

When these commands were given, the Israelites were in the desert. Grain could not be grown there, and it could be purchased only at some expense and that with difficulty. Thus, the sacrifice of grain was either impossible to do until the nation reached Canaan, or was very difficult. This offering was also a way of relating the seasonal cycles and their productivity (or lack thereof) to the direct hand of the Lord once Israel entered the land. Now that they were no longer to be nomadic shepherds but landholders, their offerings would reflect this change in status under God’s blessing. A believer may demonstrate his dedication to the Lord by giving Him a portion of the best of his material goods. The symbolism inherent in the grain offering demonstrated both the worshiper’s dedication to God and his gratitude for the Lord’s provision. In the same way, God is pleased today when His people demonstrate their dedication to Him by offering a portion of their life goods.

A worshiper at the tabernacle would declare his dedication to the Lord by giving a pure grain offering to the priest that the Lord accepted as a soothing aroma (v. 2). Truly dedicated gifts to God were free from impurity so as to reflect personal loyalty to God and His covenants with Israel. Normally the dedication offering consisted of a mixture of grain (grits) or fine flour, olive oil, and frankincense (not just incense). It could be uncooked (v. 2) or cooked grain (vv. 4–7). If baked into loaves, these were either ring-shaped or perforated. Oil in the OT frequently symbolized things set apart for the Lord (e.g., the anointing of the priests; cf. 8:30). Dedication to the Lord and His work required that only the best elements were to be used.

The provision for the priests in the grain offering was made, at least in part, because they were not entitled to land rights in Israel on which to grow grain (v. 3, cf. Nm 8 and 1Co 9:13–14). A grain offering might accompany the burnt or peace offerings, as part of a believer’s food gift to the Lord. Just as the priest served as a mediator between the offerer and God, so today Jesus is the mediator through whom God is pleased to accept a believer’s offerings (cf. Heb 5:5–10).

But why did the grain offering need to be unleavened? Some have suggested that leaven was to be excluded because impurities could arise from fermentation. But why then was wine required in some offerings (e.g., 23:13)? Perhaps it was because leaven was popular in Canaanite sacrificial rites (Am 4:4–5).

2:9–16. The memorial portion (v. 9) that was burned by the priest on the altar showed the worshiper that God had accepted his offering (vv. 2, 9). God accepts the offerings of those who are in fellowship with Him. The remainder of the grain offering was for the needs of the priest (cf. 6:14–23). The presence of salt (v. 13) in the grain offering may have been symbolic of the covenant relationship between the worshiper and God. Numbers 18:19 and 2Ch 13:5 refer to a "covenant of salt." Although salt (like leaven) appears in judgment contexts (cf. Gn 19:26), it also appears as a positive image in the NT (e.g., "Let your speech always be … seasoned with salt," Col 4:6). While leaven is often portrayed as corrupting (e.g., Mt 16:6), salt preserves and purifies. In Ezk 43:24, God said that salt was to be thrown on the millennial burnt offerings. Salt was used symbolically in other covenants of that day in the ancient Near East. Salt then spoke not only of purity, but even more importantly of longevity. Adding salt to the grain offering reminded Israel that the covenant God had made with them was an enduring covenant.

3. The Law of the Peace Offering: a Community Celebration of a Believer’s Peace with God and the Communion Available between God and Man (3:1–17)

The peace (or fellowship) offering was a voluntarily shared meal in which the offerer celebrated with others that he was at peace with God. (The kinds of peace offerings that could be made are explained in chap. 7.) Then, as now, a believer’s celebration of peace with God is based on the shed blood of the substitutionary sacrifice. This was a thank offering for the Lord’s deliverance.

3:1–5. Any unblemished, flawless animal from the herd, whether male or female (v. 1), or the flock (v. 6), or a goat (v. 12), could be presented to the priest at the door to the tabernacle. The peace offering served as an OT equivalent to the Lord’s Supper, though the communal meal is not mentioned here. Whenever several offerings were made, the peace offering was the final in the sequence to convey that all was well between God and man.

As in the burnt offering (cf. Lv 1:4), the worshiper laid his hand on the head of the animal as an act of identification (v. 2). Although no sin or guilt was dealt with in this offering, the person who desired to commune with God identified himself with the sacrificial victim in an act of self-surrender. This is consistent with any approach to the holy God requiring the presence of blood. Also, the fat of the offering was specially designated as belonging to the Lord (v. 3). The fat portions (considered the choice portions) of each animal were to be burned in an act of dedication to God.

3:6–11. Once again, the animal being offered for sacrifice had to be without any blemish, and it died at the hands of the offerer (vv. 6–8). The fatty tail (v. 9) of certain broad-tailed ancient sheep in Israel could weigh up to 90 pounds. Ancient peoples also prized both the liver and the kidneys (v. 4) as culinary delicacies and regarded them as centers of the emotional life. Some Near Eastern peoples employed the entrails (v. 9) of animals or the lobe of the liver in seeking to "divine" the will of the gods, but this sort of paganism was forbidden in Israel. The Israelites, it seems, regarded the liver as the primary seat of life. If an arrow pierced one’s liver (cf. Pr 7:23), death would result.

The point of this offering was to signify to the worshiper and everyone present that the best portion of life belongs to God. Such costly sacrifice is worth the price, for pleasing God is the highest value and always the believer’s highest good. Those who would celebrate being at peace with God should be surrendered to Him in all that He requires. Worship should signify that kind of surrender not only in words but also in deeds.

3:12–17. Whether the animal came from the herd (cattle, vv. 1–5) or the flock (sheep or goats, vv. 6, 12), God was specific in stating that the animal was to be without defect (3:1) and was to be presented before the Lord (vv. 1, 7, 12). No Israelite was allowed to worship God in any way he preferred. He was to follow God’s instructions. So today believers are to be obedient to God’s revealed will in their worship.

Verse 17 summarizes the chapter. The perpetual nature of the command meant that God desired that His people focus on Him exclusively as they celebrated being at peace with Him. Believers today also celebrate the peace they have with God because of Jesus’ shed blood. All the fat belonged to the Lord, with no exceptions (v. 16). Whereas no concessions were made for the poor to give a bird as in the burnt offering, they would be allowed and even expected to share in the generosity of the fellowship meal.

4. The Law of the Sin Offering: an Offering Presented for an Individual’s Unintentional Sin (4:1–5:13)

a. Rituals to Atone for Unintentional Sin (4:1–35)

4:1–2. Once again the Lord spoke to Moses, this time in an extended way. God’s regulations for the sin offering extend to 5:13 as one long saying from the Lord. John Calvin once wrote that man does not know one one-hundredth of the sin that cleaves to his soul. These verses emphasize that point. Small imperfections, like cavities in teeth, can cause significant problems. Similarly, sin creates problems for humanity that we do not often realize. Because of God’s holiness even unintentional sins (sins committed without the person knowing these actions are contrary to God’s standards) are sinful and a serious affront to Him. Should the priest (v. 3), the congregation (v. 13), a leader (v. 22), or a common Israelite (v. 27) sin unintentionally, he was to make restitution. The sins referred to here were committed unwittingly (lit., "not with a high hand"; cf. Nm 15:27–31).

This offering is traditionally called a "sin offering," but it is actually a purification from sin. The purpose of this offering was to purify the place of worship, making it holy to the Lord (R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990], 61). God graciously provides for the sins of His people, even their unintentional sins. The impression created by this situation is that the sin offering was to be presented immediately after an unintentional sin was known. If even unknown sins create a gulf between man and God, then sin obviously must be addressed.

Emphasis in this context was placed upon the sins of Israel’s leaders (vv. 3, 22). Sin that arises in leaders often proves pernicious and produces sin in the lives of followers. Early on, God established His pattern of requiring much from those who lead.

The phrase "a soothing aroma to the Lord" occurs frequently in the first three offerings (1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9, 12; 3:5, 16), but is rare in the sin offering (only in 4:31). However, the term "atonement" is found only in 1:4 in the first three offerings of Leviticus, but eight times in the verses on the sin offering.

Four individuals or groups are addressed in chap. 4: the anointed (high) priest (vv. 3–12); the congregation of Israel as a whole (vv. 13–21); a leader (vv. 22–26); and a common person (vv. 27–35). The offerer was to lay his hand on the head of the animal as an act of identification and acknowledgement (vv. 4, 15, 24, 29). Sin was to be acknowledged to God before the transgression could be imputed to the substitute. Only then could atonement be made (4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:6, 10, 13). God forgave the sinner who appealed to Him for atonement on the basis of the blood of a sacrifice that is pleasing to Him. This principle is applied to the death of Christ in 2Co 5:21.

(1) The Purification Offering for the High Priest (4:3–12)

4:3–12. Since the high priest served as the people’s representative to God, his own guilt from an unintentional sin extended guilt to the people he represented (v. 3). Blood from the sacrificial bull was brought into the sanctuary and sprinkled seven times … in front of the curtain (v. 6) and applied to the horns of the altar (v. 7) in the holy place. The fatty portion (v. 8) was offered up on the altar of burnt offering (v. 10) in a manner parallel to the peace offering. The carcass of the animal was then burned in a ritually clean place outside the camp (v. 12). Portions of the animal that would normally have been given to the priest would now not be his because of his involvement in the offense. By commanding the priest to sprinkle the blood and discard the rest of the animal, God was indicating that blood alone could atone for Israel’s sin. Only the blood could cleanse the tabernacle, the priests, the people, and the land from the defilement caused by sin. In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, "without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb 9:22).

(2) The Purification Offering for the Congregation (4:13–21)

4:13–21. The ritual sin offering for the congregation as a whole paralleled the ritual for the priest. The sins referred to here were sins of ignorance, carelessness (cf. 5:4), or sin without defiance (lit., "without a high hand"). A young bull of the herd (v. 14; "young bull," NIV) was offered rather than its full-grown counterpart, and the elders identified with the bull on behalf of the people (4:15–16). The result was atonement and forgiveness of sins (v. 20).

(3) The Purification Offerings for Leaders and Commoners (4:22–35)

4:22–26. In the case of the sin of a leader (v. 22), a flawless male goat (v. 24) was to be offered. The blood was applied to the horns of the altar of burnt offering … and the rest of its blood was poured out at the altar’s base.

4:27–35. The ritual was the same for a common person of the land, though he or she might offer a spotless female goat. All of these rituals reminded God’s people that the holy God desired to dwell among a holy people in a holy place.

Sin is offensive to God, requiring death. God requires a pure and costly offering to atone for the sin. All who approach God must have their sin completely removed by means of a substitutionary sacrifice. Unlike the grain offering, no oil or frankincense was included in the sin offering because they were symbols of joy. Truly repentant worshipers acknowledge their sin with remorse rather than joy.

Jesus suffered "outside the camp" both in fulfillment of this lesser purification offering and also in fulfillment of the Day of Atonement offering (Lv 16:27; Heb 13:11).

b. Illustrations of Offenses Requiring the Sin Offering (5:1–6)

In Lv 5:1–13 the topic is still that of the sin offering, but the approach to the topic changes.

5:1–6. These verses cite some examples of intentional and unintentional sins. Verse 1 gives an example of an intentional sin. One who gave false testimony under oath did so in a premeditated fashion. And if he withheld evidence, he violated the law. Thus he must bear his guilt. Verses 2–3 suggest how a person might unknowingly come into contact with something unclean, and thus become guilty and in need of a sin offering. Specific ways in which a person could become unclean are given in Lv 12–22. Physical cleanliness in the OT was a symbol of spiritual cleanliness. Israel was set apart from her pagan neighbors by keeping God’s specifications regarding cleanliness.

Verse 4 includes a case of inadvertent sin in one’s speech. Yet minor sins are still sins. Just because they become evident later does not negate their reality. Persons who are irresponsible in their speech are guilty of sin. Anyone who carelessly made an oath brought guilt on himself. Moses was eventually denied entrance into the promised land for his rash speech arising from unbelief (cf. Nm 20:12; Ps 106:32–33).

The illustrations conclude with a reiteration of the kind of offering already cited in chap. 4 as appropriate for those bearing unintentional guilt. Confession of sin was more than mere recognition of facts. It was an acknowledgement of both the character of the sin and the character of God who was offended by that sin. Confession of sin and obedience to the Lord restore fellowship with Him (cf. 1Jn 1:9).

c. Concessions for the Poor in the Sin Offering (5:7–13)

5:7–13. God’s grace extends even to the poorest of believers. These verses make explicit God’s gracious provision of an exception for those who are poor. The one who could not afford to sacrifice a lamb as a sin offering was allowed to sacrifice two turtledoves or two young pigeons. But if in his poverty he could not afford even these birds, he could offer a small quantity of flour (v. 11). It may be objected that this was not a blood sacrifice and therefore conclude that God did not require a blood sacrifice for sin in every case. Yet the priest was to take the flour and offer it up in smoke … with the offerings of the Lord (v. 12), thereby uniting the flour to previous animal sacrifices. Thus, the grain offering became part of a blood offering. Hence, although not everyone could afford a peace offering, everyone could afford a sin offering. The priest received a portion of the sin offering for his use (v. 13). Presumably a priest would not accept an offering from a non-contrite worshiper. As the priest received the offering, he communicated to the penitent worshiper that God had accepted his offering and forgiven the sin.

5. The Law of the Reparation Offering: an Offering Presented When Making Amends for Unwittingly Defrauding God or Man (5:14–6:7)

a. Abusing the Lord’s Property Unwittingly (5:14–19)

5:14–19. God is pleased when believers acknowledge their failure to treat Him as holy. When the faithful recognize wrongs committed in ignorance and do what is necessary to make amends, His name is honored. Making restitution, or putting right what is wrong, thus shows genuine repentance. Because sin usually involves the defrauding of God or man, when sin is confessed, the injury must be made right. All of 5:14–6:7 involves violations of the law that render a person guilty and require a reparation offering. Here reparation was required, whereas in the previous section (4:1–5:13) it was not. The traditional term "guilt offering" may wrongly imply that the earlier sin offering was not intended to expunge guilt. The intent here was to remove the evil that blocked fellowship with God.

Sinning against the Lord’S holy things (5:15) refers to abuse or misuse of the exclusive property of the tabernacle (and later the temple). A thing becomes "holy" when it is dedicated to the Lord and remains holy until such time as it is properly disposed of. The guilt offering would be a ram without defect (v. 15). Temple tradition may suggest that the value of the ram be at least two shekels of silver. In addition, one-fifth of the value of the Lord’s holy things was to be paid by the violator (v. 16). All of this indicates that God’s view of sin differs from the human view. Many times believers offend the Lord when they are not even aware of it. Forgiveness may be needed in areas they are not even aware of.

b. Abusing Man’s Property and the Lord’s Name (6:1–7)

Unfaithfulness to the Lord can be expressed in one’s relationships with other people. When a person defrauds someone, the Lord Himself is offended.

6:1–7. Blatant and deliberate sins such as those mentioned in vv. 2–3 required restitution of the stolen property, plus a penalty of one-fifth the value of the property. Examples of how one might cheat or defraud one’s neighbor are spelled out here. One might cheat by deceiving someone about a deposit, failure to return vouchsafed properties, robbing someone, extorting goods or wealth, holding on to property that should have been returned to its original owner, or swearing falsely about any of these matters. Such sins were viewed as unfaithful acts … against the Lord (v. 2). The restitution offered by Zaccheus in the NT is illustrative of the attitude required (cf. Lk 19:2–10). The ram (v. 6) was for the expiation of the sin, and the one-fifth fine was for restitution over and above the sin. God is pleased when people acknowledge their guilt before Him and seek to make amends with those who have been injured. When a sin has been committed, reparations should be made whenever and wherever possible. A right standing with people demonstrates a right standing with God (cf. Mc 6:8).

Christ is the final guilt offering. In His death He provided for restitution, compensation, and expiation. When He gave His life as a ransom for many (cf. Mk 10:45), the fullest satisfaction possible was made to God. Nevertheless, a believer today, while trusting Christ for atonement, must make restitution when confessing a sin against another (Mt 5:23–24).

6. Additional Priestly Administrative Instructions Pertaining to the Sacrifices (6:8–7:38)

The same five offerings presented in the previous chapters are presented here in their administrative order with additional details for the priests to carry out. One difference is that the peace offering is discussed (7:11–35) in greater detail. This reflects the relative frequency of the offerings and something of the divine perspective on the offerings. Some details of the offerings relate to the priest’s handling of his own portions.

a. In the Ritual of the Whole Burnt Offering, the Priest’s Actions and Dress Convey the Availability of Access to an Ever-Present God through an Ever-Available Atonement (6:8–13)

6:8–13. The priest was to ensure that the fire kept burning continually (vv. 9, 12–13). Even the ashes and their fatty residue were to be removed to a ceremonially clean place (v. 11). A constantly burning fire ensured that the burnt offering was offered completely to God. The perpetual fire also indicated that God’s offer of atonement was always accessible, and that God was dwelling in the midst of His people for the purpose of such access. Unlike the pagan sacrificial rituals in which sexual exhibition and even intercourse were often involved, the conduct of the Israelite priest was to be modest. He was to put on his linen robe and fresh undergarments to take up the ashes, thus symbolizing God’s holiness. Those who would minister for God must be holy in all their tasks. Leaders who make provisions for others to approach God must themselves exhibit holiness in their demeanor. Today, all believers in Messiah Jesus are priests (cf. 1Pt 2:5), and should be concerned that their actions portray God’s holiness.

b. In the Ritual of the Grain Offering of the Common Person, the Priest’s Actions Should Express God’s Acceptance of Offerings Presented in Faith (6:14–18)

6:14–18. When a common Israelite brought his grain offering to the Lord, the priest was to ensure him that God accepted such faithful acts of devotion. Hence, each regulation prescribed by God must be followed with care, lest the worshiper gain the wrong impression about God. By burning a memorial part of the offering with fire (v. 15), the priest signified God’s acceptance of the offering. By himself eating a part of the offering (v. 16), the priest also demonstrated God’s acceptance of the gift in that the priest would not eat anything that might defile or profane his sanctified status (v. 18).

c. In the Ritual of the Grain Offering of the Priest, the Priest Was Expected to Demonstrate His Own Devotion to the Lord (6:19–23)

6:19–23. The high priest was to present a regular (i.e., daily, morning and evening, v. 20; cf. Heb 7:27) grain offering for himself and for the priesthood in general. The amount was about a day’s ration of grain (v. 20), or 2.3 liters. Unlike the common person’s offering, the priest had no portion to consume (v. 23); the offering was totally consumed by fire. Besides receiving offerings from God’s people, the priests themselves were to be models of faithful giving and devotion. The daily act would also serve to remind him of his consecration to the priestly role because the priest had offered such a sacrifice at his consecration. The section ends by stressing the permanence of the command (v. 22), reinforcing God’s desire that His people lead by example.

d. In the Ritual of the Sin Offering of the Priest, the Priest Was Expected to Demonstrate His Awareness of the Seriousness of Sin before God (6:24–30)

6:24–30. The sin offering was to be offered any time there was a violation of the commandments by ignorance (cf. Lv 4) as well as on these occasions: at the festival of the new moon, each day of the Passover, each day of the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, each day of the Feast of Booths, the Day of Atonement, at the consecration of the priests (cf. Ex 29:10–14), at purification rites from various types of defilement (e.g., childbirth, cf. Lv 12:6, 8; and leprosy, Lv 14:31), and when purification waters for ritual use were prepared (cf. Nm 19:1–10). The frequency of the offering may have contributed to familiarity that led to carelessness or impropriety. For this reason vv. 24–26 emphasize that the offering was to be before the Lord. The sin offering was a reminder that people sin against God every day.

The focus in this section remains on the leaders of the rituals, the priests. Each priest was required to conform to higher standards of holiness than were the common people. The emphasis on presenting and eating the offering in prescribed locations served to remind the worshipers and the priest that forgiveness came from God. The sin offering was to be eaten in God’s presence, in the court of the tent of meeting (v. 26). Priests had to go to great lengths to ensure that the ritual remained pure (vv. 27–28). Any contact with the unclean was to be avoided at all costs. Similarly, those who lead in worshiping God today must prevent defilement from entering His presence through unrepentant attitudes or unconfessed sin.

Earthenware vessels used to boil the meat eaten by the priest were to be destroyed, and bronze vessels were to be thoroughly scoured and rinsed out (v. 28). The priest was to eat the sacrifice (v. 29), but not if its blood had been brought into the tabernacle to make atonement (v. 30).

e. In the Ritual of the Reparation Offering, the Priest Reinforced Confession and Repentance of Sin (7:1–10)

7:1–5. The reparation (or guilt) offering was the gift purportedly made by only the most dedicated and spiritual of the Israelites who learned of unintended violations of God’s law and sought to make amends (cf. 5:14–19). For this reason, one may assume that it was offered less frequently than many others. One role of the priest was to convey to the worshiper that God had dealt with his sin. In this system God provided for regular confession and repentance of even unknown sin.

7:6–10. The priest who administrated this offering, as with many offerings, received some of his pay from it. God takes care of those who minister through the giving of His worshipers. This has always been God’s way (cf. Dt 25:4; 1Co 9:7–11). When offerings were scarce, as was often the case, this made obedience to His calling difficult. The Lord graciously reminded His servant that the offering is holy (cf 7:1) and must be handled properly. In faithful days the sheer number of animal skins made available from such sacrifices would enable the Levites to engage in various forms of trade to sustain their livelihood. The words every male (v. 6) refer only to the priestly community itself and not the members of their immediate families.

f. In the Administration of the Peace Offering and Its Variant Forms, the Priest Ensured the Integrity of the Offering by Instructing Laypersons concerning the Proper Consumption of the Offerings (7:11–21)

7:11–15. Here the focus changed from the sacrifices in which the priests ate a portion to the sacrifices that allowed laypersons as well as priests to consume a portion of the offering (vv. 11–36). Foremost among the common offerings are the peace offerings (vv. 11–21). Though these verses occur in the section where the priests are addressed (6:8–7:36), the instruction for laypersons was given to the priests to ensure compliance by the laity. These verses supplement Lv 3:1–17. A contribution to the Lord was required of those who celebrated being at peace with God. In addition to the sacrificial animal, the worshiper was to bring grain cakes and wafers (vv. 12–14). True worship always involves a cost. Believers should never receive from God without giving back to Him. God does not give so that believers can hoard their resources. The peace offering could be presented as a thanksgiving offering or as a freewill offering, but if it were a thanksgiving offering, it had to be consumed on the day it was offered (v. 15).

7:16–21. A votive or a freewill offering could be eaten that same day and the next day (v. 16), but anything that remained had to be burned on the third day (v. 17). Possibly the animal was to be consumed the same day it was offered in order to stress the need to recognize the benefits of God while they were still fresh in the believer’s mind. Ritual purification was essential in this offering. Nothing defiled was to come into contact with an offering to be consumed by those in covenant (v. 19). By merely touching the food, anything unclean would transfer ceremonial uncleanness. In this way the worshiper who wanted to celebrate his peace with God was reminded to maintain purity from worldly defilements (v. 21). The failure to do what was required was met with strict punishment. To be cut off from one’s people (vv. 20–21) was to be excluded from the worship rituals and perhaps even judged by death. Those who celebrate peace with God must do so openly and without hypocrisy.

g. The Priests Ensured the Layperson’s Knowledge of the Lord’s Right to the Fat and the Blood (7:22–27)

7:22–27. The fat of animals that died by means other than for sacrifice was not to be eaten (vv. 23–25). God also forbade anyone from eating the fat or the blood of a sacrificial animal, under penalty of death (vv. 25–27). To take either the fat or the blood was to plunder what was holy. The command not to eat an animal’s blood goes back to the Noahic era (cf. Gn 9:3–4). God requires worshipers to concede that the best of what they own belongs to Him. The fat represented the best a worshiper could offer, but the blood was accepted as a substitute for the worshiper’s life. To offer the blood was to offer one’s very life (cf. 17:11).

h. Through Proper Handling and Consumption of Dedicated Portions of the Peace Offering the Priests Conveyed Reverence for God (7:28–38)

7:28–34. This section designates the parts of the peace offering that belonged to the Lord and to the priests, and how each one was to be presented, manipulated, and consumed. The offerer was to bring his offerings (the fat with the animal’s breast) to the priest for its proper presentation (vv. 28–30). The raised (often called wave offering from Hb. tenupah) offering (the breast of the animal) was placed in the offerer’s hands (v. 30). Then, according to Jewish tradition, the priest would place his hands behind the worshiper’s hands and heave them upward (toward God) and downward and backward and forward to symbolize consecrating the gift publicly. In addition to the wave offering, a "heave offering" (KJV) was made (from the right thigh of the animal, vv. 32–34). The animal breast went to the priesthood, to be generally distributed among the serving priests (v. 31), and the thigh went to the priest officiating the offering (v. 32).

7:35–38. The portions for the priests increased over the centuries. An indication of this is evident in Samuel’s day, when Eli’s sons, who were priests, coveted more of the sacrifice than was due to them. Deuteronomy 18:3 states that the priest eventually received the animal’s two cheeks and stomach in addition to the shoulder.

B. Those Ordained to Present Offerings, and the Land and People They Represent, Must Demonstrate the Holiness of the Lord in Their Midst by Ensuring That All That Enters the Lord’s Presence Is Itself Holy (8:1–16:34)

1. God’s Holiness Must Be Maintained by Those Who Secure His Dwelling through the Consecration and Presentation of Themselves in Unique Holiness (8:1–10:20)

Basic to the idea of the priesthood is the revelation that the nation of Israel was a kingdom of priests (cf. Ex 19:5–6). Even before the nation was formed, others, such as Job, Noah, and Abraham functioned as priests on behalf of their families. The Israelite priests appointed here had a specialized function and specific tasks and roles, as outlined above. The command from the Lord for their appointment called for the material, participants, and congregation to be assembled prior to the actual consecration (8:1–5). This was followed by the preparation by washing, anointing, and robing of the priests (vv. 6–13). The offerings of consecration (vv. 14–29) were finalized by Moses anointing Aaron and his sons (v. 30). This was followed by a waiting period of seven days with specific instructions from the Lord (vv. 31–36). The strict obedience of Aaron and the people to the Lord’s commands was emphasized in the repeated refrain, [he] did just as the Lord commanded (cf. 8:4, 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 29, 34, 36; 9:6, 7, 10, 21; 10:7, 13, 15).

a. The Consecration of the Levitical Priests (8:1–36)

8:1–5. The priestly consecration was a public ceremony as prescribed by divine revelation. When the appropriate materials were gathered (v. 2), Aaron and his sons were taken to the tent of meeting and the congregation assembled at the doorway (v. 3). To this day, consecrating a servant of the Lord to ministry is celebrated as a community event by the people of God. Moses made a public announcement that all that was about to transpire was by the Lord’s directive. The community of believers was to know that the consecration of the Lord’s servants originated from the words of the Lord Himself (vv. 4–5).

8:6–13. The consecration ceremony began with the washing of Aaron and his sons (v. 6). The washing here is literal but has symbolic implications. It symbolically restored a person who had become soiled with the evils of life, reminding everyone that the Lord’s minister must be purified from worldly corruption.

The robing of Aaron and his sons (v. 7) was an investiture (cf. Ex 28:2). The ornate garments served as a visible reminder of the glory and honor of the invisible Lord. Wearing these clothes impressed on the priest the awesome nature of the God he served. Spiritual leaders are to reflect God’s distinctive nature even in their dress. The robe or cape worn by the high priest was a stately garment made of blue material woven in one piece and, like the tunic, it reached to the knees or slightly past them. Its hem was adorned with pomegranates made from blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, with bells between them.

Over the high priest’s robe was the ephod (v. 7, described in Ex 28:5–14), which supported the breastpiece, the most impressive of the high priest’s garments. The breastpiece represented the high priest’s mediatorial role between the people and God. Each of its twelve precious jewels represented a tribe in Israel (along with the name of each tribe inscribed on the breastplate). The Urim and the Thummim (v. 8) were objects located in the breastpiece (see comments at Ex 28:15–30). Whatever they were, they served as a means of making inquiry of God for matters beyond human comprehension.

8:14–21. In the ancient Near East, a visitor would be anointed as a sign of welcome into one’s house (cf. Ex 30:30–33; Ps 23:5). Symbolically, Aaron’s anointing (and the priestly anointing in general) signified God’s acceptance of Aaron and his welcome into "His house" and the priestly ministry. This anointing also signified Aaron’s identification with God. Since oil is associated with the Holy Spirit (e.g., Is 61:1), it is possible that the anointing also symbolized the presence of the Spirit for empowerment in his life (cf. 2Co 1:21; Lk 4:18; Jn 2:20). The oil primarily served in a consecrating function, for it was sprinkled "on the altar" and "utensils … seven times" (v. 11) to set them apart for service.

The point of vv. 14–21 is to indicate that though anointing oil may consecrate, it is insufficient of itself. Sin and burnt offerings were required of those who would represent God to the people. No one could serve as priest whose life had not been sanctified by the blood of the substitutionary sacrifice (vv. 14–17), and whose life had not been consecrated to His service (vv. 22–28). This first sacrifice (a sin offering) was for cleansing from sin (cf. Lv 4). Those who would lead must be cleansed from their sin as surely as any followers must be cleansed. The second sacrifice was a burnt offering (v. 18); no part of this sacrifice would be enjoyed by the priest. Because it was on the priest’s behalf, it was dedicated totally to the Lord. Its presence in the ceremony reminded the priest of his need to be in a constant state of fellowship with God in order to approach Him.

8:22–30. The third sacrifice was known as the ram of ordination (v. 22), which celebrated the purpose to which the priest was called. The blood of the ordination offering was applied to the priest’s right ear lobe, the right thumb, and the right big toe (vv. 23–24). These bodily areas of hearing, doing, and walking were thus consecrated to the Lord’s use. Today, the consecrated believer yields these areas of his life to the Spirit’s control and use. This passage contributes to understanding Heb 5:8–9. Jesus was "made perfect" in the sense that by His offering He was fully consecrated and dedicated to God to become the perfect High Priest, to which purpose He was called. The portions of the offering were presented as a wave offering (vv. 27–29), but they were not consumed, again, because they were made on behalf of the priests.

8:31–36. The last few verses of the chapter explain that Aaron and his sons were to remain at the tent for seven days, repeating the sacrifices to complete their ordination. Perhaps this weeklong stay was to impress on the priests the significance of their future ministry. Aaron was obedient in all this, a promising beginning to the priesthood. In spite of later failures of the priesthood in general (and Aaron and his sons in particular; cf. chap. 10), spiritual leaders were instructed not to cut corners in this ceremony. Those who lead must be obedient to all that the Lord commands. Members of the "royal priesthood" (1Pt 2:9) have no justification for selective obedience to the Lord.

b. The Inauguration of the Tabernacle Worship (9:1–24)

9:1–7. After one week of ordination service (thus on the eighth day of the priestly consecration), the community as a whole was to begin its worship. Verse 2 enjoined Aaron to prepare the sacrifices, and v. 3 called on the community as a whole to prepare according to the word of the Lord. Twice Moses expressed his confidence that the Lord Himself would appear to ratify the priestly ministry (vv. 4, 6). The glory of the Lord (vv. 6, 23) was the visible presence of the Lord among His people (cf. Ex 24:16–17; 40:34–38). Apart from the presence of the Lord, any ritual is meaningless. God makes His presence known only to obedient people. God is not satisfied when people go through the motions of worship without acknowledging the reality of His presence.

Moses mediated the inaugural ritual. The Lord required the Israelites to establish communion with Him by means of mediated substitutionary sacrifice. The priests were required to "buffer" the people from God in that they took the sacrifices before the Lord (lit., "to the face of the Lord," vv. 3–5). No brash approach to God was allowed.

9:8–21. Sacrifices were offered first on behalf of the priests for the sin or purification offering (the bull calf, vv. 8–11) and for a burnt offering (vv. 12–14). In the priestly purification offering (vv. 8–9), Aaron applied some of the blood of the bull calf to the horns of the great altar (not the same ritual as in 4:5–7, where blood was applied to the altar of incense). Again intercession for atonement always preceded communion with God. After the burnt-offering animals for the priests were killed (vv. 12–14), Aaron splashed the blood on all sides of the altar (v. 12) to purify it and to set it apart. Next, sacrifices were made on behalf of the community as a whole, including a sin or purification offering (a male goat, v. 15), a burnt offering (v. 16), a grain offering (v. 17) and a peace offering (an ox and a ram, vv. 18–21).

9:22–24. The chapter concludes with the glorious appearance of the Lord and His consuming fire to consume the sacrifices and thus validate the Aaronic priesthood. The details of the rituals have been covered earlier (see comments at 1:2–6:7), so they are not repeated here. The order of the rituals, however, is important. The sin offering preceded the others. A purity offering followed for the priests, because purity is a precondition for a mediatorial capacity before God. The culmination in the peace offering (vv. 18–21) taught Israel that fellowship with the God who condescends to dwell among them was conditioned on the full consecration of one’s person to Him through the propitiation of the sin offering. Total dedication of all of life and its substances (hence the grain offering with oil) is the only reasonable response in light of this truth. Believers continue to celebrate being at peace with God (cf. Rm 5:1). The manner or mode of the celebration may differ, but such peace has always been obtained at great cost.

Contrasts between Aaron’s Ministry as Priest and the Messiah’s Ministry as Priest

Aaron’s Priesthood Messiah’s Priesthood
Perishing sinners offered sacrifices for their own sins Lv 4:3–12; 9:1–11; 16:6ff.; Heb 8:4 Sinless, resurrected Son; no sacrifice needed for sin since He did not sin Heb 4:15; 7:27
Offered substitutes to die for their own sin and the sin of others Heb 5:1–3 Died as the Substitute for the sins of others Is 52–53; Heb 9:26; 2Co 5:21
Offered recurrent sacrifices to inaugurate, maintain, or restore a sacred space for fellowship with God Nm 28–29; Heb 9:6 Offered one sacrifice to provide access to fellowship with God (entering the holy place once) Heb 9:12, 26 (inaugural sacrifice: Jr 31:34; Heb 10:20)
Provided no expiation for sins “with a high hand” (i.e., rebellious, intentional sins) Nm 15:31 Provides expiation and a clean conscience Ac 13:39; Heb 9:14
Offered incense to protect themselves in the presence of the Lord Lv 16:2, 13 Is face-to-face with God and at the right hand of the Father, having accomplished cleansing for sins Jn 1:1; Heb 1:3

Aaron raised his hands and blessed the people (v. 22) as their mediating priest. Raised hands indicated the focus of one’s attention on God. David raised hands toward the most holy place, where God dwelt, while praising in the sanctuary (cf. Ps 28:2). Believers continue to have access to God through the mediation of Jesus Christ, their High Priest (cf. Heb 4:11–16). As God’s glory appeared (v. 23), believers found assurance of their faith in this clear evidence of God’s presence. His glory indicated His approval: this was the place where God could be seen and heard. As believers today approach God through Jesus Christ, who shed His blood for them, they may also be assured of God’s presence with them.

c. Violation of God’s Holiness and the Resultant Statutes Pertaining to Priestly Tabernacle Duties: Nadab and Abihu Offer Strange Fire (10:1–20)

Moses narrated events about Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu that occurred soon after the establishment of the tabernacle worship. Moses had prepared his readers for the events of this chapter and its prescriptions by the repeated refrain in chaps. 8 and 9, "just as the Lord had commanded Moses." The priests were required to fulfill the command of the Lord without variation. Relating this incident of the sin of Nadab and Abihu shows that God is to be treated as holy by all who draw near Him.

In addition, the placement of this event here serves a structural purpose in the book. Leviticus 11–15 is the largest canonical segment on laws about what is "clean" or "unclean," and these chapters are preceded by this account of the death of Aaron’s two sons for improperly approaching the sanctuary. Significantly, this section is followed by the Day of Atonement ritual (cf. Lv 16) where Moses referred again to the death of Aaron’s sons as part of a warning against casual entrance into the sanctuary (cf. 16:1–2). God then issued a command to conduct a sacrificial ritual to cleanse the priest first, and then to remove sin and uncleanness from both the sanctuary and the people (vv. 3–19). The point was clear: uncleanness brought peril on the whole assembly.

10:1–3. Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire (v. 1). The text is clear: which He had not commanded them. What is the nature of this strange fire and the offense of these priests? Some see a reference to a violation of the timing of the incense offering and point to Ex 30:7–8. Another view is that they made their offerings while intoxicated because in the section immediately following priests are forbidden wine or strong drink … so that [they] may not die (10:9). A third interpretation is that they brought fire from a source other than the sacred source (cf. Lv 16:12). This view focuses on the use of the word strange, which is used in other contexts of outside peoples (Dt 25:5) or those outside the priesthood ("layman," Lv 22:12; Nm 16:40). Thus, it was outside fire and is best rendered as "strange" in the sense of "unauthorized." They may have thought they had good reason for doing what they did, but God did not deem it so. As the sons of the high priest, Nadab and Abihu should have known what God required. But they did not obey, and they were consumed by a fire whose source was God Himself (possibly from the altar, v. 2). God’s servants must hold themselves to God’s standards or risk direct discipline from Him (they died before the Lord). When God prescribes obedience, a substitute or surrogate will not do. Those who would carry out God’s revealed will should differentiate between what is holy and what is profane.

10:4–7. The consequences of Nadab and Abihu’s sin extended to the manner of the disposal of their corpses and the mourning that followed (vv. 4–6). Moses prohibited Aaron and his sons from mourning for the dead, but he allowed the kinsmen to bewail the burning. Here is a most vivid picture of the truth that God does not show favoritism when it comes to sin. Aaron was not allowed to publicly mourn (vv. 6–7), even though these were his sons. Even the mourning of God’s priest was a consecrated endeavor.

10:8–11. Although it is not recorded that Aaron’s sons were drunk when they sinned, the priests were now warned against using inebriating drink when worshiping the Lord (vv. 8–9). Drunk priests could make mistakes when carrying out the rituals (v. 10) and in teaching about God’s law (v. 11). Those with an undiminished capacity to distinguish between the holy and the profane are in a better position to instruct God’s people. God’s people needed to see reverence for Him by example, so the priests were to avoid anything that could diminish their ability to carry out God’s will. Moreover, those who worship God must not wonder whether the priest is dispensing God’s work in a way he thinks best (cf. Mal 2:7–8).

10:12–15. Moses specifically instructed Aaron’s surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, to carry out the ritual of the grain and wave offerings and to eat their portions in the designated areas, as the Lord [had] commanded. The statutes given here on priestly portions (vv. 12–15) may seem like an insertion, but including them reminded the priests that God had not rejected them along with Nadab and Abihu.

10:16–20. Aaron and his remaining sons refrained from eating the sin offering, and for good reason. They were mourning the loss of their kin, and also apparently they did not want to bring further shame on the Lord’s name. Moses accepted Aaron’s explanation (v. 20). The underlying motivation behind difficult choices in life should always be the pleasure of God. The primary focus of the priests, despite the day’s events, was on self-denial and exalting God in their efforts.

2. God’s Holiness Must Be Maintained by His People in Their Presentation of Themselves and All That They Own and Do in Unique Holiness (11:1–15:33)

God is concerned that the practical, everyday, and mundane matters of people’s lives reflect His holiness. These chapters detail God’s instructions that were to govern ritual purity, that which allows or disallows access to the encampment where God had taken up His "residence." The dietary system in Israel (Lv 11) served God’s purpose in making Israel distinct from other nations by identifying pure and impure animals. The holy God differentiates between the clean and the unclean in the daily activities of His people as well as their diet. Chapters 12–15 identify human sources of impurity, their diagnosis, and ritual cleansings. The concept of clean and unclean first appears in Gn 8, where God made this distinction between the animals Noah brought on the ark. Noah also understood enough to sacrifice clean animals after the flood.

Care should be exercised in interpreting these texts, for not everything that is unclean is by nature sinful, and yet everything sinful is unclean in the sense of being unfit for entrance into the holy presence of God. In other contexts, however, uncleanness refers specifically to acts of sin (e.g., Lv 18:20, 23).

The Hebrew word for "unclean" is tame’ ("abnormal, unnatural, weak, ill") and the word for "clean" is taher ("normal, clean, pure, whole"). Uncleanness is a dominant subject in Leviticus. The word "unclean" occurs 182 times in the OT, and two-thirds of these are in Leviticus. The word "clean" occurs 92 times in the OT, and half of those are in Leviticus. Certain animals, if consumed or touched, could render a worshiper unfit to enter God’s presence. And mere contact with the corpse of an animal would render a person unfit to enter the Lord’s presence. In Lv 11 cleanness and uncleanness are discussed in relation to food. Cleanness or uncleanness that is the result of contact with a dead animal is also mentioned, but it seems that the reason the dead animal is called unclean is because one could not eat it and remain ritually pure. Even a clean animal, one allowed for consumption, could not be eaten if it were not killed in a sacrificially prescribed way. Even a ceremonially clean person, like a priest, needed to be elevated to holiness through sacrificial ritual in order to enter the Lord’s presence.

For something or someone to be clean meant that it or he was free from the abnormalities that could not by nature enter the presence of the Lord (and this included imperfection, weakness, illness, and the like). Also, certain animals were precluded from Israel’s diet and rituals. Why certain animals were considered clean and others were not is debatable. Answers include that these animals were used in pagan rituals, concern for health and hygiene, symbolic representations, and the like. However, dogmatic assertions about the reasons behind excluding certain animals and including others should be avoided. It is simply that the Lord revealed them to be "clean" or "unclean," thereby providing yet another way for Israel to be separate and distinct from the nations (Lv 11:44–45).

a. God’s People Distinguish Themselves as His People in What They Regard as Clean and Unclean, Consuming Only That Which God Has Prescribed (11:1–47)

11:1–19. Believers are commanded to be holy (Lv 11:44–45; cf. 19:2; 20:26; 1Pt 1:16), and in the OT that holiness extended even to what they ate. It may seem strange that God cares about an issue so basic as what His people eat. However, to this day in some cultures of the Middle East, people can be identified by their diet. What a Muslim may eat and what a Christian may eat can keep them from eating together at the same table. The Egyptians regarded shepherds as objectionable (cf. Gn 46:34) and would not eat with them, perhaps because of the sacred nature of some animals in their diet. In prescribing the Israelites’ diet in this way, perhaps God was also protecting His people from undesirable influences that marked pagan cultures that would surround them in Israel. Under the new covenant, Jesus declared all foods clean (cf. Mk 7:19; cf. Ac 10:10–16). As Paul reminded the Corinthians much later, everything is to be done to the glory of God, even eating and drinking (1Co 10:31).

The concept of uncleanness in Lv 11 refers to something that does not function according to its normal or expected behavior. For land animals (vv. 1–8), normal characteristics included cloven hooves (split into two sections) and cud chewing or rumination (v. 3). For aquatic animals the standard was fins and scales (v. 9). Such uncleanness should not be considered sinful as such, but unclean in the sense of physical irregularities that rendered the animals unacceptable for Israel. The camel, the shaphan (rock badger or hyrax) (v. 5), and the rabbit were declared unclean because they do not have cloven hooves (vv. 4–6; the standard of the other animals mentioned in Dt 14:4–5). The use of the definite article in Hebrew in association with these animals indicates that this refers to a class of animals. The camel was employed by many Arabic peoples as a sacrifice and its meat was eaten throughout the Middle East.

The pig … divides the hoof (v. 7), but does not chew the cud and was therefore unclean. Pigs may have been raised in Egypt during the Old Kingdom period (2700–2200 BC; cf. Harrison, Leviticus, 121–22). They were valued by settlers not only for their flesh, but also for their proclivity to root up soil in search of edibles (seeds, roots, etc.). Although they were employed for sacrifice in Canaanite worship (18th to 16th centuries BC at Tel el-Far’ah), this does not necessarily explain the prohibition here. Other animals employed in pagan worship were used in Hebrew rituals. Some have drawn parallels between the animals used in sacrifice by the Israelites and their diet. In fact, God limited what was appropriate for sacrifice, so the dietary prohibitions may follow a similar pattern.

The forward motion of fish vv. (9–12) is normally by means of fins and scales. Some marine animals do not move through the water by these "normal" means, therefore they were considered unclean. God had a strong word for the required Israelite response to such unclean aquatic animals: they were to regard them as detestable or abhorrent (both used to translate the Hb. word sheqetz used of detestable things in the sense of ceremonially unclean and therefore abominable). Birds of prey (vv. 13–19) were prohibited from the Hebrew diet because they eat flesh with its blood still in it.

11:20–23. Insects that darted about on all fours were also called detestable (vv. 20–23) but no reason was given for this. Perhaps it was because of their erratic, haphazard motion. By contrast, the locust, cricket, and grasshopper (which move by means of jumping hind legs) were permitted. Such insects were clean and formed a regular part of John the Baptist’s diet (cf. Mt 3:4).

11:24–28. Here the focus moved from living animals to dead ones. Carcasses of animals were to be considered unclean, the exception being animals appropriately slaughtered in ritual sacrifice (with the blood also properly handled). Believers who came into contact with the defilement dead animals created had to be cleansed before they could approach the holy God. All corpses pollute and contaminate because death is not natural to the presence of God. Washing and a period of isolation (until evening) were required.

11:29–38. Small animals (moles, mice, lizards, and others) situated close to the ground that swarm in hordes were also considered unclean. Pollution accompanied such swarming and affected any article, clothing, or vessel that came into contact with these creatures. This transmitted temporary uncleanness that affected persons and things, lasting until evening.

11:39–40. Even carcasses of clean animals were defiling if they died of natural causes (v. 39). The person who touched the carcass of a food animal, or ate part of the carcass, was also unclean until evening (v. 40).

11:41–47. The command to refrain from eating or touching unclean animals is stated again in vv. 41–43, followed by the reason: the Lord is holy. The believer should be holy because the God who delivered him from eternal destruction is holy. The only restriction on NT believers concerning food is love for one’s brother (cf. Rm 14:15; 1Co 8; 10). God’s redeemed people are to imitate His holiness. Verse 45 gives three reasons for avoiding unclean things: (1) God redeemed His people from Egypt—that is, they are uniquely His, (2) He is their God, and (3) He is holy.

b. God’s People Distinguish Themselves as His among All People by Virtue of Their Respect for Blood That Enters His Holy Presence (12:1–8)

12:1–5. Just as an issue as simple as food made a difference in one’s ability to approach God, matters other than food (fungi, disease, bodily discharges, etc.) could render a person unfit to approach the tabernacle. The flow of blood present after the birth of a child meant the woman was ceremonially unclean and was not to enter the sanctuary (v. 4). It required an interval of purification followed by sacrifice to restore her full participation in the sanctuary. This was not because the act of childbearing was sinful—far from it. God had commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful (Gn 1:28), and had consecrated the act of bearing children within marriage. Instead, the blood that accompanied childbirth could not be brought near the sanctuary; only sacrificial blood could be brought near, and that only in definite ways by prescribed persons. Contact with blood apart from the ritual sacrifices made a person unclean (not sinful). Just as touching a corpse made a person unfit to approach God, childbirth required a purification ritual, as this chapter relates.

On the eighth day after a male child was born, he was to be circumcised, and his mother was to be ceremonially impure for seven days. Through circumcision God reminded His people that they were set apart to Him solely by His gracious provision of election (cf. Gn 17:10–14; 21:4). In spite of human weakness, God provided continual reminders of His grace and faithfulness to believers. The birth of a female child doubled the period of impurity for the mother (v. 5). No explanation for this is given, though some speculate that the female child would someday be subject to ceremonial uncleanness through menstruation and childbirth. Whatever the case, the Lord used His sovereign right to mark this distinction between the sexes from birth.

12:6–8. Whether a mother gave birth to a boy or a girl, she was to offer a yearling lamb as a symbol of her dedication to God. Such a sacrifice underscored her status in the covenant community. Like any male, she too could relate to God personally and find acceptance in His presence. Modern readers may find such limitations for access into God’s presence unfathomable. Revelation 21:27, however, states that the unclean and impure will not enter God’s presence in the future. This seems to reflect those passages in Leviticus where God revealed what His holiness requires.

c. God’s People Distinguish Themselves as His Unique People in the Ways in Which They Deal with Disease and Contamination (13:1–14:57)

Certain skin conditions and contaminations were barriers to the camp and the place of offering. Bodily diseases were symptoms of the state of uncleanness in the human race. Translated leprosy (tsara’at, from a verb meaning "to strike") in the NASB, the scaly or reddish skin diseases listed here (vv. 2, 6, 10, 18, 30, 39) include various kinds of skin infirmities. They are not the modern medical diagnosis of leprosy (or Hansen’s disease). The translation "leprosy" derives from the third-century BC Greek Septuagint mistranslation of the Hebrew text. For the word tsara’at, the translators erroneously used the word leprosum, the adjectival form of the Greek word lepra, leading to the English mistranslation "leprosy" instead of the correct "skin disease."

All disease and sickness is symptomatic of advance toward death; they are proof of the corruption that is in the world as a result of the fall of man. The text addresses both the diagnosis and isolation of skin conditions (13:1–46), and then does the same for molds and mildews and the physical decay they create (13:47–59). The ritual of restoration for skin conditions (14:1–32) is followed by the ritual of restoration for molds and mildews (14:33–57).

13:1–46. The priest was to inspect each affliction (13:2). If a skin affliction was only suspected but not certain, the priest imposed a seven-day quarantine. At the end of this period the afflicted was examined again, and if no further degeneration was apparent he was isolated for another week, after which he could be pronounced healed (v. 17). The priest, however, did nothing to promote the cure. His rituals were performed only after the disease had passed. Later, Dt 24:8–9 charged the people to follow the authority of the priests in all matters dealing with "skin diseases" (of which leprosy would be but one form), citing the case of Miriam (Nm 12:11–15), who challenged the authority of Moses. In Miriam’s case, however, healing did not come through her brother Aaron, who was a party to the offense, but through the prophet Moses and his prayer. Healing comes from God directly (cf. Ex 15:24–26) or through his prophets (e.g., Moses, cf. Ex 15:25; Elisha, 2Kg 2:19–22; 20:7–9).

Bodily diseases separated the worshiper from the presence of God and the practice of prescribed worship (cf. Le 13:45–46). He was considered ceremonially unclean, though not necessarily sinful. It would be wrong to conclude that such diseases were indicative of God’s punishment for sin in an individual’s life. They are, however, incompatible with the presence and glory of God. They serve in this way as a "picture" of sin. Israelites could worship while sick, but could not enter God’s presence in a state that was not whole. For the chronically ill, their hope lay in their future resurrected body, which would not undergo corruption. Similarly, believers today await the time when God will make their corruptible flesh incorruptible and the mortal will put on immortality (cf. 1Co 15:53–54). The healing God grants today is a token of the promise that He will ultimately heal believers’ bodies forever.

13:47–59. When a greenish or reddish fungus growth appeared on any woolen, linen, or leather … garment, it was to be shown to the priest for his analysis (13:47–49). After seven days of observation, if the growth had spread, the garment was to be burned (v. 52). This showed that God’s concern for His people extended to the very things that touched their lives, such as their clothing. If the fungal mark had not spread after seven days, the priest ordered it to be washed. If it had not changed after a week, it was to be burned (v. 55). But if the mark had faded, it was to be torn out of the garment (v. 56); then if it appeared elsewhere, the garment was to be burned. If the mark was gone, the garment was to be washed a second time and declared clean (v. 58).

Physical decay is an outward sign of the spiritual corruption that is rampant in this fallen world. Decay, like death, was not part of God’s original purpose for His creation, and these requirements reminded the common and the great that God was still concerned about the fallen nature of His creation.

14:1–9. Chapter 14 records the rites of restoration the priests were to carry out for a person who was healed of a skin infirmity. The ritual was a public testimony of the person’s belief that God had brought about the healing. Following the priestly examination outside of the camp to verify that the infection was healed (vv. 1–3), the priest was to get two clean living birds, a cedar rod, scarlet string (actually a scrap of fabric made red from the eggs of the coccus illicus worm; cf. Ex 25:4), and hyssop. The red of the cedar and the fabric presumably depicted the blood of the life being restored. One bird was to be killed in an earthenware vessel over running water (v. 5). The living bird with the cedar, fabric, and hyssop was to be dipped in the blood of the dead bird. The priest would then sprinkle the recovered leper seven times, and release the living bird (v. 7). This ritual bears similarities to the later scapegoat ritual (cf. Lv 16), but there the release of the animal signified the departure of the affliction (through death) and the restored access to God that was then possible.

At this point the unclean person was pronounced clean, but more was required of him. He had to wash his clothes, shave, bathe, and stay away from his tent for seven days (vv. 8–9). The appearance of one following this ritual would have been a dramatic pronouncement that his life was made new.

14:10–20. These ablutions and the shaving were repeated, and then, on the eighth day the person was to offer at the tabernacle a grain offering, a guilt offering, a wave offering, a burnt offering, and a sin offering (vv. 10–13). The ritual included an anointing of oil on the right earlobe, thumb, and big toe of the restored worshiper in a manner not unlike that of the priestly anointing (vv. 15–18; cf. 8:24–27). The blood anointing (v. 14) consecrated the worshiper to his renewed tasks of serving as such, and the oil anointing served as a form of welcome back into the fellowship of the house of the Lord.

14:21–32. The alternative offerings for the poor followed the same essential ritual, while instructing the Israelites that God in His grace does not discriminate against the poor or the rich. Later rabbis taught that curing a leper was as difficult as raising a person from the dead, and that actual healings were rare. The cleansing of lepers, however, was expected as one of the signs of the messianic age as indicated in the gospels. When John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus if He was the "Expected One," Jesus replied, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Mt 11:4–5).

14:33–57. The final section of this chapter details the extent to which holiness was to extend into the lives of Israelites. Even buildings, garments, and vessels had to be cleansed. Often what people may consider mundane and unimportant has great importance to God. Sin is the source of all contamination and disease in the world. The ritual related to the cleansing of a house pointed to the holiness of the God who owns all that a believer calls his own.

That the priest performed the inspection, and saw to the removal of the afflicted stones or plaster (vv. 39–42) visually reinforced the instruction that believers should sanctify their possessions in order to please God. If the contamination occurred in the house again (vv. 43–47), the Israelite was to pull down the house and remove it from the city. Though this would have been costly and inconvenient, believers would learn that only such obedience preceded all proper sanctification. A final purification ceremony (mirroring that of the cleansing of the leper) was prescribed in order to ensure that God could come to dwell among His people (vv. 48–53). God expects believers to be pure from worldly contamination, completely honoring to Him.

d. God’s People Distinguish Themselves as His Unique People in the Ways in Which They Seek to Honor God with Their Stewardship of Their Bodies (15:1–33)

15:1–12. Leviticus 15 relates God’s prescription for separation and for sanctification in the event of unclean bodily "discharges" (from a word meaning "to flow"), whether voluntary (semen) or involuntary (menstruation). God ordained the act of procreation, and He also prescribed the circumstances under which it is appropriate. Specifically, this chapter provided guidelines for those who were ritually unclean in relation to human sexual organs, thus demonstrating that God’s concern for holiness includes all areas of human sexuality. The sexual act in marriage is not considered sinful. Some ritually impure genital emissions or ejaculations are healthy and normal during intercourse within marriage or menstruation. Only the association of the sexual act with the worship of God was forbidden.

The priests were to instruct Israelites to keep any aspect of intercourse or disease from entering God’s presence. Such instruction served as a polemic against the surrounding nations with their abuse of this gift of God in fertility rituals. Uncleanness was clearly viewed as contagious and could be transmitted to items touched by the unclean person (vv. 4–11). Anything that came close to the source of the unclean discharge was automatically rendered unclean (whether the unclean person sat or lay on the item). This included such things as beds (v. 4), furniture (v. 6), clay vessels touched by the unclean person (v. 12), and even saddles on which the person had ridden (v. 9).

15:13–33. The text also addresses the ritual of restoration of the worshiper to the divine presence for the male (vv. 13–18; first the man whose issue is abnormal, and then the normal) and then for the female (vv. 19–30, first the female whose issue is normal, and then the abnormal), before summarizing the purity regulations for bodily discharges (vv. 31–33). The aim of these regulations on ritual purity was for both health and cleansing. In contrast to other forms of uncleanness that must be inspected by the priest (Lv 13–14), individuals were required to make the necessary determinations for themselves and then to follow through with the prescribed ceremonial remedies of washing and separation from the worship site (vv. 13, 16, 21, 22, 27). Their cleansing also required the burnt and sin offerings of turtledoves or pigeons (vv. 14, 29). The sacrifice, identical in substance to the woman’s postpartum offering (cf. 12:8), removed any remaining ritual impurity. Of course, God in no way was saying that marital intercourse is impure (cf. Heb 13:4). He was simply emphasizing again the need for purity before Him.

3. God’s Holiness Requires a Particular Day of Atonement on the Part of His People and Priests (16:1–34)

At the center of the priestly manual of Leviticus, in the middle of the Torah, was the festival of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The ceremonies described here were unique among the priestly rituals. The day was a reminder that the nation’s ritual uncleanness imperiled the whole nation before God. Uncleanness defiled the Lord’s tabernacle, God’s dwelling place in their midst (cf. Lv 16:16; Nm 19:13, 20), as well as the land itself (cf. Lv 18:27). Impurity could make God’s continued dwelling in their midst impossible (cf. Ezk 9:7; 43:7). If unpurged, uncleanness could lead to an outbreak of divine wrath and ultimately the expulsion of the land’s inhabitants (cf. Lv 18:25), which in fact happened to Judah in the Babylonian exile. So various sacrifices were needed to purge uncleanness caused by sin and ceremonial impurity from the tabernacle.

16:1–19. God’s instructions to Aaron concerning the Day of Atonement began with a reminder of the death of his two sons, as recorded in Lv 10. This serves as a sequential clue. The commandments given here may have come shortly after the death of Aaron’s sons. Also, there is a logical connection. Aaron’s sons died while they were burning incense in the tabernacle. Aaron too would offer incense on this occasion (v. 12) for his own protection and in a meticulously prescribed manner. Obedience is everything in this ritual.

God made provision for a proper entry into His very presence. The preparation of the high priest was meticulous. He had to come at the proper time and bring the appropriate sacrifices for himself and the other priests (vv. 3, 6). Whereas regular priests were to rinse their hands and feet with water drawn from the holy basin (cf. Ex 30:18–21), the high priest was to bathe his entire body in preparation for this event (v. 4). After bathing, he was to wear the proper vestments reserved for this occasion and oversee the selection process of the proper animals (vv. 5, 7–10).

The fate of the two goats pictures both atonement and expiation (vv. 8–10). The high priest cast lots to determine the fate of each (v. 8). One was brought for a sin offering (v. 5). The atonement consisted, however, not only in the shed blood of the first goat (in the ritual of the purification offering [v. 9]), but also in the removal of sin and guilt by the second goat that was sent away (picturing the removal of sins; see vv. 20–22).

Impurities (vv. 16, 19) referred to deviations of morality. This day became the holiest of the year for Israelites, for on that day all the sins of the nation of Israel were atoned for by vicarious blood sacrifice. Similarly, the heart of NT worship centers on the death of Christ, the great high priest, who bore the sins of the entire human race. In a sense the Day of Atonement was the OT version of Good Friday.

Though the priest cast lots to determine the fate of the goats, the determination belonged to the Lord (lit., "which the lot has gone up on it for the Lord," v. 9). The direction given to Aaron (and later to other high priests) is that the first sacrifice is a sin offering for himself (stressed twice in v. 11) and for his household members. This was followed by placing a censer in the most holy place to create a cloud of incense smoke (vv. 12–13). Presumably the purpose of the cloud was to protect Aaron from death in the presence of God’s glory by covering the mercy seat, the lid above the ark of the covenant, that contained the Ten Commandments (cf. Ex 25:22). Then he was to bring the blood of the bull and sprinkle it once upon the side of the mercy seat and seven times in front of the mercy seat (v. 14). Aaron was then to slaughter the goat on behalf of the nation (v. 15) and apply the blood in a similar manner. He was to begin the sin or purification offering of the goat before completing the offering of the bull.

The High Priests’ Ministries and the Great High Priest’s Ministry

High Priest Great High Priest
Festivals, new moons and Sabbath days are but shadows (Col 2:17a). Christ is the substance (or reality) behind the shadows (Col 2:17b).
The high priest mediates access to God through the law (Lv 8–10). Christ is the fulfillment and end (telos) of the law (Heb 3:1–3; 4:14; 7:17–21; 9:15).
Sin offerings required repetitious death and sacrifice (Lv 4:1–35). Christ is the final Sin Offering (Rm 3:25; Heb 7:27; 9:26–28) and therefore the perfect sacrifice.
Sacrifices presented brought a cleansing to the high priest and his family (Lv 16:6, 17), to the people of Israel (16:17), and to the earthly tabernacle (16:16, 20, 33). Christ’s sacrifice cleansed the heavenly “things” of the heavenly tabernacle (Heb 9:23–5; defiled by Satan’s rebellion?) and the consciences of those who approach in faith. No cleansing offering was required for Christ Himself!
The high priest did not glorify himself by taking on this role, but was chosen (Heb 5:4). What is true of the Levitical high priests is also true of the greater high priest, Christ, who was chosen by God (Heb 5:5–6).
After the pattern of Aaron (Heb 5:4; 7:23) After the pattern of Melchizedek (Heb 7:17; 7:23–25)
Took office without an oath (Heb 7:21) Took priestly position by the Lord’s oath (Heb 7:20–28)

The purpose of the blood in this sevenfold manner was to purge the holy place from the impurities of the nation and to remove transgressions and sins from the holy of holies, which represented God’s presence. The sin or purification offering, including the special sin offering on the Day of Atonement, served to cleanse from both sin and ritual impurities (vv. 16–22). The priest was then to go to the tent of meeting, or outer sanctuary, and cleanse it with blood in a similar manner, by applying the blood of the bull and the goat to the incense altar (16:16; cf. Ex. 30:9–10). All of these actions were the activity of the high priest with no others present (v. 17). As he exited the courtyard, Aaron was to daub the blood of the bull and goat on the horns of the sacrificial altar (v. 18), re-consecrating it since the nation and its priests had brought both their sins and impurities before it all year (v. 19). The remaining carcasses of the slain bull and goat were to be burned outside the camp (v. 27), thus removing the ritual impurities of the people.

16:20–34. The ceremony of the release of the live goat (vv. 20–22) symbolized the removal of the moral faults of the community. In this ritual the high priest, Aaron in this case, represented the nation as a whole. He was to place both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess all the transgressions of the Israelites (vv. 20–21). How long might Aaron’s confession for the people’s sins have taken? One could imagine him confessing for hours. The confession of Moses (cf. Ex 32–34) gives an idea of what Aaron’s prayer might have included. This was the only ritual that required placing both hands on the animal, and only here did the priest confess sin at the same time. This action may depict a transfer of sin rather than identification with the goat. The word for scapegoat (v. 8) is Azaz’el (meaning "the goat that departs" or "the wilderness goat" or, as some suggest, the name of a demon). In that the goat is said to be "for" or "to" Azaz’el, some have seen this as a reference to a wilderness dwelling demon (cf. Azaz’el in later Jewish literature, Enoch 8:1; 9:6). In this case, the sins were sent back to their author, the prince of demons. But nowhere does the Bible commend that homage or offerings are due to demons and Lv 17:7 portrays such actions as heinous and not to be continued. Alternately, the term Azaz’el can be rendered "complete destruction." A Second Temple tradition (m. Yoma 6:6) suggests that the beast was pushed over a cliff (another meaning for Azaz’el is "rocky precipice"), or led to a mountain where it was destroyed so as to prevent its return. In this case the high priest then sent the goat away into the wilderness, taking the sins with it (vv. 21–22). This seems the best interpretation as the public nature of the event left no doubt that sin had been carried away.

Aaron then returned to the tent of meeting and removed his clothes for a second ritual bathing (vv. 23–24). Perhaps the defilement of his encounter with the scapegoat left him unfit for the remainder of his duties, and so another washing was required. This would fit with the requirement of ritual washing for the man who led the scapegoat away (v. 26). Whatever the case, after bathing a second time, the priest completed the sin offering (v. 25).

This perpetual statute (v. 29a) included a sabbath of solemn rest (v. 31). Two vital functions of life (eating and working) ceased in order to compel the worshipers to focus on the spiritual realities of life. On this one day the worshipers were to remove their thoughts from the cares and concerns of the physical world and focus on what God had provided for their spiritual lives. The animating force behind the Day of Atonement was the penitent heart of the worshiper. Atonement, which consists of the sacrifice of shed blood and the removal of sin, provides the only way for repentant sinners to approach God. Contrition was expected of those who approached God on that day, which was a day of national mourning and repentance.

Since this was also a Sabbath-day observance, it meant that no work could be done (cf. 23:26–32). Anyone who did not observe this Sabbath was to be cut off from his people (23:29). Also, this was a day when the people were to humble their souls (Lv 16:31; 23:27; cf. Nm 29:7), which possibly included fasting. This would thus be the only holy day characterized by mourning, fasting, and repentance. The chapter concluded with this call for the observance of an additional sabbath and reviewed the day as a whole (vv. 29–34). As public and impressive as these ceremonies were, they were insufficient to address sin fully (Heb 10:4). Some see the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, as covering even intentional sins, that for which no other sacrifice in Leviticus provided. It seems better, however, to view this as a "day of purgation" that removed from the camp and the sanctuary all ritual impurities and moral faults that had accumulated at the sanctuary and among the people in the previous year. In this sense, sins were expiated, but not propitiated. The propitiation awaited the final sacrifice of Messiah who could offer himself without blemish as High Priest and sacrifice (Heb 9:11–14). It is in this sense that the blood of bulls and goats could never fully deal with the human sin issue. If they could, Messiah would not have had to die.

Both of Israel’s goats for her sin offering symbolized the death of Messiah, Jesus Christ, in the years to come. The dying goat signified the death Christ died. The goat that was driven away from the camp into the wilderness never to return symbolized the Messiah’s even greater agony of separation from the Father as He bore the sins of the world (Heb 13:11–13). This OT sacrifice reflects one of the most gruesome aspects of the Lord’s atoning work as the sinner’s substitute.

The NT, particularly the book of Hebrews, stresses the superiority of the death of Jesus in contrast to the OT sacrifices. Jesus Christ is vastly superior to Aaron and to every high priest in Israel. Aaron was a sinner, but Jesus is sinless; He did not need to make an offering for Himself (cf. Heb 7:26–28). Aaron died, but Christ lives forever (cf. Heb 7:15–25).

II. Divine Instruction Ensuring the Preservation of a Holy Land and a Holy People Declaring the Lord’s Presence (17:1–27:34)

A. Reminders on Sacrificial Offerings: Sacrifice to God Alone, Treat the Blood as Holy, and Approach God in Purity (17:1–16)

Chapters 1–16 focused on God’s prescriptions for sin and ritual impurity that separated Israel from him, but chaps. 17–27 focus on commandments that have no remedies for those who violate them. Chapter 17 bridges the gap between the priestly instructions on ritual and the expected behavior on the part of Israel. The chapter presents three warnings to those who would violate God’s precepts set forth in previous chapters. First, bring all sacrifices to the Lord and no other (vv. 1–9). Second, do not eat the blood that God has assigned to specific functions (vv. 10–14). Third, do not neglect to purify yourself (vv. 15–16).

17:1–9. First, the sanctity of the sacrificial blood is set forth, as God warned the Israelites about false worship and disregard for the blood (vv. 1–4). God’s people were expected to treat the blood with reverence (as a symbol of both life and redemption). Similarly, believers today who fail to treat Christ’s blood as holy also face a stern rebuke (cf. Heb 10:19–27). Only sacrifices that are offered exclusively to the one true, living God are acceptable. God’s people must present their offerings to God alone. All slaughtering (for offerings) was to be done at the tabernacle in order to prevent sacrifice to the false gods (an act of idolatry in violation of the first Commandment). Violators were to be cut off from the community (cf. 7:20–21). The purpose behind the bringing of the offerings to the tabernacle was to put a halt to sacrificing to any god but the Lord. Here there was an association with false gods described as goat demons (v. 7). Eventually, with the establishment of the temple, the site of slaughtering was focused on Jerusalem when prescribed festivals were in view. Additional regulations (cf. Dt 12:15–16, 20–28) allowed the Israelites to eat the meat of animals in a non-sacrificial manner in their cities. But sacrificial animals had to be slaughtered in Jerusalem.

17:10–14. The life of the flesh is in the blood (v. 11), and the Lord has given blood the function of ransoming the lives of offerers who present it at the altar. Believers recognize that only God has the right to the life of all flesh. The blood, as a symbol of life and redemption, must be treated as holy by the people of God. This meant Israelites had to drain the blood of an animal that was killed in hunting. Every time blood was shed from animals, it was a reminder of God’s right to the life of all flesh. The loyal worshiper of the living God would present his offering to God alone, recognizing that life belongs to Him. The penalty for failure to observe these requirements was to be cut off (vv. 10, 14). The passage again points to Christ’s atonement. Since Christ gave His life a ransom (life for life) for many (cf. Mk 10:45), one must not trample underfoot the blood of Christ by worshiping something or someone other than the true God. Even the blood of game was not to be eaten (v. 13). God reserves for Himself the unchanging and exclusive rights to the allegiance of His people in all areas of their lives.

17:15–16. An animal that had died naturally or as the result of another animal’s predation could be eaten, but apparently not by a priest (cf. 22:8). An individual eating such meat, however, would be rendered (ceremonially) unclean.

B. Exhortations toward Community Holiness: God Is To Be Honored in the Sexual, Social, and Ethical Lives of His People, and in His Exclusive Right to Their Worship (18:1–20:27)

1. God Is To Be Honored by a Sanctified Sexuality among His People (18:1–30)

18:1–5. The Lord told Moses to warn the Israelites against the practices of the Egyptians and the Canaanites as a matter of covenant loyalty. Just as God would judge the Canaanites for their sins in this regard, Israelites who broke God’s covenant could expect the same. Because God’s people belong to the Lord, they must distinguish themselves from the pagan world by their loyalty to His commands.

God’s people must refrain from practicing the corrupt and degrading abominations of the world. This command extended to sexual practices as well as ritualistic worship. Sexual laws were to solidify Israel’s identity among her neighbors. If an alien was admitted into Israel, this would only be allowed on the condition that they not violate these established commands (cf. Lv 18:26; 20:2). Penalties for violations included death (cf. Lv 20:2, 9–16) and national forfeiture of the land (cf. Lv 18:25).

18:6–18. These verses present warnings about sexual practices that mirror the vices of the Canaanites and Egyptians (v. 3), all descendants of Ham. Sacred prostitution, incest, homosexuality, and various orgiastic rites were common in the lives of these peoples. The gods that were worshiped in Canaan were particularly debased, being devoid of moral character. Child sacrifice, snake worship, and sacred prostitution (both male and female) took place in Canaan on a scale unknown by other peoples. Israel later failed to heed these warnings and became corrupted from within.

The prohibitions are specific (more specific than many modern incest laws) and apodictic in character (You shall not …). Verse 6 begins the prohibitions with a general statement that is applied to specific situations in vv. 7–18. To uncover nakedness is a euphemism for intercourse. Close relatives are those who are literally "flesh of his flesh," that is, within one’s family boundaries. The prohibitions are straightforward and include one’s own birth mother (v. 7), stepmother (v. 8), sisters, either by birth or stepsisters (vv. 9, 11), grandchildren from either sons or daughters (v. 10), uncles or spouses of uncles (v. 14), daughters-in-law (v. 15), or sister-in-law (v. 16), and a mother and her daughter or grandchildren (v. 17). These relations are summarily described as lewdness (indecent or shameful).

18:19–23. Some have suggested (e.g., Roy Gane, Leviticus, Numbers, NIVAC [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004], 320–21) that the cases in vv. 19–23 are five laws grouped according to the commonality of the misuse of one’s seed (semen). Intercourse with a menstruating woman rendered a man unclean. The list expanded outward to prohibit approaching a woman who is a neighbor’s wife (v. 20) for the same reason. Such an action was a violation of Ex 20:14, and was also a misuse of the stewardship of one’s body within the covenant of marriage. This prohibition is surprisingly placed alongside a prohibition against giving one’s offspring … to Molech (v. 21) for purposes of child sacrifice. Homosexuality and bestiality are explicitly condemned in vv. 22–23. Later, Lv 20:13, 15–16 repeats these commands and adds the death penalty. Gane puts it well: "Our task here is to understand what the Bible says, not to rewrite it. Whether we like it or not, the Bible is simply not bound by modern Western constraints of political correctness" (p. 321). The condemnation extended to the morality of the action itself—not merely its association with pagan worship.

18:24–30. God’s people must remember that the holiness of God requires that He impart judgment on the base practices of the pagans. Those who live abominable lives will be held responsible for their actions by God. Likewise, God’s people today must remain loyal to their covenant God and not become involved in the practices of the world, or they will suffer discipline for their sins. In OT theology the sins of the people fell not only on the persons themselves, but also had ramifications for the land (v. 27). Since the land itself was God’s holy property (cf. Ex 19:5; Lv 25:23), profane actions on that land had profound implications. The land itself would spew them out (v. 28) and the violators would be cut off from God’s covenant people (v. 29).

The Jerusalem Council in Ac 15 followed the course of Levitical instruction in these chapters in highlighting areas of offense that Gentile Christians were to avoid. That list included eating things offered to demons (cf. Lv 17:3–9), eating blood in improperly killed meats (Lv 17:10–14), and sexual immorality in general (Lv 18). There seems to be no good reason to suggest that Christians are exempt from these stipulations, though they are free from the power of sin inherent in them through Christ (cf. Rm 6).

2. God Is To Be Honored by the Sanctified Social and Ethical Practices of His People, and Is To See His Holiness Reflected in Their Lives (19:1–37)

19:1–4. Again, the instructions to Moses from the Lord were for all of the assembly of Israel (v. 2). Bound up in the nature of these laws is the nature of the God who gave them, and in keeping them Israel would reflect her Lord. God called for Israel to emulate Him in holy (set apart, consecrated) practices that distinguished them as bearing His family likeness (v. 2). The people of Israel were to lead righteous lives, not merely observe rituals and sacrifices. One might wrongly assume from the extent of the rituals that sacrifice alone sufficed to relate to a holy God. Leviticus 19 highlights many seemingly isolated laws related to this truth. The Decalogue is summarized in a threefold set of commands: Keep the law: Revere your parents, keep the Sabbath, make no idols (vv. 1–4). Celebrate God’s goodness in worship: Offer peace offerings (v. 5). Care for the needy: Make provision for the poor in gleaning (vv. 9–10).

God is intrinsically separate from evil, so God’s people must conform to His holiness and keep His commandments that lead away from evil. A faithful believer recognizes and respects the rightful place of authority granted to his parents by God’s own authority (v. 3a). The command to keep My Sabbaths (v. 3b) meant observing them according to commands governing this special day. Doing so demonstrated loyalty to God who established the covenant that included a Sabbath provision for man (cf. Ex 20:8–11). And since God was the one true God and Israel’s Lord, it was wrong to cast molten gods as idols.

19:5–8. The ritual for the peace offering, which was given in detail in Lv 3:1–17 and 7:11–21, is mentioned here as a reminder to the believers that even peace with God must be celebrated in holiness and with attention to God’s explicit commandments. If some of the offering was not eaten till the third day, the offerer would be cut off from his people (v. 8).

19:9–18. Believers exhibit Godlike social behavior when they provide for the needs of those less fortunate than themselves (vv. 9–10). The extent of a person’s generosity could be seen in the amount of grain he left in his fields for gleaning for the needy and the stranger. Similarly, one’s priorities today can be seen in the entries in one’s checkbook.

Believers deal with one another in good faith. They do not steal (v. 11; cf. Ex 20:15). They are honest and fair in their business and personal ethics (vv. 11–16) because God is just and His character shapes their daily decisions. Swearing falsely does not characterize their words (v. 12; cf. Ex 20:16). God is not a companion to fraudulent oaths. Believers do not extort and withhold wages that are due (v. 13). Similar prohibitions against extortion are in Dt 24:14–15 and Pr 22:16. Believers do not presume on others’ possessions willfully or by violent force. Everyone is to be treated fairly by believers. One should never take advantage of anyone. Believers are also to respect the deaf and blind (v. 14).

Believers also do not exercise partiality in their judgments (v. 15). A person’s status in society was not a basis for favoritism (whether poor or rich). Righteousness requires impartiality toward everyone and the avoidance of tale-bearing. Loving others means that believers do not bear personal grudges and hatreds (vv. 17–18). These laws reinforced the underlying principles of the Ten Commandments, but they went further by extending them to situations beyond the context of Ex 20.

19:19. Why this verse groups together a number of seemingly unrelated commands is not clear. Verse 19 prohibits breeding two kinds of plow animals, two kinds of seed, and disparate cloths like wool and linen. Perhaps the reason for these commands was to remind God’s people that they were separated to Him. They were to conform to God’s holiness by keeping the distinctions that God made. Similarly, Israel was prohibited from mixing oils and incenses like those used in the tabernacle (cf. Ex 30:32–38).

19:20–22. If a man lay with a female slave, his sin could be expiated through a guilt offering of a ram.

19:23–25. After the Hebrews entered the land and planted fruit trees, they were to refrain from eating the fruit for three years, dedicate the fruit of the fourth year to the Lord, and then eat from the trees in the fifth year. The fourth year’s fruit was especially dedicated to the Lord as a form of a firstfruits offering. This recalls God’s words to Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (cf. Gn 2:17). Believers who recognize God’s ownership of everything are willing to worship Him no matter what He may require of them.

19:26–31. This section likely refers to practices of religious cults of the dead (cf. Dt 14:1–2; Jr 16:6; Am 8:10). Literally the Hebrew of v. 26 reads, "You shall not eat on the blood." This may not be a repetition of the prohibition against eating blood, or it may be a warning against being involved in some aspect of pagan worship. Pagan practices, such as cutting one’s hair and beard (Jr 9:25–26; 25:23), or making tattoo marks on one’s body (v. 28), were an abomination to the Lord. Prostitution (v. 29), divination (vv. 26, 31), and consulting mediums (v. 31; cf. Lv 20:6) were also forbidden. It is important to separate oneself from pagan practices and thus to maintain the distinction of being God’s child.

19:32–37. Believers are expected to conform to God’s holiness by demonstrating kindness and justice to others. This includes treating the aged with dignity and those less fortunate (such as resident aliens) with kindness (vv. 32–34), and dealing ethically in business matters (vv. 35–37). Though weights and measures are not at the forefront of business ethics today, packaging smaller portions of products in grocery stores offers less to the consumer for the same price. The problem is not in offering less, but in presenting it as though it were of the same value.

Thus, in Lv 19 God’s people were to demonstrate conformity to His holiness by keeping His commandments (the letter of the law), by relating to others in love (the spirit of the law), by living according to His standards of separation from the world (the requirement of the law), and by demonstrating His kindness and justice to others (the heart-application of the law).

3. God Is To Be Honored by the Exclusive Nature of the Sanctified Worship and Family Practices of His People (20:1–27)

This chapter details punitive prescriptions for Israel in dealing with pagan religious (idolatrous) sins and sexual (incestuous, bestiality) sins uncovered in the covenant community. Chapter 18 identified and prohibited certain dangerous actions that brought defilement to the land, and chap. 20 identifies the penalties for such actions. There were penalties for offenses committed against the Lord (vv. 1–8), and for offenses among the Israelite family (vv. 9–21). The order of the prohibitions, though at first puzzling, is according to the punishments prescribed. Verses 9–16 list actions meriting the death penalty, vv. 17–19 list offenses meriting being cut off, and vv. 20–21 mention offenses that result in barrenness or childlessness.

20:1–8. Grave sins were to receive the death penalty (e.g., by stoning, v. 2), a measure designed to render such practices inoperative. Those who worshiped Molech did so through presenting their children (cf. 18:21) to him either sacrificially or sexually (vv. 2, 4). Molech was the god of the Ammonites who lived in the Transjordan (cf. 2Kg 23:10; Jr 32:35). Those who were involved in such acts showed utter disregard for the stewardship of the precious life God entrusted to parents. Further, such actions defiled the tabernacle (God’s sanctuary) and God’s own reputation (name, v. 3).

This chapter also enumerated the many sinful practices that emanated from false worship including spiritism, disrespect for parents shown through cursing (invoking the "gods" to bring evil on one’s parents), adultery (the destruction of an Israelite home), incest, homosexuality, and bestiality (common in the ancient Near East). Even today, too many ministers treat the symptoms of unbelief (a pagan lifestyle) with a series of lists (legalistic prescriptions), when they should be confronting the root of the problem, namely, that false worship leads to false conduct.

Religions of the ancient Near East were rife with magic and superstition, including necromancy and veneration of various demons (vv. 2–6). These verses warn against false worship of Molech, in which child sacrifice was performed, and spiritism. Believers must refuse pagan beliefs if they are to develop a life of holiness to the Lord. One should recognize throughout this chapter the repeated refrain/promise of divine judgment for moral failures: I will cut him off from among his people (vv. 3, 5–6). One should also recognize the repeated incentives of the Lord’s identity (I am the Lord your God; vv. 7, 24) and His holy character (vv. 8, 26).

Necromancy (v. 6) involved conjuration for the purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of future events (cf. 1Sm 28:7). Such practices were compared to prostitution, a violation of covenant. Those who provided such services were sentenced to capital punishment. The basis for the commandments in this section, as for the section as a whole (beginning in chap. 18), was reinforced through a reminder of the Lord’s holiness (vv. 7–8). God’s exhortations to keep His laws have been stated frequently (cf. 18:4–5, 26; 19:37).

Here, however, is the first instance in Leviticus where God is identified as the one who sanctified Israel (I am the Lord who sanctifies you, v. 8). As the Israelites observed His statutes, He sanctified them. With this reminder of God’s call to be holy, believers must shun both pagan beliefs and practices if they are to lead a life of holiness to the Lord. Worship and service will eventually affect the lifestyle of those practicing it. If one believes and worships like a pagan, eventually one will live like a pagan. The solution is not to merely stop living like a pagan; that deals only with the surface issue. The solution is to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth (cf. Jn 4:24).

20:9. Cursing one’s parents was prohibited under penalty of death. This followed the law on holiness because of the place of honoring one’s parents given in the fifth Commandment (cf. 19:2–3). Such cursing meant more than uttering a word in anger. "To curse" was the opposite of "to honor." To honor meant investing one’s parents with the weight of authority and attention that was due to them. To curse meant making light of their authority or treating them as despicable. In the process, one might invoke the "gods" to afflict one’s parents. Cursing one’s parents was a capital crime (cf. Ex 21:17; Pr 20:20; Mt 15:4), though rabbinic custom indicates that it was seldom, if ever, enforced. God designed His laws so that exhortations to obey Him follow verses that refer to familial relationships. If one honors one’s parents, many of the violations noted here will not take place.

20:10–21. The sins listed in vv. 10–21 are essentially the same sins elaborated in chap. 18. Here the emphasis is on the penalties prescribed for such offenses. Capital crimes included adultery (v. 10), incest between a man and his father’s wife (v. 11), incest between a man and his daughter-in-law (v. 12), male homosexuality (v. 13), and bestiality (vv. 15–16). Though these sins are private, they are an offense to the Lord.

Capital punishment for man and beast was prescribed both for male and female acts of bestiality (vv. 15–16). God created the world with order (Gn 1–2), and these activities were violations of God’s intent when He created sex. All the violations of near relatives (vv. 17–21) in uncovering their nakedness were outside of God’s design and blessing. Though approaching a woman in her menses has been noted before (cf. 15:24; 18:19), this was the first time punishment (being cut off from Israel) for that act was mentioned.

20:22–27. The final section of this chapter highlights the relationship of the Lord to His sanctified land, and His expectation that His people distinguish themselves from other nations. God’s "sacred space" was not only in the tabernacle, but also in the land He had reserved for His tabernacle. Israel’s privileged position within the land was contingent on their obeying the Lord’s statutes. He had separated them for this purpose (v. 26), and His expectation and demand was that they act as though they belonged to Him, for indeed they did.

C. Things or Persons That Are Holy (Set Apart) with Instruction to Maintain Their Holiness (21:1–27:34)

1. Matters Related to the Defilement or Disqualifications of the Priests or the Holy Offerings (21:1–22:33)

a. Priestly and High Priestly Qualifications (21:1–24)

Thus far in the instructions from the Lord, the exhortations to holiness have been directed to the people as a whole (cf. 17:2; 18:2; 19:2; 20:26). Chapters 21–22 are concerned with three matters related to the defilement or disqualification of the priests and the qualities needed in animals for sacrifice.

The structure of these chapters reinforces the central point driven home for the priests in 22:1–16 that God’s holy sanctuary must not be desecrated:

A. Qualifications rendering priests eligible for service (21:1–15)

B. Defects rendering priests ineligible for service (21:16–24)

C. Preserving the sacred space from desecration (22:1–16)

B’. Defects rendering animals ineligible for sacrifice (22:17–25)

A’. Qualifications rendering animals eligible for sacrifice (22:26–33)

The force of this structure focused on the central section (C), emphasizing the priestly requirement to keep the sacred space in the tabernacle free from desecration. This compelled the priests to maintain vigilance in their enforcement of standards for maintaining the sacred space in which God was approached. The lesson extended to the whole of the encampment: If God is present with sinful man, only divinely appointed conditions make this possible.

21:1–15. In the priests’ relationship to other Israelites, particularly in marriage, the potential for defilement needed to be addressed. A priest could incur defilement by contact with death (vv. 1–3), by means of self-mutilation or shaving the head (v. 5), by means of unsanctioned marriage (vv. 4, 7–8), or by physical imperfections (vv. 16–24). Those who minister in God’s presence have been given a higher standard than others. God’s servants must lead lives that can be fully commended to the conscience of others.

For purposes of ministry, their contact with death (v. 11) was limited because death, as the final curse for human sin, was defiling and prevented one from entering the Lord’s presence (cf. Nm 19:11–22). The priest was to perpetuate hope and purity in the eyes of the people of God by holding himself aloof from the ritual defilement that came by mourning and death. As a priest he must stand ready to mediate at all times. His fellowship with the Lord was his highest intimacy, transcending even his relationship to near kin. Shaving the head, mutilating the beard, and fleshly mutilation were aspects of Canaanite mourning rituals forbidden to the priests (cf. Jr 9:26; 25:23; Ezk 5:1).

The priest must exemplify the purity of the Lord’s covenant in his marriage (vv. 7–9, 13–15). The priest could not marry a prostitute, a divorced woman (v. 7), or a non-virgin, or even a widow (vv. 13–14). The reputation of a priest’s wife must not detract from her husband’s fitness to minister in holy matters. He was to be pure and blameless, exemplifying the ideal marriage for the people. In fact, in an important sense all Israelites were priests (the nation was to mediate the blessing of Abraham to the world), and yet God set a higher standard for the tabernacle priests. Similarly, the NT includes passages that demand higher standards for elders and church leaders (cf. 1Tm 3:1–13). Those who lead in corporate worship, teach people the Word of God, and serve as God’s representatives must lead lives that are exemplary in every way.

The same was true of the priests’ families. They were to meet higher standards in their conduct. If a priest’s daughter was found to have engaged in harlotry (false worship), she was to be burned as an indication of the desire of Israel to purge the nation of the evil associated with false worship (v. 9).

In vv. 10–12 the focus shifted from the priest to the high priest while applying the same principles. He had already been distinguished from his fellow priests by means of his anointing and his garments. The high priest was required to hold to a higher standard: unkempt hair or an uncovered head might communicate that his head did not belong to God, in contrast with the significance of the anointing oil (v. 10). No acts of devotion, even toward a deceased mother or father (v. 11), were allowed. He was required to marry a virgin of his own people lest he profane his descendants (v. 15) and disqualify them from office. All these external indicators were intended to show that his allegiance was to the Lord alone. Of course, the heart of the priest was supposed to reflect that same desire, but selfish desires negate any external actions. Only Jesus, the great high priest who entered the sanctuary and offered a sacrifice once for all time (Heb 10:14), demonstrated a fervor to the Lord that fulfilled this imagery.

21:16–24. The man of God had to be fully qualified to perform his duties, reflecting the perfections of the Lord Himself. The priests themselves had to be without physical imperfections or blemishes (vv. 16–23). This qualification is identical to that of the sacrifices and offerings in Lv 22:17–25. Just as the animals for sacrifice were to be without defect (22:17), so the priest was to be of perfect heart (wholehearted and sincere). Deformities do not reflect the original perfection of God’s creation. God’s mediators were required to be examples to the people. He could not demand purification from defilement and disease if he was in defilement himself.

Such imperfections, while preventing priestly service, did not prevent the descendants of Aaron from consuming their allotted portions (vv. 22–23). Can religious leaders call for obedience and purity in their followers if they themselves are living below that standard? The OT requirement dealt with physical features because the ritual laws required physical wholeness for tabernacle/temple worship. In the church we are concerned about the proper gifts and moral character of those who lead the worshipers. For this reason many ought to be disqualified even if they desire or seek such positions of authority.

The issues in chaps. 21–22 that mark the highest obstacle to holiness relate to one’s family relations. This remains true for believers today. Jesus taught that they should be willing to leave father and mother and take up their cross and follow Him (cf. Mt 10:37–38).

b. Rules to Preserve the Holiness of Offerings to the Lord (22:1–33)

22:1–16. God’s ministers must remain clean if they are to participate in spiritual service. Moses issued a warning that priests ought not eat the bread of sacrifice if it was defiled by some uncleanness. The priests’ proximity to holy things made them the most likely perpetrators of the offense. A spiritual leader who is not spiritual himself (because of sins, unworthy eating, or the like) ought not lead other people spiritually (cf. Lk 6:39–42). Part of the holy things was given to the priests as their stipend (vv. 1–2; cf. 6:14–18; 7:6, 35–36). The priests were responsible to ensure that the holy things entrusted to them were properly used. Only those who were truly dependent on a priest (e.g., a slave or widowed daughter, vv. 11, 13) were allowed to eat the holy things—no alien, hired man, or sojourner was allowed, lest the holy be mixed with the common. In God’s economy, leaders will be held accountable for their stewardship. That includes their personal cleanliness (vv. 4–6). The penalty for failing to follow the instruction was death (v. 9).

If a person such as a guest of any priest (v. 10) somehow inadvertently ate of the sacred foods, he was required to restore the sacred food plus 20 percent (v. 14). The priest’s family members benefited from the priest’s portion (v. 11), but they disqualified themselves from this portion by marrying outside the priestly line (v. 12). Every bite of food provided for the priests was treated as a holy trust. God’s ministers must not squander or misappropriate gifts from God’s people (cf. 1Tm 6:7–11).

22:17–33. The instructions given in 22:17–30 address not only the priests, but also the Israelites who were selecting appropriate sacrifices to bring to the sanctuary. One can only imagine how tempting it was at times to offer less than what the Lord required. The standards for safeguarding the holiness of the sacrifice during the ritual of worship for the burnt offering (vv. 17–29) and peace offering (vv. 21–30) were prescribed for the priests as well as for the congregation. The requirements for the animal in an acceptable sacrifice were detailed; these were reminders to the priests and people that God is to be approached only by those who offer their best. To offer any less is to misrepresent God’s character.

Obedient worshipers still approach God with a pleasing sacrifice (cf. Rm 12:1–2). What folly to act in pious hypocrisy and to give God something worthless! An astute person might figure that he could take a business loss on a deformed animal and give it to the Lord in an act of spiritual beneficence. The apparent reason for the reiteration of the rules pertaining to these sacrifices here was to reinforce that the imperfect cannot be presented when God requires what is perfect. The sacrifices must reflect the condition of the offerers’ hearts, and the priest was charged with ensuring and reinforcing this condition.

Faithful worshipers were to comply with the requirements of the holy God who sanctified them (vv. 29–33). Those who wish to worship the redeeming, sanctifying Lord God must make acceptable offerings to Him. Only the truly excellent should be brought to God (2Co 8–9; Php 4:10–20; 1Pt 2:5; Eph 5:2; Heb 13:15–16). The standards for a perfect sacrifice anticipate the final and ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ. He was completely free from any sin (cf. Heb 9:14), a Lamb without blemish or spot (cf. 1Pt 1:19; Jn 1:29; Rv 5:6; 7:9; 12:11; 13:8; 15:3; 17:14; 19:9; 21:22). The last verses (vv. 31–33) were a plea to honor the Lord’s name, since He is the one who sanctified the nation.

2. Calendric Convocations: Stipulations Ensuring That Israel Sanctifies Time to the Lord (23:1–44)

This section is one of five festal calendars in the Torah (cf. Ex 23:14–17; 34:18–26; Nm 28–29; Dt 16:1–7; but cf. Ezk 45:18–25). The calendars in Leviticus and Numbers clarify the duration of each festival and pinpoint their starting points. Leviticus 23 identifies seven appointed meeting times, beginning with the Passover and ending with the Feast of Booths. The first three feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits occurred in rapid succession in the spring of the year over a period of eight days. These later came to be referred to collectively as "Passover." The fourth feast, Harvest, occurred fifty days later at the beginning of the summer. By NT times this feast had come to be known by its Greek name, Pentecost, a word meaning "fifty" (cf. Ac 2). The last three feasts—Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles—extended over a period of 21 days in the fall of the year (the seventh month). They came to be known collectively as "Tabernacles."

23:1–3. In the institution of the Sabbath law, God’s people were encouraged to esteem and worship their Creator by imitating His rest in creation. In honoring the Sabbath, God’s people proclaimed His sovereignty over their lives (cf. Ex 20:3). Some kinds of work not permitted on the Sabbath were detailed in the Torah. They included food preparation (cf. Ex 16:23), plowing and harvesting (cf. Ex 34:21), and making a fire or gathering wood (cf. Ex 35:3; Nm 15:32–36). In this way the Israelites avoided being preoccupied with worldly affairs. Here God was willing to meet with man where he was (in all your dwellings, v. 3), rather than at the sanctuary. For believers today, Christ is their ultimate rest (cf. Heb 4:3–11).

Based on this passage and others in the OT, the Israelites came together on the Sabbath (Saturday), ceased their work, and worshiped God. Of the ten commandments listed in Ex 20:1–17, only nine of them were reinstituted in the NT. (Matthew 19:18–19 repeats murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, honoring parents, and, implicitly, worshiping God; Rm 13:9 cites coveting.) Worshiping God properly covers the first three commandments. The one commandment that was not reaffirmed was the Sabbath. Instead, Jesus said that He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mt 12:8).

Following His creative work, God rested on the seventh day. The all-powerful God does not get tired or need to take a break and rest. He ceased from labor for the simple reason Jesus cited in Mk 2:27: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." God established the Sabbath as a rest for His people who are mortal and need a time to focus on God. In this, human spirits and bodies are both renewed. The OT law required keeping the Sabbath as part of the moral, legal, and sacrificial system by which the Israelites satisfied God’s requirements for behavior, government, and access to God. The Sabbath was part of the law in that sense. In order to "remain" in favor with God, one kept the Sabbath. If it was not kept, then the person was in sin and faced possible punishment (cf. Ex 31:15; Nm 15:32–36).

With Messiah’s atonement, and justification by faith (Rm 5:1), Christians no longer are required to keep the law and hence the Sabbath, which was only a shadow of things to come (Col 2:16–17). Believers in Christ are not under law, but grace (Rm 6:14–15). The Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus because in Him there is rest (Mt 11:28). New covenant believers are not under obligation to keep the law and this goes for the Sabbath as well. Nevertheless, the wisdom of a weekly day of rest and spiritual rejuvenation remains appropriate. It no longer need be on the seventh day (Rm 14:5), but it would be wise to include a rest and worship day on a weekly basis.

23:4–8. In the Passover and Unleavened Bread, God’s people were to recall His acts of mighty deliverance on their behalf by remembering their Egyptian bondage and the exodus. Recalling the faithfulness of God on behalf of believers in specific historical celebrations is thus a commended practice. The Israelites were to eat unleavened bread for a week, cease from ordinary work, and (a requirement not stated in Ex 12:15–16) present a burnt offering to the Lord (v. 8). The presentation of an offering that was totally burned symbolized the obliteration of one’s own self-centered nature. Believers today should consider that Christ, as their Passover Lamb (cf. 1Co 5:7), has been sacrificed for a similar purpose for them (cf. Rm 6:6).

23:9–14. In the offering of the first fruit sheaf, God’s people were to recognize His provision and offer praise from their material goods. Here the first grain sheaf was presented as a wave offering (v. 11; cf. Lv 7:30). The waving of the sheaf signified the acceptance of the worshiper, but also since it was presented on the eighth day it signified a new beginning. Presented on the first day of the week, it pointed worshipers to the total dedication of the year’s produce to the Lord.

23:15–22. The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost was a time of thanksgiving for God’s provision. Believers gave to Him a token of their best and shared their abundance with the needy. This offering came seven weeks after the Firstfruits offering (v. 16). In this firstfruits offering they brought what the grain offering had made possible: loaves of bread (v. 17). The church began on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection (cf. Ac 2:1). God gave the Holy Spirit to signify the fulfillment of Christ’s work and the beginning of the Church Age. The addition of the peace offering (v. 19) to the ritual stressed the fellowship between God and the redeemed.

23:23–25. For the Israelites, the blowing of trumpets represented God calling to His people (cf. Nm 10:1–10) to prepare for a holy assembly. God regularly calls His children away from their labor and into His holy assembly where they may worship Him. The first day of the seventh month (Tishri), Rosh Hashana (head of the year), was a day of particular preparation (v. 24) for the coming feasts of Atonement and Booths. The people were to abstain from work and present an offering … to the Lord (v. 25). Some say the trumpet of this feast depicts the trumpet that will signal the rapture of the Church (cf. 1Th 4:16; 1Co 15:52). Others see it as a reference to the end-time regathering of dispersed Israel.

23:26–32. On the day of Purgation or Atonement, God obligated His people to convene in His presence to find spiritual renewal by humbling themselves, refraining from work, and entreating Him on the basis of the efficacious atoning sacrifice. The Day of Atonement was to be celebrated on the tenth day of the seventh month (v. 27). The day actually began on the evening of the ninth day of the month and extended to the evening of the tenth day (v. 32). Later rabbinic tradition carried this timing to all special days.

23:33–44. The people, once in the land, must never forget the hardships of their temporary dwellings in the wilderness (vv. 42–43). In the wilderness they experienced God’s guidance. Living in booths for a week was also a reminder of the selfishness and self-indulgence that too often characterized the nation in its Egyptian bondage. Several prophets borrowed imagery from this feast to relate it to the coming reign of the Lord (cf. Is 52:7–13; Mc 5:1–4). This feast will be celebrated during the millennium (cf. Zch 14:16), presumably as a remembrance of God’s deliverance through the Messiah. Remembering God’s dealings in the past encourages believers to trust Him in the present.

3. Things To Be Treated as Holy in the Service of God: Bread, Oil, and the Sanctity of the Divine Name (24:1–23)

24:1–16. Along with holy times, Israel was to maintain holy objects in the presence of the Lord. These included oil for the lamps in the sanctuary and the bread to be placed on the table there. Bread as food and oil for light, as essential reminders of God’s grace toward man, were maintained in the daily service of the tabernacle.

The rituals pertaining to the bread and oil served as reminders to the priests and to all who approached that a divine King was in residence at the tabernacle (cf. Nm 23:21). The tabernacle, and later the temple, were places of worship, but they also signified the residence of the Lord among His people (Solomon later recognized this, cf. 1Ki 8:27–29). Tending lamps, burning incense, and giving grain offerings paralleled the kinds of services performed for earthly kings. Though the Lord did not consume the bread, it was there to remind His people that He was the source of their livelihood.

The sons of Israel brought the oil to supply the lampstand (cf. Ex 27:20–21). The perpetual presence of the oil (beaten, not crushed, for purer quality) reminded believers that devoted service to the Lord ensures that the way of access to Him is forever open.

The bread is called "showbread" in the KJV. The NASB has "bread of the Presence" in Nm 4:7, which is literally "bread of the face." This may have reminded the priests that God’s people could enjoy continual communion with their Lord. Regular meals were a time of communion and fellowship. Fresh unleavened bread was placed on the table each Sabbath (vv. 8–9). The priests’ partaking of this bread may have symbolized that all members of the twelve tribes were in fellowship with their God. Though it was God’s "food" in the sense that it was devoted to Him, it was not considered divine sustenance.

Alongside the holy objects, an account is given of a person who blasphemed the Name of the Lord (v. 11). This is the second of two narrations in the book (cf. Lv 10:1–20). This story served to reinforce the theme of holy matters. When the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father blasphemed the name of the Lord (a violation of Ex 20:7; cf. Ex 22:28), that person was to be stoned. God’s desire to dwell among His people required that they be vigilant about the sanctity of the divine name. The "name" of the Lord is far more than an identification label. It refers to His nature, His person. This Israelite should have known better than to use God’s name in a curse. God’s justice demanded that the blasphemer be judged. As a result he was stoned to death outside the camp by the congregation.

How should believers treat the name of the Lord? The words "Hallowed be Your name" (Mt 6:9) mean "May Your name be holy." Believers must speak and live with concern for God’s reputation. All that many people will ever know of God is what they hear and see in believers’ lives.

24:17–23. Chapter 24 closes with penalties for various violent actions. The penalty for murder is death (v. 17). God had made a distinction in Ex 21:12–14 between murder and manslaughter. Those who engaged in violent acts were liable to find themselves facing violent punishment (an eye for eye, v. 20). Although these retributive laws are often seen as cruel and unusual, their purpose was to preserve justice and limit vengeance. The point was to have the punishment fit the crime rather than meting out the death penalty in response to an injury. Whether native born or alien (v. 22), each was to take care to honor the name of the Lord.

4. The Land as Holy in the Service of God: Regulations for the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee (25:1–55)

This chapter again considers holy times, not from the abbreviated schedule of the feasts of chap. 23, but from the standpoint of the consecration of an entire year (once in six years and once in fifty years). The Lord spoke to Moses again and addressed the Israelites on the sanctity of the land He had promised them. Chapter 25 addresses the Sabbath and Jubilee regulations, and chap. 26 states that the penalty for failure to obey was exile from the land.

25:1–7. The Sabbath year was to be celebrated commencing with Israel’s conquest of Canaan (vv. 2–3). Every seventh year was to be reserved by the Israelites to acknowledge the Lord’s provision in a Sabbath rest for the land in which the land was to revert to its natural state. All agricultural processes were to be suspended and the land was to lie fallow. Whatever grew was to be shared by all. God encouraged the people to share His bounty with one another as they exhibited their strict dependence on Him in this act of obedience (v. 6). Like the manna in the wilderness, the unharvested bounty served as a reminder of their need for the Lord’s daily provisions (see vv. 20–21). Sadly, the nonobservance of this command led in subsequent years to Israel’s captivity, in which the land observed its Sabbaths without the presence of the people of the covenant (2Ch 36:21; Jr 25:11).

25:8–19. Stipulations for the Year of Jubilee (fiftieth year) are set forth in vv. 8–19. The admonitions set forth here related to the impoverished Israelite and the expectation that others in the nation would provide for his need. Verses 8–12 consider the accounting for the Year of Jubilee. Proceeding by sevens in terms of years, the fiftieth year (the Year of Jubilee) coincided with the first year of the next cycle of seven years. In other words, there was a two-year Sabbath rest for the land required at that time. Five years of normal agricultural work followed the Year of Jubilee, and then another Sabbatical Year.

In the celebration of the Jubilee year, all property was to be returned to its original owners (v. 13). This related to situations where Israelites might need to sell their land because of poverty. The guiding principle is stated in vv. 14 and 17: you shall not wrong one another. The value of the payment in receiving the use of the land was calculated on the basis of the proximity of the Year of Jubilee (vv. 15–16). The text makes it clear that the land was to remain with its owner; what was being sold was the value of the crops (vv. 16, 23). This made the failure to comply with this command even more egregious: it was stealing land that belonged to another. Further, every Israelite slave had the option of being released this year from his servitude (v. 10, each of you shall return to his family; cf. Ex 21:2). Debts due from one Israelite to another were remitted, but not those that foreigners owed to Israelites (cf. Dt 15:1–3).

This passage is addressing the moral requirement to repay one’s debt in the context of the centrality of the land in God’s promises to His people. Of course, the principle taught here was subject to abuse, as certain Israelites may have gauged their willingness to loan money based on the nearness of an approaching Sabbatical Year. God’s intent was to expand upon a practical problem addressed in Dt 15:13–14. There, masters were to provide their slaves with gifts upon their release. Here the emphasis is on the land to which the Israelite returned to make his living. Losing one’s land to a lender had its limits (six years), but this was not a short wait for one making a living from that land.

25:20–22. These laws ensured that God’s people set aside times to acknowledge that the bounty of the earth they share is a gift from the sovereign Creator. Obedience is met with divine blessing. God would see to it that compliance with His commandments would result in His bounty for His people. A threefold increase in the sixth year of reaping (v. 21) ensured that property owners would benefit sufficiently as a result of their stewardship of the land.

25:23–54. Moreover, the law provided that a fellow Israelite or near kinsman was to redeem persons or property on behalf of kin (v. 25). This is the first of a series of four instances, extending through v. 54, in which fellow Israelites became impoverished. Verses 29–34 impose rules on redemption for houses in cities and villages, and grant a permanent right of redemption for Levites. Verses 35–38 clarify that loans must be made without interest or usury in order to honor God, who seeks justice for the poor, aliens, and sojourners in His land. Verses 39–43 applied to situations where an Israelite became a slave to pay a debt. Israelites were to be treated as hired men, not slaves, for their true service was to the divine Master (vv. 42, 55), not to any earthly lord. Less lenience was granted toward slaves from other countries (vv. 44–46), but in these circumstances too God was concerned with just treatment (cf. 19:33–34). Israelites conscripted into the service of a foreigner (vv. 47–54) were justly redeemed from such situations by their near kinsmen as a matter of high priority.

Some have objected that it is morally offensive that the law treats slavery as acceptable and normal, especially the laws related to foreign slaves as chattel or property (vv. 44–46). With regard to Israelite slaves, they were actually indentured servants and would obtain their freedom upon paying their debt or at the Sabbatical Year (v. 40; Dt 15:12). As for foreign slaves, the law did not treat them as chattel in a technical sense. Throughout history, chattel slaves had no rights of kinship or marriage, of physical protection, of freedom of movement, or of opportunity to obtain freedom. Although the law did permit Israelite slave owners to leave foreign slaves to their heirs, there were limits on the way they could treat them that was distinct from normal chattel slavery in the ancient Near East.

Walter C. Kaiser Jr. notes some of the distinctions of biblical laws pertaining to foreign slaves, stating that Israelite masters did not have

absolute power of life and death over the slaves. According to biblical law, a master could lose his life if he killed his slave. If he merely inflicted bodily injury on his slave, such as knocking out a tooth or injuring an eye, the slave immediately won his full emancipation (Exod. 21:20, 26). The foreign slave, along with the Hebrew household also had a day of rest each week (Exod. 20:10; Deut. 5:14).

Kaiser continues,

A female captive who was married by her captor could not be sold again as a slave, and if her master, now her husband, grew to hate her, she too had to be liberated and was a free person (Deut. 21:14). Even marriage between slaves was recognized as sacred as that between free persons and any violation of that covenant by another man, free or not, even while that slave was only engaged to another, was a sin requiring a guilt offering (Walter C. Kaiser Jr, Toward Old Testament Ethics [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983], 289).

Despite these helpful distinctions that demonstrate that the law did not treat foreign slaves as the rest of the ancient Near Eastern world did, it still seems ethically questionable that this form of foreign slavery was permitted at all. Although there is no perfect answer to this ethical question, the following should mitigate the problem to a degree: First, there was no racial component to this sort of slavery. It is not as though non-Israelites were considered non-persons or even inferior persons as was the case in European and North American slavery. Second, Israelites were permitted to buy—not capture—(the word acquire in Lv 25:44 lit., means "buy") foreign slaves from remote nations. This would make the incidence of this sort of slavery quite rare. In fact, it was most likely limited to royalty and the upper echelons of society. These slaves likely had special skills such as reading, writing, or translating, making them valuable assets who were treated well. Some of the purchased foreign slaves were outsiders living within the midst of Israel. Their circumstances would be much like those of Israelite indentured servants, albeit without the ability to leave every seventh year. Third, the purchase of a slave was likely not from a foreign master or slave trader but from the slave himself. Thus, this was more like the Israelite institution wherein a Hebrew slave could sell himself to a master and even decide to make his slave status permanent (Ex 21:5–6). Fourth, masters were not permitted to abuse or treat their foreign slaves with brutality (Lv 19:34; Dt 10:19). Finally, if a foreign slave became a follower of the one, true God of Israel, he would no longer be considered a foreigner and would have the same rights and privileges of a Hebrew slave.

25:55. The chapter ends with an affirmation of the theological justification for all these laws: God is the Master of all Israelites. Unless this dictum was understood and taken to heart by all within Israel, obedience to any of these specific laws would be unlikely. Unfortunately, later prophets like Amos (Am 2:6–10; 4:1–2) exposed how Israel’s self-serving interests often superseded their just treatment of others, even their own people. Every provision was made for assisting the poor out of their situation. Slave labor was not allowed; rather, individuals were consigned to work as hired laborers and were to be afforded the dignity that came with that status.

5. The Land as Holy in the Service of God: Experiencing Conditional Covenantal Blessings in the Land and the Consequences of Disobedience to the Lord (26:1–46)

26:1–13. This chapter is reminiscent of a treaty between a sovereign king and his vassals. The King (the Lord) lays out the stipulations of loyalty to be shown by those who are in covenant with Him (Israel, His vassal). The Lord advised and admonished His people regarding their covenant obligations. The Israelites must keep the law, especially the essential elements of avoiding idols and sanctifying both the Sabbath and God’s sanctuary (vv. 1–2). Prostrating oneself before a stone or dishonoring God’s Sabbaths were examples of covenant disloyalty. The Lord rewards those who live obediently (vv. 4–10). Obedience before Him will bring agricultural fertility (vv. 4–5), peace and protection in the land (v. 6), and victory in battles (vv. 7–8). The Lord’s own presence among His people is the guarantee of the rewards for obedience (vv. 11–13).

26:14–39. These verses spell out the consequences of disobedience, calling down the curses that fall on the disobedient in the sovereign-vassal relationship of the covenant. If Israel refused to repent of its disobedience, God would bring down curses on the nation, cited here in five stages of increasing severity. Stage 1: Terror, consumption and fever and defeat in battle (vv. 14–17); Stage 2: famine and drought (vv. 18–20); Stage 3: wild beasts (vv. 21–22); Stage 4: war, pestilence, and rationed food (vv. 23–26); and Stage 5: cannibalism and exile from the land (vv. 27–38). The land in which God would dwell with His people must be holy. When the disobedient people were exiled as a result of their failures, the land would enjoy its rest.

The message of these verses is clear: Disobedience to God will bring discipline, and continued, persistent disobedience will bring more severe forms of discipline from the hand of the Lord. That the section of curses is longer than the statement of blessings is also instructive. "If" (vv. 14, 15 [twice], 18, 21, 23, 27, 40) Israel should prove unfaithful, God would prove faithful to His holy nature and not to their sinful interests. Overt manifestations of covenant-breaking disloyalty (v. 15) would result in military defeat (v. 17). And pride in earthly power would result in an infertile earth (vv. 19–20). Hostility toward the Lord would result in His sending plagues and wild beasts to devour both man and cattle (vv. 21–22). Further hostility would be met with a sevenfold punishment (vv. 24, 28) for sin in the form of pestilence and famine (vv. 23–26). Unrepentant and continued hostility would be met with situations forcing cannibalism of one’s own family (vv. 27–29), the demolition of idolatrous centers (v. 30), the decimation of cities (vv. 31–32), and ultimately exile (vv. 33–39).

Repentance, however, brings hope (vv. 40–46). Forsaking egocentric endeavors and returning to God while forsaking disobedience will bring forgiveness and blessing. The principle here is clear—believers are to obey God, humble themselves, repent, and confess their sins (vv. 40–41). God will then act in accord with His gracious nature to forgive and reinstate the blessings of their forefathers Jacob (who experienced his season away from God and returned), Isaac, and Abraham.

26:40–46. Chapter 26 concludes with the expectation of grace extended by God for a repentant people who will have violated the commandments concerning the land in which He dwells (vv. 40–46). Moreover, it emphasizes the unconditional nature of God’s covenant with Israel. Despite His discipline of the nation, including dispersion, God promises that He will not reject them, nor will [He] so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking [His] covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God (v. 44). Thus, even Israel’s disobedience will not make God ever forget His covenant with Israel nor will He ever remove the land grant He gave to Israel.

Chapter 27 will specify the transactions that occur when holy things or persons (as defined in chaps. 25–26) are redeemed from the Lord.

6. The Holiness of Gifts Offered at the Sanctuary of God and the Regulations That Ensure Proper Dedication to the Lord (27:1–34)

27:1–34. To curb the abuse of vows (and to specify alternate reimbursement on ones made without restraint), God allowed specific fiscal equivalents to be exchanged for people who were the objects of or parties to a vow (vv. 2–8). Of significance is that a book that begins and proceeds as the speech of God to Moses ends by asking Israel to consider how seriously God views the words one speaks. The chapter begins with vows involving persons (vv. 2–8) and then mentions vows involving animals (vv. 9–13), dedication of houses and properties (vv. 14–25), dedication of firstborn animals (vv. 26–27), certain banned or "devoted" items (vv. 28–29), and tithes (vv. 30–33).

God allowed one to buy back specified possessions or persons at a higher penalty price, but He declined to provide redemption on possessions such as sacrificial animals (vv. 9–10) and firstborn animals (since they already belonged to Him, v. 26). When a person makes a pledge to God, He stipulates that the person be faithful to that pledge. God requires believers to be faithful in doing all that they promise so that they might reflect His faithfulness and be discouraged from making rash promises (Mt 6:33–34; Eph 4:25). Illustrative of this is that an acceptable animal presented to God could not be redeemed by a more acceptable animal; both became God’s possession in such attempts (v. 10).

Redemption of a field or property required a 20 percent addition to its value, which was determined by its proximity to the nearest Year of Jubilee (vv. 16–25). If someone failed to redeem a field, then it became the property of the priest at the Year of Jubilee (v. 21). The firstborn among all animals already belonged to the Lord (v. 26; cf. Ex 13:2, 12), and so they could not be presented as dedicatory offerings. Others who could not be redeemed included persons placed under a ban (vv. 28–29; cf. Achan in Jos 7).

The book concludes (vv. 30–34) with instructions about tithes. One might assume that a book so concentrated on the worship of God might begin here. Instead, the tithe is the culmination of this worship setting. Giving ten percent is not a command reiterated in the NT since contemporary believers are not under law but under grace. Obedient, Spirit-led believers, however, should be intentional about the stewardship of all their God-given resources and be generous toward God’s purposes (Ac 20:35; see comments at 2Co 8–9). Of all that the land produced, whether seeds or fruit, one tenth was reserved for the Lord (v. 30). If an Israelite wanted to redeem a portion of his tithe with money, he was to present the amount along with the usual 20 percent addition (v. 31). Such a practice discouraged people from feeling entitlement in reference to the benefits of the Lord. Because it is through the sweat of one’s brow that crops are produced or animals are raised, some might draw the mistaken conclusion that the resultant blessings of ownership did not originate with the Lord. God’s worshipers today should avoid a similar mistake. God gave these commands to the Israelites through Moses at Mount Sinai (v. 34) so that they might dwell at peace with Him in the land. One must never think that God’s blessings are rewards for one’s labors, as something to which one is entitled. Reserving a portion (a tenth) in praise to the Lord demonstrates that awareness. It also militates against the selfishness that human beings are naturally prone to.

C. S. Lewis observed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that the lion "Aslan [God] is not safe, but He is good." Israel certainly understood, upon leaving Egypt, that the God who called them back into fellowship with Him was not "safe." He had wreaked havoc upon the Egyptians through the plagues. Yahweh was not One to be trifled with. In this setting, the book of Leviticus reveals that out of God’s love for humanity He has provided redemption for sinners and access into His presence with opportunities for fellowship and worship. At its heart, Leviticus is a book explaining the costs of worship to the nation of Israel. When Moses told Pharaoh that God required His people to sacrifice to him and thus acknowledge His higher authority over them (Ex 3:18; 5:3), God ultimately had these prescriptions for worship in mind. Whereas many read the book as a litany of outdated rituals pertaining to an unfamiliar and bygone era, the book is, when properly interpreted, vitally instructive about approaching the Holy God in worship. It becomes evident from Leviticus that without a clear understanding of God’s holiness, what one might call worship can quickly degenerate into a predictable or even irreverent routine.


Bailey, Lloyd R. Leviticus–Numbers. Smythy & Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon, GA: Smith & Helwys, 2005.

Boyce, Richard N. Leviticus and Numbers. Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2008.

Dorsey, David A. The Literary Structure of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999.

Douglas, Mary. Leviticus as Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Gane, Roy. Leviticus, Numbers. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.

Goldberg, Louis. Leviticus: Bible Study Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980.

Harrison, R. K. Leviticus: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990.

Hoffmeier, James K. Ancient Israel in Sinai. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Kiuchi, Nobuyoshi. Leviticus. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007.

Livingstone, G. Herbert. The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1974.

Rooker, Mark. Leviticus: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000.

Ross, Allan. Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of Leviticus. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002.

Sailhamer, John H. The Pentateuch as Narrative. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

Sawyer, John F. A., ed. Reading Leviticus: A Conversation with Mary Douglas. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979.


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