A prayer for your use before reading by Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) was an early church father from Alexandria.
Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts. Amen.
I. Leviticus 1:1-7:38 The Laws of Sacrifice
A. 1:1-6:7 The Laws of the Five Major Offerings
B. 6:8-7:38 Instructions for the Priests
II. Leviticus 8:1-10:20 The Inauguration of Worship at the Tabernacle
A. 8:1-36 The Consecration of Aaron and His Sons
B. 9:1-24 The Inauguration of the Tabernacle Service
C. 10:1-20 The Death of Nadab and Abihu: Commentators debate what, exactly Nadab and Abihu did that caused their deaths. Some think they brought coals from the wrong place, some think the offering was at the wrong time. Some think the location of the offering was incorrect. Some think they had had too much to drink. Some think they brought in an unholy fire into the holy place and thus failed to protect the boundaries of the sacred. Some think they were trying something original and priests were not to innovate but rather to conform. It does appear that whatever they did wrong, it was intentional. Kaiser writes, “One thing is certain: The offense is by no means accidental. There is a sudden reversal of everything that has been taught on the day to all of Israel. What is most holy and sacred to the Lord is suddenly trivialized in some unexplained way so as to make what has been set apart for God now common, trite, and secular…. The point is that those who by virtue of their office are called to draw near to God constantly place themselves in a perilous, as well as a privileged, position. Whatever they do or fail to do, they must bear in mind that God is absolutely unique above all other creatures. Any act, or failure thereof, that may detract from the deity’s absolute holiness, and thus tend to treat God in a light, trite, or unthinking manner, would immediately expose those who draw near to possible danger. If God is not sanctified by those who are supposed to know best, by virtue of their constant opportunity to draw near in acts of serving the people for God, God will be sanctified in the eyes of the people by swift judgment and wrath upon all trivializers of the ministry” (Kaiser, 1070 1071)
v12-15 are a repetition of earlier instructions.
v 15-20 tell of a conflict between Moses and Aaron about the failure of the priests to consume the meat of the purification sacrifice offered earlier in the day on behalf of the people. Aaron appears not to be sure that he and his sons should do this based on the earlier events of the day.
III. Leviticus 11:1-15:33 The Regulations on Clean and Unclean: This is the third major section of the book and deals with issues of cleanliness and uncleanliness. This part of the book is difficult for modern people to understand. One idea to keep in mind is that religion is not limited to “spiritual” matters but rather affects all of life including our bodies. These instructions also are concerned with keeping sacred space sacred and that if impurity enters the tabernacle, God might leave. These instructions on clean and unclean are in four sections, food, childbirth, skin and genital discharges. Some scholars suggest these rules are concerned with aspects of the integrity of boundaries of the body. The idea is that at creation, God created boundaries and separated various “things”, land and water, light and dark, etc. These rules reflect a concern for the maintenance of order and proper boundaries. Animals that deviate from the norm, which blur the boundaries between kinds are forbidden. Thus fish have scales and fins, “fish” that do not, blur the distinctions and are avoided.
It is also important to recognize that while cleanliness and holiness are related they are not the same thing. Without cleanliness there is no holiness. But cleanliness has nothing to do with dirtiness, the text is speaking of ritual and ceremonial cleanliness.
We wonder what the reasons for these rules are, and commentators offer a variety of suggested answers. Some think these laws are to teach self denial and self control. Others think they reflect a mystical connections between body and soul. Some offer allegorical interpretations, i.e. the behaviors of the animals eaten influenced the persons who ate them. So camels were considered to be revengeful and people who are camels might have that trait imparted to them. Some commentators think the rules are arbitrary and are to be obediently followed. Some find hygienic reasons. Others believe these rules are to mark Israel is distinct and separate from the other nations. Israel (and the other nations) are continually reminded that Israel is uniquely involved with God and called to a particular function in the world.
A. 11:1-47 The Clean and the Unclean: Concerning animals, there appears to be a concern for proper categories and that creatures “fit” into their proper place. At verses 24 ff the discussion shifts to what to do if one comes in contact with something unclean. Remember that life was associated with holiness and purity, death with disorder and impurity. The evening is a transition time of the day. Remember in Jewish culture the day begins at sunset. Recall Genesis 1, “and there was evening and morning, a # day.”
B. 12:1-8 The Uncleanness of Childbirth: Chapter 12-15 have to do with cleanliness within the human person and not by outside items. Uncleanliness can come from within and without. Discharges are associated with uncleanliness and even death. . Blood, in one context reconciles people to God but in other contexts causes corruption. It is important not to confuse ritual impurity with sinfulness. The birth of a child is a good thing, not sinful. But the bodily discharge makes a woman ritually unclean. No one knows exactly why the birth of a girl doubles the time of impurity. Some think that the birth of a girl who would someday menstruate and give birth was considered doubly defiling.
C. 13:1-14:57 The Uncleanness of Skin and Fungus Diseases: Much has been written about what diseases the text refers to. There is agreement that leprosy is not the only disease under discussion. “Leprosy” refers to a variety of skin conditions. Notice the text is concerned with one’s ritual status. This is not medical treatment or cures. The skin lesions seem to have been viewed, again, signs or indications of death/decay and impurity. Verses 45-46 describe what those who are unclean must do. The actions of tearing the clothes, messing up hair and covering part of the face are signs of mourning for the dead. This state of being unclean is likened to being dead.
Chapter 14 (next week’s reading) addresses how persons are restored and made clean.
Given what we have just read, does this influence or change how you think about Jesus’ actions of healing “lepers”, being touched by the woman with the discharge, his eating with “sinners”? What about Peter and Paul’s eating with gentiles? Does having read this far in Leviticus aid your understanding of what happened in the New Testament?
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of the Torah.
Anderson, Bernhard W. “Leviticus” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Bamberger, Bernard J. “Leviticus” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.
Gorman, Frank H. Jr. “Leviticus” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Hallo, William W. “Leviticus and Ancient Near Eastern Literature” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.
Kaiser, Walter C., Jr, “The Book of Leviticus” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.