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.
V. Leviticus 17:1-26:46 The Holiness Code :These chapters are a distinct section in Leviticus with their own style and vocabulary but they are not considered to be a completely separate work that has been inserted into Leviticus as there are points of similarity. Notice as you read, the continued references to holiness and the call to “be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy”. Notice also that this section focuses mostly on the people of Israel rather then just the priests. Holiness is a way of life having to do with worship and with social justice. Leviticus 19 is considered “the climactic chapter of the book” (Bamberger, 889)
21:1-22-16 Holiness of Priests and Offerings: now our focus moves from ordinary persons to what is expected of priests. There are five sections here, rules for marriage of ordinary priests (21:1-8), rules for mourning and marriage of the high priest (21:9-15) physical “blemish” and the priesthood (21:16-24), impediments to eating the food reserved for the priesthood (22:1-9) and who may eat the food (22:10-16).
22:1-9: these verses deal with situations that would keep priests from eating their portions. Again we see the importance of treating holy things seriously and with reverence.
22:10-16: This section discusses who, exactly, is part of the priest’s family and thus may eat the priestly portions. Also discussed is what to do if someone accidentally eats what they are not entitled to eat.
22:17-33 Holiness in Sacrificial Offerings: This section is concerned with the quality of the offerings brought to God. (See Malachi chapter one on this subject.)
23:1-44 Holiness in Observing the Festivals: So far in Leviticus the author has discussed holiness of persons, things and places. Now the discussion includes time.
Here is an outline of this chapter:
v1-3 The Sabbath
v4-22 Spring Festivals:
Passover and Unleavened Bread v 5-8
Firstfruits v 9-14
Feast of Weeks v 15-22
v 23-43 Autumn Festivals
Feast of Trumpets v 23-25
Day of Atonement v 26-32
Feast of Tabernacles v 33-44
There are three places Torah lists festivals and holy days, here, the Book of the Covenant and in Deuteronomy. Each listing has a different emphasis and uses some different terminology.
Notice how important the number 7 is in these festivals. First, of course is the Sabbath, the seventh day. There are 7 festivals. The festival of Unleavened Bread and of Tabernacles is 7 days. The Feast of Firstfruits or Weeks, comes at the end of 7 weeks. The seventh month has the Feasts of Trumpets on the first day, the Day of Atonement on the 10th day and the Feast of Tabernacles (lasting 7 days) on the 15th day. The sabbatical year happens in the 7th year and at the end of seven sevens of years is the year of Jubilee.
The term “Sabbath” shabbat, means to cease or to stop or to desist or to be idle. Regular work was to stop and a time of respite was observed. Babylonian culture has a celebration on the 7, 14,19,21 and 28 th days, but special dangers from the activity of demons were believed to make these days unlucky or even evil. Just like with sacrifices, Israel uses familiar practices but reframes them in light of their experience of the goodness of God.
More extensive instructions for Passover have already been given in Exodus 12-13, so this mention in Leviticus appears to be more of a reminder than instruction. On the day after Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread takes place and lasts for 7 days.
The Feast of Weeks ( celebrated a week of weeks or seven weeks after Firstfruits) is called the Feast of Harvest in Exodus. Because it is 50 days after Passover and Unleavened Bread it became known at pentecost from the Greek word for fifty.
Firstfruits makes the beginning of the harvest and Pentecost or Feast of Weeks celebrates the completion of the harvest.
The Feast of Trumpets is the start of the most sacred month. The Feast of Trumpets becomes known at New Year’s Day, Rosh Hashanah.
The Day of Atonement is the only fast day in the Old Testament although tradition added other days of fasting.
The Feast of Tabernacles is also called the Feast of Booths and Feast of Ingathering. In this festival, Israel lives in booths made of branches. Also a ceremony of pouring out of water took place. A priest took a golden pitcher to the pool of Siloam or Bethesda, filled it with water, and returned to the Temple via what became known at the Water Gate. There were two basins on the altar, one filled with wine for the drink offering and the other for the water from the pool. The water is poured into one basin and then the contents of the two basins are mixed and poured out as a libation. This is probably the event referred to in John 7:37-38. In Zechariah 14 this feast is discussed. When God is king over all the earth, all the nations will keep the Feast of Tabernacles. So the Feast of Tabernacles signifies the completion of the great world harvest at the end of the age. (Kaisar, 1160).
24:1-23 Holiness contrasted. This chapter, for modern readers, does not “connect” well with chapter 23 and chapter 25. Scholars think that after the description of the end of harvest celebration, now there is a discussion about how a portion of the harvest is used in the sanctuary as oil for the lampstand and grain for the bread. Oil given by the people is used to light the sanctuary and the light is tended by the priests. In Zech 4:1-14 the lampstand is discussed. The lampstand represents Israel as God’s people who give the light of life to the world. (Kaisar, 1163). There are twelve loaves of bread for the 12 tribes.
Then there is the story of the blasphemer, one of the few narrative portions of Leviticus. It appears to answer the question, does the law apply to foreigners? Apparently, no one was sure and Moses had to wait for the Lord to reveal the answer. Then there is a restatement of the lex talionis. The punishment must fit the crime.
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.