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Bible: What Does Leviticus 19-22 Teach Us About the Moral Law and the Levitical Priesthood?

Updated on September 15, 2016



Be Holy, for I am Holy

Using His now familiar introduction “Speak to [the whole congregation] of the children of Israel, and say to them,” Yahweh proclaims another section of laws, this one dealing with morality and ceremony.

He also prefaces the section with the signature refrain: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (vv. 1-2).

Verses three and four reiterate the fourth, fifth, and second commandments, respectively, though not in the apodictic form they do in the original revelation (Exodus 20), and they end with the authoritative “I am the LORD your God.”

Yahweh inserts here a warning about eating the remains of a peace offering on the third day; such an act “cuts” one off from one’s people (vv. 5-8; cf. Lev. 7:15-18).

Next, He discusses an agricultural matter (the practice of leaving the gleanings), showing His concern for the poor and the stranger (vv. 9-10; cf. Deut. 24:19-21), and again authorizes the law.



God's Commandments

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The Moral Law

Yahweh resumes His repetition of moral laws, citing the eighth and ninth commandments conjoined with a variation on the third.

Once more, He mentions who He is (vv. 11-12).

As an application of the eighth prohibition against stealing, the LORD warns Israelite managers about their practice of keeping an employee’s wages overnight (v. 13).

In a section dealing with one’s relationship with one’s neighbor, God provides examples of righteous behavior.

Verse 14 enjoins respect for the humanity of the disabled based upon one’s fear of God.

One must not pervert justice to favor either the poor or the rich (v. 15).

Bearing false witness (or least unsubstantiated witness) stands contrary to God’s standard (v. 16).

Love, not hate, should characterize one’s stance toward a neighbor/brother.

One should rebuke him when his wrongdoing causes undue personal suffering, but not seek vengeance against him or bear a grudge (vv. 17-18).

Verse 19's statute prohibits improper mixtures; it implies the need for separation from all that is unholy.

Those who “mix” with another man’s betrothed, but not a redeemed or freed concubine, should receive a scourging; the guilty must sacrifice a trespass offering to receive forgiveness (vv. 20-22).

More separation issues appear, one regarding not eating the Land’s fruit until the fifth year, a year after God makes it holy (vv. 23-25).

Israelites must avoid pagan practices (for example: eating blood, divination, ritual shaving, disfigurement, or prostitution) [vv. 26-29].

Yahweh stresses Sabbath keeping and showing proper respect for His sanctuary (v. 30), but He rejects spiritism (v. 31).

Showing respect for the aged and for strangers constitutes another principle He commands (vv. 32-34).

Israel must exhibit complete honesty in their business dealings; the LORD commands Israel’s observance of His laws (vv. 35-37).

[Much in this chapter does not appear to follow a logical sequence; some laws do not seem to fit into a specific category].

Sacrificing to Idols


Why Capital Punishment?

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Leviticus 20

The LORD delineates capital crimes against the theocracy (vv. 2-6), the family (vv. 9-14, 17-18, 19-21), and nature (vv. 15-16).

As for the first category, God sets His “face” against three sub-categories of sinner:

(1) those who sacrifice children to the idol Moloch (vv. 2-3);

(2) those who witness this act, but do not stone the perpetrators (vv. 4-5); and

(3) those who consult mediums and familiar spirits (v. 6).

Yahweh demands His people’s complete loyalty, their holiness of life, and their obedience to His statutes (vv. 7-8).

The second and third categories include cursing one’s parents (v. 9), adultery (v. 10), incest (?) [vv. 11, 17], perversion (v. 12), homosexuality (v. 13), bigamy (?) (v. 14), bestiality (?) (vv. 15-16), and intercourse during the menstrual period (v. 18).

Dying childless and “bearing one’s guilt” (public humiliation?) are other punishments for various kinds of indecent behavior (vv. 19-21).

[Many of these sins are reiterations from Leviticus 18].

Again, the LORD calls Israel to be a separated (holy) people unto Him, the holy One, keeping all of His statutes, shunning all of the sins of the pagans, and distinguishing between clean and unclean (vv. 22-26).

[As if it were forgotten, He adds one more capital punishment for the crime of being a medium (v. 27)].

The Priesthood

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Leviticus 21

Yahweh now instructs priests, as “masters (husbands),” not to defile/profane themselves for the dead in Israel, except for near relatives (vv. 1-4).

[Why does the LORD permit them to defile themselves for their dead relatives—performing presumably the rituals in verse five—but not for others?]

God demands holy conduct from those who minister in the tabernacle (v. 6).

As holy men, priests must not marry women of less than stellar character; that is, the women must not be harlots, defiled or divorced (vv. 7, cf. vv. 13-14 for high priest’s requirement).

Nor must Israel allow a wayward priest’s daughter to live (vv. 7-9).

The LORD also requires that the high priest maintain certain holy standards: He must not

(1) show outward signs of mourning (v. 10),

(2) defile himself at all, even for near relatives (v. 11),

(3) profane the sanctuary, since he is an anointed one (v. 12), or

(4) profane his posterity (v. 15).

One more requirement for priests follows: those who offer the bread of God must not have any kind of physical defect (vv. 16-24).

Though they may eat the bread (v. 22), such a person must not approach the altar or go near the veil to offer the offerings made by fire (vv. 21, 23).

Site Where Offerings Made


"Cut Off" From His People

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Leviticus 22

Aaron and his descendants must not go near Israel’s “holy” things—things the people have dedicated to the LORD—in a state of uncleanness, or suffer a “cutting off” from God’s presence (vv. 1-3).

[Again, accurately defining “cut off” is of utmost importance].

The LORD lists various ways a priest may become unclean until evening:

(1) contract leprosy;

(2) emit a discharge;

(3) touch a corpse or a creeping thing;

(4) emit semen; or

(5) eat unclean meat.

This person may not eat the holy offerings until he bathes and the sun sets (vv. 4-8).

“Keep my charge, or suffer the consequences,” saith the LORD (v. 9).

Others who may not eat “the holy offering” include the “outsider” (vv. 10,13b), visitors, hired servants (v. 10b), and the priest’s daughter (if she is married to an outsider) [v. 12].

If, however, she is widowed, divorced, or childless, she may eat of it. Individuals whom the priest “buys,” or who are born in his house, may also eat (vv. 11, 13a).

Those who unintentionally eat a holy offering must restore it to the priest and add twenty percent, so that the priests may not profane Israel’s offerings which they offer.

If they do not follow this law, they will incur punishment (“bear the guilt of trespass”) [vv. 14-16].

Yahweh does not accept defective peace or burnt offerings, but allows freely-given, unblemished male animals from Israelites or strangers (vv. 17-21).

He explains what defects do not pass muster as offerings to honor vows (vv. 22, 24), but leaves room for people to sacrifice less-than-perfect animals as free will offerings (v. 23).

God also disallows gifts from foreigners because of the animal’s defects (v. 25).

Worshipers must wait until an animal is at least eight days old before they may sacrifice it, and they must not kill the young beast on the same day as its mother (vv. 26-28).

When they sacrifice animals, they must perform the offering of their own “free will”; they must eat the whole animal on one day (vv. 29-30).

Verses 31-33 complete this section by reiterating the LORD’s admonition to Israel that they must be careful not to profane Him as their Savior, but treat Him as holy by keeping His word.

© 2014 glynch1


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