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Leviticus Rules and Laws

Updated on May 10, 2012

God's Law

"Leviticus" is the third book of the Old Testament. The term refers to one of the 12 sons of Jacob (also known as Israel) -- the son whose name was Levi. It was this son who was an ancestor of Moses. Although Jacob (Israel) lived over 400 years before Moses, it seemed that he and the other Levites were the ones who really obeyed and kept faith in God much more than the descendants of the other 11 sons.

God spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai and in the tabernacle built in that area during the 40 years in which the Hebrews, the descendants of Jacob who were repeatedly referred to as the "children" of Israel, journeyed away from Egypt, where they had become slaves, and toward Canaan, which God promised would be their home.

Leviticus gives the more than half million Hebrews who made this journey their religious and secular laws, all of which came directly from God, through Moses. There were "offerings" to God and "burnt sacrifices" that would take place in the tabernacle. These were ritualistic ceremonies in which only the finest animals were killed or good grain was destroyed. There could be peace offerings, sin offerings, or other forms of sacrifice to God.

Many forbidden activities, such as touching unclean things, were specified by God through Moses. God's laws were strict. For example, the 2 sons of Aaron, Moses' brother who served as the first high priest, were killed by God for using unauthorized torches that burned incense. This was considered "profane." But these sons were replaced by 2 other sons of Aaron as his assistants in the tabernacle.

God told the Hebrews not to eat certain animals, and that there would be both clean and unclean bodily conditions determined medically by the priests. God made all the rules and laws the Hebrews had to live by.

There appeared to be good reason and logic behind these rules, even without religious considerations. There were laws against incest, for example, and other practical laws governing justice in dealings concerning money or land. Criminal laws also were spelled out, complete with exceptions, degrees of wrong, and appropriate punishments. Most of these rules are still followed today in societies all around the world.

In general, however, defects or disabilities in either animals or people were considered unholy and not worthy of God or the tabernacle.

Religious holidays and traditional ceremonies were specified by God. Many times the "sabbath" is mentioned with great significance as a time of rest on the 7th day. Seven times seven years, plus one more year, resulted in a 50-year "Jubilee" in which leniency and a rest from the strictness of harsh laws and labor would occur.

The Leviticus was very definite about having come straight from God. The punishment for blasphemy was death. Obedience to God's law would be rewarded tremendously, but disobedience punished greatly.

At this time in history (about 3,000 years ago) there was no separation of church and state. The law was given by God to the people. The holy tabernacle housed the original 10 Commandments written by God on stone tablets. Moses and the priests made all the big decisions governing society including capital punishment and banishment.

Moses and his fellow Levites, the descendants of Jacob's (Israel's) son Levi, ruled the Hebrew people according to God's own law as recorded in the Book of Leviticus.

The Hebrew people are to be thanked and commended for preserving the Bible through more than 3,000 years. It is somehow comforting to see that in ancient times the common-sense notions of hygiene and justice we have today prevailed in society. Logically, we could assume that other ancient civilizations around the world must have discovered the same rules of healthcare, legal regulation, and religion, but the difference is that texts recording these things were not preserved from other parts of the world where we know human communities existed before this time, such as China and Africa.

The preservation of the Bible, a mini-library in and of itself, truly was miraculous considering the ravages of time. One of the greatest books in the Bible is Leviticus for its familiar guidance on subjects we now associate with the medical and legal professions, plus the constant theme of the Bible, shared by just about all religions on earth, that God is a great but practically undefinable, invisible Ruler of mankind.


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