Leviticus gets its name from the Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures still in existence. It means ‘pertaining to the Levites,’ and it’s mostly concerned with outlining the rituals and duties to be undertaken by the Israelite priesthood at the Tabernacle as well as the understandings that the priests should have about holiness in general. Once again, God is dictating his instructions to Moses who then is to relate the details to the Levites (the priests) and the community at large. The chapter’s like a detailed manual – and who doesn’t love to read a manual?
Things They Don’t Talk About in Sunday School: I couldn’t help but wonder why God made Aaron, Moses’ brother, the high priest, with all of Aaron’s sons the priests and all of Aaron’s male descendants the priesthood? Why not Moses and his sons and descendants? A Jewish midrash (an ancient Rabbinical explanation) states that it was because Moses was so wishy-washy about being the leader of God’s chosen people. Remember in Exodus, all those times Moses tries to talk God out of confronting Pharoah, or leading the people, or doing miracles? God is like: first, seriously, I do need you to do all these things, and second, because of your unwillingness you can’t lead my priesthood. The midrash then goes on to say that this was actually good news for Moses, as he was Aaron’s younger brother and worried about how Aaron would handle his being in charge as God’s representative. Yes, Moses is the leader of the people, but Aaron is also rewarded and his male line will influence centuries of generations (from Rabbi Steven Nathan at https://www.reconstructingjudaism.org/dvar-torah/why-moses-did-not-become-priest). God has ensured that both are happy with the division of responsibilities.
Chapter 1 is all about animal burnt offerings. For these, the main rules are:
- Only male livestock specimens without any defects are acceptable.
- They must be presented at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
- The people offering the sacrifice must lay their hands on the head of the animal, and it will be accepted on their behalf for their own atonement.
- The animal will then be slaughtered and then the priests will collect the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar.
- The animal is then skinned and cut into pieces, and the pieces then burned on the altar. The aroma is “pleasing to the Lord.”
- If the sacrifice is a dove or pigeon, the priest should wring its head off, drain the blood on the sides of the altar, and then burn the body. The feathers should be removed and thrown into the pile of ashes east of the altar.
Wait, what? Unanswered Questions from the Bible: at several points in this chapter, the smoke from the burning sacrifices is stated to have a ‘pleasing aroma’ to the Lord. Why is God pleased with the smells of the burning animals? On one hand, as someone who does appreciate the odors of a nice barbecue, I can understand the concept. But why does our omnipotent God have an emotional response to a sensory activity? According to Got Questions Ministries (they have a truly interesting web page), it’s not the smell itself that God is pleased with, but what the smell stands for: the atonement of sins. The animals are substitutes for the Israelites, and their deaths satisfy God’s requirement that He be appeased regarding his peoples’ sins. The burnt sacrifices reconcile the Israelites in God’s eyes, and the smoke from the altar is evidence of this reconciliation, which is pleasing to Him.
In Chapter 2, we move on to grain offerings:
- The offerings must be of the finest flour, and with olive oil and incense added to some of it.
- The priests will take a handful of the flour-oil-incense mixture and burn it as a ‘memorial portion’ on the altar.
- The rest of the flour is for the priests.
- If the grain offering has already been baked into loaves, it should still be of fine flour with no yeast, either thick loaves with olive oil mixed in or thin loaves brushed with olive oil.
- If the grain offering is cooked in a pan – it still needs to be of the finest flour mixed with olive oil. A priest will take out the memorial portion and burn it on the altar and the rest will belong to the priests.
- Did I mention no yeast? I did, but I’ll repeat it here: no yeast, or honey either in a grain offering. Yeast or honey can be included in firstfruits offerings, but not burned on an altar.
- Oh, by the way, make sure all grain offerings are seasoned with salt.
Wait, what? Unanswered Questions of the Bible: What is the memorial portion of a grain offering? While most of the grains go to the priests as food, the memorial portion is a small amount that is burnt as a reminder of the atonement of the sins for which this offering is being made. Hence ‘memorial.’ While the priests don’t eat the animal offerings, most of the grain offerings go to them, so the memorial portion is set apart for its special purpose (from Richard E. Averbeck at BibleStudyTools.com).
In Chapter 3, we get the rules for a fellowship offering:
- It should be a livestock animal, either male or female with no defect.
- Like the animal burnt offerings in Chapter 1, the presenter should lay a hand on its head and slaughter it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
- The priests will splash its blood on the sides of the altar.
- From the fellowship offering, a ‘food offering’ of all the internal organs and connective fat will be placed on the altar and burned.
- Also, no Jews are to eat any organ-connected fat or blood from any animal.
Wait, what? Unanswered Questions of the Bible: The Jewish dietary laws are called the Kashrut, and to this day include the prohibition of blood and organ-related fats. Coming in future chapters of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are many more details about these dietary laws, but these are the first two. The reason why no blood should be eaten is that blood was seen to contain the soul of an animal. Kosher butchers have many processes even today to completely drain animals of their blood quickly and efficiently. The forbidden organ fats are called chelev, and it’s hard to find the reasoning for not eating it, but it’s likely closely related to the blood reasoning – it protects the organs, which are necessary for an animal’s life. Interestingly enough, the fats of the muscles and skin are A-Ok to eat, totally kosher.
Get ready for a lot of ‘Wait, What?’ sections on upcoming blog posts. There are a lot of rules and requirements that need explanation to we modern day Bible readers.