THE PENTATEUCH PART III: LEVITICUS
Lesson 8: Chapters 17-19
The Holiness Code Part I
Unlike the beasts, You created man with a soul that is immortal. We were created to live through eternity in fellowship with You. What a sinful people we are, Lord, to take for granted the gift of an immortal soul and the glorious future it promises for those who accept Your gift of eternal salvation. Your Old Covenant people did not have the promise of eternal life but only the promise of rewards in this world. Your Son contrasted for us the earthly promises of the old Law with the heavenly promises of the New Covenant in the Beatitudes. Guide us on the path to holiness that Jesus laid out for us in the Beatitudes, Most Holy Spirit, so that we might fulfill the eternal destiny for which we were created. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ + +
In the case of the
human person: first its body is created from the dust, and afterward the power
of life is given to it, and this is the being of the soul. Accordingly Moses
said about the beasts, "its blood is its life." But in the case of the human
person its being is incorporeal and immortal and has a great superiority over
the body, to the same extent as incorporeal form surpasses the corporal.
St. John Chrysostom (344/354-407) Homilies on Genesis 13:10
Your minds, then,
must be sober and ready for action; put all your hope in the grace brought to
you by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Do not allow yourselves to be shaped by
the passions of your old ignorance, but as obedient children, be yourselves
holy in all your activity, after the model of the Holy One who calls us, since
Scripture says, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'
1 Peter 1:13-16
The first half of the book of Leviticus contained the revelation of Yahweh's divine instruction to Moses in the sacrificial and liturgical rites of legitimate worship and the ordination of a priesthood to perform those liturgical rites and sacrifices. The instruction also included the commands and prohibitions for the ritual purity laws that made covenant members fit to bring sacrifices and to offer worship at the Yahweh's earthly Sanctuary. Some of the purity laws will only be in effect during the forty years the Israelites will live in the wilderness before the new generation is ready to conquer to Promised Land. Other laws, those designated "perpetual/ever lasting" (repeated seventeen times in Leviticus) are to be obeyed as long as the covenant endures. In Deuteronomy, just prior to the conquest of Canaan, Moses will amend the laws to fit the living conditions of the twelve tribes occupying different sections of the Promised Land.
Chapter seventeen begins the second half of Leviticus in which the dominant theme is Israel's moral and religious holiness. This section from Leviticus chapters 17-26 is called the "Holiness Code." Holiness is one of the attributes of the God of Israel, an attribute that the Israelites must image in their relationship with Yahweh, as God told the Israelites: For it is I, Yahweh, who am your God. You have been sanctified and have become holy because I am holy... (Lev 11:44). Variants of this statement will be found about ten times in the Holiness Code. Holiness is dependant upon separation from sin and upon living in the state of ritual purity that is necessary for participation in sacrifice and worship in the holy Sanctuary of the new Eden. Therefore, the laws of the "Holiness Code" are also laws of ritual purity, since avoidance of what is ritually impure is defined as avoidance of sin and the development in the individual covenant member of a consciousness of sin and its consequences.
Outline of the Holiness Code in Leviticus Chapters 17-26
The Holiness Code in Leviticus resembles the other two collections of commands and prohibitions found in the Pentateuch: the Book of the Covenant (Ex 20:19-23:33) and the Deuteronomic Code (Dt chapters 12-28).
|Theme||Book of the Covenant||
|Prologue: right worship||Ex 20:19-23:9||Lev 17:1-16||Dt 12:1-19|
|Duties toward the Land||Ex 23:10-11||Lev 19:9-37; 25:23-34||Dt 15:1-11; 24:19-22; 26:1-15|
|Liturgical Calendar||Ex 23:12-19||Lev 23:1-44; 25:1-22||Dt 16:1-7|
|Epilogue: covenant blessings and curses||Ex 23:20-33||Lev 26:3-46||Dt 28:1-69/29:1|
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Chapter 17: Slaughtering of Animals Acceptable for Sacrifice and the Blood Prohibition
Chapter seventeen is composed of five laws addressing proper conduct in offering sacrifice and in the slaughtering of animals.
Please read Leviticus 17:1-7: The Law Limiting the
Slaughtering of Animals Acceptable for Sacrifice
Law #1: 17:1Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: 2'Speak to Aaron and his sons and all the Israelites and say: "This is the order that Yahweh has given: 3"Any man of the House of Israel who slaughters a bull, lamb or goat, whether inside the camp our outside it, 4without bringing it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to make an offering of it to Yahweh in front of his Dwelling, that man will be answerable for bloodshed; he has shed blood, and that man will be outlawed from his people. 5The purpose of this is that the Israelites should instead bring their sacrifices, which they would otherwise offer in the countryside, to Yahweh at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, to the priest, and offer them as communion sacrifices to Yahweh; 6and the priest will sprinkle [zarak] the blood on Yahweh's altar at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and will burn the fat as a smell pleasing to Yahweh. 7No longer may they offer their sacrifices to the satyrs [goats] in whose service they used to prostitute themselves. This is a perpetual law for them and for their descendants."
[..] = literal translation (Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, pages 306-07).
In the enactment of the first law Yahweh is legislating behavior to promote a healthy relationship with His people in two aspects and at the same time to discourage a bad practice that would damage that relationship.
Answer: The only animals that the Israelites are prohibited from killing and eating are those animals that are acceptable as communion sacrifices. The goals are:
There is now only one place of sacrifice and worship and there is only one legitimate priesthood (descend through Aaron). The Aaronic priesthood has superseded and suspended the old priesthood of the patriarchal family that set up altars and offered sacrifice wherever they saw fit.
The restriction against slaughtering and eating cattle, sheep, and goats except as Sanctuary communion offerings will be lifted when the children of Israel take possession of the Promised Land. However, the blood prohibition, the single altar and single place of worship at Yahweh's Sanctuary, and the prohibition against offering sacrifice on other altars to false gods will remain in place (Dt 12:13-19).
Leviticus 17:7: No longer may they offer their sacrifices to the satyrs [goats] in whose service they used to prostitute themselves.
The word translated as "satyrs" is the word "goats" in the Hebrew text (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 307). In this passage, in Deuteronomy 32:17, and in 2 Chronicles 11:15 the word is used to indicate worship of false gods that were goat idols. [..] Indicates the literal translation:
Leviticus 17:7's comparison of the worship of the goat-idols with the Israelites "prostituting themselves" is a frequent image of religious unfaithfulness and idol worship in Scripture (i.e. Ez 16:15-20; Hos chapters 1-3).
Leviticus 17:7b: This is a perpetual law for them and for their descendants.
The first time a covenantal statement of permanence occurs in Leviticus is in the context of the communion offerings (Lev 3:17). The statement of a permanent statute occurs seventeen (seven plus ten) times in Leviticus (3:17; 6:11/18, 15/22; 7:34, 36; 10:9, 15; 16:29, 31, 34; 17:7; 23:14, 21, 31, 41; 24:3, 9) and indicates that the Law is to extend beyond the current generation to all generations of the Sinai Covenant and must be transmitted without alteration. Standing ordinances can be both positive and negative; some statutes apply to the whole congregation and others only to the priests.(1)
That sacrifice to Yahweh can only be offered at His one altar and His one Sanctuary is a perpetual statute for all generations of Israelites, but this covenantal term of continuation does not always mean "forever." Instead, it means "forever" as long as the covenant is maintained in faithfulness and is not annulled. It is the same stipulation made to the children of Israel concerning the covenant promises extended them as Abraham's descendants that are conditional upon faithfulness to Yahweh and His commands: ...as he swore he would to your ancestors, on condition that you listen to the voice of Yahweh your God by keeping all his commandments which I am enjoining on you today, and by doing what is right in the eyes of Yahweh your God (Dt 13:19/18). These conditions are repeated in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28:
Answer: The Sinai Covenant was eventually to reach the point of achieving its purpose (Mt 5:17-18). At that time some of the ordinances and statutes, like the purification rites and the animal sacrifices that had prepared the people of God for the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah, were fulfilled and transformed to meet the requirements for a New Covenant that promised inheritance of a new Promised Land and a new and everlasting Kingdom-the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and the Universal Church.
Please read Leviticus 17:8-9: The Law Concerning the Individual Whole Burnt Offerings
Law #2 8'You will also say to them, "any member of the House of Israel or any resident alien who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice 9without bringing it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to offer it to Yahweh, will be outlawed from his people." The first law addressed communion sacrifices and the sacred meal, this law concerns the individual's whole burnt offerings (see Lev 1:1-17). A whole burnt offering was an expression of the individual's commitment to Yahweh and the covenant.
Question: What is the penalty for violating the "perpetual law" that requires sacrificed to Yahweh can only be offered at His one sacrificial altar in His one holy Sanctuary? What does this penalty imply concerning that person's future?
Answer: To be excommunicated from the covenant people; this penalty implies relinquishing a share in the Promised Land.
Laws three, four and five address both Israelites and resident aliens living with the covenant people.
Please read Leviticus 17:10-12: The Prohibition against
Law #3: 10"If any member of the House of Israel or any resident alien consumes blood of any kind, I shall set my face against that individual who consumes blood and shall outlaw him from his people. 11For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you for performing the rite of expiation on the altar for your lives, for blood is what expiates for a life. 12That is why I told the Israelites: None of you will consume blood, nor will any resident alien consume blood.
The blood prohibition is an all inclusive statute. Not only must the Israelite covenant member conform to the blood prohibition, but the resident alien must also comply to these laws in order to remain within the borders of the land that is dedicated to Yahweh, just as they must observe the Sabbaths and keep the other commands and prohibitions of the Law (Ex 20:10; Lev 16:29; 20:2; 18:26; 23:16; Num 15:30).
Leviticus 17:11: For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you for performing the rite of expiation on the altar for your lives, for blood is what expiates for a life. The inspired writer of Hebrews writes: In fact, according to the Law, practically every purification takes place by means of blood; and if there is no shedding of blood, there is no remission (Heb 9:22). Blood was the means God used from the time of the Fall of Adam and Eve to atone for man's sin and to keep mankind from eternal condemnation-sacrificing animals to cloth their "nakedness." From that point forward in Scripture "nakedness" became a euphemism for "sin" (Gen 3:7, 10, 21; Ex 32:25 = literally "saw the people were naked"; 2 Chr 28:19 = literally "for he made Judah naked"; Ez 16:37; 23:10; Hos 2:15; Rev 3:18; etc.). The blood of animals was the temporary and imperfect remedy for expiation of sin until the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah (Heb 10:4; 9:25-28; 10:11-12; CCC 1963-1964).(2)
Sacred Scripture has always considered blood a sacred sign of life (see CCC 2260).
Question: What three reasons does God give for the prohibition against consuming blood in the second law concerning sacrifice and the slaughtering of animals (vs. 11-12)?
Blood sustains life and in God's plan of atonement it becomes the means of expiation. The life-blood of the animal was to be substituted for a human life when a person sinned. The sinner literally forfeited his life by sinning against God and His creation, but through the death of the animal in place of his death, his life could be restored and made whole again. The life-blood of the sacrificial animal removed the penalty of death for sin-the giving of a life became the means of life.
Leviticus 17:12: That is why I told the Israelites: None of you will consume blood, nor will any resident alien consume blood. The emphasis on blood and blood rites for the covenant people of Yahweh is unique in the ancient world. The prohibition against consuming blood is found in no other society in the Ancient Near East (Vashotz, Leviticus, page 203).
Please read Leviticus 17:13-14: Concerning the Hunting of
Law #4: 13"Anyone, whether Israelite or resident alien, who hunts and catches game, whether animal or bird, which it is lawful to eat, must pour out its blood and cover it with earth. 14For the life of every creature is its blood, and I have told the Israelites: You will not consume the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood, and anyone who consumes it will be outlawed.
The blood prohibition is stipulated five times in Leviticus, eight times in the Law of the Covenant from Leviticus to Deuteronomy, and it is stipulated a total of nine times in the Pentateuch from Genesis to Deuteronomy (Gen 9:4; Lev 3:17; 7:23; 17:10, 14; 19:26; Dt 12:16, 23; 15:23).
Respect for blood is not limited to sacrifice and worship in the Sanctuary. In the third law the prohibition against consuming blood is extended to "clean" animals that are wild, with the same penalty applied for violation of the law.
Question: God states that life for the creatures He has made is in its blood. Are humans the same as animals or did God created us differently?
Answer: Animals have souls but their souls are corporal. Human beings are both corporal and incorporeal, possessing both perishable bodies and immortal souls. "Life," in the sense of an on-going existence, is eternal for humans because God has created them with the gift of an immortal soul in His image.
The Catechism defines the human soul: In Sacred Scripture the term "soul" often refers to human life or the entire human person. But "soul" also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God's image: "soul" signifies the spiritual principle in man (CCC 363). The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual... (CCC 365). The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God"" it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit... (CCC 364; also see 365-68).
Question: What is the penalty for violating the prohibition against consuming blood?
Answer: Excommunication for the covenant member and the resident alien.
Please read Leviticus 17:15-16: The Prohibition against Eating Dead or Wounded Animals
Law #5 "Anyone, citizen or alien, who eats an animal that has died a natural death or been savaged, must wash clothing and body, and will be unclean until evening, but will then be clean. But anyone who does not wash clothing and body will bear the consequences of his guilt."'
Question: Why do the laws of the covenant under which the Israelites are required to live also apply to the resident alien living among them?
Answer: God understands human nature. He knows if others, living among the Israelites, are not bound by these same laws that their violations of the laws will become an encouragement for the Israelites to disregard His commands and become rebellious.
Chapters 18: The Laws of Sexual Purity within the Family and the Community
Many of the commands and prohibitions of the Law recorded in the Holiness Code are listed in groups of sevens, including the list of the seven annual feasts in the Liturgical Calendar. Chapter 18 is a list of twenty-one commands (seven times three) regulating sexual conduct within the family and the community. The Biblical family was organized along patriarchal lines, and therefore the prohibitions are addressed to the male head of the family. God defines the nuclear family as founded on six relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, brother and unmarried sister (Lev 21:2-3). In this section defining sexual prohibitions, the phrase "uncover her/his/their nakedness" is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. The literal Hebrew phrase is used in verses: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 (twice), 18, and 19 (see footnote 1). The regulations concerning sexual prohibitions are divided into three main topics:
"I am Yahweh your God"
|Twenty-one (seven times three) laws||
"I am Yahweh your
Topics of commands and prohibitions:
|1. Reject sexual immorality of Egyptians and Canaanites||8. No sex with half-sisters||15. No sex with a living wife's sister|
|2. Keep the Law; life in the Law||9. No sex with a father's sister||16. No sex with a menstruating woman|
|3. No sexual contact with close relatives||10. No sex with a mother's sister||17. Adultery forbidden|
|4. No sexual relations with father or mother||11. No sex with an uncle's wife||18. Child sacrifice forbidden|
|5. No sex with your father's other wives||12. No sex with a daughter-in-law||19. Homosexuality forbidden|
|6. No sex with a sister||13. No sex with a sister-in-law||20. Bestiality forbidden|
|7. No sex with granddaughters (understood to include daughters per law 2)||14. No sex with step-daughters or step-granddaughters||21. Sexual purity according to the Law|
Please read Leviticus 18:1-30: The Law Defines Sexual
18:1Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: 2'Speak to the Israelites and say:
Law #1: 3I am Yahweh your God: You must not behave as they do in Egypt where you used to live; you must not behave as they do in Canaan where I am taking you, nor must you follow their laws. 4You must observe my customs and keep my laws, following them.
The series of laws begins and ends with the statement: "I am Yahweh your God" (Lev 18:3, 30), a refrain that is repeated in the following chapter that also has a list of twenty-one (seven times three) laws. "I am Yahweh your God" is repeated ten times in Leviticus-nine times in the Holiness Code: Lev 18:3, 30; 19:2, 3, 4; 21:23; 22:2, 16; 23:22; and Lev 11:44-45, the only reference in Leviticus outside the Holiness Code. The Israelites are commanded to live according to a higher standard of morality than they observed in Egypt and which they will come in contact with in Canaan.
Law #2: 5I, Yahweh, am your God: hence you will keep my laws and my customs. Whoever complies with them will find life in them. I am Yahweh.
This is not to suggest that living by God's law will lead to eternal salvation. St. Jerome (347-420 AD) wrote concerning this passage: "The man who carries out the law will find life through it." Scripture did not say he will find life through it, in the sense that through the law he will live in heaven, but he will find life through it to the extent that what he merits, he reaps in the present world (Jerome, Homily 76). One who lives by God's laws is assured of God's blessings, including the blessing of life; whereas one who lives in violation of God's laws risks judgment and death (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 119).
Law #3: 6None of you will approach a woman who is closely related to him, to have intercourse with her. I am Yahweh. The literal translation of this command is "no man of you shall draw near to any relative who is the flesh of his body" (Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 308). This verse is in essence the opening statement that sums up the majority of the legislation in this chapter concerning sexual relations between men and women. Literally, no man can have sexual relations with any blood relative; such an act is forbidden as incest. This prohibition recalls the incestuous union between Abraham's nephew Lot and his daughters that produced Moab and Bene-Ammon-their names mean "from [my] father (me'ab) and ben 'ammi, "the sons of Ammon" (Gen 19:30-38). Their descendants became Israel's deadly enemies.
Law #4: 7You will not have intercourse with your father or your mother. She is your mother-you will not have intercourse with her.
This verse appears to forbids sexual relations with one's father or natural mother (step mothers are also prohibited but that will be covered in verses 8 and 11). The literal translation is to not "uncover your father's nakedness that is the nakedness of your mother" (Interlineal Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 308). This was the sin of Ham in Genesis 9:20-27, which resulted in a curse judgment on both Ham and his son Canaan. The Rabbis interpreted this law as not referring to homosexuality but to a man forcing himself sexually on his natural mother-she who should "uncover her nakedness" only to a man's father (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 120). If this is the sin that was inferred in Genesis 9:21-22, then Canaan may have been cursed as the product of an incestuous encounter between Ham and his mother while Noah was drunk in his tent.
Law #5: 8You will not have intercourse with your father's wife; it is your father's sexual prerogative.
The forbidden sexual union includes natural mothers and the father's other wives. This was a violation committed by Jacob's son Ruben with his father's concubine Bilhah (Gen 35:21-22). It was a sin against his father that costs him his first born son status (Gen 49:3-4). This prohibition is included in the twelve Levitical curses in the Deuteronomic Code (Dt 27:20).
Law #6: 6You will not have intercourse with your sister, whether she is your father's or your mother's daughter. Whether she was born in the same house or elsewhere, you will not have intercourse with her.
The rabbis interpreted this command to include sexual relations forbidden with a sister or half sister fathered by a man's father or a sister by a widowed mother with another husband, or a step-sister (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 120). The prohibition is repeated in the twelve Levitical curses of the Deuteronomic Code (Dt 27:22).
Law #7: 10You will not have intercourse with your son's or your daughter's daughter; for their sexual privacy is your own.
Sexual relations between a man and his granddaughter is forbidden, which the rabbis interpret to also include a man's daughter, a forbidden union not explicitly mentioned in the list but which is implied in verse 6 (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, pages 117 and 120).
Law #8: 11You will not have intercourse with the daughter of your father's wife born to your father. She is your sister; you will not have intercourse with her.
This is another way of restating verse 9, meaning a half-sister with whom one shares a common father. You may recall that Sarah was Abraham's half-sister (Gen 20:12). That kind of union is now forbidden.
Law #9: 12You will not have intercourse with your father's sister; for she is your father's own flesh and blood.
Amram married his aunt Jochebed who bore Aaron and then Moses. Jochebed was the daughter/granddaughter of Aaron's grandfather Levi, probably born from a much younger wife in his old age while Amram was the second son of Kohath son of Levi (Ex 6:16, 20; Num 26:59). This kind of union is now forbidden.
Law #10: 13You will not have intercourse with your mother's sister; for she is your mother's own flesh and blood.
This prohibition now addresses the other side of the family on the mother's side.
Law #11: 14You will not have intercourse with your father's brother; you will not approach his wife. She is your aunt.
The JPS Commentary defines this prohibition as forbidding sexual access to one's father's brother's wife (page 121).
Law #12: 15You will not have intercourse with your daughter-in-law. She is your son's wife; you will not have intercourse with her.
This is a necessary prohibition for extended households. The twelve Levitical curses of the Deuteronomic Code also include the prohibition against intercourse with one's mother-in-law (Dt 27:23).
Law #13: 16You will not have intercourse with your brother's wife; it is your brother's sexual prerogative.
Deuteronomy 25:5-10 provides an exception to this command. In the event that a man dies without leaving a male heir to carry on his name, his brother is commanded to take the widow in marriage in order to produce an heir for his dead brother. This is known as Levirate marriage. It was a practice from the time of the patriarchs. In the story of Judah and Tamar when Tamar was widowed in the death of Judah's eldest son, her father-in-law married her to his second son Onan. Onan did not want to produce an heir for his dead brother and "spilled his seed"; it was a decision that had disastrous consequences for Onan (Gen 38:1-10).
This completes the list of the primary incestuous sexual unions. The next section deals with two cases where marriage with the blood relatives of a man's wife is forbidden as incestuous and the prohibition against sexual union with a woman who is menstruating.
Law #14: 17You will not have intercourse with a woman and her daughter; nor will you take her son's or her daughter's daughter, to have intercourse with them. They are your own flesh and blood; it would be incest.
If a woman enters into a marriage with children, her husband is to regard her children as his own and the same sexual probations apply.
Law #15: 18You will not take a woman and her sister into your harem at the same time, to have intercourse with the latter while the former is still alive.
Jacob's unruly sister-wives are a good example of the disharmony such marriages can cause in a family (Gen 29:15-30:23); such unions are now forbidden.
Law #16: 19You will not approach and have intercourse with a woman who is in a state of menstrual pollution.
This is an expansion of the ritual purity law in 15:19.
In this last section of the Hebrew text the word 'evah, which the JPS Commentary translates as "abhorrence, abomination," occurs four times (Interlinear Bible: Hebrew: English, vol. I, page 309; JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 123). These practices weren't just forbidden, they were the kinds of abominations for which Yahweh will command the Israelites to drive the inhabitants out of Canaan (vs. 24-26).
Law #17: 20"Furthermore, you will not have intercourse with your fellow-citizen's wife; you would become unclean by doing so.
Law #18: 21You will not allow any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, thus profaning the name of your God. I am Yahweh. The literal translation is "You will not make your seed to pour over them to Molech" (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 309). Scholar Krahmalkov points out that this is a euphemism used by the Phoenicians for child sacrifices that is found among Phoenician texts in Carthage (Vasholz, Leviticus, page 215, also see footnote 15). To purposely take the life of a child-the end result of God's gift of fertility, is to profane the name of the God who is the author of life.
What does child sacrifice have to do with sexual morality and the list of prohibitions? This command comes between the prohibitions for adultery and homosexuality, which is followed by the prohibition against the perversion of bestiality. The entire section of prohibitions is concerned with the righteous use of God's gift of sexuality. The last section deals with the vilest abuses of God gift of sexuality and among them the vilest abuse of the desired result of human sexuality, the gift of fertility in the birth of children. In other words, these vile practices are all on the same level of depravity. The final list of sinful practices is followed by God's reason for dispossessing the Canaanites-the Canaanites practice these detestable sins. In Deuteronomy God denounces child sacrifice along with other defilements and declares: There must never be anyone among you who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire of sacrifice... [..]...it is because of these detestable practices that Yahweh your God is driving out these nations before you (Dt 18:10-12).
Who or what is Molech/Moloch to whom children were sacrificed? In Hebrew mlh = molech/moloch, meaning "he who rules" or molech mur, meaning "he who rules over live sacrifice", was not the name of a god but was a title for the god Hadad. Hadad was also called "Baal," which means "Lord/Master." Hadad-Baal was a god worshiped by both Phoenicians and Canaanites. In the ritual of human sacrifice, children were "made to pass" through fire (Dt 18:10), being burned alive as a sacrifice to Baal. Ancient historians Plutarch and Diodorus Siculus both wrote about the Phoenician (Canaanite) practice of child sacrifice (Plutarch, De Superstitions 171, Diodorus, Histories 20.14).
Human sacrifice, condemned by the Law of Sinai (see Lev 20:1-5; Dt 12:31), was judged to be homicide. The penalty imposed for this sin under the Law of the covenant was death by stoning, and if the sin was ignored or covered up, the penalty for the Israelite family clan was exile from the covenant community (Lev 20:2-5). God also defined such heinous crimes committed by the Israelites as defilement of His Sanctuary and profaning His holy name. The pagan practice of child sacrifice was later adopted by some Israelites, and was listed as one of the reasons God allowed the Assyrians and Babylonians to destroy the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah ( 2 Kng 16:3; 21:6; 23:10; Jer 7:31; 19:5 ff; 32:35; Ez 16:21). Also see references to child sacrifice in Lev 20:2, 3, 4, 5; 1 Kng 11:7; 2 Kng 23:10; Jer 32:35; Amos 5:26; and Acts 7:43.(3)
Law #19: 22You will not have intercourse with a man as you would with a woman. This is a hateful thing. For other Scripture passages that denounce homosexuality as a grave sin also see Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9, 18-20; and Jude 7. Homosexuality is an abuse of God's gift of human sexuality which was given to promote the blessing of fertility.(5)
Law #20: 23You will not have intercourse with any kind of animal; you would become unclean by doing so. Nor will a woman offer herself to an animal, to have intercourse with it. This would be a violation of nature.
Curiously this is the only command that is also addressed to women. All the other commands have been in the second person masculine singular form (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 123). Bestiality was a common sin among pastoral societies in the ancient Near East and was practiced by the Canaanites in their religious rites. Ancient Canaanite documents depict their gods performing sex with animals (Vasholz, Leviticus, page 217). The prohibition against bestiality with all animals is included among the twelve Levitical curses in the Deuteronomic Code and addresses both men and women (Dt 27:21).(4)
Law #21: 24Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these practices, for it was by such things that the nations that I am driving out before you made themselves unclean. 25The country has become unclean; hence I am about to punish it for its guilt, and the country itself will vomit out its inhabitants.
The final command is a statement of policy-do not be unclean like the peoples who inhabited the land promised to you. It is unknown if all the sexual prohibitions listed in this chapter were practiced by Canaanites, but we do know from Canaanite and Phoenician documents that the last four vile practices of adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality and bestiality were common practices among the people who inhabited Canaan. God promised Abraham He would give him the land of Canaan when the iniquity of the Amorites (the major inhabitants of Canaan) had reached its full extent (Gen 15:16)-that promise to Abraham was ready to be fulfilled.
26You, however, must keep my laws and customs and not do any of these hateful things: none of your citizens, none of your resident aliens. 27For all these hateful things were done by the people who lived in the country before you, and the country became unclean. 28If you make it unclean, will it not vomit you out as it vomited out the nations there before you? 29Yes, anyone who does any of these hateful things, whatever it may be, any person doing so, will be outlawed from his people; 30so keep my rules and do not observe any of the hateful laws which were in force before you came; then you will not be made unclean by them. I am Yahweh your God."'
The sexual morality laws opened in verses 1-5 and close in verses 24-30 with warnings of the consequences of transgressing Gods commands in the area of forbidden sexual unions and despicable practices. In verse 28 God personifies the land as spewing out immoral and degenerate people like a person who becomes ill and vomits contaminated food.
Question: Why would such immorality threaten Israel's claim to the land of Canaan?
Answer: If God is dispossessing those who previously occupied the land because of their immorality, the Israelites need to understand that He will judge them in the same way if they also become corrupt and sexually immoral. The land will "vomit" the Israelis out "as it vomited out the nations" that that were there before them. All nations are subject to God's judgment.
The Israelites may be God's "chosen people," but God's chosen, above all other nations, are accountable to Him for their behavior. Israel's mission is to be God's holy witness to the other nations of the earth. All the earth belongs to God and the various nations of the earth receive their lands through the graciousness of God (see Dt 2:4-5, 9, 19; 32:8; and Amos 2:3).
Chapter 19: The Holiness Laws
Chapter nineteen contains twenty-one (seven times three) regulations concerning moral and religious duties and obligations, many of which echo the Ten Commandments:
|The Ten Commandments in Ex 20:1-17||The Holiness Laws in Lev 19|
|Do not worship idols (vs. 4)||Do not worship idols (vs. 4)|
|You will not misuse the name (vs. 7)||Do not swear by my name (vs. 12)|
|Keep the Sabbath (vs. 8-11)||Keep the Sabbath (vs. 3)|
|Honor father and mother (vs. 12)||Honor father and mother (vs. 3)|
|Stealing (vs. 13)||Stealing (vs. 11)|
|Deceitful conduct (vs. 14, 16-17)||Deceitful conduct (vs. 11-13)|
|False oaths (vs. 16)||False oaths (vs. 12)|
|"I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you lived as slaves (vs. 1-2)||"I am Yahweh your God who freed you from the land of Egypt (vs. 36)|
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Please read Leviticus 19:1-18: Holiness Laws (religious
Beginning with the introduction statement "I am Yahweh your God" and concluding with the statement "I am Yahweh" the laws are broken up into two series of seven times three laws, with the laws emphasized by the statements "I am Yahweh your God" or "I am Yahweh." The declarations of Yahweh's holy name will be repeated sixteen times.
|Verses||Declarations of the Holy Name||Repetitions and laws|
|1. 19:1-2||I am Yahweh your God||Introduction|
|2. 19:3||I am Yahweh your God||
The divine name is repeated seven times
in the first set of 21 laws
|3. 19:4||I am Yahweh your God|
|4. 19:5-10||I am Yahweh your God|
|5. 19:11-12||I am Yahweh|
|6. 19:13-14||I am Yahweh|
|7. 19:15-16||I am Yahweh|
|8. 19:17-18||I am Yahweh|
|9. 19:19-25||I am Yahweh your God||
The divine name is repeated seven times
in the second set of 21 laws
|10. 19:26-28||I am Yahweh|
|11. 19:29-30||I am Yahweh|
|12. 19:31||I am Yahweh your God|
|13. 19:32||I am Yahweh|
|14. 19:33-34||I am Yahweh your God|
|15. 19:35-36||I am Yahweh your God|
|16. 19:37||I am Yahweh||Conclusion|
The first section of twenty-one (seven times three) laws that follows the introduction is divided into units by the statement "I am Yahweh your God" and "I am Yahweh." The repeats of the divine name have been underlined to emphasize the seven times repetition. This pattern will be repeated in the next series of twenty-one (seven times three) laws in 19:19-37 where "I am Yahweh/ I am Yahweh your God" will be repeated another seven times.
1. "I am Yahweh your
2. "I am Yahweh your God"
3. "I am Yahweh your
4. "I am Yahweh"
5. "I am Yahweh"
6. "I am Yahweh"
7. "I am Yahweh"
|Adapted from Sailhamer's chart in The Pentateuch as Narrative, page 349|
Topics of commands and prohibitions in Lev 19:1-18
|1. Honor for parents||8. Lying||15. Respect for the blind|
|2. Keeping the Sabbath||9. Deception||16. Respect for God|
|3. Idolatry||10. Profaning God's name/false oaths||17. Perversion of justice|
|4. Communion offerings||11. Exploitation||18. Slander|
|5. Gleaning fields||12. Theft||19. Respect for family and neighbor|
|6. Gleaning orchards||13. Payment of wages||20. Mercy in human relationships|
|7. Stealing||14. Respect for the deaf||21. Love of neighbor|
|Adapted from Sailhamer's chart in The Pentateuch as Narrative, page 349|
The laws are numbered according to the Rabbis' list of the 613 commands and prohibitions of the Law of Moses (see Sailhamer, page 349-52).
Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: 'Speak to the whole community of Israelites and say: "Be holy, for I, Yahweh your God, am holy.
This is the first of seven times the phrase "I am Yahweh your
God" is repeated. Keeping the Sabbath obligation is a "sign" of the covenant
Law #3: 6Do not turn to idols and do not cast metal gods for yourselves. I am Yahweh your God.
This is a prohibition in the Decalogue (Ex 20:4; Dt 5:8). Making
a carved or metal idol is one of the twelve curses imposed for violation of the
law in the Deuteronomic Code (Dt 27:15).
Law #4: 5If you offer a communion sacrifice to Yahweh, make it in such a way as to be acceptable. 6It must be eaten the same day or the day after; whatever is left on the third day must be burnt. 7If eaten on the third day it would be rotten food and not be acceptable. 8Anyone who eats it must bear the consequences of this guilt, having profaned Yahweh's holiness; that person will be outlawed from his people.
The literal translation is "a sacred gift of peace." The basic rites of the communion offerings are set down in Leviticus 3:1-17; in 7:11-34; and in 22:21. The Toda/Todah communion offering was eaten the same day as was the neder vow offering; only the nedavah free-will/voluntary offering was eaten over a two day period.
Question: What was the double penalty associated with eating the communion sacred meals improperly?
Answer: The communion meal was food given to God that He shared with His people in a meal of reconciliation and fellowship. To eat the communion offerings without properly observing the commands associated with the holy food was to profane God's holiness. The penalty was excommunication.
Law #5: 9When you reap the harvest of your land, you will not reap to the very edges of the field, nor will you gather the gleanings of the harvest; Dt 24:19-22
This command the and next provide for the care of the poor and the stranger. The Moabitess Ruth was able to collect grain for herself and her mother-in-law Naomi because of this provision for the poor (Ruth 2:3, 7).
Law #6: 10nor will you strip your vineyard bare, nor pick up the fallen grapes. You will leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am Yahweh your God.
The Deuteronomic Code also commands that what is left of the
harvest in the fields and vineyards must be allowed to be collected by the
poor: widows, orphans and foreigners (Dt 24:19-22).
Law #7: 11You will not steal,
The Hebrew verb lo' teshakkeru literally mans "You
shall not lie" (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 127). It approximates
the intent of the command in the Ten Commandments to not bear false witness (Ex
20:16; Dt 5:20). In the Book of the Covenant the command is that one must not spread
false rumors (Ex 23:1a).
Law #9: or fraudulently [falsely] with your fellow-citizen.
The Hebrew noun in this phrase is sheker, meaning
"witness" and the phrase 'ed shaker means "a false witness (JPS
Commentary: Leviticus, page 127). This is a repeat of the commandment not
to give false evidence against a neighbor in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:16; Dt
5:20) and in the Deuteronomic Code: You will not spread false rumors. You
will not lend support to the wicked by giving untrue evidence (Ex 23:1).
Law #10: 12You will not swear by my name with intent to deceive and thus profane the name of your God. I am Yahweh.
The Mishnah equates this command to the commandment in Exodus 20:7: You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God... Both commands employ the verb nishba', "to swear, take an oath" (Mishnah: Shevu'ot 3:8; JPS Commentary: Leviticus page 127). Oaths were sworn in God's name as the keeper of the oath between the two parties. The person who swears falsely treats God's name as if it were not sacred and the false swearing becomes a desecration of God's holy name. This is also the case when a person uses God's name as an expletive; it is a desecration of God's name that brings judgment on the speaker.
Law #11: 13You will
not exploit [or oppress]
The Book of the Covenant and the Deuteronomic code both include the command not to oppress the alien, widows or orphans (Ex 22:20; 23:9; Dt 24:17-18, 21b).
Law #12: or rob your fellow [neighbor].
In the Ten Commandments this violation and the next are addressed in the final two commands concerning coveting what is not yours (Ex 20:17), and in the Book of the Covenant the prohibition reads: You will not cheat the poor among you of their rights at law (Ex 23:6), which also applied to the next command.
Law #13: You will not keep back the laborer's wage until
Labors must be paid before sundown when the next day begins. To keep his wages until morning is robbing the laborer of the wage he has earned for his living that day. In the parable Jesus told in Matthew 20:1-16, the Master paid the laborers their wages before sundown (Mt 20:8). The Deuteronomic Code elaborates on the command to not exploit or oppress the poor in terms of his wages: You must not exploit a poor and needy wage-earner, be he one of your brothers or a foreigner resident in you community. You must pay him his wages each day, not allowing the sun to set before you do, since he, being poor, needs them badly; otherwise he may appeal to Yahweh against you, and you would incur guilt (Dt 24:14-15).
Law #14: 14You will not curse the dumb [the deaf and those who cannot speak]
Law #15: or put an obstacle in the way of the blind
The abuse of the bind in one of the twelve curses in the Deuteronomic Code: Accursed be anyone who leads the blind astray on the road (Dt 27:18).
Law #16: but will fear your God. I am Yahweh.
This command is repeated in Lev 19:32, numerous times in the Deuteronomic Code (Dt 17:19; 19:20; 21:21), and also in Moses' first and final homilies (Dt 8:2-6; 31:12-13). As Moses told the Israelites at the Theophany at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20, fear of God keeps us from sinning (Ex 20:20-21). It is a teaching he will repeat in his first homily to Israel as he prepares the people to begin the conquest of Canaan, reminding them of the day they feared God in the divine encounter at Sinai (Dt 8:2-6).
Question: In the context in this verse, the persecutors of the deaf and blind may be emboldened because the blind and deaf cannot see or hear their tormentors, but why should they fear discovery of their sin?
Answer: They should be afraid because God sees and hears everything, and He will punish those who persecute the weak and disabled.
Law #17: 15You will not be unjust in administering justice. You will neither be partial to the poor nor overawed by the great, but will administer justice to your fellow citizen justly.
Book of the Covenant has a similar, but more detailed command:
Law #18: 16You will not go about slandering your own family,
Law #19: nor will you put your neighbor's life in jeopardy. I am Yahweh.
Respect for one's neighbor/countryman and the rejection of violence are two hallmarks of a civilized society.
Law #20: 17You will not harbor hatred for your brother. You will reprove your fellow-countryman firmly and thus avoid burdening yourself with a sin.
Showing mercy in human relationships is another hallmark of a civilized society. The inspired writer of Sirach offered advice on human relationships: Do not resent your neighbor's every offence, and never act in a fit of passion. Pride is hateful to God and humanity, and injustice is abhorrent to both (Sir 10:6-7).
Law #21: 18You will not exact vengeance on or bear any sort of grudge against, the members of your race, but will love your neighbor as yourself. I am Yahweh."'
Answer: In summing up the whole Law and the teachings of the Prophets into two broad commandments Jesus listed love of neighbor as the second commandment after love of God; it is a reference to Leviticus 19:18.
In Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:18 in the command to love one's neighbor as oneself and also from Deuteronomy 6:5: You must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. In the Beatitudes Jesus explained that by being obedient to Leviticus 19:18 in showing God's love and justice to others that the people of God were distinguished from others in the world and became "children of God (Mt 5:43-48). St. Peter wrote that the strength to offer this kind of love comes from living in imitation of God's holiness, and St. Paul wrote we must have the courage to love others as Christ loved us: As God's dear children, them, take him as your pattern, and follow Christ by loving as he loved you, giving himself up for us as an offering and a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God (Eph 5:1-2), because God is love (1 Jn 4:8). That God is love becomes the principle of our activity in extending works of mercy and charity to others and in fulfilling the commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Also see 1 Pt 1:14-16 and 1 Jn 3:2-10.
Questions for group discussion:
Question: Leviticus 19:2 calls all believers to imitate the holiness of God. St. Caesarius, Bishop of Arles (470-543) defined "holiness" in a sixth century AD homily: It is only through Greek that the interpretation of this word "holy" can be discovered. For agois is the Greek for "holy,"and agios has the meaning "not of the earth." Therefore if we are more solicitous for heavenly things than for those of earth, this term is not unfittingly applied to us (Homily 1.19). How do you define the meaning of "holiness"? How does holiness for the Israelites and holiness for the New Covenant people of God relate to "separateness" from the world? How does the statement "I am Yahweh Your God/ I am Yahweh," used a total of fifteen times in Leviticus chapter 19, suggest the primary reasons for holiness and obedience? See Lev 22:33; 1 Pt 1:13-21 and CCC 2013-15, 2028-30.
Question: Jesus taught us that to love our fellow-man is the second greatest commandment after loving God (Mt 5:43-48; 22:34-40). How do we show God's love to the men and women we come in contact with on a daily basis? What are our obligations in this regard? What did Jesus mean when He told us to love our enemies? See CCC 1822-25.
1. Positive permanent statutes for priests are found in Leviticus: 6:18/11, 22/15; 7:34; cf. 10:15; 16:34; 24:3. The only negative permanent statute for a priest is in Lev 10:9 (forbidden to drink fermented liquor while in service). Positive permanent statutes for the people are found in Leviticus: 23:10-13, 21. Negative permanent statutes for the entire community are found in Leviticus 3:17; 16:29; 17:7; 23:14, 21. Scripture declares the purpose for permanent statutes is to make a lasting law that will be observed by "generations to come" (Lev 3:17; 10:9; 17:7; 23:14, 21, 31; 24:3).
3. Baal means "lord" or "master" (the god's official title was "Exalted One, Lord of the earth"). By about 1500 BC the people along the eastern Mediterranean coastlands used the title "Baal" (Lord) as the chief title of the mountain storm-god Hadad. El was originally the head of the Canaanite pantheon, but Hadad-Baal, the god of storms and fertility (symbolized by the rain in storms), supplanted the god El as the principal deity in the pantheon of the eastern Mediterranean coastland peoples. His image was represented as the body of a man with a bull head. In Numbers chapter 25 the Israelites disgraced themselves by participating in the Moabite fertility rites for Baal of Peor. Baal was also known by the title Molech, referring to Baal's role as the "ruler" over human sacrifice (related to the Hebrew word melech = ruler/king). The cemeteries of children sacrifice to Baal are called tophet in the Bible. See Jer 7:32 and 19:6-13 where a tophet was described as being located in the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem; also see 2 Kng 16:3 where King Ahaz of Judah burned his own son in fire and 2 Kng 23:9-10 where King Josiah destroyed such cultic sites. Dt 18:10 refers to the same vile practice. Child sacrifice was common among Israel's neighbors and was practiced as a religious rite in the Phoenician city of Carthage until the city was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC. Roman historians who recorded the complete destruction of the city and the plowing of salt into the ruins attributed the Roman's ruthlessness in part to their horror of the Carthaginian practice of child sacrifice.
4. The Hittite law code only placed restrictions on sex with certain animals like cattle, dogs, pigs, sheep or goats (a capital crime), but there was no punishment for sex with horses or mules (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, #187-88, #199-200, pages 196-97).
5. For teachings in the early Church denouncing homosexuality see the Didache 2:2, Letter of Barnabas 10; Justin Martyr, First Apology 27; Clement, Exhortation to the Greeks 2 and The Instructor 6 and 8; Tertullian, Modesty 4; Cyprian, Letters 1.8; Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel 4:10; St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Titus 5, and Homilies on Romans 4; Augustine, Confessions 3.8.15.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for this lesson (*indicated Scripture is quoted or paraphrased in the citation):
2013-15, 2028-30, 2811*
363, 365-68, 2260*
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.