Not long after the Israelites left slavery in Egypt under Moses’s leadership, they camped at the base of Mt. Sinai for about a year. The third book of the Bible, Leviticus, describes events occurring during a particular 4-6 weeks during that year.
Here are 7 interesting things about Leviticus that came up in relation to my Old Testament Interpretation class at Wake Divinity:
1. God told Moses to designate his brother Aaron and Aaron’s four sons as priests. Moses did so in a multi-step ceremony that included remaining at the entrance of the Tabernacle, a holy place built at Mt. Sinai, for 7 days and nights. On the eighth day, they made burnt offerings to God. Leviticus says:
“Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Lord.
Then Moses said to Aaron, This is what the Lord meant when He said: ‘Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people.’
And Aaron was silent.”
God instructs Moses to make Aaron’s sons priests and then God kills two of them as soon as they become priests? Aaron had served God all of this time, putting his life on the line in standing up to Pharaoh, and God kills his sons for offering non-requested incense? Can you feel Aaron’s pain in his silence?
2. Leviticus explains that, immediately after killing Aaron’s sons, God “spoke to Aaron.” God said:
“Drink no wine or other intoxicant, you or your [remaining] sons, when you enter the [Tabernacle], that you may not die. This is a law for all time throughout the ages for you must distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean; and you must teach the Israelites all the laws which the Lord has imparted to them through Moses.“
Were you expecting God to say something different to Aaron after killing his sons?
3. God provided some instructions to the Israelites regarding what they could and could not eat, including:
The following animals “that either chew the cud or have true hoofs, you shall not eat: the camel—although it chews the cud, it has no true hoofs: it is unclean for you; … the hare—although it chews the cud, it has no true hoofs: it is unclean for you ….
The following you shall abominate among the birds—they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture … the white owl, [and] the pelican; the stork; herons of every variety; the hoopoe, and the bat.”
What do you make of these instructions if a hare (a rabbit) does not chew cud and a bat is not a bird (a bat is a mammal)?
4. In Leviticus, God gave Moses many instructions for the Israelite people. One instruction:
“Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.”
Does this instruction (above) apply to us today?
5. A second instruction:
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt….”
Does this second instruction (above) apply to us today?
6. Youngs Literal Translation translates one of the verses mentioned above as “And these ye do abominate of the fowl; they are not eaten, an abomination they are: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray ….” Youngs Literal Translation translates another one of the verses mentioned as “And with a male thou dost not lie as one lieth with a woman; abomination it is.”
An eagle is an abomination? And a male lying with a male as with a woman is an abomination? What does abomination mean? Is an eagle a sin? Is eating an eagle a sin today?
7. Leviticus is part of a story starting in the 25th chapter of the book before it (Exodus) and ending in the 10th chapter of the book after it (Numbers) that could just have easily been a book (or scroll) unto itself, focused on the one year the Israelites spent at Mt. Sinai.
Who made the decision to divide scripture into the books we have now and to give them the names that they have?
These are just some of the questions to consider when reading Leviticus.
(Picture at the top: A picture I took of a sunset over Lake Norman last Friday.)
The Jewish Study Bible 2d ed. 2014. Oxford: University Press (Tanakh Translation).
#1: Leviticus 10:1-3.
#2: Leviticus 10:8-11.
#3: Leviticus 11:1-6, 13-19.
#4: Leviticus 18:22.
#5: Leviticus 19:34.
#6: Leviticus 11:13-19; 18:22.
#7: The Jewish Study Bible 2d ed. 2014. Oxford: University Press (Tanakh Translation).