The book of Leviticus continues the story of Exodus by describing what takes place in the thirteenth month after the Israelites’ divine deliverance from Egypt (Ex 40:17; Num 1:1).
It is dominated by the topic of holiness.
Holiness and uncleanness are mutually exclusive.
The main commandment is: “be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2).
The book consists of divine speeches (90 %);
There are only two sections that describe events:
1. The consecration of the priests and the sin of Nadab and Abide (Lev 8:1-10:20);
2. A man who was cursing God (Lev 24:10-23).
Moses continues his role of mediator between God and the Israelites.
The book stresses the distinction between the majority of Israelites and the selected few who are divinely appointed as priests.
Lev 8-9 - consecration of the priests
1. They are brought out from the midst of the community (Lev 8:6) to be consecrated as priests.
2. The priests are to stay at the entrance to the tabernacle for seven days (Lev 8:31-36) - indicates their separation from the people and their holy statues.
3. On the eighth day, there is a rite through which they are brought back to the community (Lev 9:1-24).
Lev 9:24 - the Lord accepts the sacrifice offered by the priests - “fire consumes the sacrifice” (cf. 1 Kings 18:38).
The people belong to one of two categories: clean or unclean.
Anyone designated as unclean must undergo a process of purification before they can fully participate in the religious life of the community.
Holy, clean, and unclean
The layout of the camp
The tabernacle courtyard is at the heart - a holy area;
The rest of the camp - a clean area;
Everywhere outside the camp - unclean
1. The priests - considered to be holy - relation with the Tabernacle;
2. The Israelites - clean - associated with the camp;
3. Non-Israelites - unclean - leaving outside the camp (now see Acts 10:9-16).
The high priest is considered holier than the other priests and so enjoys certain privileges (only he can enter the Holy of Holies) but has also stricter rules regarding marriage, purity, and mourning.
A lesser category of priests consists of those who suffer from some form of physical defect.
They are prohibited to offer sacrifices but they can eat from the sacrifices allocated to the priests.
See Lev 21:1-4; 10:1-7.
Next, come the Levites. They cannot offer sacrifices, they assist the priests in their duties (Num 4:1-49).
Nazirites gets attain a high degree of holiness than the rest of the people (Num 6:1-21).
The Holy of Holies - only the high priest;
The Holy Place - only the priests;
The courtyard - only the Israelites.
See Num 4:18-20 - cannot even look at the holy things;
Lev 16:12-13 - the cloud of incense as protection?
The Holy Days
The weekly Sabbath
The yearly day of atonement (Lev 23:3,28);
The pilgrimage festivals of (1) unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Tabernacles (See Ex 23:14-17).
All are marked holy by the prohibition of work.
The book of Leviticus envisages a world in which
People, places, objects, and even periods of time
Have differing degrees of holiness.
Varying degrees of uncleanness
1. The strength or weakness of an impurity is judged by its ability to communicate impurity to other objects or persons (see Lev 15:24);
2. Differing degrees of impurity are reflected by the way in which they pollute the sanctuary.
Deliberate or intentional sins pollute the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies (Lev 16:16);
Unintentional sins by the high priest or the community pollute the incense altar in the Holy Place (Lev 4:2-21 - especially vv. 7,18);
Lesser sins or impurities pollute the bronze altar in the courtyard (Lev 4:22-35 - especially vv. 25,34).
3. There are impurities that can be rectified (corrected) and those that cannot.
Lev 12-15 - those that can be rectified - skin diseases and various bodily discharges.
Those that cannot be rectified:
Sexual sins (Lev 18:20, 23-25, 27-30);
Idolatry (Lev 20:2-5);
Murder (Num 35:16-21, 31)
Profaning the sacred (Lev 7:19-21; 22:3,9).
Only the death of the guilty party can remove the pollution caused by the sin.
The process of purification
1. The passage of time (Lev 11:39; Num 19:11; Lev 12:2-5);
2. Washing and/or laundering (Lev 11:24-25, 27-28).
Objects that cannot be washed are disposed of by
burial, burning, or some other method.
What is holiness?
1. God is holy, the supreme manifestation of holiness. To be holy is to be God-like.
2. Holiness emanates from God; He is the sole source of holiness. He alone endows other objects, places, or people with holiness. Everything that is given to God or belong to him is holy.
3. Holiness describes the moral perfection and purity of God’s nature.
Lev 19:2 - the behaviour of the people should reflect God’s perfect nature.
4. Sanctification - the process by which someone or something becomes holy. It is the result of God’s activity. God sanctities (Lev 20:8; 21:8, 15,23; 22:9,16,32).
But, those who were made holy by God are expected to remain holy by doing nothing that would compromise their special statues (Lev 11:44).
The Israelites are also to keep holy anything sanctified by God - Sabbath for example (Ex 20:8-11).
To be holy is to be unblemished.
And so priests and sacrifices must be unblemished.
Physical defect is not permitted (Lev 21:17-23; 1:3).
Holiness is associated with perfect moral behaviour (Lev 20:7; 22:32-33).
To be holy is to live in a way that reflects the moral perfection of God; it is to live a life marked by love, purity, and righteousness - three most important hallmarks of perfect behaviour;
See specially Lev 19 - (for example Lev 19:18).
Uncleanness is the opposite of holiness.
The source of uncleanness:
1. As a natural consequence of being human - behind all those skin diseases and bodily discharges is the looming death.
To be human is to be destined to die.
2. Sins - human action that transgress God’s commands.
The relationship between holiness and uncleanness
They are totally incompatible.
Both can transmit their nature to other people or objects.
Any clean person or thing is constantly in the middle of a struggle between the powers of holiness and uncleanness.
Thus, the statues of an individual can change, and so the Israelite need to guard themselves against become unclean.
New Testament Connections
Uncleanness is a matter of heart or thought
Mark 7:20-23; Mt 15:17-20.
Mt 23:23-28; Lk 11:37-41.
Mt 5:20, 48.
Impurity springs from wickedness and immorality
Rom 1:24; 6:19; see 2 Cor 12:21; Eph 4:19; 5:3,5.
1 These 4:7 - called to be holy (1 Cor 1:2; 1 Tim 2:8).
God purifies those who are unclean (Acts 15:9).
1 John 1:7 - the blood of Christ purifies (John 15:3; Titus 2:14; Heb 1:3; 1 John 1:9)
But, we are also exhorted to purify ourselves (2 Cor 7:1; James 4:8).
The concept of holiness - ambition of every believer
1 Peter 1:15-16; quote from Leviticus;
Heb 12:14 - without holiness no one will see the Lord.
The work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification (2 Thess 2:13; Rom 15:16)
1 Cor 6:19 - as the temple of God we are sanctified by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Heb 2:11; Acts 26:18; see 1 Cor 1:2
Heb 10:10, Col 1:22
Jesus reveals his power of making us holy by healing the uncleanness and its source.
Healing the leper (Mk 1:40-44);
The woman (Mk 5:24-34)
Restoring to life (Mk 5:35-43) - death is the primary source of uncleanness.
Jesus’ holy nature is recognised by his disciples (John 6:69)
And by the unclean spirits (Mk 1:24).