Thursday, February 22, 2007

Leviticus 22

Leviticus 22: More rules for priestly holiness, and sacrifices


The first 14 verses of this chapter concern priestly holiness. They probably should have been included with the last post, for Leviticus 21, but I didn’t think to look ahead to this chapter, to see if it belonged. Oh well.

  • The priests were to treat sacred offerings to the LORD with respect, so as not to profane His holy name.
  • If any priest came near the offerings while he was ceremonially unclean, he was to be cut off from the LORD’s presence.

I wasn’t sure if I would bother including that first “rule.” It’s more of a general thing, than a specific law. But I decided to include it anyway.

The second one is interesting, because it talks about the priest being cut off from “the LORD’s presence.” Previously, we’ve seen numerous punishments mentioned where someone was to be cut off from “his people,” and a punishment where someone was to be cut off “before the eyes of his people,” but now we have a priest being cut off from “the LORD’s presence.” I’m finding it more and more interesting that people are being punished by being “cut off” from things. So for this specific rule, to my mind, being cut off from the LORD’s presence might mean: that the person can’t serve as priest anymore; that the person is to be exiled; that the person is to be executed; something else.

  • Priests with infectious skin diseases or bodily discharges were not to eat the sacred food—the priests’ share of offerings—until they were cleansed.
  • The same rule would apply if the priest became unclean by:
    • Touching something defiled by a corpse
    • Touching something made unclean by an unclean person, who was unclean because of an emission of semen
    • Touching an unclean “crawling thing” (verse 5)
    • Being made unclean by any other unclean person, where the person’s uncleanness is spreadable.
  • Such an unclean priest would remain unclean until evening, and not be allowed to eat the sacred food until he had bathed with water. Actually, verses 6 and 7 are a little bit confusing:
    The one who touches any such thing will be unclean till evening. He must not eat any of the sacred offerings unless he has bathed himself with water. When the sun goes down, he will be clean, and after that he may eat the sacred offerings, for they are his food.
    I’m not sure if this means that the person had to bathe and wait until sundown, or if he had to either wait for sundown or bathe, before he could eat the food.
  • Priests weren’t allowed to eat anything found dead, or torn by wild animals.

I think these rules are pretty straightforward; they’re just stating that the priests were to avoid uncleanness. There is a subtle difference, though, between the rules for uncleanness for priests and for the rest of the Israelites: For the rest of the Israelites, the rules are “here are the things that can make you unclean, and how to ‘clean’ yourself.” For the priests, though, the rules are “here are the types of uncleanness you are to avoid.” The priests are held to a higher account. In fact, as verse 9 says:

The priests are to keep my requirements so that they do not become guilty and die for treating them with contempt. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.
  • Nobody outside of a priest’s family was allowed to eat the sacred food.
    • This includes guests and hired workers—they were not to eat of the food either.
    • Slaves, however, were allowed to eat of the food—whether the were bought with money or born in the priest’s household, they were allowed to eat the food.
    • If a priest’s daughter got married, she was no longer allowed to eat the food. (Of course, if she married another priest, she would be allowed to eat the food with him, as his wife.)
      • If this happened, but then the daughter’s husband died, leaving her a childless widow, she was allowed to come back to the priest as his daughter, and eat the food again.
  • If anyone who wasn’t authorized to eat the sacred food accidentally had some, he was to make restitution to the priest, and add a fifth of the value to it.
    • There is, however, a specific warning against priests tricking people into eating the food, forcing them to pay it back with an extra fifth of the amount on top.

My one question about these rules has to do with a priest’s daughter, who married, and was then widowed. It says that in this case, if she was childless, she could come back and eat her father’s portion of the sacred food; this is because there was nobody else to take care of her. (It probably doesn’t need to be said, but remember that women were more defenseless in that society than they are in 21st Century North America; if a woman was widowed, she couldn’t just go out and get a job, to support herself.) If she had children, the children could take care of her. But I’m wondering about the case where she had children, when she was widowed, but they were too young to take care of her; would an exception be made in that case, and would the family be allowed to join back with the priest?

The rest of the chapter is devoted to rules about sacrifices.

  • When anyone presented an offering to the LORD—to fulfill a vow, or as a freewill offering—the animal was to be male, and without defect.
  • Specific examples of defects are given; any animals that were blind, injured or maimed, had warts, or festering or running sores, or had injured testicles.
  • If an Israelite was offering a “freewill offering,” he could offer an ox or sheep that was stunted or deformed—he just couldn’t offer those animals for the fulfillment of vows.

These rules are just clarifying a central point: You offer to the LORD only the best. You don’t offer the LORD second best, and keep the best for yourself.

  • When a calf, lamb, or goat was born, it was always to remain with its mother for at least seven days. It wouldn’t be acceptable as an offering until the eighth day.
  • A cow or sheep was not to be offered on the same day as its own young.

These rules, to my mind, are just emphasizing to the Israelites that they’re not to be cruel—after all, the LORD isn’t cruel!

Again, this chapter ends with a summary verse:

Keep my commands and follow them. I am the LORD. Do not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the LORD, who makes you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD. (verses 31–33)


Regarding the last two rules given, about animals: We’ve seen this type of thing in previous chapters, but I like that God thinks not just about His people, but about His other creatures, too, when giving the rules. Don’t get me wrong, I know that animals are less important than people—some people don’t believe that, anymore—but it doesn’t mean that we can just treat animals any way we want. If we are to be like God, then we are to be loving, even to creatures that are lesser than us.

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