Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Leviticus 16:1-18:30


Chapter 16 of Leviticus mandates an annual Day of Atonement. Once each year Aaron, or his successor high priest, may enter the Holy of Holies and approach the Ark of the Covenant which is, symbolically or actually, the very presence of YHWH. To make this approach unworthily is to risk the kind of death that befell Nadab and Abihu. The high priest must therefore make sacrifices for himself and for the whole community. He must bathe himself and vest properly. A lot of blood is sprinkled around.

The atonement ritual involves a scapegoat, a live animal upon which the community's sins are placed. It is then sent into the wilderness, almost certainly to die. It is interesting to note that the scapegoat is not intentionally killed.

Verse 16:8 mentions Azazel, a strange word occurring only here in Scripture. It is either the name of a desert demon (see 17:7) or a word meaning something like "removal of sin" (so the Septuagint translated it).

Whatever the word means, the ritual is meant to atone for unknown sins on the part of the Israelites. God's presence does not tolerate sin.

Jewish people still observe a day of atonement at Yom Kippur. Of course, without the Temple, the ritual is quite different. For Christians, Jesus is our atonement.

Leviticus 17 requires the Israelites to bring animals to the Tabernacle for slaughter. The priests serve as the community's butchers.

Verse 17:7 makes mention of goat demons. The israelites are not to sacrifice to them.

Verses 10 and following repeat and expand upon the prohibition against consuming blood. Hunters must bleed out their kill and cover the blood with earth. Blood equals life and belongs to God.

Animals not properly bled are unclean. Those who consume them must wash ritually and will be unclean until evening. Evening, in Hebrew reckoning, marked the start of a new day.

Chapter 18 contains regulations concerning sex. Certain sexual practices are forbidden. Why? The Egyptians and Canaanites did them.

Forbidden practices include incest in varying degrees (Your aunt is off limits. Your first cousin seemingly OK), menstrual sex, adultery, male/male sex, and bestiality. Contra Jacob, men should not take their wives' sisters as "rival wives."

In the middle of these sex laws is a prohibition against sacrificing one's children to Molech (a Canaanite deity).

Verse 24 repeats that these practices are to avoided because these are things the Canaanites do. In other words, this is not about morality but about holiness--about Israel being set apart as YHWH's nation.

Anachronistically (or proleptically) the land is said to have vomited out the Canaanites for their unclean practices.

Next: Leviticus 19-21

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