Feb. 6 Reading: Leviticus 16-18 Commentary
“For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.” (Lev. 16:30-31)
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” (Lev. 17:11)
Leviticus 16 – The Day of Atonement
For Aaron, coming before the Lord was a big deal. He could not enter the presence of the living God lightly. Based on Lev. 16:1-2, it appears this may have been what happened to Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 when God killed them for offering “profane fire” before him. Therefore, God reiterated that Aaron was only allowed inside the Most Holy Place when appropriate.
The Day of Atonement
Israel earmarked the Day of Atonement on the calendar every year. God designed it to be an “…everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year” (Lev. 16:34).
During this ritual, the high priest (Aaron) would go into the Holy of Holies and offer atonement for himself first, then for his family and then for the sins of the entire nation. This atoning would cover all the sins and transgressions of the people. In essence, anything that they could do to offend God was forgiven.
An interesting ritual during the Day of Atonement ceremonies was that the sins of the people were symbolically placed on the head of a live goat. We read:
“Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat…” (v. 21).
Then, in a public display that all could see, the goat was escorted out of the camp into the wilderness. In this way, the goat took the sins of the people away from the camp and away from God.
The symbolism here is clear. This serves as a picture of how our sins were placed on Jesus Christ as he hung on the cross. Unlike the Day of Atonement that happened every year, Jesus bore our sins once for all time. His work of forgiveness is superior to that of the Old Testament priesthood, an idea the writer of Hebrews made sure to emphasize (Heb. 7:26-28, 9:11-18; 10:19-22).
Leviticus 17 – Life Is in the Blood
On a quick read, the first few verses of Lev. 17 don’t seem to make sense. That is, until you understand what the word “kill” means in 3. In this instance, that word refers to someone killing an animal for sacrifice.
How do we know that? For starters, the only animals listed are the ox, lamb and goat. Those were all sacrificial animals. Furthermore, when you read down into verses 7-9, sacrifices are specifically mentioned.
So the directive is clear. God forbid animal sacrifices from taking place outside the camp. The tabernacle was the only place to conduct them.
Lev. 17:10-11 are two famous verses when it comes the Jewish diet and ceremonial purity. They read:
“And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.”
Blood represents life. In that way, it helps explain the idea of blood atoning for sin. Only through the sacrifice of a living creature could the sins of another living creature be forgiven.
Again, the writer of Hebrews points out the limited nature of the Old Testament sacrificial system (Heb. 9:12-14, 25-28). Then, animals had to be sacrificed again and again for the atonement of sin. However, Jesus offered a one-time sacrifice of his blood so that sins were covered once and for all.
Leviticus 18 – Sexual Morality Laws
Understanding Leviticus 18 also relies on another understanding of language. Time and time again the phrase “uncover nakedness” is mentioned. What was this? Well, it was way more than pulling a blanket off of someone who was sleeping in their tent.
To uncover nakedness meant to have sexual intercourse with that person. God cared about sexual purity for his people. He wanted them to follow the model for intimacy outlined in Genesis 2 between Adam and Eve. So God lists all the individuals of blood relationship or marriage that they were not to have sexual relations with.
Two practices that receive added attention are homosexuality and bestiality. God calls homosexuality “an abomination” in verse 22. And when it came to mating with animals, God called it “a perversion” (v. 23).
However, it wasn’t only that these practices were not God’s design. The heathen nations of the time practiced them. Verse 24 says that “…by all these the nations are defiled…[and] the land is defiled…[so that] the land vomits out its inhabitants.” And if Israel was not careful and followed the sinful practices of their neighbors, the land would vomit them out as well (vv. 26-29).
Questions to Consider:
Unlike the Day of Atonement which happened every year in Israel, Jesus bore our sins on the cross once for all time and for all mankind. His work of forgiveness is superior to that of the Old Testament priesthood. Have you accepted him as your Savior? If not, what is holding you back?
What other points would you want to know about in our Leviticus 16-18 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.