Study Guide

Leviticus Society and Class

Society and Class

It shall be cut up into its parts, with its head and its suet, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but the entrails and the legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall offer the whole and turn it into smoke on the altar; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord. (NRSV 1:12-13)

And he shall cut it into his pieces, with his head and his fat: and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: But he shall wash the inwards and the legs with water: and the priest shall bring it all, and burn it upon the altar: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord. (KJV 1:12-13)

In the book of Genesis, God's people could offer a burnt sacrifice anywhere they found rocks, wood, and a flamethrower. Now they have go to the holy Tabernacle and let the priests do it.

Priests writing a book that gives priests the starring role—whodathunkit? Not only does this say a lot about the development of Israel's social structure, but it also helps explain how Matt Damon and Ben Affleck became movie stars. Not that we're complaining.

But if you cannot afford a sheep, you shall bring to the Lord, as your penalty for the sin that you have committed, two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.… But if you cannot afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, you shall bring as your offering for the sin that you have committed one-tenth of an ephah of choice flour for a sin offering; you shall not put oil on it or lay frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering. (NRSV 5:7,11)

And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the Lord; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering. 
. . . But if he be not able to bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, then he that sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall put no oil upon it, neither shall he put any frankincense thereon: for it is a sin offering. (KJV 5:7,11)

Let's face it—cows are expensive. To keep the Tabernacle from becoming an exclusive club for wealthy farmers (otherwise known as Israel's 1%), Leviticus gives other offering options for the middle and lower classes. Can't afford cattle? Bring sheep. No goats? Bring birds. No birds? Hie thee to a Safeway and get God a bag of flour instead.

This is the portion allotted to Aaron and to his sons from the offerings made by fire to the Lord, once they have been brought forward to serve the Lord as priests; these the Lord commanded to be given them, when he anointed them, as a perpetual due from the people of Israel throughout their generations. (NRSV 7:35-36)

This is the portion of the anointing of Aaron, and of the anointing of his sons, out of the offerings of the Lord made by fire, in the day when he presented them to minister unto the Lord in the priest's office; Which the Lord commanded to be given them of the children of Israel, in the day that he anointed them, by a statute for ever throughout their generations. (KJV 7:35-36)

It's an eternal law of God that priests at the Tabernacle shall be the only people who can offer sacrifices. God also commands that these sacrifices shall be used to provide the priests with a steady supply of holy meals and sacred snacks. Hey, wait a minute…

Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward, and washed them with water. He put the tunic on him, fastened the sash around him, clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him. He then put the decorated band of the ephod around him, tying the ephod to him with it. He placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden ornament, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moses. (NRSV 8:6-9)

And Moses brought Aaron and his sons, and washed them with water. And he put upon him the coat, and girded him with the girdle, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod upon him, and he girded him with the curious girdle of the ephod, and bound it unto him therewith. And he put the breastplate upon him: also he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim. And he put the mitre upon his head; also upon the mitre, even upon his forefront, did he put the golden plate, the holy crown; as the Lord commanded Moses. (KJV 8:6-9)

Anyone who has watched the makeover scenes in Pretty Woman or The Princess Diaries knows the deal here—clothes can be a way of creating respect and authority. Or as The Doctor said when he fought the evil alien Azazel, "I wear an ephod. Ephods are cool."

The priest shall examine him; if the diseased swelling is reddish-white on his bald head or on his bald forehead, which resembles a leprous disease in the skin of the body, 44 he is leprous, he is unclean. The priest shall pronounce him unclean; the disease is on his head. (NRSV 13:43-44)

Then the priest shall look upon it: and, behold, if the rising of the sore be white reddish in his bald head, or in his bald forehead, as the leprosy appeareth in the skin of the flesh; He is a leprous man, he is unclean: the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean; his plague is in his head. (KJV 13:43-44)

This is the original "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV," —except, you know, no TVs. In Leviticus, priests don't offer medical treatment, but that doesn't stop them from determining whether an Israelite has the kind of skin disease that makes someone unclean.

Some of the oil that remains in his hand the priest shall put on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of the right hand, and on the big toe of the right foot, on top of the blood of the guilt offering. (NRSV 16:17)

And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel. (KJV 16:17)

Here he comes to save the day! Leviticus makes the high priest the only person who can go into the Holy of Holies and atone for all of Israel's sins. Some say that priests can pray before the Ark of the Covenant in a sacred room in Ethiopia, while leading biblical scholars Spielberg and Lucas contend that the Ark is (spoiler alert!) now kept in a warehouse after melting the faces of Nazis.

Speak to Aaron and say: No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord's offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. (NRSV 21:17-21)

Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God. (KJV 21:17-21)

God is no respecter of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Is this his way of hammering home the theme of dividing the world between holy perfection and everything else.

And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. (NRSV 25:10-11)

And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. (KJV 25:10)

One way to keep Israel's 1% from challenging priestly authority is to keep people from building up a permanent power base. Every fifty years, in the Jubilee, Israelites are required to give back any land and release any slaves they've acquired since the previous Jubilee.

If anyone sells a dwelling house in a walled city, it may be redeemed until a year has elapsed since its sale; the right of redemption shall be one year. If it is not redeemed before a full year has elapsed, a house that is in a walled city shall pass in perpetuity to the purchaser, throughout the generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. But houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. (NRSV 26:29-31)

And if a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year may he redeem it. And if it be not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be established for ever to him that bought it throughout his generations: it shall not go out in the jubilee. But the houses of the villages which have no wall round about them shall be counted as the fields of the country: they may be redeemed, and they shall go out in the jubilee. (KJV 25:29-31)

Ancient Israel considered farmland to be much more valuable than a downtown condo, so people who bought a home in a walled city didn't have to give the property to its original owner during the Jubilee. The property laws in Leviticus assume that it's impossible to get power and riches from owning lots of buildings in a city. Oops. 

All tithes of herd and flock, every tenth one that passes under the shepherd's staff, shall be holy to the Lord. (NRSV 27:32)

And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord. (KJV 27:32-33)

The very last laws in Leviticus require Israelites to give God ten percent of their harvests, herds, and flocks. Since God is usually away on business, in Deuteronomy, he remembers to add that this tithe is supposed to go to those in need and to the Levites.

Just who are the Levites? By an amazing coincidence, they happen to be the home tribe of the priests. The priests aren't vain—this book really is about them.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...