Leviticus 1-3

Good morning! Today we start Leviticus, the third book of the Torah. We modern readers find this a daunting book to make sense of, since it presumes and further shapes a highly sacrificial culture. The “book of the Levites” focuses on holiness as that which sets God (with faithful Hebrews and their priests by extension) apart from other human communities. Remember that the zeal of these descendants of Levi led them to kill thousands of their kin who had worshipped the golden calves in Exodus 32. Thereafter, the Levites have a reputation for rigorously following the laws of God, because human happiness consists of obeying God, no matter what God commands. While I mostly find the Levitical tradition alienating and inflexible, it should be said that strict observance of Jewish practices is one of the reasons that this very small faith has persisted, despite millennia of intermingling with other cultures. Let’s look for other positive elements as we make our way through Leviticus, and if that seems impossible take comfort in the fact that we’ll be through the book in less than two weeks. We got this!

Chapter 1 jumps right into the grisly deep end with instructions about how to prepare various animals as burnt-offering sacrifices. Being a priest according to these rules would have required a fair amount of butchery skills (or would develop them in a hurry). I’m thankful for later parts of the Hebrew Scriptures which make it clear that God doesn’t need the taking of animal life as proof of devotion, but it’s instructive to recognize that the Judeo-Christian faith shared with other early religions a focus on blood and sacrifice.

Grain offerings are the focus of Chapter 2. Note that aside from the token portion of grain, bread or flour which was turned into smoke on the altar, most of these grain offerings were eaten as holy food. Grain offerings were one of many ways by which priests and their families stayed alive. The prohibition against leaven perhaps was a tradition dating back to the Exodus from Egypt, but I suspect it’s more likely that leaven/yeast involved a mixing of types, which can create anguish for the fastidious Levite. We’ll see more of this need to keep things in separate categories as we go along.

I’m not sure of the occasion for giving offerings of well-being in Chapter 3. It’s my understanding that the fat and entrails that weren’t offered on the fire belonged to the priests to eat—perhaps it was their well-being which was the reason for the gift. Likewise, I’m not sure why animal fats were reserved for God, other than perhaps to make a more satisfying aroma for God from the sacrificial fire. If anyone here knows these things better than I, please inform us further.  Otherwise, happy speculating, and happy reading!

Read Leviticus 1-3.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Leviticus 4-7. Thanks for reading!

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