Leviticus 21-23

Good morning! In case you’re counting, there are just two more days of Leviticus after today! (I just checked.) This has been fun, but we’re ready to move on, right? Soon enough, I promise. Today in Leviticus 21-23, we hear more about the role of priests, separating lay people from clergy, and then read about the main Hebrew festivals appointed throughout the year.

Chapter 21 focuses on the importance of priests conducting themselves differently from lay people out of regard for the holiness of their role before God. Priests are prohibited from conspicuously grieving for anyone but immediate family, and even that is forbidden the high priest. This injunction and the others in these chapters clearly seek to divide the priests/holy from the people/commonplace. Even within the priestly tribe, law here excludes priests who have physical “imperfections” or “blemishes”. All this perfectionism troubles me because it leaves out the possibility that God would choose to work with those left outside “on the margins”, as we see elsewhere in the Bible. But seeking to find a positive intent, this section of the Holiness Code was a way of assuring that priests, as ambassadors for God, would be as close to physical and moral “perfection” (i.e. God) as possible.

Leviticus 22 extends the project of dividing lay from clergy by excluding the everyday occasions for impurity that would come from life among everyday people. Lay people are also forbidden to eat of the priestly sacrifices. Envy across the priest/lay divide seems inevitable from my perspective. One side could be jealous of the amount of food the priests got to eat (especially during lean times), and the priests might have wished they could trade the food excess for a portion of land, since that was forbidden them. Nevertheless, the distinctions here effectively create a Hebrew caste system based on proximity to Holiness. Men seem to have had no choice but to maintain their place in it, women had some options for change depending on who they were married to.

Instructions for the Sabbath and the festivals of the Jewish year comprise the bulk of chapter 23. Note that the Sabbath is listed first before any of the festivals. In my understanding, observant Jews still treat the Sabbath as even more important that the annual festivals. Of the holy days listed here, I believe that the most significant ones for Jews are the festivals of Passover, Pentecost (Festival of Weeks at the time of harvest), and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Happy reading!


Read Leviticus 21-23.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Leviticus 24-25. Thanks for reading!

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