Leviticus 16-18

Greetings!  This reading is Leviticus 16-18.

Chapter 16 deals with the Day of Atonement (aka Yom Kippur), where the sanctuary and the people are symbolically cleansed from the pollution of Israel’s sins.  The Israelites had many feast days throughout the year, but this was a day of fasting.  While sins were dealt with throughout the year, their seriousness required an annual day to address them as well.

This is where the concept of a scapegoat comes from:

Leviticus 16:20-22 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.

Chapter 17 warns against drinking blood, among other things, because the life of a creature is in its blood.

Chapter 18 is an important and often controversial chapter because of verse 22: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”  That seems like a pretty straightforward condemnation of homosexual behavior.  Some people try to say it is just a ceremonial law that only applied to Israelites and their worship, but if you review the context carefully you’ll see that it is not the case.

The book of Leviticus does contain many ceremonial laws that were just for the Israelites. God wanted to set them apart from other peoples, so He gave them some special laws regarding clothes, food, worship, etc. But here’s why calling verse 22 a ceremonial law is incorrect.  When you read the passages surrounding Leviticus 18:22 it is obvious that it is not a ceremonial law. One of the most important guidelines to understanding the Bible is to read verses in context (What is the nature of the whole passage? Who is writing? To whom are they writing?)

Leviticus 18 contains many moral laws, and they are sandwiched by strong statements that the Israelites are not to behave like the pagan Canaanites did (the Israelites are about to displace them and take over the land). God did not expect the Canaanites and other nations to follow the ceremonial laws, but He did expect them to follow the moral laws written on our hearts. The Canaanites had committed the offenses noted in Leviticus 18 for hundreds of years, so God was judging them. Here is the beginning of chapter 18:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.

And here is the end of chapter 18:

“‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. “‘Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God.’”

If someone thinks verse 22 is a ceremonial law, do they think the verse before or the verse after are ceremonial laws? (Leviticus 18:21 says, “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” and Leviticus 18:23 says, “Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.”)

Read Leviticus 18 yourself and ask if Leviticus 18:22 sounds like a ceremonial law (such as what food to eat and what clothes to wear) or a moral law.  And consider the context of who God is talking about.  He would not have expected the Canaanites to follow his ceremonial laws, but He is judging them harshly for violating the laws set forth in chapter 18. 

If you want to know more about how to respond to pro-gay theology, the best reference on this debate I have seen is Responding to Pro-Gay Theology by Joe Dallas. I highly recommend it.

Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.

3 thoughts on “Leviticus 16-18”

  1. Hi Neil,

    I almost sent you an email but I thought I should check your Bible Study blog. Leviticus 18 has been on TV these days and my wife asked me about it. Couldn’t really articulate a good answer. I’m glad I came by the blog found an entry on Leviticus 18.



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