Leviticus, or the book of laws. This book offered a blueprint for the Israelites to govern themselves and keep themselves alive and strong, but also had some eyebrow-raising moments.
A lot of the beginning is about how to properly sacrifice to God. It’s interesting to me that the priests doing the sacrifices will get to keep a portion of most, presumably because a priest is a full-time job.
An intense part of the book comes in Leviticus 10, when two of Aaron’s sons (Aaron and his family have been declared the only ones who can become priests) make an unauthorized offering to God and are immediately burned alive by him. That’s extreme, and Moses’ reaction is to tell Aaron “Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community.” Seems tough after your sons were just burned alive.
Leviticus 12 focuses only on the regulations for childbirth. This makes sense on a level, because childbirth was a potentially life-threatening endeavor each time. Having rules and regulations to make it as safe as possible makes sense for the well-being of women. The other side of the coin, though, is that this chapter calls women “ceremoniously unclean” for 33 days after giving birth, and then has to offer a lamb to be clean again.
Leviticus 15 is all about “bodily discharge,” which again as a health hazard makes a lot of sense. Sickness and disease could easily be spread if that wasn’t taken care of. It’s also a little funny that a chapter of the book of the Bible is dedicated to poop, blood and semen.
Leviticus 18 goes into great detail about unlawful sexual relations. Most of it has to do with not sleeping with family members, which if anything gives a great snapshot into what kind of culture lived back then, that it needs to be expressly forbidden to not have sex with your relatives. Again, it helps to keep the people in order and if the family structure fails then the entire community will crumble, but I couldn’t help but chuckle at “Do not have sexual relations with your mother, that would dishonor your father” followed by “Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife, that would dishonor your father” which heavily implies they were often two different women.
An interesting find here was Leviticus 19:18 – “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” I believe love thy neighbor is the single most important idea in the Bible, and I was frankly a little surprised to find that sentiment in Leviticus, a book with rules and prices for purchasing slaves. It could be a much more literal “neighbor,” as in “fellow Israelite” as opposed to “fellow human,” but still it was interesting to see. The book also says to be kind to fellow Israelites in need, who are poor or who have lost family. It was refreshing to read.
But then we hit Leviticus 20, which is basically a list of things you’ll be put to death for if you do them. From prostituting yourself to the god Molek (he/she/it must have had a big influence), to cursing your mother or father, to homosexual sex, it was an unforgiving time. It reinforces chapter 18 mostly, and keeps the family and social order intact, but is still intense.
In Leviticus 24 we see our first example of this when a man curses the name of the Lord, and the entire community stones him to death (Lev 24: 23). Ironically, a few verses before that it reads, “Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death.”
Leviticus 26 is the penultimate book, and it lists the rewards for obedience to God. Prosperity, good harvests and the enemies of the Israelites fleeing from them. It takes nine verses. The following 30 verses are about all the terrible things God will do to you if you disobey him. Sudden terror and disease, no crops, sending wild animals to devour your children, being destroyed by your enemies and your lands being taken, and punishing you seven times over for your sins. But, of course, you won’t be destroyed completely, as we see in Leviticus 26:44 “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God.”
Thank you for reading,