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Leviticus Bible Study – Lesson #8

Lesson 8:  Leviticus 17-18                


This chapter had direct application to the wilderness march and the period that Israel was camped about the tabernacle. It has to do with ethical rather than ceremonial considerations. Clean domestic animals for food were to be slain at the tabernacle. Only verses Lev. 17:8-9 in this chapter have to do specifically with the ceremonial offering of a sacrifice to God.

After Israel was scattered throughout the land of Palestine, some of them lived a hundred or more miles from the tabernacle. It would not have been feasible or even possible for them to bring the animals they were to use for food and slay them at the tabernacle. In Deuteronomy God revised these instructions to them when they were ready to enter the land (Deut. 12:15-16 and Deut. 12:20-25).

Why did God give such instructions? Israel was fresh out of Egypt where they had been surrounded by idolatry. They had worshiped the idols of Egypt, and there was always the danger of lapsing back into idolatry. They had worshiped the nature gods of Egypt. In Lev. 17:7 the word translated “devils” is actually seirim which means “hairy one” and refers to goats. The Egyptians worshiped Mendes, the goat god, and the Greeks worshiped the goat god as Pan—familiar to us from Greek literature and art depicted with tail, horns, and cloven feet. Medieval Christianity then identified this form as the devil. We get our word panic from this period of time when it described the terror that the devil caused.

From this we see that Israel was forbidden to kill any animal in any place but the tabernacle in order to prevent them from making it an offering to Pan, the goat god.

When they lived down in Egypt, even though they were in slavery, they were idolaters just like the Egyptians. God did not redeem them because they were superior. God redeemed them because He had heard their cry and because He had made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When God makes a covenant, He keeps it. How do we know they were idolaters in Egypt? Because Scripture says they were. “In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands: Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt” (Ezek. 20:6-8). God is trying to break them from that sordid background in the land of Egypt. They had worshiped animals, and the shedding of blood and the offering of the meat were used in idolatry.

One needs to understand this background to get the significance of Paul’s injunctions to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and 1Corinthians 10:1-33. The Corinthians were idolatrous and they brought their animal and offered it to their idols. They left their animal there; the meat was taken into the temple and sold in the meat market there. The best filet mignon of that day would have been bought at the heathen temple; it was the local supermarket. By the time of the New Testament, the godly Israelite had been so schooled that he refused to buy this meat that had been offered to idols. The converted Gentiles didn’t have any qualms about eating the meat that had been offered to idols, realizing that the idol was nothing. But the Jewish Christian didn’t like to eat with the gentile Christian because of this difference over meat offered to idols. This chapter in Leviticus, you see, gives the background for the passage to the Corinthians.

It is interesting to note that when the great Council of Jerusalem handed down the decision, James spoke for the group and said, “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20). God was teaching the gentile believers that life is sacred.

The eating of blood was likewise forbidden. The blood was for atonement, not for nourishment. “The life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). The principle behind atonement is life for life. Since the wages of sin is death, symbolized by the shedding of blood, so “without the shedding of blood is no remission.” Forgiveness does not come because the penalty of sin is excused, but because it is transferred to a sacrifice whose lifeblood is poured out. When an animal was slaughtered, its blood was drained immediately. An animal that died accidentally was unclean if its blood was not drained right away.  Verses Lev. 17:15-16 refer to a person who ignorantly ate the meat of an animal that had not been bled. Provision was made for his cleansing. But if he refused this provision, he was to be punished.

Laws of Sexual Purity (Leviticus 18)

We are living in a day when the moral foundations have been broken up and removed. “Who makes the rules, and what is right and wrong?” asks the sneering skeptic. This preamble and postscript give us a twofold explanation:

(1) Three times in the preamble, verses Lev. 18:2, 4, 5, the Word says “I am the Lord.” God makes the rules! Breaking the Ten Commandments is wrong because God says it is wrong. (2) The postscript gives the second reason. “And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine” (Lev. 20:26). God demands that His people be holy. Purity in all life’s situations is the command of God.

This chapter deals with the seventh commandment primarily. It spells out in detail what is meant by adultery. Sexual sins are the subject. These are the sins which mark a decadent society and the decline and fall of empires.

The things that God said were immoral are still immoral today. Listen to the New Testament: “Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:5-7). “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Eph. 4:17-19). “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:11). “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:4).

These passages from the Epistles of the New Testament are speaking to you and to me. The child of God in any age is called to holy living. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16-17). “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4). “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). God is calling us to holiness. We need to emphasize holiness.

In Lev. 18:6-18, the expression “to uncover the nakedness” means to have sexual intercourse. Lev. 18:6 states the general principle. Marriage with a close relative was forbidden, whether mother (Lev. 18:7); stepmother (Lev. 18:8); sister or half-sister (Lev. 18:9); granddaughter (Lev. 18:10); the daughter of a stepmother (Lev. 18:11); aunt (Lev. 18:12, 13); uncle (Lev. 18:14 (a). Modern medicine confirms that in marriages of blood relatives, the physical or mental weaknesses of the parents are sometimes magnified in the children. But the prohibition extended to in-laws and other relatives-by-marriage as well (Lev. 18:14-16), sometimes known as relationships of affinity. A reason sometimes given for this latter code is that the term “one flesh” in Genesis 2:24 describes a family relationship that is so close and permanent that even the union of relatives-by-marriage is considered to be incest. A man must not marry a daughter-in-law or step-granddaughter (v. 17) or take a woman as a rival to her sister (v. 18), as in the case of Hannah and Peninnah (1 Sam. 1:1-8). Verse 16 was later amended by Deuteronomy 25:5: If a man died childless, his brother was obliged to marry the widow. This was known as levirate marriage.

Intercourse with a woman was forbidden during menstruation. Adultery with a neighbor’s wife was prohibited. Also banned were the terrible practices sometimes connected with the worship of the idol Molech, causing newborn babies to pass through the fire (2 Kgs. 23:10; Jer. 32:35). Molech was the god of the Ammonites: His idol-image was in the Valley of Hinnom. Francis Schaeffer describes the ritual:

According to one tradition there was an opening at the back of the brazen idol, and after a fire was made within it, each parent had to come and with his own hands place his firstborn child in the white-hot, outstretched arms of Molech. According to this tradition, the parent was not allowed to show emotion, and drums were beaten so that the baby’s cries could not be heard as the baby died in the arms of Molech.

Sodomy or homosexuality was forbidden, as well as sexual intercourse with an animal.

Lev. 18:1-23 tell the people what not to do; Lev. 18:24-30 tell them why not to do it. It is no accident that impurity and idolatry are found together in the same chapter (see also Lev. 20). A person’s morality is the fruit of his theology, his concept of God. The Canaanites were a graphic illustration of the degradation that idolatry produces (Lev. 18:24-27). When the children of Israel took possession of the land, they killed thousands of these people at Jehovah’s command. When we consider the moral degradation of the Canaanites, as described in Lev. 18:24-30, we can understand why God dealt so harshly with them.