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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 22

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


The Law of Holiness (Leviticus 17-27).

The main section of the Book of Leviticus is constructed on a definite pattern. It commences with a description of the offerings and sacrifices of Israel (chapters 1-7), and ends with a description of the times and seasons as they are required of Israel (chapters 23-25). It continues with the establishment of the priesthood (chapters 8-10), which is balanced by the section on the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (chapters 21-22). This is then followed by the laws of uncleanness (chapters 11-15) which are balanced by the laws of holiness (chapters 17-20). And central to the whole is the Day of Atonement (chapter 16).

This second part of the book has been spoken of as ‘The Holiness Code’. We may balance this by calling chapters 1-15 ‘The Priestly Code’. The first part certainly has a priestly emphasis, for the priests control the offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7) and administer the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (chapters 11-15), and the second part a holiness emphasis. But this must not be over-emphasised. The whole book is mainly addressed to the people, it is for their benefit as God’s covenant people, and the maintenance of the holiness of the priests is just as important in the second half. It is to be seen as a whole.

We may thus analyse it as follows (note the chiasm):

1). THE PRIESTLY CODE (chapters 1-15).

a) Offerings and Sacrifices (chapters 1-7) b) Establishment of the Priesthood (chapters 8-10) c) The Laws of Cleanness and Uncleanness (chapters 11-15)

2) THE DAY OF ATONEMENT (Leviticus 16:0)

3) THE HOLINESS CODE (chapters 17-25)

c) The Laws of Holiness (chapters 17-19) b) Maintenance of the Holiness of the Priesthood (chapters 20-22) a) Times and Seasons (chapters 23-25).

As will be seen the Day of Atonement is central and pivotal, with the laws of cleanness and uncleanness and the laws of holiness on each side. This central section is then sandwiched between the establishment of the priesthood (chapters 10-12) and the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (chapters 20-22). And outside these are the requirements concerning offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7) and the requirements concerning times and seasons (chapters 23-25).

So the Holiness Code may be seen as a suitable description of this second half of the book as long as we do not assume by that that it was once a separate book. The description in fact most suitably applies to chapters 19-22. It describes what Israel is to be, as made holy to Yahweh.

It was as much a necessary part of the record as what has gone before. The Book would have been incomplete without it. The Book of Leviticus is, as it claims, the record of a whole collection of revelations made to Moses at various times, brought together in one book, and carefully constructed around the central pivot of the Day of Atonement. There is no good reason for doubting this, and there are possible indications of colophons to various original records which help to substantiate it. It was the necessary basis for the establishment of the religion of Yahweh for a conglomerate people.

So having in what we know of as the first sixteen chapters of the Book laid down the basis of offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7), the establishment of the Priesthood (chapters 8-10), the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (chapters 11-15), and the requirements of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:0), the whole would have been greatly lacking had Moses not added some further detail of the holiness that God required of His people and of His priests.

The former is contained in Leviticus 17:1 to Leviticus 20:27. In this section Moses deals with the sacredness of all life (Leviticus 17:0), the sexual relationships which can defile (Leviticus 18:0), and the positive requirements for holiness in the covenant (Leviticus 19-20).

It is then followed by the further section dealing with the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 22:16), with Leviticus 22:17-33 forming a transition from speaking to the priests to speaking to the people.

Chapters 23-25 then deal with sacred times and seasons, including the seven day Sabbath (Leviticus 23:1-3), the set feasts of Israel (Leviticus 23:4-44), the daily trimming of the lamps and the weekly offering of showbread (Leviticus 24:1-9), the Sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:1-7), and the year of Yubile (Leviticus 25:8-55). Included in this is a practical example of blasphemy against the Name (Leviticus 24:10-23), which parallels the practical example of priestly blasphemy in Leviticus 10:1-7. Thus practical examples of the blasphemy of both priests and people are included as warnings.

Leviticus 26:0 seals the book with the promises of blessings and cursings regular in covenants of this period, and closes with the words ‘these are the statutes and judgments and laws which Yahweh made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses’ (Leviticus 26:46). Leviticus 27:0 is then a postscript on vows and how they can lawfully be withdrawn from, and closes with a reference to tithing, the sanctifying of a tenth of all their increase to Yahweh.

Chapters 11-15 dealt with the uncleannesses of Israel, leading up to the Day when all uncleannesses were atoned for (Leviticus 16:0). But the Day of Atonement covered far more than those. It covered every way in which the covenant had been broken. It also covers the direct transgressions of Israel. Leviticus 17:0 onwards therefore deals further with the basis of the covenant against which they ‘transgressed’ and for which they also needed atonement. Chapters 11-15 dealt with practical matters considering what was ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ as they faced daily life, these chapters from 17 onwards now deal with the basis on which they should live their lives as Yahweh’s holy people, and the attitudes that they should have. They deal with prospective sin and disobedience. The former were more within the cultic section up to Leviticus 16:0, but the latter are firmly directed at the people’s moral response, so that their responsibilities under the covenant might be made clear directly to them. The distinction must not be overpressed. They are all still, of course, cultic, but the latter from a less direct viewpoint. They do not have so much to do with priestly oversight. They come more under the jurisdiction of the elders.

There is, however, no change of direction in overall thought. The whole of Leviticus emphasises holiness from start to finish. There is not a change of emphasis only a change of presentation because God is now directly involving the people.

It must, however, be firmly asserted that, as we shall see in the commentary, there is nothing in what follows that requires a date after the time of Moses. Having been given by God control of a conglomerate people (Exodus 12:38), with a nucleus made up of descendants from the family and family servants of the patriarchs (Exodus 1:0 - ‘households’), he had to fashion them into a covenant keeping nation under Yahweh and provide the basis on which they could be one nation and kept in full relationship with their Overlord. It was precisely because the disparate peoples believed that his words came from God that they were willing mainly to turn their backs on their past usages and customs and become one nation under Yahweh, culminating in them all being circumcised into the covenant when they entered the land (Joshua 5:0).

And with such a conglomeration of people with their differing religious ideas, customs and traditions, it is clear that this could only have been successfully achieved by putting together a complete religious system which was a revelation from Yahweh, which would both keep them together as one people and would ensure that when they reached Canaan they would have no excuse for taking part in the Canaanite religious practises such as he knew of from his time of administration in Egypt and from his time with the Priest of Midian. Had they arrived in Canaan without a single binding system, they would soon have fallen prey (as they almost did anyway) to the attractions of Canaanite religion. It was only the firm foundation that Moses had laid (combined with God’s own powerful activities) that finally resulted in their rising above their backslidings, and in their constantly turning back to Yahwism, because Moses had rooted it so deeply within them. And this finally enabled the establishing of the nation under Samuel and David after times of great turmoil.

This system did not come all at once. He had to begin instructing them soon after the crossing of the Reed Sea (Exodus 15:26), and a system gradually grew up (Exodus 17:13-16) as they went along, based as we learn later on a tent of meeting set outside the camp (Exodus 33:7-11), until at Sinai the book of the covenant (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33) was written down as a result of God’s words to the people and to Moses. Then in his time in the Mount this was expanded on. But it would continue to be expanded on in the days to come, until the time came when Moses knew that he had to accumulate in one record all the regulations concerning sacrifices, priesthood and the multitude of requirements that went along with them. By this time he had much material to draw on.

For leaders from different groups had no doubt been constantly coming to him for direction and leadership (Exodus 16:22), and especially for those who were not firmly established in the customs of Israel he no doubt had to deal with a wide number of diversified queries, and seek God’s will about them. This explains why sometimes the collections may not always seem as having been put together in as logical order as they might have been. They partly depended on what questions he had been asked, and what particular problems had arisen, and what particular issues were important at the time. But it was on the basis of all this activity that we have the Book of Leviticus as a part of the wider Pentateuch.

Chapter 22 Dealing With Holy Things.

This chapter is divided into sections. The priesthood are not to approach God while unclean (chapters 2-9), eligibility to partake of priestly food which is Holy but not Most Holy (chapters 10-16), nothing unblemished must be offered to Yahweh (chapters 17-25), and reference to the right use of Peace offerings (chapters 26-33).

Verse 1

Chapter 22 Dealing With Holy Things.

This chapter is divided into sections. The priesthood are not to approach God while unclean (chapters 2-9), eligibility to partake of priestly food which is Holy but not Most Holy (chapters 10-16), nothing unblemished must be offered to Yahweh (chapters 17-25), and reference to the right use of Peace offerings (chapters 26-33).

Leviticus 22:1

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

Once more we have confirmed that these are Yahweh’s word to Moses.

Verses 2-9

For Priests, Discernment of Uncleanness Is Vital. They Must Not Approach Yahweh While Unclean Lest They Die (Leviticus 22:2-9 ).

Leviticus 22:2

“Speak to Aaron and to his sons, that they separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel, which they hallow to me, and that they profane not my holy name. I am Yahweh.”

Aaron and his sons must ensure that they see themselves as separate from the holy things of the children of Israel, which the children of Israel hallow to Yahweh. The sanctuary was not theirs, they were privileged to minister there. The holy things were not theirs, they were privileged to have a part in them. They had no automatic right to have contact with them. They may minister with them when they were clean, but not when they were unclean. Such things were God’s and God’s alone. Thus when they were unclean (verse 3) they must have nothing to do with them. They must see themselves as separate from those holy things in such a way that uncleanness barred them from them. Otherwise they would profane and make common the holy Name of Yahweh. Even Aaron and his sons must not presume on God.

Leviticus 22:3

“Say to them, Whoever he be of all your seed throughout your generations, who approaches to the holy things, which the children of Israel hallow to Yahweh, having his uncleanness on him, that person shall be cut off from before me. I am Yahweh.”

So even looking into the far future, if anyone of the seed of Aaron presumes, and approaches the holy things of Yahweh while ritually unclean, he is to be cut off from being a priest. For they must remember that God is Yahweh, the Holy One whose holy things must not be defiled.

Leviticus 22:4 a

“Whatever man of the seed of Aaron has a suspicious skin disease, or has an issue, he shall not eat of the holy things, until he is clean.”

This includes the fact that a man of the seed of Aaron is barred from eating the holy things until he is clean. This includes those who have a suspicious skin disease, and those who have an issue. They are unclean all the while that they have either.

Leviticus 22:4-7 (4b-7)

“And whoever touches anything which is unclean by the dead, or a man whose seed goes from him, or whoever touches any creeping thing, whereby he may be made unclean, or a man of whom he may take uncleanness, whatever uncleanness he has, the person who touches any such shall be unclean until the evening, and shall not eat of the holy things, unless he bathe his flesh in water, and when the sun is down, he shall be clean; and afterward he shall eat of the holy things, because it is his bread.”

Indeed all the laws of uncleanness apply equally to the priests. Touching anything that has had contact with death, a man emitting semen, any forbidden creeping thing, touching anyone who can convey uncleanness, whatever that uncleanness is, will render the priest unclean until the evening. He shall not eat of holy things until that uncleanness is dealt with. This will be by washing his flesh thoroughly in water and waiting until the evening. Then he may eat of holy things because it is his God-provided food.

Leviticus 22:8

“What dies of itself, or is torn of beasts, he shall not eat, to defile himself with it. I am Yahweh.”

They must also not eat anything that dies of its own accord, or anything that is torn by beasts. Both would defile them. And they must remember that God is Yahweh, the living God.

Leviticus 22:9

“They shall therefore keep my charge, lest they bear sin for it, and die in it, if they profane it. I am Yahweh who sanctifies them.”

So must they keep His charge, lest they receive punishment for any transgression or sin that they commit, a punishment which will result in death. To touch holy things while unclean would be to insult and disparage Yahweh and treat them as common. They must remember that the One Who has sanctified them is Yahweh. And He must not be approached with defilement.

Once more then we have an emphasis on the fact that all who would serve God must keep themselves from all forms of uncleanness. They must be pure in heart and mind and in outward living. They must avoid all that could defile them.

Verses 10-16

Eligibility To Eat of Holy Things (Leviticus 22:10-16 ).

Leviticus 22:10

“There shall no stranger eat of the holy thing: a sojourner of the priest’s, or a hired servant, shall not eat of the holy thing.”

Those not of priestly stock may not eat of a holy thing, whether they be visitors or hired servants.

Leviticus 22:11

“But if a priest buy any soul, the purchase of his money, he shall eat of it; and such as are born in his house, they shall eat of his bread.”

But permanent members of the household may eat of holy food, whether bondservants or family members and permanent servants born in the house and seen as part of the household.

Leviticus 22:12

“And if a priest’s daughter be married unto a stranger, she shall not eat of the contribution offering of the holy things.”

However a priest’s daughter who has married outside the line of Aaron may not eat of the contribution offering of the holy things. She no longer comes under the descent of ‘Aaron and his sons’.

Leviticus 22:13

“ But if a priest’s daughter be a widow, or divorced, and have no child, and be returned unto her father’s house, as in her youth, she shall eat of her father’s bread, but there shall no stranger eat of it.”

On the other hand if through widowhood or divorce she return to her father’s house childless she once again becomes eligible. If she has a child than she will have responsibilities to her husband’s family and will still be seen as part of that family. But none who is not of true descent may eat of it.

Leviticus 22:14

“And if a man eat of the holy thing unwittingly, then he shall put the fifth part of it to it, and shall give to the priest the holy thing.”

If a man accidentally and unwittingly partakes of a holy thing, then he must remedy the situation by replacing it and adding a fifth part to it. He would presumably do this by offering a guilt offering or peace sacrifice himself, with the holy thing going to the priest, and extra besides.

Leviticus 22:15-16

“And they shall not profane the holy things of the children of Israel, which they offer to Yahweh, and so cause them to bear the iniquity that brings guilt, when they eat their holy things. For I am Yahweh who sanctifies them.”

So the priests are to guard their privileges and not treat them lightly. They are not to profane what they receive as holy things from Yahweh, which have been offered by the children of Israel. Otherwise they will bring guilt on themselves when they eat of them. They must remember that they are from Yahweh Who sets them apart and has made them holy.

We too must ensure that when God entrusts us with something we are careful to ensure its right use. It is not given to us for us to do what we like with, but to use it in accordance with His instruction. Some is for use in God’s work alone, other is for us and our families. We must not mix the two. But what is His should not be used for our own pleasure.

Verses 17-25

Offerings and Sacrifices Must Be Unblemished (Leviticus 22:17-25 ).

Having come to the end of this section concerning the priests the people are now reintroduced. For God’s words and commands are for them all, and His desire and demand is that they all be holy. As the record will now move shortly into the times and seasons which are in God’s hands, all are to be involved. But first an application must be made to the people occasioned by the idea of blemishes. They too must not come with what is blemished.

Leviticus 22:17

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

Another confirmation that we have here words of Moses from God. Possibly also an indicator of a separate revelation.

Leviticus 22:18-20

“Speak to Aaron, and to his sons, and to all the children of Israel, and say to them, Whoever he be of the house of Israel, or of the sojourners in Israel, who offers his oblation, whether it be any of their vows, or any of their freewill-offerings, which they offer to Yahweh for a whole burnt offering; in order that you may be accepted, you shall offer a male without blemish, of the bull oxen, of the sheep, or of the goats, but whatever has a blemish, that you shall not offer. For it shall not be acceptable for you.”

Note how ‘all the children of Israel’ are reintroduced, preparatory for the next section. Whoever offers a whole burnt offering whether it be in relation to a vow, or as a freewill offering must offer an animal which is without blemish. A blemished offering will not be acceptable. It will not count. Thus the person themselves will not be accepted on the basis of it.

Leviticus 22:21-22

“And whoever offers a sacrifice of peace-offerings to Yahweh to accomplish a vow, or for a freewill-offering, of the herd or of the flock, it shall be perfect to be accepted. There shall be no blemish in it. Blind, or disabled, or maimed, or having a discharge, or an itch, or scabbed, you shall not offer these to Yahweh, nor make an offering by fire of them on the altar to Yahweh.”

The same applies to a peace sacrifice, again whether in respect of a vow or a freewill offering. To be accepted it must be ‘perfect’. Any animal which has a fault and is blemished will not be accepted. Nor must they offer such as an offering made by fire on the altar to Yahweh.

Leviticus 22:23

“Either a bull ox or a lamb which has anything superfluous or lacking in his parts, that you may offer for a freewill-offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted.”

However, if the offering is a freewill offering an animal with what is merely a genetic malformity may be accepted. But not as a vow offering.

Leviticus 22:24

“What has its stones bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut, you shall not offer to Yahweh; nor shall you do thus in your land.”

An animal mutilated or injured or in any way affected in its vitals shall not be offered to Yahweh. It is unable to produce seed and is not a whole animal.

Leviticus 22:25

“Nor from the hand of an alien shall you offer the bread of your God of any of these, because their corruption is in them, there is a blemish in them. They shall not be accepted for you.”

Even if the offering be brought by a foreigner it shall not be accepted if it is blemished. A blemished animal is unacceptable under any circumstances with the sole exception of the example in Leviticus 22:23 where there is limited acceptance of an animal naturally born with a genetic malformity. Thus no blemished offering will be accepted from anyone.

Thus does God stress that we must not bring to Him what is blemished. If we would bring to Him the offering of our praise, or our worship, or our service, it must be from a full heart. Half hearted worship and service is unacceptable. But if our heart is right then it will be accepted through the One Who made His perfect sacrifice on our behalf.

Verses 26-30

Further Instructions In Respect Of Offerings (Leviticus 22:26-30 ).

It is noteworthy that behind all these examples the special idea of thoughtfulness and consideration stands out. God’s people are not to be callous or greedy. They must do what is seemly.

Leviticus 22:26

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

Again a word of God through Moses.

Leviticus 22:27

“When a bull ox, or a sheep, or a goat, is born, then it shall be seven days under the dam, and from the eighth day and from then on it shall be accepted for the oblation of an offering made by fire to Yahweh.”

No animal may be offered in sacrifice until it is at least eight days old (compare Exodus 22:30). This may be because it is seen as not yet within the covenant (as with a newborn son - Leviticus 12:3; compare also Leviticus 19:23) or it may be in order to prevent distress to the mother and not seen as fitting. Or the idea may be that until that ‘perfect period’ has passed it is not really developed enough to be acceptable. All three may in fact be included, with ‘what is fitting’ being especially in mind in view of what follows.

Leviticus 22:28

“And whether it be cow or ewe, you shall not kill it and its young both in one day.”

A mother and its young should not be slain in sacrifice on the same day. This may have been due to certain pagan practises, or may simply be on the basis of what is seemly. We can compare how a bird and its eggs should not both be taken on the same day (Deuteronomy 22:6-7). Having taken the eggs the bird should be allowed to go free. His people were not to be greedy or callous or thoughtless. So must they not kill a cow/ewe and its young on the same day.

Leviticus 22:29-30

“And when you sacrifice a sacrifice of thanksgiving to Yahweh, you shall sacrifice it that you may be accepted. On the same day it shall be eaten. You shall leave none of it until the morning. I am Yahweh.”

When a peace sacrifice for thanksgiving is offered it must be offered in a way that will be accepted. Especially must it all be eaten on the same day. The thanksgiving should be shared with as many as possible rather than be simply retained for the benefit of the offerer. Thus none must be left until the morning. They must remember Who Yahweh is and how generous He is, and be generous as well.

Verses 31-33

Summary of This Section.

Leviticus 22:31-33

“Therefore shall you keep my commandments, and do them. I am Yahweh. And you shall not profane my holy name, but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel. I am Yahweh who makes you holy, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. I am Yahweh.”

So people and priests together are to keep Yahweh’s commandments and do them. His holy Name must be honoured by their lives, and by their behaviour, and by their obedience so that His holiness is recognised and acknowledged. That is why He has made them holy, setting them apart as His people and delivering them and giving them His instruction (torah - Law). That is why He requires them to be holy. For they are His covenant people whom He has brought out of Egypt so that He could be their God. He is Yahweh. (There is no other).

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 22". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/leviticus-22.html. 2013.
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