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Browsing the Bible: Leviticus

Nigel Bovey gives chapter and verse on each book of the Scriptures

There are codes of conduct for civil society

LEVITICUS is a book of religious and communal law. After the Hebrews’ exodus from Egyptian slavery, a priest­hood was established and the rules and regulations about sacrifices and offerings needed to be codified.

The opening chapters give instructions about various offerings. The principle behind many of the sacrifices of animals is as follows: a holy God cannot have anything to do with sin. Humans sin. The breaking of God’s law carries a death sentence. God accepts the death of an animal in the sinner’s place. As a symbol of guilt transference, the sinner lays their hands on the animal’s head, and through the shed blood of a lamb, goat or bull, the person atones for their sin (1:4).

The repeated requirement is that the sacri­ficed animal must be ‘without defect’.

As well as rules about the priesthood and the observance of the Sabbath and other reli­gious festivals, there are codes of conduct for civil society. Childbirth (chapter 12), skin diseases (chapters 13 and 14), sexual health and conduct (chapter 18), general morality (chapter 19) and debt release (chap­ter 25) are covered in detail.

Additionally, Leviticus includes instruc­tions for the most sacred ceremony of the Jewish calendar – Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (chapter 16). This is the day on which people confess sin and get right with God.

After the priest has made an offering for his sin, he takes two goats as offerings for the Hebrew people. He kills the first goat, enters the holy of holies in the tabernacle and sprinkles its blood on the gold lid of the Ark of the Covenant. This is a sign to God that shed blood has paid for the people’s sin.

The priest then takes the second goat, lays his hands on it and confesses the sins of the people. The animal is then set free into the wilderness – a sign to the people that, because of the shed blood, God has removed their sin from them. This is the original scapegoat.

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