You can’t be a priest if…
No priests with skin disease1The LORD told Moses:
2I want you to tell Aaron and his sons to be careful with sacrificial offerings the people of Israel bring to me. I don't want them treating the offering in a way that dishonors my sacred name. I am the LORD. 3So, give them this message:
If any priest now or in the future brings a sacrificial offering to me while they are ritually unclean, that priest is finished—he’s no longer an Israelite. I am the LORD.
4No descendant of Aaron who has a serious skin disease or any kind of open sore is allowed to eat the sacred food of sacrificial offerings, which are reserved for priests and their families. You need to be ritually clean to eat those meals. Here are some of the ways that could ritually contaminate you and leave you unclean: touch a dead person, ejaculate semen, 5touch an unclean animal or insect, touch an unclean person. 6If you touch anything that makes you ritually unclean, don't eat any of the sacred food until you've taken a bath. 7Then, after the bath, you need to wait until the sun goes down. That's when you’ll be clean again, and able to eat the sacred food from sacrificial offerings. 8You’re not allowed to eat an animal that dies on its own or that is killed by another animal. Eating that would make you unclean. I am the LORD.
9Priests need to follow my rules carefully. If they don't, they could end up treating something sacred as though it’s not sacred at all. They could die for that. Priests are holy because I made them that way. 10Only priests and their families can eat the priest’s share of sacred food from sacrificial offerings. No others are welcome to this meal. That includes guests such as immigrants, along with hired help.
11If a priest buys a slave, that slave is allowed to eat the sacred meal. So are any of his children born into slavery and owned by the priest. 12If a priest's daughter marries someone outside the family of priests, she can’t eat the sacred meals anymore. 13But if she loses her husband and becomes a widow or a divorcee, and if she has no children and moves back in with her father, she is allowed to eat the sacred food. But no one outside the family of priests is allowed to eat it.
14If someone accidentally eats sacred food that belongs to the priests, the person shall return the equivalent cost of the food and add 20 percent. 15Priests need to be careful not to mishandle the sacred sacrificial offerings that the people of Israel bring to the LORD. 16And priests should not let others accidentally eat the sacred food and end up having to pay for it. Priests are holy, and I am the LORD who made them that way.
Don’t sacrifice defective livestock17Then the LORD told Moses:
18I want you to give this message to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel:
If any Israelite or any immigrant living in Israel brings me a sacrificial offering, whether it's a burnt offering, a voluntary offering, or one associated with a promise you made, 19Make sure the animal you bring has nothing wrong with it. You can bring cattle, sheep, or goats. But if you want me to accept the offering, make sure there’s nothing wrong with it. 20If it is defective, I will reject it.
21If you bring a voluntary peace offering for any reason, such as to fulfill a promise you made, pick a sacrificial animal from the herd or the flock—and make sure there's nothing wrong with it. If it's defective, I will reject it.
22Don't bother bringing any sacrificial animals that are: blind, crippled, injured, or suffering from warts, rash, open sores, or scabs. I will reject them.
23I’ll make an exception for certain voluntary offerings. You can sacrifice a bull or a lamb that has abnormalities with growth, such as one leg longer or shorter than another. I’ll accept that as a voluntary offering unless it is related to a promise you made. 24But I will not accept any animal with damaged testicles, whether the animal is castrated or its testicles have been crushed. 25So don’t think it’s okay to buy animals like this from outsiders and then present them to the LORD as a sacrificial offering. I will not accept them.
Newborn animals off limits for one week26Then the LORD told Moses: 27When a calf or goat is born, let it stay with its mother for seven days. But on the eighth day, it becomes an acceptable sacrifice. 28However, don’t kill a cow and its calves or a sheep and its lambs on the same day.
29When you bring an offering to the LORD to express your thanks, bring one that’s acceptable. 30Then you’ll need to eat all the meat from that sacrifice on the same day. Make sure there is nothing left of it the next morning. I am the LORD.
31Obey these laws I’m giving you. Just do it. I am the LORD. 32And don’t do anything that would bring disgrace to my name. I am holy and the people of Israel should treat me that way. I am the LORD who distinguished you—setting you apart from other people by making you holy. 33I brought you out of Egypt so I could be your God. I am the LORD.
A person ritually unclean was not supposed to touch another person or go to the worship center because they ritually defiled whatever they touched. Israelites were able to get ritually clean again by following a set of procedures that included bathing, washing their clothes, getting sprinkled with “water of purification” (Numbers 19), and waiting for a stretch of time, often seven days.
More literally, the person “should be removed from the community” or “cut off.” This is a consequence repeated throughout these early books of the Bible. It’s unclear how and by whom the offenders were removed. Perhaps they could no longer worship at the tent worship center, or they lost their rights as citizens of this emerging nation that Moses seemed to be organizing. Maybe they were executed. Or perhaps the community let God deal with the person. Scholars seem uncertain about what happened.
Aaron’s descendants were designated as Israel’s priests. So, the priests had to come from Aaron’s family. The broader tribe of Levi became the Levites who assisted priests in leading worship rituals for the people.
The original Hebrew word has often been translated as leprosy. But writers used that same Hebrew word to talk about a lot of different skin disorders, most of which are far less critical than leprosy, known today as Hansen’s disease. Hansen’s disease is an infection caused by bacteria, which produces light patches on the skin and numbs the nerves to pain. Lepers sometimes injure themselves and fail to get treatment because they can’t feel the pain. Infection sets in and body parts are amputated. Skin diseases reported in the Bible may often have been what we know today as a simple rash or perhaps eczema or psoriasis.
Priests were assigned part of the meat presented to the LORD in sacrificial offerings. They got to cook and eat it. The LORD considered this part of the offering as “especially sacred” (Leviticus 2:3). In a peace offering, the officiating priest was given some of the best cuts of meat: the breast and the right thigh (Leviticus 7:34). In some sin offerings, the priest and associate priests and families ate most of the animal (Leviticus 6:26). Just a few parts were burned on the altar as an offering. For more, see the note for Leviticus 17:5.
This was the most common sacrifice. Worshipers burned the entire animal. Burnt offering instructions: “Take the animal to the north side of the altar. Kill it there on this sacred site of the LORD. Aaron’s sons, the priests, will take some of the blood and splash it on all four sides of the altar. Cut the animal into pieces, including the head and the fat. A priest will set them onto the fire on the altar” (Leviticus 1:11-12). See also Leviticus 1:3-13; 6:1-6.
Such as a peace offering, Leviticus 3.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
Portions of some sacrifices are set aside for the priests and their households to eat, as described in earlier chapters of Leviticus. But we learn here that a person who accidentally eats sacrificed meat shall return the equivalent cost of the food and add 20 percent. Then we immediately get an odd warning to priests: “Be careful not to mishandle the sacred sacrificial offerings” (22:15). Try to imagine why that warning is tacked on. There’s no explanation in the Bible, but scholars make educated guesses. We can, too. What’s your guess?
There are limitations to sacrificing certain animals that seem to reflect some humanistic feelings towards the animals. For example, no calf or goat under the age of eight days may be sacrificed and killing a cow and its calves or a sheep and its lambs on the same day is forbidden. What do you think is behind these laws? Kindness toward animals? Fitness to eat? Or maybe just a random law to set the Israelites apart from others, as uniquely devoted to God—the way circumcision did.
LIFE APPLICATION. The Israelites sometimes tried to cheat the system by bringing injured or otherwise unacceptable animals to be sacrificed—only to have God reject the sacrifice. How do you think people of faith today try to cheat God?
LIFE APPLICATION. Leviticus tells us of many ways in which the Israelites could profane the worship center in which God dwelled. Christians are not exempt from sacrilegious behavior. What kinds of behavior have you found going on in your church that you think might offend God and how have you coped with such behavior?
LIFE APPLICATION. Sacrificial laws often remind Israelites “Make sure the animal you bring has nothing wrong with it” (22:19). It sounds like it might have been a problem that warranted continuing reminders. Christians and Jews today don’t sacrifice animals, but they make donations to help in God’s work. What kind of warnings would be helpful today to Christians making donations to the church or parish?