Leviticus 21-23
(Holiness for Priests and Feasts)
February 4th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

“Keep my commands and follow them. I am the Lord. Do not profane my holy name, for I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the Lord, who made you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord.”

- Leviticus 21:31-33 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

The Israelites had escaped the abusive clutches of the Egyptian Pharaoh, as described in the book of Exodus, and have been surviving in the desert east of Egypt, under the care and protection of the LORD, and with the vision of the Promised Land hovering in the distance. In preparation for this destination, the LORD has been instructing them on how to live a holy life as a nation, obedient to him and respectful of each other.

In earlier chapters, the LORD had described the rules of holiness for priests, and demonstrated the seriousness of these rules with swift judgment for those who made up their own rules. He then shifts to addressing all the people, as recorded from chapter 17 through chapter 20. In today's reading of chapters 21-23 we read about the LORD’s standards for Holy Worship. The first two chapters address standards of holiness for priests and the sacrifices they offer. The last chapter defines the sacred feasts that all the Israelites are expected to celebrate.

Chapter 21 describes the manner in which the priests should be groomed and who they can marry in order to retain their holiness. The regulations also disallow priestly service by any person who has physical deformities. Chapter 22 also describes a similar requirement for animals offered for sacrifice. They cannot have any deformities and must come from Israelite stock.

Chapter 23 summarizes a list of appointed festivals. The first one that the LORD described is the Sabbath, which is to be recognized every seventh day as a day of rest and worship. The LORD then describes seven annual festivals that are to be celebrated at appointed times during the year:

      Passover (14th day of the first month): The most important festival because it recognizes the rescue of the Israelites from Egypt

      Festival of Unleavened Bread (15th day of the 1st month): Continues the remembrance of the exodus and lasts for seven day – the last day is designated as a day of rest and sacred assembly

      Offering of First Fruits (beginning of harvest): Anticipates the future establishment in the Promised Land and recognizes God as Creator of all resources – the first grain is brought as an offering

      Festival of Weeks (Pentecost) (Seven weeks after the first fruits): It is an occasion to remember God’s care in every part of our life – the people are instructed to bring offerings of grain and unblemished animals; "you shall count to the day after the seventh week, fifty days. Then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD (Lev 23-16 NAB)."

      Festival of Trumpets (1st day of the 7th month): A day of rest and worship to remember God's mercy as described in the covenent

      Day of Atonement (10th day of 7th month): A day of fasting and seeking of forgiveness – the one day that the high priest can go into the Most Holy Place (see commentary on Leviticus 16-18)

      Festival of the Tabernacle (15th day of the 7th month): A period of eight days to remember the time spent in the desert – the first and last day are spent in rest and worship

Reflection and Application

The LORD required the people to sacrifice young and unblemished animals because they were the most valuable ones. Therefore, the people are reminded to give their most treasured possessions back to him. The LORD reciprocated by giving us "his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16 - NIV)” Jesus was a young and unblemished sacrifice for our sins.

What about the requirement for the priests to be unblemished? I confess that this part of the scripture is not easy to accept. All of us have defects – some more apparent than the others. Therefore, we would have all been equally unworthy of serving as God’s priests. Nevertheless we are also equally capable of serving as witnesses for God, thanks to his mercy. In fact, the more blemished we are the more powerful the message we share.

Most of the festivals listed above may seem foreign to the modern-day Christian, but there are many connections between these ancient rituals and the 21st century way of worship for believers in Jesus. For instance, the celebration of the Sabbath is one feast from the Levitical list that transcends the Old and New Testament, with the only difference being the day of celebration (Saturday for those of the Jewish faith and Sunday for Christians).

The primary Christian feast that is described in the New Testament is the Last Supper, which is celebrated on the Thursday before Easter, known as Maundy (Mandate) Thursday. Jesus' last supper celebrated with his closest disciples was a Passover meal the night before his crucifixion. As noted above, the Passover feast celebrates the escape of the Israelites from Egypt. Similarly, the Easter celebration on the Sunday that follows Maundy Thursday celebrates our escape from sin through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. We also celebrate the Last Supper feast throughout the year each time we share communion and remember how Christ sacrificed his body and blood for us. Unlike the rules for the seven annual festivals described in Leviticus, the communion is not required or forced upon Christians. It’s an invitation, available to us if we choose to accept – and why wouldn’t we?

Note that Pentecost was celebrated in remembrance of the delivery of the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, as described in the book of Exodus. At that point, the people had not yet arrived in the Promised Land, but nevertheless this event was considered to be the birth of the nation of Israel because it was the day that they were set apart as a Holy Nation. Therefore, it's no coincidence, that the birth of the Christian church took place on the day of a Pentecost celebration, as described in the book of Acts (1):

    When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

    - Acts 2:1-4 (MSG)

    Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.”

    He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”

    - Acts 2:38-40 (MSG)

The wind and fire on the day of Pentecost were reminiscent of the thunder and fire on Mount Sinai hundreds of years before, when God prepared to reveal himself to his people and deliver the Commandments (2).

Notice the frequent use of seven in the definitions of the festivals. This is an important number that represents completeness, as in the seven days in a complete week. The LORD created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, completing the first recorded week (Genesis 2:2). We shall see seven mentioned often throughout the remainder of the Bible.

"It Only Takes a Spark," performer unattributed

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is your favorite annual holiday?
    2. How do our blemishes help or hurt our efforts to serve God?
    3. What are you willing to sacrifice to regularly honor God?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to acknowledge our blemishes and help us to not let those blemishes stop us from serving you.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People of Israel


    (1) Doll, Rev. Greg, "Lectures on the Holy Spirit," New York City, February 3rd, 2015
    (2) IBID

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Leviticus 24-25 (Sacred Objects, Sabbaticals, and Jubilees)

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