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4th February

Leviticus 16-18; Psalm 35

Bible in a Year
5 minutes
In this article
4th February

Leviticus 16-18; Psalm 35

Bible in a Year
5 minutes


So far in Leviticus, we've explored various aspects of Israelite ritual lives. We began with detailed instructions on ritual sacrifices, including Burnt, Grain, Peace, and Sin Offerings. These offerings, each with a specific purpose, symbolise the Israelites' commitment to God. The Sin Offering, notably, is for unintentional sins, highlighting the importance of intention in their faith.

We then read through the ordination of the priests. They were prepared through washing, clothing, and anointing. This signified their readiness to serve God. Unfortunately, two of Aaron's sons were struck down because they didn't follow God's instructions.

We then shifted to ritual purity, detailing clean and unclean foods. This isn't about health, but ritual cleanliness. Certain animals deemed unclean due to their ambiguous nature, like amphibians. We addressed post-childbirth purification for women. This wasn't a punishment but as a recovery period to regain wholeness before entering God's presence.

We then read about skin diseases and mould. These were used to symbolise the physical manifestation of sin and its contaminating effects. The serious way the Israelites dealt with skin diseases and mould reflected a profound respect for purity and the presence of God. It was to remind the Israelites of the need to be clean and whole before Him. This leads us to today's reading where we look at what it means to get clean. Let's jump in.

Leviticus 16-18

So far we’ve seen instructions for individual offerings and sacrifices for specific sins and mistakes the people make. The problem with this is that things fall through the net. 

So God brings in one final offering that happens once a year and becomes a catchall. In Hebrew, this becomes known as Yom Kippur. In English we know it as the Day of Atonement. 

First of all, God reminds Aaron that he can not come into the Holy of Holies, the centre of the tabernacle, whenever he wants. He points to Aaron’s sons, who died as an example for what happens when priests don’t take this role seriously. 

Aaron is to wash himself so that he might be physically clean to come make the offering. After that, he is to sacrifice a bull to make himself spiritually clean, and then he can sacrifice the first goat (there are two) so he can make the Holy of Holies clean. 

The problem was that the general sin of an entire nation slowly began to bleed into the tabernacle and Holy of Holies. Hence once a year Aaron needed to go in and purify the Holy of Holies.

Aaron would then take the second goat and lay his hands on it, placing the sin of the entire nation onto this one goat. Someone else took that goat and led it out into the wilderness before letting it run free, essentially removing the sin of the people from the land completely. 

Some Bible versions may call this the lot for Azazel. Azazel literally means powerful spiritual being, and the idea was that he was the spirit being that ruled in the chaotic wilderness.

As a being of chaos, the Israelites were sending a goat loaded with the toxic waste of their sin into Azazel’s realm. They were send the chaos caused by their sin back to the realm of chaos.

Finally, Aaron and the one who led the host into the wilderness would wash themselves and purify themselves one last time.

Next come very particular rules on sacrifices and meat. As already mentioned the Israelites are travelling through the wilderness which was considered the realm of chaos. Some of the Israelites were making sacrifices to goat demons in order to protect themselves as they travel through the wilderness.

As this was an offence to God, he introduces a new rule that any animal sacrificed for any reason, including food, had to be done at the tabernacle to put an end to anyone making sacrifices to goat demons.

We then get God forbidding anyone from eating blood. All blood needed to be drained out of their meat before they ate it. The reason for this was it was the blood in their sacrifices that purified them, and so God wanted them to see blood as important and significant.

In Leviticus 18 we have a lot of rules about sex. Some of these may seem like common sense to us, but maybe that’s because by this point they’ve been around for 3,500 years. 

Before this point, particularly in the surrounding nations, this stuff was very common. This is why the chapter opens with a command not to do as the people of Egypt or Canaan do,

The focus of this chapter is actually maintaining the family unit and the family line. 

The first collection of rules is about not having sex with family members. When you start having sex with family members, the family line starts to become very confusing. Your uncle is now somehow your brother, etc. The Israelites’ whole life was built on family and tribes, so it was important they kept those family lines very clear.

The second collection of rules is less about not confusing the family line and more about maintaining it. We get rules about not having sex with someone in their period, not sacrificing your children to Molek (one of the gods of a neighbouring nation), men not having sex with other men, and not having sex with animals. 

You may have strong or conflicting opinions on some of these. The point of these was this. Israel was meant to grow and prosper. To do that, it needed children. Three of these are ways of having sex that don’t produce children. One of them involves killing the children you already have. 

If Israel were to engage in these acts, their family lines would die out and they wouldn’t grow as a nation. That’s the context that these laws are written in.

Psalm 35

This psalm is attributed to king David and falls into the category of lament psalm. It can be split into three sections, with each section ending with a promise to praise.

Psalm 35:1-3 - A prayer for help in battle

Psalm 35:4-8 - A request for enemies to fall

Psalm 35:9-10 - A promise to praise

Psalm 35:11-16 - Lament

Psalm 35:17 - A request for help

Psalm 35:18 - A promise to praise

Psalm 35:19-26 - A request for enemies to be put to shame

Psalm 35:27 - A request for supporters to rejoice

Psalm 35:28 - A promise to praise

The psalm opens with a call to God for help. Military language is used to ask God for his protection. May he be a shield to protect, and a spear to keep enemies at bay.

The psalmist turns to his enemies and asks for them to be put to shame. They have pursued the psalmist and intended to harm him, so may they meet their own destruction.

Having made his request, the psalmist looks forward to God’s victory and deliverance. Trusting that God will intervene, they anticipate the sense of joy and the praise that they’ll bring to God.

But then the psalmist dips back into lament. They bring to God the suffering and persecution they’ve experienced. This time legal language is used. Their enemies are like witnesses that have accused them in court, seeking their defeat.

What’s made it worse is the psalmist grieved and mourned for their enemies when they were struggling. He treated them as friends and family, but now they rejoice at his struggles.

So the psalmist asks God to intervene. To rescue them from this attack. And once again he looks forward to that moment where God breaks in, and the praise that he will speak out before many.

One last time, the psalmist turn to his enemies and asks that God put them to shame. May they no longer be able to rejoice because they have pursued wickedness and deceit.

It has felt like God has been absent in this situation, so the psalmist asks that he rise up and vindicate them. Put to shame their enemies and give their supporters a reason to rejoice.

Finally, the psalmist ends with anticipation. God will intervene and punish the wicked, and when that happens the psalmist will speak God’s praise ‘all day long’.

Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.

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