Leviticus—A Call to Holy Worship of Jehovah
JEHOVAH’S worshipers must be holy. This the Bible book of Leviticus repeatedly makes very clear. For instance, in it we read: “I am Jehovah your God; and you must sanctify yourselves and you must prove yourselves holy, because I am holy.”—Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; 20:7, 26.
Leviticus was written by the prophet Moses at Sinai, apparently in 1512 B.C.E. It covers no more than one month—from the tabernacle’s erection on the first day of the first month in the second year of the Israelites’ release from Egyptian bondage until Jehovah’s census command to Moses “on the first day of the second month in the second year of their coming out of the land of Egypt.” (Numbers 1:1-3; Exodus 40:17) The contents of the book reflect camp life, thus pointing to its composition in the wilderness.—Leviticus 4:21; 10:4, 5; 14:8; 17:1-5.
Witnesses of Jehovah today are not under the Law given by God through Moses, for Jesus Christ’s death did away with that law. (Romans 6:14; Ephesians 2:11-16) Therefore, can the regulations found in Leviticus benefit Christians? If so, in what ways? From this book, what can we learn about our worship of Jehovah?
Contents Emphasize Holiness
Offerings and sacrifices are dealt with in Leviticus chapters 1 through 7. The voluntary burnt offering was presented to God in its entirety, even as Jesus Christ gave himself wholly. Part of the voluntary communion sacrifice was presented to God on the altar, whereas another portion was eaten by the priest and still another by the offerer. Comparably, for anointed Christians the Memorial of Christ’s death is a communion meal.—Leviticus 1:1-17; 3:1-17; 7:11-36; 1 Corinthians 10:16-22.
Sin offerings and guilt offerings were compulsory. The first was to atone for sins committed by mistake or unintentionally, whereas the second apparently was to satisfy God on a right violated and/or to restore certain rights for the repentant wrongdoer. (Leviticus 4:1-35; 5:1–6:7; 6:24-30; 7:1-7) It is noteworthy that more than once the Israelites were reminded not to eat blood. (Leviticus 3:17; 7:26, 27) There were also bloodless grain offerings made in recognition of Jehovah’s bounty. (Leviticus 2:1-16; 6:14-23; 7:9, 10) Christians today consider all these matters with keen interest, for the sacrifices commanded under the Law covenant all pointed to Jesus Christ and his sacrifice or to benefits flowing therefrom.—Hebrews 8:3-6; 9:9-14; 10:5-10.
Priestly regulations are next set forth. As directed by God, Moses conducted an installation ceremony for Aaron, the high priest, and his four sons as underpriests. The priesthood then began functioning.—Leviticus 8:1–10:20.
Laws governing things clean and unclean are given next. Regulations concerning animals clean or unclean as food protected the Israelites from being infected by harmful organisms and also strengthened the barrier between them and the people of the surrounding nations. Other regulations dealt with uncleanness from dead bodies, the purification of women upon giving birth, procedures involving leprosy, and uncleanness resulting from male and female sexual discharges. The consideration of such laws should impress us with the need to maintain holiness as Jehovah’s worshipers.—Leviticus 11:1–15:33.
The most important sacrifices for sins were offered on the annual day of atonement. Among other things, a bull was offered for the priests and the rest of the tribe of Levi. One goat was sacrificed for Israel’s nonpriestly tribes, and there was the pronouncing of the people’s sins over a live goat that was sent away into the wilderness. Both goats were regarded as one sin offering (16:5), tending to indicate that together they formed one symbol. Accordingly, Jesus Christ not only was sacrificed but also carries away the sins of those for whom he died sacrificially.—Leviticus 16:1-34.
Regulations about the eating of meat and concerning offerings are presented next. Especially noteworthy was the divine prohibition against eating blood. Abstinence from blood remains the standard for those worshiping Jehovah in holiness.—Leviticus 17:1-16; Acts 15:28, 29.
The judicial decisions next set forth concerning incest, sexual perversions and various detestable practices, including idolatry, spiritism, slander, and so forth, should also impress us with the need for holiness in worshiping Jehovah. Appropriately, the priests were to keep themselves holy. Among other things, regulations were set forth regarding the marriage of priests, priestly uncleanness and the eating of holy things.—Leviticus 18:1–22:33.
Mentioned thereafter are the three annual festivals—the Passover in early spring, Pentecost in late spring, and the Festival of Booths, or Ingathering, in the fall. Following this there are regulations involving abuse of Jehovah’s holy name, the observance of Sabbaths (weekly, monthly and every seventh year) and of the Jubilee, conduct toward poor Israelites and the treatment of slaves.—Leviticus 23:1–25:55.
The blessings that would result from obeying God are next contrasted with the maledictions to be experienced for disobedience. There are also regulations about vow offerings and valuations, the firstborn of animals and the giving of every tenth part as “something holy to Jehovah.” These bring to a conclusion “the commandments that Jehovah gave Moses as commands to the sons of Israel in Mount Sinai.”—Leviticus 26:1–27:34.
A careful reading of Leviticus undoubtedly will impress you with its emphasis on holy worship to Jehovah. But you may also encounter some problems. Therefore, the following questions and answers may be of interest.
Holy Offerings and Priestly Service
• 2:11—Why were offerings of honey unacceptable to Jehovah?
Evidently, the honey meant here was not that of bees but the syrup of fruits. Otherwise, it could not have been included among “firstfruits.” (Leviticus 2:12; 2 Chronicles 31:5) Since fruit honey could ferment, it was unacceptable as an offering upon the altar.
• 3:17—Why was the eating of fat forbidden?
The fat was regarded as the best or richest part, as indicated by such a figurative expression as “the fat part of the land.” (Genesis 45:18) Hence, the prohibition against eating fat evidently impressed upon the Israelites the fact that the best parts belonged to Jehovah. Although Christians are not under this restriction of the Law, it may well remind Jehovah’s present-day servants that they should continually give their very best to him.—Proverbs 3:9, 10; Colossians 3:23, 24.
• 10:1, 2—What may have been involved in this sin?
When Nadab and Abihu took these undue liberties, they may have been under the influence of alcohol. This is likely, since soon thereafter Jehovah forbade priests to use wine or intoxicating liquor while serving at the tabernacle. However, the actual reason for the death of Nadab and Abihu was their offering “illegitimate fire, which [Jehovah] had not prescribed for them.” (Leviticus 10:1-11) This incident shows that responsible servants of Jehovah today must comply with divine requirements and that they cannot do justice to God-given duties while under the influence of alcoholic beverages.
Holy Worship Demands Cleanness
Actually, there is no disharmony between these texts. Deuteronomy 14:21 forbade the eating of an animal that died of itself or was found dead. But Leviticus 11:40 specified what was required if an Israelite violated this prohibition. Similarly, the Law prohibited such acts as stealing, but some people did steal. Penalties that were imposed upon wrongdoers gave force to the Law’s prohibitions.
The reproductive organs were made to pass on perfect human life. However, because of the inherited effects of sin, imperfect and sinful life was thus passed on to offspring. The temporary periods of ‘uncleanness’ associated with childbirth, menstruation and seminal emissions called this hereditary sinfulness to mind. (Leviticus 15:16-24; Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12) Especially was this true with childbirth, for a sin offering was required in connection with it. Interestingly, out of consideration, Jehovah, in this case, allowed the poor to offer birds instead of a more costly sheep. (Leviticus 12:8) Such purification regulations would help the Israelites to appreciate the need for a ransom sacrifice to cover mankind’s sinfulness and restore human perfection. Of course, the animal sacrifices that they offered could not accomplish this. The Law, therefore, was to lead them to Christ and help them appreciate the fact that only his sacrifice could result in true forgiveness and eventual restoration to human perfection.—Galatians 3:24; Hebrews 9:13, 14; 10:3, 4.
Holiness Must Be Maintained
• 16:29—What was meant by ‘afflicting the soul’?
Most likely, ‘afflicting the soul’ here referred to fasting. Among other things, on the day of atonement there was the sacrificing of animals for the sins of the Levites and the rest of the nation. After the high priest confessed the people’s sins of the previous year over a live goat, it was sent away, carrying their sins into the wilderness. In view of the procedure followed on Atonement Day, therefore, fasting at that time evidently was associated with the acknowledgment of sins.—Leviticus 16:5-10, 15, 20-22.
• 20:9—Why was capital punishment prescribed for anyone ‘calling down evil’ on his parents?
A person who cursed his parents and wanted some dire calamity to befall them would have a hateful, murderous disposition. Although he did not use a weapon to kill them, at heart he desired their death. Since such a vicious spirit constitutes murder in Jehovah’s sight, the Law prescribed the same penalty for thus reviling one’s parents as for actually murdering them. This should prompt a Christian to show love, not hatred, for fellow believers.—1 John 3:14, 15.
• 25:35-37—Is it always wrong to charge a brother interest?
If one brother lends money to another for business purposes, the lender may expect a return of the principal and may also charge interest. The borrower is using the money to work for him and make more, and the lender can rightfully share in the productiveness of that money by charging suitable interest. (Compare Matthew 25:27.) However, the Law forbade the charging of interest on loans made to relieve poverty. The lender could expect to get back the principal, but it was considered wrong to profit from a destitute neighbor’s reverses.—Exodus 22:25.
• 26:26—What is meant by ‘ten women baking bread in one oven’?
Normally, each woman would need a separate oven for all the baking she had to do. But these words pointed to such scarcity of food that one oven would be sufficient to handle all the baking done by ten women. This was one of the foretold consequences of ‘walking in opposition’ to Jehovah and thus failing to maintain holiness in his service.—Leviticus 26:23-25.
How Leviticus Can Affect Our Worship
Present-day witnesses of Jehovah are not living under the Law. (Galatians 3:23-25) But since what is said in Leviticus gives us insight into Jehovah’s viewpoint on various matters, it can affect our worship. Note a few ways in which this proves true.
Jehovah, the Sovereign Lord, deserves holy worship. He brooks no rivalry, is holy and demands holiness of those rendering sacred service to him. (Leviticus 11:45; 19:2) This standard also applies to Christian worship, as the apostle Peter made clear when he wrote: “As obedient children, quit being fashioned according to the desires you formerly had in your ignorance, but, in accord with the Holy One who called you, do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct, because it is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’”—1 Peter 1:14-16.
Jehovah’s name must be kept holy. Jehovah’s Witnesses dare not bring reproach on the divine name, even as the Israelites of old were to guard against this. (Leviticus 22:32; 24:10-16, 23) As those set apart, or sanctified, for Jehovah’s holy service, we rightly must praise his name and pray for its sanctification.—Psalm 7:17; Matthew 6:9.
Jehovah requires that we strive against sin. Forgiveness of sin requires not only an atoning sacrifice but also a confession, repentance and the making of amends to the extent possible. And if we know that another member of the congregation has committed a gross sin but will not confess it, we should bring it to the attention of the appointed elders. (Compare Leviticus 4:2; 5:1, 5, 6.) Of course, for certain sins there is no forgiveness. (Leviticus 20:2, 10; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-29) But if we strive against sin, always endeavoring to do things our heavenly Father’s way and availing ourselves of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we can have a proper standing with the holy God, Jehovah.—1 John 2:1, 2.
Clearly, then, Leviticus should affect our worship as Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses. It should impress us with the fact that our God demands holiness of his servants. We must, therefore, keep his name holy and constantly strive against sin. Moreover, this Bible book should move us to give the Most High our very best, always maintaining cleanness and holiness in sacred service to the praise of our holy God, Jehovah.
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Sacrifices made under the Law pointed to Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death and to benefits resulting from it