Thoughts and teaching on Leviticus chapter 22

The chapter division is somewhat misleading in our modern Bibles. Even though Lev 22:1 begins

ĎAnd YHWH said to Mosesí

which is normally a phrase which marks out a new section, the chapter is really a continuation of the instructions given to the Aaronic priests (priests descended from Aaron along with the High Priest - as opposed to the Levites which were solely from the tribe of Levi) beginning at 21:1.

The divisions of chapter 22, however, roughly correspond to

22:1-9 - The Aaronic priests and the Holy things
22:10-16 - The non-priests and the Holy things
22:17-25 - Acceptable offerings
22:26-30 - Eligibility of Offerings
22:31-33 - General conclusion (to chapters 21 and 22)

The Aaronic priests and the Holy things

This series of regulations arenít aimed at outlining what disqualifies Aaronites from being priests but at that which would disqualify them from functioning as priests. Priests whoíd transgressed in these areas of cleanliness would have been regarded as unclean priests not unclean Israelites, whereas those with blemishes outlined in 21:16-24 would be treated as Israelites not priests. The regulations, therefore, have to do with service not qualification.

The Aaronic priest may be perfect in conduct (21:1-15) and perfect in qualifications (21:16-24) but they must still be careful to maintain their ceremonial purity constantly.
These ways that cleanness may be forfeited are echoes of general legislation that has already been given to the Israelites in previous chapters (though some are written down at a later date, the practice seems to have been in use at the time of the giving of the passage under consideration).


1. Offering sacrifice while in an unclean state (22:3) has been dealt with in Lev 7:19-21 (though here itís dealing with eating the peace offering - the principle is still the same along with the result).
2. Lepers (22:4) have been dealt with in Leviticus chapters 13 and 14
3. Discharges (22:4 - including semen) has been dealt with in Leviticus chapter 15.
4. Contact with the dead has been dealt with in Num 19:11-22 (though this idea of uncleanness through contact with the dead was already in existence in, for instance, Lev 21:1-4,11 and Num 5:2).
5. Creeping things (22:5) has been dealt with in Leviticus chapter 11.
6. Imparted uncleanness (22:5) has been dealt with variously but, for example, see Lev 15:1-12.
7. Dead animal flesh thatís torn by beasts or which dies naturally (22:8) has been dealt with in Lev 17:14-16.

For all these circumstances (though the exception may be the last mentioned regulation), one part of a day is given after which the priest will be clean after having washed his body in water. Come the evening of the day, the priest is considered clean otherwise he wouldnít be able to eat of the Ďholy thingsí - that is, the food thatís the priestsí due from the Lord for his nourishment (Lev 22:6-7).

The legislation doesnít just refer to participation in the Ďholy foodí even though this is the intent of the latter verses of the passage. As Lev 22:2 (my italics) reads

ĎTell Aaron and his sons to keep away from the holy things of the people of Israel, which they dedicate to Me, so that they may not profane My holy name...í

Everything that was Ďholyí to God, separated and set apart for His service, mustnít be approached while the priest is in a state of uncleanness. The principle here is not that the separation of the objects will impart cleanness to the priest but that he may contaminate their purity and so profane their separation for the Lordís use.

The priest, therefore, is here obligated not to be careless, the consequences being extremely severe. At the very least, it would have meant excommunication from the camp of Israel (Lev 22:3) and, at the worst, having come before God to minister to Him in uncleanness could result in his immediate death (Lev 22:9). These verses speak of the necessity of Godís chosen priests to make sure that their lives are clean and pure before God before they take part in His service. Iíll expand upon this a little further when we deal with 22:10-16.

The non-priests and the Holy things

This short passage deals with those members of the priestís household that may or may not be considered to participate in the food given to the priest through his sacrificial service.

There doesnít appear to be any unusual statements here.

The principle at work is that, firstly, membership in the priestís family must be either through birth or purchase as a slave - a traveller or visitor whoís residing with the family canít be considered as part of the family simply because he lives under the same roof for a time (Lev 22:10-11) - and, secondly, membership includes the family memberís ability to support themselves - a daughter who, once married, has no-one to support her can be reincorporated into the family and be given the right of freely eating of the holy food once again (Lev 22:12-13).

Finally, the scenario is commented on where an Israelite eats of the food offered in the Tabernacle unknowingly and so incurs guilt because of it (Lev 22:14). Harrison notes (page 212) that

ĎIf a lay person accidentally ate priestly food, he had to give to the priests an amount equal to the original offering plus an additional with the guilt offeringí

the reference being Lev 5:14-16. The same is true of the regulations concerning the tithe (Lev 27:30-31) which was another Ďholyí priestly offering. Those who stayed in the priestís house would always stand the risk of eating something that they were unaware had been dedicated to the priest so the Law makes adequate provision to ameliorate the conscience.

Thereís a principle at work here when the Law describes who may and may not participate in the priestís food and that is that the priest sanctifies (makes holy) his entire family (his household and human possessions which could have even included non-Israelites in theory) so that theyíre considered Ďholyí and qualified to eat freely from the holy things.

This is the principle that lies at the back of each and every first fruit offering to the Lord - that the small portion of the whole thatís given over to the Lordís service sanctifies the entire lump to be useful and set apart to the Lord (see my notes on the festival of First Fruits part 1b).

This bleeds over into many different applications throughout the Bible and especially so in the context of the New Covenant in Christ.

Jesus, the great High Priest (Heb 10:21), is the One who sanctifies His household. If a person is a member of His household (I Peter 4:7, Eph 2:19), then theyíre considered holy based upon His holiness and not their own (II Tim 1:9, I Peter 2:5,9). The conditions are the same, though - they must be an integral part of the family and not just Ďvisitorsí, and have no means of supporting themselves (that is, a confessed inadequacy for saving oneself). In this way, all family members are allowed to participate in the holy things that are rightfully given over to the High Priest.

But, as we saw in the previous passage above (22:1-9 but also mentioned in 21:1-15), itís a necessary requirement of all Godís ministers (that is, every believer under the New Covenant) to maintain their holiness and live in the reality of what God has called them to be. That means being careful to live adequately and morally throughout lives that have to deal with a world that pulls away from the things of God.

Therefore, although weíve just seen that believers are considered to be holy by virtue of their calling by God to Himself, theyíre also commanded to live out that holiness (I Peter 1:15-16, II Peter 3:11, II Cor 7:1, Heb 12:14) yet knowing that, should they fail to maintain that calling and separation, thereís always cleansing available to be restored into their original state (I John 1:7).

Acceptable offerings

Iíve commented on this passage under the section Lev 21:16-24 where I compared the similarity of both passages and why both offerer and offering were considered to be in need of the same sort of perfection for the sacrificial system.

Eligibility of Offerings

This passage divides up into three specific points - minimum age for an offering, forbidden combinations of offerings and when to eat the thanksgiving offering. The first two of these are somewhat obscure and not easily discernible as to the intentions of the regulation and the meaning that the Israelites of their day saw in them. Some of the laws given throughout the Torah seem to be legislation given by God to provide boundaries around what was already culturally being observed or accepted - not all, like the ten commandments, were absolutes which would stand forever.

Therefore, it may be best to see in at least the first two of these three rules, a fixing of a couple of culturally accepted practices on which there was a need for Godís stamp of Divine approval. The problem that the commentator has is that thereís little direct reference to these laws outside the passage in which they lie and so trying to arrive at an adequate exposition is difficult (in both Wenham and Harrisonís case, they donít even appear to have tried - or stated that they donít know!).

Minimum age for sacrifices

The regulations here reads

ĎWhen a bull or sheep or goat is born, it shall remain seven days with its mother; and from the eighth day on it shall be acceptable as an offering by fire to YHWHí

The same principle is at work in Ex 22:29-30 where the first fruit of all offspring is given to the Lord on the eighth day after serving the first seven days with their mother. The regulation isnít a unique one, therefore, and the answer to the interpretation of the Levitical passage is probably the same as that in Exodus.

The eighth day in the Mosaic Law does have special significance as itís used often. For instance, itís on the eighth day after birth that all the male children of Israel were to be circumcised (Lev 12:3). The final day of Aaronís ordination was similarly on the eighth day (Lev 9:1) as was the final cleansing of the leper (Lev 14:10,23), the cleansing of the man who had had a discharge (Lev 15:29) and itís even a specifically mentioned day of one of the festivals (Lev 23:36,39).

It appears that the reason for the eighth day being special is because itís the day after the first seven (however crazy that statement might sound!). That is, the first seven days represent a time period (sown into the fabric of the universe with Creation - Gen 2:1-3) that marks out the completion of something. The eighth day then becomes the day on which this time period has been fulfilled and on which any requirements of the law can be completed that are a consequence of those first seven days.

Therefore, in the passage in question, the new-born calf or lamb must be given a seven day period (for whatever reason - we have, unfortunately, lost our understanding of why the Israelite regarded a period as needing to be observed), after which time it could be considered as a sacrificial animal.

The same is true here of the male child circumcised on the eighth day - in some way, the seven day period is a cycle that, once it reaches its end, the ceremony of the eighth day can take place.

Itís very difficult to be anymore specific than this with any of the laws that are incorporated into the first five books of the Bible - but, at the very least, we can say that, in some way, the seven day period after a birth were needed to fulfil a Ďqualifying periodí after which the animal could be regarded as having a sacrificial function.

We should be able to adapt this statement to apply to each and every Scripture that Iíve cited above. This may also have significance for the verse of Scripture in Rev 17:11 where it talks about the eighth beast that ascends from the bottomless pit.

Forbidden sacrificial combinations

The prohibition here forbids the offering in sacrifice of both mother and offspring on the same day. The reason isnít very obvious as to why this prohibition existed but itís not an uncommon one. For instance, a birdís eggs were allowed to be taken but not the mother along with them (Deut 22:6-7), fruit was allowed to be taken from trees when a city was being besieged but the trees from which they came had to be allowed to remain standing (Deut 20:19-20) and a kid was allowed to be eaten but it mustnít be boiled in its motherís milk (Ex 23:19b, 34:26, Deut 14:21).

Commentators have variously understood this legislation, some thinking that it marked the need for the Israelite to think about the conservation of Creation (a fairly modern understanding) to compassion directed towards the adult animal at the loss of its young (though Iím not quite sure how thatís supposed to work with the tree and its fruit!).

But itís difficult to interpret the rule in the light of the Israelite culture of the day for we donít appear to have any point of reference that adequately explains the reason for the legislation. It is, perhaps, not going too far to say that it was an accepted cultural horror when both parent and child (source and produce) died on the same day - therefore the prohibition was established as a law in Israel.

In Israel it was also a cultural horror if a man died without leaving any offspring who could carry on the family name. This however, doesnít appear to be the intention here as, in the case of the two animals, itís the mother thatís being mentioned, not the father.

Thanksgiving Offering

This is a repeat of the legislation found in Lev 7:15

General conclusion

A conclusion of this sort doesnít appear at the end of chapter 21 which leads us to conclude that both chapters should be viewed as one unit, not two distinct and separate lists of regulations.

This sort of conclusion has previously occurred in Lev 19:36-37 and 20:26 but here itís directed at the Aaronic priests, reminding them not to profane His name (which they were to uphold by observance of the ceremonial law laid out before them) in order that He might be considered holy amongst His people Israel.

Itís God who sets apart the Aaronites for their service (22:32c) and this should be reflected in their rigorous obedience to His statutes. More especially as Heís the One who brought them (the Aaronites are specifically in mind here, not the entire nation) out of Egypt to be a special people for His possession.

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