Leviticus

The third Book of the Old Testament is really a continuation of the book of Exodus and the story of the Israelites and those who traveled with them as they journey through the wilderness. When we left off in Exodus, the work of the Tent Tabernacle is finally finished in Genesis 38-40. Aaron and his sons were bathed and Aaron was vested in priestly garments, anointed and consecrated as Priest. The sons of Aaron were also vested and anointed and consecrated as Priests. Then the tabernacle was filled with the glory of God as a cloud. Whenever the cloud ascended, the Israelites prepared to continue their journey through the wilderness. The cloud stayed over the tabernacle by day and fire was over it by night (NKJV).

Leviticus describes the way to worship the Lord and refers to the Levitical Priesthood (the sons of the tribe of Levi through Moses’ brother, Aaron and his sons) and their duties in tending to the worship of the Lord. This is perhaps the most difficult Book to understand as our modern sensibilities are so different from the ancient mindset – for that reason it is a difficult book to read. The later half of the book of Leviticus addresses issues of sexuality, so Leviticus has become popular by many who have questions in this area.

It should be noted that at that time, there is no mortal king governing the Israelites – God, Himself, is the King of the Israelites and the giver of the law in all matters (spiritual and secular) through Moses. Within the Orthodox Christian perspective, the one of the Holy Trinity that speaks and lives among the people is the second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, in the Tent of the Tabernacle.

The book appears to be separated into 6 parts:

  • Chapters 1 through 7: sacrifices – offering for the Lord.
    • Sacrifices involving animals are not new in the Old Testament. Both Abel and Abraham offered animal sacrifices to the Lord (Genesis 4, 22). What is different about the sacrifices in Leviticus is the types of animals and the way the sacrifices were to be made. The animals had to be domestic animals which were dependent on man for their life. Animals that the people raised and tended – and, they had to be the best of the domestic animals. Unblemished domestic animals, a type of Christ – “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29)
    • Historians believe that by the time the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD animal sacrifices were discontinued for the Israelites. For the Christians, animal sacrifices were discontinued with crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • The overarching theme is that God loves His people and does not want them to be separated from Him through sin. The fall of mankind in Genesis made mankind weak, vulnerable and subject to death; therefore, God provides the means for atoning of sin and provides forgiveness so His people can be restored to holiness and reconciled to Him. This is realized more completely in the New Testament with the incarnation of Jesus Christ, His life, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension.
  • The sacrificial nature of atoning for sin leads to the Incarnation (Jesus Christ being fully human and fully Divine) in the New Testament. Where mankind’s fallen humanity is joined to the Lord’s Divinity and ultimately raised to the heights of God at the Resurrection and Ascension.
    • Salt is an interesting additive to grain offerings in the Old Testament. Salt has been used since antiquity not only to season foods, but also to preserve foods, to use as a disinfectant and to replenish essential electrolytes in the body. Salt is necessary for life, and in very hot regions or when work is very hard, the electrolytes of the body may become depleted and salt is necessary to replenish those electrolytes.
    • In the Orthodox Church when the Prosphoro (offering bread) is made only 4 ingredients are used: flour, water, salt and yeast. In the Old Testament, yeast was omitted and unleavened bread was used. In fact, many christian churches today use unleavened bread. In the Orthodox Church, however, yeast is used. Some theologians say that is because the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, so leavened bread is used for the offering bread. Orthodox Theologians have also said, that because the Lord was Resurrected, the rising of the bread symbolizes the Resurrection. This is further explained by OCA, “Christ “leavens” our lives, so to speak, and the purpose of the Eucharistic celebration is not to “recreate” or “reproduce” a past event but, rather, to participate in an event that is beyond time and space and which, in fact, continues to happen each time the Eucharist is celebrated in fulfillment of Our Lord’s command”(OCA.)
  • Chapters 8 through10: details the consecration of the Levitical Priests: Aaron and his sons. Click this link to learn more from a previous posting.
  • Chapters 11 through 15: Are laws defining clean and unclean for the people.
    • From a practical standpoint, this is actually an important consideration for a multitude of people living together in temporary living situations in the wilderness. Whenever someone showed a sign of a sore or illness, the priests were called upon to assess the illness and discern whether or not the illness was potentially fatally contagious to others with leprosy being the primary concern.
    • Anointment of Oil for cleaning and consecration is still used today in the Sacraments of Orthodox Church: Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Unction.
  • Chapter 16: The annual day of Atonement for the Israelites
    • This chapter describes Yom Kippur
  • Chapters 17 through 26: These chapters describe laws for the people of God defining them as a Holy People.
    • Did you ever wonder where the term Scapegoat comes from? Well, it comes from Leviticus, Chapter 16!
  • Chapter 25 deals with the Jubilee year which is a culmination of seven seven-year sabbaticals — or the 50th year (Reference 3 below, 3.12.3 p.115). St. Basil the Great said that in ancient times, the earth kept the sabbath, debts were canceled, slaves were set free and new life was established again.(Reference 2 below, III,p198). The number 50 also refers to Pentecost, when after the Lord’s Ascension, the Holy Spirit came to the apostles and all those present to illumine and enlighten them so that they could go forward and teach about Christianity and the salvation of mankind – the beginning of the Christian Church. The Holy Fathers also assign the 50th(51) Psalm, when recited with a pure heart, looses sins, cancels debts and frees us through the Lord’s kindness (Reference 2 below, III, p198)
  • Chapter 27: This chapter defines the nature of voluntary religious vows and the tithes associated with the vows made according to age and sex. Tithing is not new with Leviticus. We first see it in Genesis Chapter 14. But it is different in Leviticus as compared to Genesis. In Genesis Chapter 14:20, Abram (later called Abraham) gives a thank offering to the Lord of 10% through the Priest Melchizedek. It was a thank offering for delivering Abram and his servants in time of battle while saving Abram’s brother Lot from captivity. In This chapter of Leviticus, the tithe is attached to a vow and charged a fixed amount according to age and sex – it is not a thank offering to the Lord like it was in Genesis 14 when Abram was grateful that he and his servants were able to save his brother Lot and overcome the hostiles in the process.

References:

  1. The Old Testament: an Introduction, Historical Traditions, Paul Tarazi – St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press – 2003
  2. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament I,II,III. General Editor: Thomas C Oden, Intervarsity Press -2001
  3. Josephus, The Complete Works, Translated by William Whiston, A.M., Thomas Nelson Publishers – 1998
  4. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha Expanded Edition, RSV, Ecumenical Study Bible, Oxford University Press 1977
  5. The Ministry of the Church, Image of Pastoral Care, Joseph J. Allen, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1986
  6. The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Thomas Nelson Publishers 2008

Exodus

As we proceed with our Bible study, it should be noted that when the Greek and Latin Fathers of the Christian church read the Old Testament in the 4th Century, they read it in translation. The Greek translation is called Septuagint (LXX) because 70 Hebrew elders translated the Torah from Hebrew into Greek about 300 years before Jesus was born! To explain, the Hebrew elders realized that the Israelites that lived in the area that had been Hellenized by Alexander the Great no longer read the Torah and other sacred writings in the Hebrew language. The Israelites residing in those areas only understood ancient Greek because Alexander the Great had implemented a common language for the people in the areas of his conquests which was ancient Greek at that time. That area would later become the eastern reach of the Roman Empire by 6 BC. Although Latin was the primary language in Rome, in order to govern the Roman provinces in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the Romans had to learn ancient Greek as well. So ancient Greek became a universal language both in the eastern part and the western part of the Roman Empire. As a result, the Holy Fathers of the christian church read the Old Testament in translations similar to the way we do now for those of us who read the Old Testament in other languages throughout the world. With this clarification, we will proceed with the study for the Exodus unit.

The title of the second book of the Old Testament, Exodus, refers to Israel being led out of bondage in Egypt. But, that is really only the first half of the book of Exodus. The later portion, Exodus 19-40, deals with giving of the Law, legislation, and the design and building of the Lord’s residence among his people – that is God’s new temple, and temple worship, among His people. God’s residence at this point is actually not a building but in fact a tent which biblical scholars equate to an living space in the wilderness (EX24-27; 35-40).

Further, God’s title, the Lord, (also, Yahweh ( I am Who I Am) or Jehovah depending on the translation you are reading) is derived directly from the Exodus story. Although God was involved in the lives of His people in Genesis, it wasn’t until the book of Exodus that God is realized as the God of an event leading toward the salvation of His people rather than a place. Biblical scholars believe that the ancient mindset was to link a deity to a place, so even the Lord came to be linked with the mountain Horeb/Sinai, and later the holy mountain or hill of Zion-Jerusalem in ancient writings. However, He is not the God of a place, He is the God of an event which is realized more clearly in Exodus where the Lord refers to Himself in an extended way, I am Yahweh (Jehovah) your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians and I will bring you into the land which I swore to give the Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am Yahweh.” (Ex6:2-8).

The primary characters and situations are:

  • Jacob’s descendants in Egypt
  • Moses and Aaron are brothers born from the house of Levi (the Priest Tribe) who together with God’s help led the Israelites out of bondage into the wilderness.
  • Water plays a part in the book of Exodus. Some biblical scholars equate this to the Sacrament of Baptism. Thoughts? Discuss in the question area below.
  • Food and water were not available in the wilderness and the people were afraid they would die of thirst and/or starvation and the Lord provided for their needs with manna and water. This can be thought of as being related to Holy communion in the Christian Church – spiritual food for the salvation of mankind. Thoughts? Discuss in the question area below.
  • The ancient Holy Fathers of Christianity see many prefiguring events in the Old Testament that occurred in the New Testament. For example: Genesis 15:27, Israel camped by 12 fountains of water and 70 palm trees. They liken this to the 12 Apostles who went forth to provide the life giving water of salvation and the 70 who were sent forth by Christ in the New Testament to further spread the word of Christianity.
  • In Exodus 18, Jethro (Moses’ wife’s father) visits the Israelites. Moses tells Jethro all that had happened to them as they left Egypt and how God had helped them. Jethro was a priest from Median and he realized that the multitude of people who had followed Moses were believers as well as non-believers and they needed to have a structure and guidelines for living together as a group. It was upon Jethro’s observation of the way the people clung to Moses for direction and judgement, that he said Moses should not only teach them God’s ordinances but should also appoint God fearing men to be judges over the people in various groupings. These judges would only bring big matters to Moses’ attention, the smaller matters the judges would handle within the group they were leading.
  • In the 3rd month after the departing from Egypt, the Israelites and those who traveled with them arrived at the Sinai Desert and camped before Mount Sinai. It is at this point that God has words with Moses about the people and tells Moses to tell the people about preparing themselves. The Holy Fathers view this conversation as a conversation between Moses and Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity. God also asks for Aaron to accompany Moses back up the mountain to speak to Him.
  • It is in Exodus 20 that God gives Moses the 10 Commandments for the people.
  • Rules for governing a peaceful society were given for various societal situations such as dealing with slaves, violence, animals and also for dealing with the other pagan groups that were living in and around them. The Israelites were to be segregated from these pagan groups.
  • In Exodus 24, God told Moses to bring to Him Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and the 70 elders of Israel to him and worship from afar – that is because only Moses was allowed to be near to God. In Genesis 24:13, Joshua, Moses assistant goes with Him to be with God for the writing of the 10 Commandments on the stone tablets. Aaron and the others were left behind to be with the people. Moses with with God on Mt. Sinai 40 days and 40 nights.
  • In Exodus 25, the Lord tells Moses to gather items from the Israelites to make a sanctuary for the Lord with specific direction as to how all items should be made – the Ark of the Covenant, Holy Tabernacle, for housing the Word, Who is the second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ.
  • In the 4th century AD, hymnographers used the Old Testament temple terminology to describe the Mother of God. The Theotokos is called in hymns for her feast days (among other analogous terminology) the Ark and the Tabernacle because the Virgin Mary carried all mighty God, she carried and gave birth to He Who could not be contained – the Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos in the Greek Orthodox tradition is filled with this analogous terminology. Thoughts? Comments?
  • Further instructions were given Moses for making all the areas of the temple including Priest Vestments.
  • In Exodus 29, Aaron and his sons were consecrated to God as those who would minister to God. The Old Testament Priesthood was one of progeny. Click the following and read the post on the Old Testament Priesthood as compared to the New Testament Priesthood in the blog Orthodox Christianity Today for more discussion in this area. Post questions for discussion.
  • In Exodus 33, Moses keeps the tabernacle far from the camp.
  • In Exodus 34, the tablets are rewritten and the Covenant is renewed with Moses and the Israelites. Thoughts? Post questions in the area below.
  • The work is finally finished in Exodus 40. Aaron and his sons are bathed and Aaron is vested in priestly garments, anointed and consecrated as Priest. The sons of Aaron were also vested and anointed and consecrated as Priests. Then the tabernacle was filled with the glory of God as a cloud. Whenever the cloud ascended, the Israelites prepared to leave. The cloud stayed over the tabernacle by day and fire was over it by night. Thoughts? Post discussion questions below.

References:

The Old Testament: an Introduction, Historical Traditions, Paul Tarazi – St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press – 2003

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament I,II,III. General Editor: Thomas C Oden, Intervarsity Press -2001

Josephus, The Complete Works, Translated by William Whiston, A.M., Thomas Nelson Publishers – 1998

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha Expanded Edition, RSV, Ecumenical Study Bible, Oxford University Press 1977

The Ministry of the Church, Image of Pastoral Care, Joseph J. Allen, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1986

The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Thomas Nelson Publishers 2008

Genesis

Read the Book of Genesis.The book of Genesis covers the longest span of time of any book in the Bible. If you have specific questions you would like addressed regarding the Book of Genesis that are not listed here, please ask them in the discussions area.

Focus points:.

Food for thought: The Bible is the Word of God. Without the Word of God, there would be no light, only darkness! “Then God said, “Let there be light and there was light” Genesis 1:3.

According to Orthodox Teaching, Jesus Christ, is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He is the Word of God, the light of the world. Whoever follows the Lord will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. John 8:12

  • Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s commandment and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent temped them by saying that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would to be like God and know good and evil. So their pride to be like God caused them to fall. The sin was pride, the act was disobedience. Their punishment was to be exiled from Paradise so they could no longer eat from the Tree of Life and remain immortal. Being shut out of Paradise and unable to eat from the Tree of Life, they would ultimately die. So, the punishment for their sin of pride and disobedience was ultimately death.
  • God in his infinite love for mankind, fashioned them clothes to wear, spoke to them and their children and continued to help all of their generations to come with the eventual plan to restore His people to Him in Paradise.
  • The Chapters that follow deal with the generations of Adam. Within this sequence, it becomes evident that Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, is the line of Noah. Then after the flood, the generations of Noah through Abraham are told with Noah’s son Shem being a direct descendant of Jesus Christ (Luke 3:35)
  • The tower of Babel also occurs and the people are scattered and the language confused. Consider this action, use the comment section below for discussion of your questions.
  • The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah happens in Chapter 19:1-38. Abraham pleaded with God that Sodom be spared if some righteous people were found in it. This gave rise to the idea that sinners might be spared, blessed, or even exist for the benefit of the righteous. What areas would you like to discuss relative to this?
  • The birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah.
    • Both Ishmael (Abraham’s first born son from Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar) and Isaac were promised a future by God. Ask questions in the comment section below for discussion.
  • Isaac and Rebekah had Jacob and it is from Jacob, later named Israel by God, that the twelve tribes of Israel were born.
  • Jacob had 12 sons with 4 women. The women were Leah, Rachael, Bilhah and Zilpah. Leah and Rachael were sisters and Jacob’s wives. Bilhah and Zilpah were servants. Ask questions in the comment section below for discussion.
  • Israel’s (Jacob’s) lineage is as follows – These are the twelve tribes of Israel:
    • Ruben (mother Leah) — Reuben lost his birthright and his birthright was given to Israel’s son, Joseph. Joseph had two Sons: Manesseh and Ephraim. One son was given the territory that would have been Ruben’s and the other son was given the territory that would have been Levi’s.
    • Simeon (mother Leah)
    • Levi (mother Leah) – the Levi tribe was the Priest tribe and they were never given land through Jacob. Their responsibility was to see to the spiritual needs of the tribes of Israel.
    • Judah (mother Leah) – it is from Judah and the union with Tamar that the King David is eventually born.
    • Dan (mother Bilhah)
    • Naphtali (mother Bilhah)
    • Gad (mother Zilpah)
    • Asher (mother Zilpah)
    • Issachar (mother Leah)
    • Zebulun (mother Leah)
    • Joseph (mother Rachael)
    • Joseph had two sons through Asenath when he was in Eqypt: Manesseh and Ephraim. One son was given the territory that would have been Ruben’s and the other son was given the territory that would have been Levi’s.
    • Benjamin (mother Rachael)
    • Israel also had a daughter, Dinah (mother Leah)
  • In Genesis 49-50, Israel (Jacob), distributes his lands to his sons and they become known as the 12 tribes of Israel. Israel dies and is buried – “…..bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite as a possession for a burial place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave that is there were purchased from the sons of Heth.” And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.”NKJV
  • Joseph confronts his brothers and then dies and is buried in Egypt.

Recap:

Adam and Eve, through pride, disobeyed God’s command in the Garden of Eden. Their disobedience caused God to exile them from Paradise and eternal life. Mankind was no longer immortal and would die in exile. A long history of the Israelites culminates in Jesus Christ who became incarnate so that mankind may be saved.

Resources:

The Old Testament, new revised edition, Historical Traditions, Paul Nadim Tarazi, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament, Vol. I. II, InterVarsity Press

Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Thomas Nelson publishers.

New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha expanded edition, Revised Standard Version, Oxford University Press.

Bible Study Orientation

Food for thought: The Bible is the Word of God. Without the Word of God there would be no light, only darkness. “…..and God said, Let there be light and there was light…”. Genesis 1:3

Before reading scripture, the following prayer may be said:

Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. From OCA

Now proceed to the Book you would like to study from the Recent Post Menu.