TBU: The Bible Unpacked: In-Depth Edition

II. The Law’s Provision for Israel’s Sin

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Chapter 9  Part II

The Law’s Provision for Israel’s Sin

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In the law on which his covenant with Israel was based, God made provision for atonement to be made for anyone who sinned, and so for the sinner to be forgiven. This allowed the Israelites to remain in their covenant relationship with him, providing that they did not actually give up following God and his laws, as per the terms of the covenant. Sadly Israel would fail to hold to the covenant, willfully forsaking God’s laws and persisting in sin.

The NT contains numerous references to the Mosaic Law’s provision for Israel’s sin. An understanding of what this provision involved enables us to more fully comprehend why Jesus Christ came and the significance of his work. For many of the concepts involved in Jesus Christ’s work have their origin in the law’s stipulations for making offerings for atonement for sin. These aspects of the law actually foreshadowed – and would be superseded by – what Jesus Christ would do and implement.

Note that most of the following passages involve instructions given by God to Moses for the Israelites, with either God or Moses speaking.

Offerings for Atonement for Sinners

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The law made provision for the offering of a life of an animal, to make atonement for one who had sinned

Under the Mosaic Law, when a person sinned the person had to bring an animal for a priest to sacrifice as an offering of a life to make atonement for the person. Biblical atonement is where God accepts such an offering or sacrifice of a living being as a substitute for the life of a person who has sinned – the person’s life otherwise being required as punishment for their sin. As such, God accepts the sacrifice as payment for the person’s sin. The result is that sin is taken away – and so the sinner is forgiven, pronounced righteous and reconciled to God.

Lev 4:27-31  If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, 28or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. 29And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. 30And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. 31And all its fat he shall remove, as the fat is removed from the peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. ▤ 

Note that the altar of burnt offering was used in making atonement for individuals generally, and the altar of incense (which was in the Holy Place) was used in the cases of the high priest and Israel as a whole (cf. vv. 7, 18).

Lev 10:17  Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the place of the sanctuary, since it is a thing most holy and has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord? ▤ 

The expression “bear the iniquity” speaks of taking or resting the sin and consequent guilt from the people.

Lev 17:11  For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. ▤ 

This underlines the importance of the shedding of blood in making atonement. The reason as to why “the blood… makes atonement by the life” appears to be given at the beginning of the verse – “the life of the flesh is in the blood”. As such, by the shedding of its blood the creature’s life was given in place of and so to make atonement for a person’s life. (See . . . for the life of a creature is in its blood – and as such blood is not to be eaten.)

Lev 19:22  And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven for the sin that he has committed. ▤ 

Num 6:10-11a  On the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest to the entrance of the tent of meeting, 11and the priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned by reason of the dead body. ▤ 

Note that these regulations were for Nazirites, who made special vows of separation to God which meant that they could not be in close proximity to a dead body.

Num 15:27-28  If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. 28And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. ▤ 

2Chr 29:24  … and the priests slaughtered them and made a sin offering with their blood on the altar, to make atonement for all Israel. For the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel. ▤ 

  • The concept of paying of a ransom to make atonement for one’s life:

Ex 30:11-12, 15-16  The Lord said to Moses, 12“When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. ▤ 15The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord’s offering to make atonement for your lives. 16You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your lives.” ▤ 

This is not expressly saying that the ransom was to make atonement because of sin, but arguably this is suggested by the word “atonement” itself, particularly with the reference to the annual day of atonement in the preceding verse (v. 10). Alternatively, it may have in view the people’s redemption from Egypt by God, whereby in redeeming them God in a sense bought the people. Thus the instructions here may signify that the people were in turn to pay God for their lives, redeeming or buying themselves from him – similar to the practice regarding firstborn sons in 13:13-16.

As with the concept of making atonement for sin, the concept of paying a ransom for people is paralleled in the NT by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of himself on behalf of people. His sacrifice is portrayed as a ransom for people, freeing them from sin and its consequences. See Jesus Christ’s Death and Redemption from Sin. See also God redeemed the Israelites out of Egypt to take them as his own . . ..

The major offerings for making atonement: The burnt offering; . . .

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Leviticus chapters 1-7 contain the main parts of the law’s stipulations for making what are understood as the five main offerings (and it is from these chapters that the extracts in this and in the following two subsections are taken). The five main offerings are the burnt offering (1:1-17); the grain offering (2:1-16); the peace offering (3:1-17); the sin offering (4:1-5:13); and the guilt offering (5:14-6:7). Following these sections are instructions largely for the priests (6:8-7:38). They repeat some aspects of the aforementioned sections, but also have directions regarding the parts of the sacrifices that remained, such as portions being eaten by the priests. The offerings that concern making atonement for people who have sinned are the burnt offering, the sin offering and the guilt offering.

Making atonement for was one of the main uses of a burnt offering (the subject of the following extract). The burnt offering appears to have been used in regard to one’s sin in general, rather than in response to having committed a particular sin. Other kinds of uses for a burnt offering were: as an expression of devotion to God; as an expression of thanksgiving to God; and to accompany/supplement an appeal to God. It was the only offering where the whole of the animal was burnt up on the altar; as such it expressed one’s complete devotion to God.

Lev 1:3-9  If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. 4He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. 5Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, 7and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offeringz with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. ▤ 

z Or an offering by fire; so throughout Leviticus

Note that the fat was considered to be the choicest part and was singled out to be burnt as “an aroma pleasing to the Lord” (v. 9). The subsequent verses contain similar instructions regarding making a burnt offering of a sheep or goat (vv. 10-13), or of a dove or young pigeon (vv. 14-17).

. . . the sin offering; . . .

The following extracts speak of sin offerings being made by an individual. Instructions are also given in Leviticus 4 regarding sin offerings for: “the anointed priest” (4:3-12); “the whole Israelite community” (4:13-21); and “a leader” (4:22-26).

Lev 4:27-31  If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, 28or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. 29And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. 30And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. 31And all its fat he shall remove, as the fat is removed from the peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. ▤ 

With the animal being identified with the person, the animal’s blood signified the lifeblood of the person, poured out for the person’s sin (v. 30) – i.e. the person’s life being given in payment for his or her sin. As such the animal’s death would be accepted on the person’s behalf to make atonement for the person. The horns of the altar of burnt offering (v. 30) may have symbolized the authority embedded in the process of making of sin offerings for effecting atonement (cf. NSB), as was the case with the altar of incense. Note that “burn it” (v. 31) refers to the fat that had been removed.

Lev 5:5-6  … when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, 6he shall bring to the Lord as his compensationa for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin. ▤ 

a Hebrew his guilt penalty; so throughout Leviticus

Lev 5:7-10  But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed two turtledoves or two pigeons,b one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. 8He shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer first the one for the sin offering. He shall wring its head from its neck but shall not sever it completely, 9and he shall sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering on the side of the altar, while the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar; it is a sin offering. 10Then he shall offer the second for a burnt offering according to the rule. And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven. ▤ 

b Septuagint two young pigeons; also verse 11

Note that a burnt offering is made here along with a sin offering, the two offerings being required in place of a single sin offering of greater value (cf. v. 6 ; Lev 4:28 ). Provision is subsequently made for very poor people (cf. vv. 11-13 ).

Lev 5:11-13  “But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, then he shall bring as his offering for the sin that he has committed a tenth of an ephahc of fine flour for a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it and shall put no frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering. 12And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take a handful of it as its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, on the Lord’s food offerings; it is a sin offering. 13Thus the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed in any one of these things, and he shall be forgiven. And the remainderd shall be for the priest, as in the grain offering.” ▤ 

c An ephah was about 3/5 bushel or 22 liters

d Septuagint; Hebrew it

. . . and the guilt offering

The guilt offering was quite similar to the sin offering, in both the process (cf. Lev 7:1-7; Lev 4:27-31 ) and purpose. The main difference appears to be that it was required in matters where restitution was quantifiable and so could be made for the wrongdoing. The guilt offering was made along with the restitution and a twenty percent surcharge. The sins concerned were in regard to such things as “holy things of the Lord” (Lev 5:15 ) and a neighbor’s property (cf. Lev 6:4 ).

Lev 5:15-16  If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the Lord, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valuede in silver shekels,f according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. 16He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven. ▤ 

e Or flock, or its equivalent

f A shekel was about 2/5 ounce or 11 grams

Note that “holy things” could refer to previously required offerings or other quantifiable things involved in worship.

Lev 5:17-19  “If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity. 18He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven. 19It is a guilt offering; he has indeed incurred guilt beforeg the Lord.” ▤ 

g Or he has paid full compensation to

Lev 6:4-7  … if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found 5or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt. 6And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent for a guilt offering. 7And the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty. ▤ 

  • God gave these regulations for the major offerings to Moses on Mount Sinai:

Lev 7:37-38  This is the law of the burnt offering, of the grain offering, of the sin offering, of the guilt offering, of the ordination offering, and of the peace offering, 38which the Lord commanded Moses on Mount Sinai, on the day that he commanded the people of Israel to bring their offerings to the Lord, in the wilderness of Sinai. ▤ 

The fact that God gave these offertory regulations to Moses on or at Mount Sinai shows that they were part of God’s law. Note that the reference to the “ordination offering” (v. 37b) appears to anticipate the ordination of the priests and the commencement of their ministry in the subsequent two chapters.

Atonement was also made annually for all of the people

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The procedures spoken of in the previous subsections were required following the committing of sin at any time – either by individuals or the nation as a whole. The Day of Atonement was to be observed just once each year, for the high priest to cleanse the nation as a whole of all sin. It was the most important observance of the OT rituals, the only time the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place.

Ex 30:10  Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the Lord. ▤ 

Lev 16:17, 24  No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. ▤ 24And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. ▤ 

Lev 16:29-34  “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselvesh and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. 31It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. ▤ 

h Or shall fast; also verse 31

As in the other extracts here, the priest referred to is the high priest.

Lev 23:26-28  And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 27“Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord. 28And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. ▤ 

Heb 9:6-7  These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. ▤ 

In v. 7, “the second” refers to the second section of the sanctuary – the Most Holy Place.

Pray for persecuted Christians

Aspects of Making Offerings for Sin

While this section looks in particular at offerings that were made because of sin, note that some aspects of the presentation of these offerings were also applicable to other offerings – such as the aspects involved in the first two subsections.

All offerings were only to be made at the place God chose for his presence amongst his people

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All kinds of offerings were only to be made at the one place, of God’s choosing. All offerings needed to be offered on the altar at the place of God’s presence amongst the people that was signified by the ark of the covenant. Initially this was at “the tent of meeting” (the tabernacle) and later at the temple. This was partly to ensure that the offerings were offered by the priests, God’s chosen mediators between the people and himself. Additionally, it safeguarded against inappropriate offerings and procedures – and against worship of other gods. (Note that in addition to offerings for sin, passages speaking of other offerings are included below.)

Ex 29:11  Then you shall kill the bull before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, … ▤ 

Lev 1:3  If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. ▤ 

Lev 6:25  Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. ▤ 

Lev 17:1-6, 8-9  And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. 3If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, 4and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people. 5This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the Lord. 6And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. ▤ 8“And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice 9and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the Lord, that man shall be cut off from his people. ▤ 

Deut 12:5-6  But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitationi there. There you shall go, 6and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. ▤ 

i Or name as its habitation

Deut 12:13-14, 17-18a  Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, 14but at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you. ▤ 17You may not eat within your towns the tithe of your grain or of your wine or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herd or of your flock, or any of your vow offerings that you vow, or your freewill offerings or the contribution that you present, 18but you shall eat them before the Lord your God in the place that the Lord your God will choose, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your towns. ▤ 

Note that some kinds of offerings were eaten by the people together at the place of God’s presence (v. 18) as an act of worship and at times as a celebration.

Deut 12:26-27  But the holy things that are due from you, and your vow offerings, you shall take, and you shall go to the place that the Lord will choose, 27and offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the Lord your God. The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the Lord your God, but the flesh you may eat. ▤ 

Animals brought as offerings were to be without any blemish

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An offering had to be without defect to be deemed worthy to be offered to God and, in the case of an offering for sin, to be offered as a substitute for a person.

Ex 29:1, 14  Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. Take one bull of the herd and two rams without blemish, ▤ 14But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering. ▤ 

Lev 1:3a  “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. ▤ 

Lev 4:3  … if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering. ▤ 

Lev 4:22-23  When a leader sins, doing unintentionally any one of all the things that by the commandments of the Lord his God ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, 23or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring as his offering a goat, a male without blemish, … ▤ 

Lev 4:27-28, 32  If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, 28or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. ▤ 32“If he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish … ▤ 

Num 6:14  … and he shall bring his gift to the Lord, one male lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish as a sin offering, and one ram without blemish as a peace offering, … ▤ 

Num 29:8  … but you shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing aroma: one bull from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old: see that they are without blemish. ▤ 

Deut 15:21  But if it has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God. ▤ 

The sinner laid hands on the offering, identifying the animal with themself

When making an offering for sin, a person would lay their hands on the head of the animal to be sacrificed. This was to signify its identification with the person. It could then be sacrificed as a substitute for the person, the offering of its life being accepted by God as a substitute for the life of the person, for their sin. Note that this practice may also have signified the transfer of the person’s sins to the animal (cf. Lev 16:21-22 ).

Ex 29:10, 14  Then you shall bring the bull before the tent of meeting. Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the bull. ▤ 14But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering. ▤ 

Note that this was part of the ceremony for the consecration of the priests.

Lev 1:4  He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. ▤ 

Lev 4:13-15  If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionallyj and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and they realize their guilt,k 14when the sin which they have committed becomes known, the assembly shall offer a bull from the herd for a sin offering and bring it in front of the tent of meeting. 15And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the Lord, and the bull shall be killed before the Lord. ▤ 

j Or makes a mistake

k Or suffer for their guilt, or are guilty; also verses 22, 27, and chapter 5

The elders of the community (v. 15) represented the whole Israelite community in this matter of a sin by the people as a whole.

Lev 4:29  And he [who had sinned] shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. ▤ 

Lev 16:21-22  And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. ▤ 

On the annual Day of Atonement the high priest laid his hands on a goat, signifying the transfer of the people’s sins onto the goat (v. 21).

2Chr 29:23-24  Then the goats for the sin offering were brought to the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them, 24and the priests slaughtered them and made a sin offering with their blood on the altar, to make atonement for all Israel. For the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel. ▤ 

The blood of the offerings for sin featured in making atonement . . .

See also:

The blood of animals sacrificed as offerings to make atonement for sinners, featured prominently in the instructions given for presenting the offerings. As commented earlier, the reason was the correlation of blood with life (as further discussed in the following subsection). As such, the blood signified the life of the animal, given as a substitute for the life of the sinner (as discussed in the previous subsection).

Ex 30:10  Aaron shall make atonement on its [the altar of incense’s] horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the Lord. ▤ 

Lev 1:4-5, 10-11, 14-15  He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. 5Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. ▤ 10“If his gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, he shall bring a male without blemish, 11and he shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. ▤ 14“If his offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or pigeons. 15And the priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head and burn it on the altar. Its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. ▤ 

Lev 4:16-21  Then the anointed priest shall bring some of the blood of the bull into the tent of meeting, 17and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord in front of the veil. 18And he shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is in the tent of meeting before the Lord, and the rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 19And all its fat he shall take from it and burn on the altar. 20Thus shall he do with the bull. As he did with the bull of the sin offering, so shall he do with this. And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. 21And he shall carry the bull outside the camp and burn it up as he burned the first bull; it is the sin offering for the assembly. ▤ 

Lev 4:32-35  If he [a member of the community] brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish 33and lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill it for a sin offering in the place where they kill the burnt offering. 34Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. 35And all its fat he shall remove as the fat of the lamb is removed from the sacrifice of peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on top of the Lord’s food offerings. And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven. ▤ 

. . . for the life of a creature is in its blood – and as such blood is not to be eaten

See also:

Blood is correlated with life largely because it sustains life. Because of the correlation, the people were not to eat blood – a command that NT believers continued to uphold (cf. Acts 15:20, 29 ; 21:25). The command was particularly pertinent in the context of making offerings. For in some kinds of animal offerings the meat was to be eaten, and so the people were required to first drain the blood from it.

Gen 9:4  But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. ▤ 

This correlates a creature’s blood with its life. As such it points to the concept of the life of a creature being in its blood.

Lev 17:10-14  If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 11For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. 12Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. 13“Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. 14For the life of every creaturel is its blood: its blood is its life.m Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. ▤ 

l Hebrew all flesh

m Hebrew it is in its life

Deut 12:21, 23-27  If the place that the Lord your God will choose to put his name there is too far from you, then you may kill any of your herd or your flock, which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and you may eat within your towns whenever you desire. ▤ 23Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. 24You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the earth like water. 25You shall not eat it, that all may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord. 26But the holy things that are due from you, and your vow offerings, you shall take, and you shall go to the place that the Lord will choose, 27and offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the Lord your God. The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the Lord your God, but the flesh you may eat. ▤ 

Acts 15:20, 29  … but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. ▤ 29that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. ▤ 

Note that the meat of strangled animals retained the blood.

The parts of an offering’s body were burnt or eaten

See also:

Depending on the type of offering, and sometimes on the reasons necessitating it, the parts of the sacrificed animal’s body were either burnt as an offering to God or eaten by the priests and male members of their families.

Lev 1:6-9  Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, 7and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offeringn with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. ▤ 

n Or an offering by fire; so throughout Leviticus

Lev 4:8-12  And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall remove from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails 9and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys 10(just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings); and the priest shall burn them on the altar of burnt offering. 11But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— 12all the rest of the bull—he shall carry outside the camp to a clean place, to the ash heap, and shall burn it up on a fire of wood. On the ash heap it shall be burned up. ▤ 

These instructions concerned making a sin offering for the high priest and also applied to a sin offering for the whole Israelite community. In the case of a sin offering for a leader or that of a sin offering for a member of the community, only the fat was burnt (vv. 31, 35), with the body to be eaten by the priests and male family members (cf. Lev 6:26 ). Note that vv. 11-12 tell of the leftover parts being burnt up so as to be destroyed rather than as part of the sacrifice to God.

Lev 6:25-26, 29-30  Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. 26The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting. ▤ 29Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy. 30But no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place; it shall be burned up with fire. ▤ 

Verse 30 speaks of why the whole of a sin offering made for the high priest or for the whole Israelite community was burned. In their case the blood was taken into the Holy Place (cf. 4:5-7, 16-18). As such the implication may be that the remainder of the offering was particularly holy, to the extent that it was not to be eaten. Additionally, it would have been inappropriate for the priests to eat of these offerings as their own sin was involved.

Lev 7:1-6  This is the law of the guilt offering. It is most holy. 2In the place where they kill the burnt offering they shall kill the guilt offering, and its blood shall be thrown against the sides of the altar. 3And all its fat shall be offered, the fat tail, the fat that covers the entrails, 4the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys. 5The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering to the Lord; it is a guilt offering. 6Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy. ▤ 

Num 18:8-10  Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. 9This shall be yours of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every offering of theirs, every grain offering of theirs and every sin offering of theirs and every guilt offering of theirs, which they render to me, shall be most holy to you and to your sons. 10In a most holy place shall you eat it. Every male may eat it; it is holy to you. ▤ 

Deut 12:27  … and offer your burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, on the altar of the Lord your God. The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the Lord your God, but the flesh you may eat. ▤ 

Note: Procedures for the Day of Atonement, involving the high priest entering the Most Holy Place

The proceedings for the Day of Atonement – featuring offerings – are described in Leviticus 16, extracts of which form this subsection.

Lev 16:2-5  … and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. 3But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. ▤ 

The term “the Holy Place” (vv. 2, 3) refers to what is often called “the Most Holy Place” (GNT, NCV, NIV, NLT). The bull (v. 3) and one of the goats (v. Lev 16:5) were for sin offerings – the bull for the high priest and his household (cf. v. 11 ) and the goat for the people (cf. v. 15 ). The ram that the high priest brought (v. 3) and the ram from the Israelite community (v. 5) were sacrificed last as burnt offerings for the high priest and the people (cf. v. 24 ) – along with the burning of the fat of the sin offering (cf. v. 25 ).

Lev 16:8-10  And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.o 9And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, 10but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. ▤ 

o The meaning of Azazel is uncertain; possibly the name of a place or a demon, traditionally a scapegoat; also verses 10, 26

The aspects involving the two goats in particular prefigured Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice of himself for people’s sin. One was sacrificed as a sin offering, signifying payment for the people’s sin (v. 9; cf. vv. 15, 27). The other goat had the sins of the people symbolically placed on it and then sent away from the community (v. 10; cf. v. 21 ), signifying the removal of sin. Regarding the term “Azazel”, see the text note on v. 8. As alluded to in the text note, the term is sometimes translated as “scapegoat” (NASB, NKJV, NLT).

Lev 16:11-14  Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. 14And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. ▤ 

Lev 16:15-17  Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. ▤ 

Because the Holy Place and the tent of meeting – along with the altar (cf. vv. 18-19 ; v. 20 ) – were among the sinful and often unclean people, atonement needed to be made for them.

Lev 16:18-19  Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel. ▤ 

Lev 16:20-22  And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. ▤ 

Lev 16:23-25, 27  Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. ▤ 27And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. ▤ 

Verse 24b marks the final offerings in the process of making atonement, although the remains of the sin offerings still had to be removed and burnt up (v. 27).

Pray for persecuted Christians

The Role of the Priests

God designated Aaron and his descendants as priests . . .

When God made his covenant with Israel, he instituted the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood as an integral aspect of the covenant law, in particular in regard to the regulations concerning the people’s relationship with himself. Note that the term “Levitical priesthood” is indicative of Aaron and his descendants being of the Israelite tribe of Levi.

Ex 28:1-5, 41  Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 2And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. 3You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. 4These are the garments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests. 5They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. ▤ 41And you shall put them on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. ▤ 

Note that God is addressing Moses here and in the following two references from Exodus.

Ex 29:8-9, 29-30  Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, 9and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons. ▤ 29“The holy garments of Aaron shall be for his sons after him; they shall be anointed in them and ordained in them. 30The son who succeeds him as priest, who comes into the tent of meeting to minister in the Holy Place, shall wear them seven days. ▤ 

In v. 30 “priest” refers to the high priest, of which there was to be only one at any one time.

Ex 40:12-15  Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water 13and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. 14You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, 15and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations. ▤ 

Num 3:2-3, 10  These are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 3These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he ordained to serve as priests. ▤ 10And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death. ▤ 

The ministry of the priests largely involved sacred duties carried out in God’s sanctuary amongst the people. These duties were theirs alone, as v. 10b emphatically indicates (cf. Num 18:7 ).

Num 18:7  And you [Aaron] and your sons with you shall guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood as a gift,p and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death. ▤ 

p Hebrew service of gift

Deut 18:5  For the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the name of the Lord, him and his sons for all time. ▤ 

Neh 10:38a  And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. ▤ 

This illustrates that later priests were to descendants of Aaron.

. . . With their appointment, God is said to have made a covenant with the priests

Jer 33:18-22  … and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.” 19The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 20“Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, 21then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. 22As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.” ▤ 

Mal 2:4-6, 8  So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. 5My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. 6True instructionq was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. ▤ 8But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, … ▤ 

q Or law; also verses 7, 8, 9

This may have in view in particular the covenant with the priest Phinehas (cf. Num 25:10-13 ), with both it and the covenant referred to here being described as ones of “peace” (v. 5; cf. Num 25:12 ).

Neh 13:29  Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. ▤ 

Num 18:19  All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you. ▤ 

The reference to “a covenant” appears to have in view such provisions for the priests as mentioned here as being aspects of this covenant (cf. vv. 8-24), although it may also allude to wider aspects of the terms of God’s appointment of the priests, with their designated responsibilities and privileges.

  • God specifically made a covenant of a lasting priesthood with Phinehas, a grandson of Aaron:

Num 25:10-13  And the Lord said to Moses, 11“Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. 12Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, 13and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’” ▤ 

Phinehas had taken quick and decisive action against an Israelite who had defiantly sinned greatly against God (cf. vv. 6-8). This covenant appears to indicate that God’s covenant with the priests would continue through Phinehas’s line of Aaron.

The priests were responsible for God’s sanctuary, the offerings and teaching the people . . .

See also:

The term “sanctuary” referred initially to the tabernacle or Tent of Meeting, then later to the temple. At times their inner rooms are in view in particular.

Num 3:38  Those who were to camp before the tabernacle on the east, before the tent of meeting toward the sunrise, were Moses and Aaron and his sons, guarding the sanctuary itself, to protectr the people of Israel. And any outsider who came near was to be put to death. ▤ 

r Hebrew guard

Num 18:1, 5, 7-8  So the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood. ▤ 5And you shall keep guard over the sanctuary and over the altar, that there may never again be wrath on the people of Israel. ▤ 7And you and your sons with you shall guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood as a gift,s and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” 8Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. ▤ 

s Hebrew service of gift

Verse 1 appears to be speaking of the priests bearing guilt for any offenses in connection with the sanctuary and/or the priesthood. Such offenses would have included improper actions in the performing of the priest’s work involving the holy things of God, and possibly also offenses of the people in regard to these things. In v. 7, the phrase “guard your priesthood” and that which follows appear to speak of watching over the priesthood so as to carefully fulfill the duties of it.

2Chr 35:2  He appointed the priests to their offices and encouraged them in the service of the house of the Lord. ▤ 

Ezek 44:15-16  But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me to minister to me. And they shall stand before me to offer me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord God. 16They shall enter my sanctuary, and they shall approach my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge. ▤ 

Note that this is from a latter OT prophecy, from Ezekiel. In telling of priestly duties being exclusively granted to priests who were descendants of Zadok (himself a descendant of Aaron), it speaks of priests being responsible for God’s sanctuary and the offerings.

Lev 21:6  They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God. For they offer the Lord’s food offerings, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy. ▤ 

Deut 33:10  They shall teach Jacob your rules and Israel your law; they shall put incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar. ▤ 

This blessing bestowed on the tribe of Levi (cf. v. 8) appears to largely have the priests in particular in view.

Lev 10:10-11  You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, 11and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses. ▤ 

As part of teaching the people God’s decrees (v. 11), the priests were to teach them the distinctions spoken of in v. 10.

Mal 2:7  For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and peoplet should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. ▤ 

t Hebrew they

Ezra 7:12a  “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven. Peace.u ▤ 

u Aramaic Perfect (probably a greeting)

As a scribe of the Law, Ezra the priest was effectively a teacher of the Law (cf. NCV, NIV, NLT).

. . . The other Levites were given to the priests to assist them

Note that the Levites were set apart for God’s service in part at least due to their commitment to God following the making of the golden calf (cf. Ex 32:23-29). Regarding this, Exodus 32:29 says: ‘And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”’

Num 3:5-9  And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 6“Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. 7They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. 8They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. 9And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. ▤ 

Num 4:19b, 27a  Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, ▤ 27All the service of the sons of the Gershonites shall be at the command of Aaron and his sons, in all that they are to carry and in all that they have to do. ▤ 

Note that different tribal clans of the Levites are being spoken of here. Some of the duties of the Levites were assigned to specific clans.

Num 18:2-4, 6  [God, to Aaron:] And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. 3They shall keep guard over you and over the whole tent, but shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar lest they, and you, die. 4They shall join you and keep guard over the tent of meeting for all the service of the tent, and no outsider shall come near you. ▤ 6And behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the people of Israel. They are a gift to you, given to the Lord, to do the service of the tent of meeting. ▤ 

Deut 10:8  At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day. ▤ 

Deut 18:6-7  And if a Levite comes from any of your towns out of all Israel, where he lives—and he may come when he desiresv—to the place that the Lord will choose, 7and ministers in the name of the Lord his God, like all his fellow Levites who stand to minister there before the Lord, … ▤ 

v Or lives—if he comes enthusiastically

Josh 18:7a  The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of the Lord is their heritage. ▤ 

This appears to use “the priesthood” in a broad sense, referring to “the priestly service” (NIV®) that was the responsibility of all Levites in assisting the priests.

1Chr 23:25-32  For David said, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has given rest to his people, and he dwells in Jerusalem forever. 26And so the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the things for its service.” 27For by the last words of David the sons of Levi were numbered from twenty years old and upward. 28For their duty was to assist the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the Lord, having the care of the courts and the chambers, the cleansing of all that is holy, and any work for the service of the house of God. 29Their duty was also to assist with the showbread, the flour for the grain offering, the wafers of unleavened bread, the baked offering, the offering mixed with oil, and all measures of quantity or size. 30And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening, 31and whenever burnt offerings were offered to the Lord on Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the Lord. 32Thus they were to keep charge of the tent of meeting and the sanctuary, and to attend the sons of Aaron, their brothers, for the service of the house of the Lord. ▤ 

When the tabernacle was to be replaced by the temple in Jerusalem, David reassigned the duties of the Levites accordingly.

2Chr 29:34  But the priests were too few and could not flay all the burnt offerings, so until other priests had consecrated themselves, their brothers the Levites helped them, until the work was finished—for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in consecrating themselves. ▤ 

Ezra 6:18  And they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their divisions, for the service of God at Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses. ▤ 

  • The Levites were set apart as God’s own, in place of the firstborn Israelite males:

Num 8:14-18  Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. 15And after that the Levites shall go in to serve at the tent of meeting, when you have cleansed them and offered them as a wave offering. 16For they are wholly given to me from among the people of Israel. Instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the people of Israel, I have taken them for myself. 17For all the firstborn among the people of Israel are mine, both of man and of beast. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I consecrated them for myself, 18and I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel. ▤ 

The priests made offerings for people when they sinned, to make atonement for them

The theme of this subsection is exemplified in many passages in the previous two sections of this chapter – Offerings for Atonement for Sinners; and Aspects of Making Offerings for Sin.

Lev 4:27-31  If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, 28or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. 29And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. 30And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. 31And all its fat he shall remove, as the fat is removed from the peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. ▤ 

Lev 5:15-16  If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the Lord, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valuedw in silver shekels,x according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. 16He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven. ▤ 

w Or flock, or its equivalent

x A shekel was about 2/5 ounce or 11 grams

Lev 19:22  And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven for the sin that he has committed. ▤ 

Num 15:27-28  If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. 28And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. ▤ 

1Chr 6:49  But Aaron and his sons made offerings on the altar of burnt offering and on the altar of incense for all the work of the Most Holy Place, and to make atonement for Israel, according to all that Moses the servant of God had commanded. ▤ 

2Chr 29:20-24  Then Hezekiah the king rose early and gathered the officials of the city and went up to the house of the Lord. 21And they brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven male goats for a sin offering for the kingdom and for the sanctuary and for Judah. And he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the Lord. 22So they slaughtered the bulls, and the priests received the blood and threw it against the altar. And they slaughtered the rams, and their blood was thrown against the altar. And they slaughtered the lambs, and their blood was thrown against the altar. 23Then the goats for the sin offering were brought to the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them, 24and the priests slaughtered them and made a sin offering with their blood on the altar, to make atonement for all Israel. For the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel. ▤ 

  • The priests also were to intercede in prayer on behalf of the people:

Joel 2:17  Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.y Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” ▤ 

y Or reproach, that the nations should rule over them

Apparently as a consequence of the people’s sin (cf. vv. 12-13), an awesome plague of locusts had devastated the land. Thus here Joel relates God’s call for the priests to pray for mercy on the people’s behalf.

The high priest made atonement for Israel as a whole

Lev 4:13-21  If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionallyz and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and they realize their guilt,a 14when the sin which they have committed becomes known, the assembly shall offer a bull from the herd for a sin offering and bring it in front of the tent of meeting. 15And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the Lord, and the bull shall be killed before the Lord. 16Then the anointed priest shall bring some of the blood of the bull into the tent of meeting, 17and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord in front of the veil. 18And he shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is in the tent of meeting before the Lord, and the rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 19And all its fat he shall take from it and burn on the altar. 20Thus shall he do with the bull. As he did with the bull of the sin offering, so shall he do with this. And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. 21And he shall carry the bull outside the camp and burn it up as he burned the first bull; it is the sin offering for the assembly. ▤ 

z Or makes a mistake

a Or suffer for their guilt, or are guilty; also verses 22, 27, and chapter 5

The “anointed priest” (v. 16) is the high priest, who is in view in the remainder of the passage.

Lev 9:7  Then Moses said to Aaron, “Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the Lord has commanded.” ▤ 

Lev 16:17, 24, 32-34  No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he [Aaron, the high priest] enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. ▤ 24And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. ▤ 32And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. ▤ 

Note that v. 32 refers to future high priests.

Heb 2:17  Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. ▤ 

This may well have primarily in view the high priest’s work in making “atonement and propitiation” (AMP) for the people as a whole. Note that “propitiation” means to turn away the wrath of God against sinners.

The offering of incense by the priests

Sweet smelling incense was regularly offered by priests to God, primarily in being burned before him (cf. Ex 30:7-9 ), but also in being added to some other offerings (cf. Lev 2:1-2, 15-16 ). This was to honor God with such a beautiful and pleasing aroma. The fact that the incense was costly was also honoring to God, in it being offered up to him. The practice was probably also in part to counteract the smell from some of the sacrifices.

Ex 30:7-9  And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, 8and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations. 9You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. ▤ 

This refers to the altar of incense, one of the two altars in the tabernacle and later in the temple – the other being the altar of burnt offering. The altar of incense was located in the Holy Place, before the veil that concealed the Most Holy Place. On it the high priest regularly burnt the sweet smelling incense before God.

Deut 33:10  They shall teach Jacob your rules and Israel your law; they shall put incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar. ▤ 

1Chr 6:49  But Aaron and his sons made offerings on the altar of burnt offering and on the altar of incense for all the work of the Most Holy Place, and to make atonement for Israel, according to all that Moses the servant of God had commanded. ▤ 

2Chr 13:10-11a  But as for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken him. We have priests ministering to the Lord who are sons of Aaron, and Levites for their service. 11They offer to the Lord every morning and every evening burnt offerings and incense of sweet spices, set out the showbread on the table of pure gold, and care for the golden lampstand that its lamps may burn every evening. ▤ 

Lev 2:1-2, 15-16  When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it 2and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. ▤ 15And you shall put oil on it and lay frankincense on it; it is a grain offering. 16And the priest shall burn as its memorial portion some of the crushed grain and some of the oil with all of its frankincense; it is a food offering to the Lord. ▤ 

  • Lamps of olive oil were to be kept burning before God by the priests:

Ex 27:20-21  You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. 21In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel. ▤ 

Note: Priests and Levites were given parts of the people’s offerings, God being their inheritance

See also:

The priests and the other Levites were not given an inheritance of land when the Israelites conquered the promised land of Canaan, although they were given towns throughout the land (cf. Num 35:1-8; Josh 21:1-42). Instead God was to be their inheritance. One aspect of this inheritance was that much of what the Israelites gave to God in offerings – including parts of the sin and guilt offerings – was allocated to the priests and Levites, as provision for their households.

Num 18:8-15  Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. 9This shall be yours of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every offering of theirs, every grain offering of theirs and every sin offering of theirs and every guilt offering of theirs, which they render to me, shall be most holy to you and to your sons. 10In a most holy place shall you eat it. Every male may eat it; it is holy to you. 11This also is yours: the contribution of their gift, all the wave offerings of the people of Israel. I have given them to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. 12All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the Lord, I give to you. 13The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. 14Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. 15Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. Nevertheless, the firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. ▤ 

“Everything that opens the womb” (v. 15) refers to the firstborn of every womb.

Num 18:19-21, 24  All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.” 20And the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel. 21“To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting, ▤ 24For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.” ▤ 

Similar to v. 21, later v. 32 says of the tithes given to the Levites, “… it is your reward in return for your service in the tent of meeting.”

Deut 18:1-4  The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the Lord’s food offeringsb as theirc inheritance. 2They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them. 3And this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those offering a sacrifice, whether an ox or a sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach. 4The firstfruits of your grain, of your wine and of your oil, and the first fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. ▤ 

b Or the offerings by fire to the Lord

c Hebrew his

Ezek 44:28-30  This shall be their inheritance: I am their inheritance: and you shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession. 29They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering, and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. 30And the first of all the firstfruits of all kinds, and every offering of all kinds from all your offerings, shall belong to the priests. You shall also give to the priests the first of your dough, that a blessing may rest on your house. ▤ 

Josh 13:33  But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the Lord God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them. ▤ 

Josh 18:7a  The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of the Lord is their heritage. ▤ 

In conjunction with the Lord being their inheritance, the priesthood of the Lord was likewise their heritage.

  • From what was given to them, the Levites were to give a tithe as an offering:

Num 18:26  Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe. ▤ 

Pray for persecuted Christians

Ceremonial Cleanness

Alongside the regulations governing atonement for sin, the law had regulations for ceremonial cleanness and uncleanness – of which the latter, at least at times, like sin required atonement. These regulations regarding cleanness were based on the need for God’s people to be holy as he is holy. Holiness is essential if God’s people are to exist with him, for he does not abide with nor tolerate that which is not holy.

The stipulations as to what denoted ceremonial uncleanness were – largely at least – based on what was physically dirty or unhealthy. In contrast to such things God’s own holiness involves absolute purity and perfection – morally and otherwise. Maintaining ceremonial cleanness in God’s presence – particularly in deliberately approaching him, such as in worship – was in accordance with and an acknowledgement of God’s holiness. As such the law demanded the Israelites be ceremonially clean.

Uncleanness also makes an apt parallel to and is correlated with that which is morally unholy. As such, maintaining ceremonial cleanness reinforced the need to maintain spiritual or moral cleanness – discerning and avoiding both sin and sources of it.

Because God is holy, his people must be holy – which included avoiding uncleanness

Lev 19:2  Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. ▤ 

Lev 11:44-45  For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. 45For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. ▤ 

Lev 20:24b-26  I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. 26You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. ▤ 

Being holy involved being set apart (vv. 24b, 26) from not only unclean things and practices, but also from others who did not live as such (vv. 24b, 26b). This points to the need for believers today to be set apart from sinful practices and those who practice them.

Ex 22:31  You shall be consecrated to me. Therefore you shall not eat any flesh that is torn by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs. ▤ 

To eat anything found dead or torn by wild animals would result in one becoming unclean (cf. Lev 2:8).

Deut 23:9, 12-14  When you are encamped against your enemies, then you shall keep yourself from every evil thing. ▤ 12“You shall have a place outside the camp, and you shall go out to it. 13And you shall have a trowel with your tools, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it and turn back and cover up your excrement. 14Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you. ▤ 

Given the context, “every evil thing” (v. 9) appears to have primarily in view anything ritually unclean.

Lev 10:10-11  You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, 11and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses. ▤ 

The “common” (v. 10) or unholy (cf. AMP, CEV, NCV, NIrV, NKJV) quite possibly has particularly in view things that could not be used or involved in worship – and in the ministry of the priests (cf. v. 9). Note that Ezekiel 44:23 is similar to these verses. It says regarding the priests, “They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.”

Lev 15:31  “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.” ▤ 

If any of the Israelites were unclean, it would defile God’s holy tabernacle among them (cf. Uncleanness would defile God’s dwelling place amidst his people – and so required isolation and cleansing).

Isa 52:11  Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord. ▤ 

The return from Babylonian exile appears to be primarily in view. God’s people – in particular those who would carry the holy vessels which belonged to God’s temple – were to avoid any “unclean thing”.

Uncleanness largely came through contact with things that were unclean

See also:

Lev 5:2-3  … or if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean wild animal or a carcass of unclean livestock or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him and he has become unclean, and he realizes his guilt; 3or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and realizes his guilt; … ▤ 

Num 19:22  And whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening. ▤ 

Lev 11:31-39  These are unclean to you among all that swarm. Whoever touches them when they are dead shall be unclean until the evening. 32And anything on which any of them falls when they are dead shall be unclean, whether it is an article of wood or a garment or a skin or a sack, any article that is used for any purpose. It must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the evening; then it shall be clean. 33And if any of them falls into any earthenware vessel, all that is in it shall be unclean, and you shall break it. 34Any food in it that could be eaten, on which water comes, shall be unclean. And all drink that could be drunk from every such vessel shall be unclean. 35And everything on which any part of their carcass falls shall be unclean. Whether oven or stove, it shall be broken in pieces. They are unclean and shall remain unclean for you. 36Nevertheless, a spring or a cistern holding water shall be clean, but whoever touches a carcass in them shall be unclean. 37And if any part of their carcass falls upon any seed grain that is to be sown, it is clean, 38but if water is put on the seed and any part of their carcass falls on it, it is unclean to you. 39“And if any animal which you may eat dies, whoever touches its carcass shall be unclean until the evening, … ▤ 

Note the exceptions given. A spring and a cistern were not deemed unclean (v. 36), perhaps because of the impracticalities involved and/or their large size minimizing any possibility of health issues. Dry seed did not become unclean (v. 37), in contrast to wet seed (v. 38), quite possibly because dry seeds had not begun to produce life and would not be affected.

Lev 15:2-7, 11  Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any man has a discharge from his body,d his discharge is unclean. 3And this is the law of his uncleanness for a discharge: whether his body runs with his discharge, or his body is blocked up by his discharge, it is his uncleanness. 4Every bed on which the one with the discharge lies shall be unclean, and everything on which he sits shall be unclean. 5And anyone who touches his bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 6And whoever sits on anything on which the one with the discharge has sat shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 7And whoever touches the body of the one with the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. ▤ 11Anyone whom the one with the discharge touches without having rinsed his hands in water shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. ▤ 

d Hebrew flesh; also verse 3

Lev 15:19, 24  When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. ▤ 24And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean. ▤ 

Lev 22:4b-6  Whoever touches anything that is unclean through contact with the dead or a man who has had an emission of semen, 5and whoever touches a swarming thing by which he may be made unclean or a person from whom he may take uncleanness, whatever his uncleanness may be— 6the person who touches such a thing shall be unclean until the evening and shall not eat of the holy things unless he has bathed his body in water. ▤ 

Num 19:11  Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. ▤ 

Lev 7:19a  “Flesh that touches any unclean thing shall not be eaten. It shall be burned up with fire. ▤ 

“Flesh” appears here to denote meat (cf. CEV, GNT, NCV, NIV, NLT).

Hag 2:12-13  ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” ▤ 

Creatures were designated as either clean or unclean for eating . . .

The groupings and the reasons given suggest that the distinctions between animals that were clean or unclean for eating were based on health reasons, although not all commentators would readily concur. Eating such unclean creatures would have left the Israelites vulnerable to disease. As such, making such distinctions was important for the people in keeping themselves holy. Note that contact with living animals that were unclean for eating did not make a person unclean, whereas contact with any dead animal did (apart from a clean animal that had been killed for food).

Lev 11:46-47  This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground, 47to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten. ▤ 

Deut 14:3-8  You shall not eat any abomination. 4These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, 5the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex,e the antelope, and the mountain sheep. 6Every animal that parts the hoof and has the hoof cloven in two and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. 7Yet of those that chew the cud or have the hoof cloven you shall not eat these: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not part the hoof, are unclean for you. 8And the pig, because it parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. ▤ 

e Or addax

The precise meaning of “parts the hoof and has the hoof cloven in two” (v. 6) is debatable and thus the reason for the requirement is unclear. The requirement that edible animals chew the cud (v. 6) excludes meat-eating animals, which eat dead creatures and so are more likely to carry disease.

Deut 14:9-10  Of all that are in the waters you may eat these: whatever has fins and scales you may eat. 10And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you. ▤ 

Water creatures that do not have fins and scales are apparently more susceptible to such things as parasites.

Deut 14:11-18  You may eat all clean birds. 12But these are the ones that you shall not eat: the eagle,f the bearded vulture, the black vulture, 13the kite, the falcon of any kind; 14every raven of any kind; 15the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind; 16the little owl and the short-eared owl, the barn owl 17and the tawny owl, the carrion vulture and the cormorant, 18the stork, the heron of any kind; the hoopoe and the bat. ▤ 

f The identity of many of these birds is uncertain

Such birds of prey of course have contact with dead animals.

Deut 14:19-21a  And all winged insects are unclean for you; they shall not be eaten. 20All clean winged things you may eat. 21“You shall not eat anything that has died naturally. You may give it to the sojourner who is within your towns, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. ▤ 

Lev 11:20-22, 27a  “All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. 21Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. 22Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. ▤ 27And all that walk on their paws, among the animals that go on all fours, are unclean to you. ▤ 

Note that as insects have six legs, “go on all fours” (vv. 20, 21) may be a figure of speech.

Lev 11:42-44  Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable. 43You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. 44For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. ▤ 

Verse 42 appears to be describing “little creatures that crawl or walk close to the ground” (CEV), i.e. worms, snakes, rodents and insects. Note that creatures that “swarm” move in a large or dense group.

. . .  Other sources of uncleanness

Lev 12:2, 4-5  Speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. ▤ 4Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. 5But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days. ▤ 

The reason for why giving birth rendered a woman ceremonially unclean appears to primarily concern her bleeding (v. 4; cf. v. 7). The expression “the blood of her purifying” speaks of the blood from childbirth from which she required purifying. Bodily discharges are prominent sources of ceremonial uncleanness (cf. Lev 15:2-4 ; Lev 15:16-19, 25 ). The stipulations concerning them may well have been partly health related.

Lev 13:2-3  When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprousg disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests, 3and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body. And if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a case of leprous disease. When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean. ▤ 

g Leprosy was a term for several skin diseases

Lev 13:51-52  Then he shall examine the disease on the seventh day. If the disease has spread in the garment, in the warp or the woof, or in the skin, whatever be the use of the skin, the disease is a persistent leprous disease; it is unclean. 52And he shall burn the garment, or the warp or the woof, the wool or the linen, or any article made of skin that is diseased, for it is a persistent leprous disease. It shall be burned in the fire. ▤ 

The “disease” in a garment appears to have been a type of mildew – as was that spoken of below in a house (cf. Lev 14:43-46 ). Such mildew was unclean as it was both contaminating and destructive.

Lev 14:43-46  If the disease breaks out again in the house, after he has taken out the stones and scraped the house and plastered it, 44then the priest shall go and look. And if the disease has spread in the house, it is a persistent leprous disease in the house; it is unclean. 45And he shall break down the house, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and he shall carry them out of the city to an unclean place. 46Moreover, whoever enters the house while it is shut up shall be unclean until the evening, … ▤ 

Lev 15:2-4  Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any man has a discharge from his body,h his discharge is unclean. 3And this is the law of his uncleanness for a discharge: whether his body runs with his discharge, or his body is blocked up by his discharge, it is his uncleanness. 4Every bed on which the one with the discharge lies shall be unclean, and everything on which he sits shall be unclean. ▤ 

h Hebrew flesh; also verse 3

It is not clear what the “discharge” is referring to. Possibilities include gonorrhea and diarrhea – or perhaps it is meant to be understood in a general sense.

Lev 15:16-19, 25  If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water and be unclean until the evening. 17And every garment and every skin on which the semen comes shall be washed with water and be unclean until the evening. 18If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water and be unclean until the evening. 19“When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. ▤ 25“If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness. As in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. ▤ 

Num 19:14-16  This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean seven days. 15And every open vessel that has no cover fastened on it is unclean. 16Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. ▤ 

Uncleanness would defile God’s dwelling place amidst his people – and so required isolation and cleansing

See also:

Lev 15:31  “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.” ▤ 

Num 5:1-3  The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprousi or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead. 3You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell.” ▤ 

i Leprosy was a term for several skin diseases; see Leviticus 13

Num 19:13, 20  Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him. ▤ 20“If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. ▤ 

This may be speaking of defiling the Lord’s sanctuary by: the unclean person’s association with it, living in proximity to it; or the unclean person actually approaching it (cf. NCV), presumably in endeavoring to carry out an act of worship (as per the theme of the following subsection).

Lev 13:45-46  The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lipj and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. ▤ 

j Or mustache

A person with an infectious disease was to act as specified in v. 45 to warn others so that they would stay away, keeping the person separate from them.

Deut 23:10-11  If any man among you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he shall go outside the camp. He shall not come inside the camp, 11but when evening comes, he shall bathe himself in water, and as the sun sets, he may come inside the camp. ▤ 

Num 31:19, 24  Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. ▤ 24You must wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean. And afterward you may come into the camp. ▤ 

While a person was unclean they could not participate in worship practices

See also:

Ex 30:18-21  “You shall also make a basin of bronze, with its stand of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, 19with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. 20When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offeringk to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. 21They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations.” ▤ 

k Or an offering by fire

The priests were to wash themselves prior to entering God’s sanctuary, presumably to both ensure and signify that they were ceremonially clean.

Lev 7:20-21  … but the person who eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of the Lord’s peace offerings while an uncleanness is on him, that person shall be cut off from his people. 21And if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether human uncleanness or an unclean beast or any unclean detestable creature, and then eats some flesh from the sacrifice of the Lord’s peace offerings, that person shall be cut off from his people. ▤ 

Eating of the peace offering signified peace and communion with God. As such it was in essence an act of worship, for which one needed to be ceremonially clean. The same applied to the priests eating of the offerings (cf. Lev 22:3-6 ).

Lev 12:4  Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. ▤ 

Lev 22:3-6  Say to them, ‘If any one of all your offspring throughout your generations approaches the holy things that the people of Israel dedicate to the Lord, while he has an uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from my presence: I am the Lord. 4None of the offspring of Aaron who has a leprous disease or a discharge may eat of the holy things until he is clean. Whoever touches anything that is unclean through contact with the dead or a man who has had an emission of semen, 5and whoever touches a swarming thing by which he may be made unclean or a person from whom he may take uncleanness, whatever his uncleanness may be— 6the person who touches such a thing shall be unclean until the evening and shall not eat of the holy things unless he has bathed his body in water. ▤ 

Num 9:6  And there were certain men who were unclean through touching a dead body, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day, and they came before Moses and Aaron on that day. ▤ 

1Sam 20:24-26  So David hid himself in the field. And when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. 25The king sat on his seat, as at other times, on the seat by the wall. Jonathan sat opposite,l and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty. 26Yet Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him. He is not clean; surely he is not clean.” ▤ 

l Compare Septuagint; Hebrew stood up

The New Moon festival was an aspect of Israel’s worship of God. Saul presumed that David did not participate in it because of uncleanness.

2Chr 23:19  He stationed the gatekeepers at the gates of the house of the Lord so that no one should enter who was in any way unclean. ▤ 

2Chr 30:17  For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves. Therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to consecrate it to the Lord. ▤ 

Many of the people had not consecrated themselves, which here points to them not being ceremonially clean. Thus the Levites – who had consecrated themselves (cf. v. 15) – had to perform the act of worship for them.

  • Objects such as the altar had to be purified and consecrated prior to being used in worship:

Ex 29:36-37  … and every day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement. Also you shall purify the altar, when you make atonement for it, and shall anoint it to consecrate it. 37Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy. ▤ 

Cleansing typically involved washing and a purification period

See also:

Note that the other subsections in this chapter section contain a good number of other examples illustrating the truth of this subheading’s teaching.

Lev 12:5  But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days. ▤ 

Lev 14:2-3, 8-9  This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, 3and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, ▤ 8And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days. 9And on the seventh day he shall shave off all his hair from his head, his beard, and his eyebrows. He shall shave off all his hair, and then he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean. ▤ 

Verse 8 speaks of a period of semi-isolation, not living in close proximity with others.

Lev 15:7, 13  And whoever touches the body of the one with the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. ▤ 13“And when the one with a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, then he shall count for himself seven days for his cleansing, and wash his clothes. And he shall bathe his body in fresh water and shall be clean. ▤ 

Lev 17:15  And every person who eats what dies of itself or what is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or a sojourner, shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening; then he shall be clean. ▤ 

Num 19:16-19  Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. 17For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and freshm water shall be added in a vessel. 18Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave. 19And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean. ▤ 

m Hebrew living

The hyssop (v. 18) is a shrub of the mint family which has medicinal properties, possibly the reason for its use.

  • Objects that had become unclean were cleansed or broken:

Lev 11:31-33  These are unclean to you among all that swarm. Whoever touches them when they are dead shall be unclean until the evening. 32And anything on which any of them falls when they are dead shall be unclean, whether it is an article of wood or a garment or a skin or a sack, any article that is used for any purpose. It must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the evening; then it shall be clean. 33And if any of them falls into any earthenware vessel, all that is in it shall be unclean, and you shall break it. ▤ 

Uncleanness often required offerings for atonement

Uncleanness was contrary to God’s holiness and, in accordance, also to his law. As such atonement for uncleanness was required.

Lev 5:1-6  If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity; 2or if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean wild animal or a carcass of unclean livestock or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him and he has become unclean, and he realizes his guilt; 3or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and realizes his guilt; 4or if anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; 5when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, 6he shall bring to the Lord as his compensationn for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin. ▤ 

n Hebrew his guilt penalty; so throughout Leviticus

This portrays uncleanness as sin, or at least akin to sin. For examples of uncleanness (vv. 2-3) are listed with other sins (vv. 1, 4), they are referred to as sin (vv. 5-6), and they required a sin offering for atonement (v. 6). Each of the following passages from Leviticus also speak of types of uncleanness requiring a sin offering in order to make atonement.

Lev 12:6-8  “‘And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, 7and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. 8And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons,o one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.’” ▤ 

o Septuagint two young pigeons

Note that in accordance with v. 8, Luke 2:22-24 records Mary bringing such a sacrifice after Jesus’ birth.

Lev 14:10-11, 19-20  And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish, and a grain offering of three tenths of an ephahp of fine flour mixed with oil, and one logq of oil. 11And the priest who cleanses him shall set the man who is to be cleansed and these things before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. ▤ 19The priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. And afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. 20And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean. ▤ 

p An ephah was about 3/5 bushel or 22 liters

q A log was about 1/3 quart or 0.3 liter

These are part of the regulations for the cleansing of a diseased person (cf. vv. 2-3, 8-9 ).

Lev 15:13-15  And when the one with a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, then he shall count for himself seven days for his cleansing, and wash his clothes. And he shall bathe his body in fresh water and shall be clean. 14And on the eighth day he shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons and come before the Lord to the entrance of the tent of meeting and give them to the priest. 15And the priest shall use them, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord for his discharge. ▤ 

Lev 15:28-30  But if she is cleansed of her discharge, she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. 29And on the eighth day she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of meeting. 30And the priest shall use one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord for her unclean discharge. ▤ 

  • A leper Jesus healed was to offer the sacrifices for cleansing:

Mark 1:41-44  Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43And Jesusr sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” ▤ 

r Greek he; also verse 45

Jesus’ ministry took place under the old covenant. Thus he required that the man observe the regulations regarding sacrifices for cleansing.

Note: Spiritual purity is paralleled with cleanness, and sin with uncleanness

See also:

Job 33:9  You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression; I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me. ▤ 

Ps 24:3-4  Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. ▤ 

Prov 20:9  Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”? ▤ 

Ps 51:3, 7  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. ▤ 7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. ▤ 

Here as in some of the following passages, cleansing from sin is paralleled with cleansing from ceremonial uncleanness.

Isa 1:15-16  When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, … ▤ 

Ezek 36:25  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. ▤ 

Isa 35:8  And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.s ▤ 

s Or if they are fools, they shall not wander in it

This contrasts holiness with uncleanness. As such it associates holiness or spiritual purity with cleanness, and sin with uncleanness.

Isa 52:11  Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord. ▤ 

The phrase “no unclean thing” here quite possibly refers figuratively to – or is at least inclusive of – sinful things rather than simply or only ceremonially unclean things.

Lev 16:16  Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. ▤ 

Here uncleanness and sin are at least being associated. The implication may well be that the rebellion and sin of the Israelites contributed to their unclean state.

Isa 64:5b-6a  Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?t 6We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. ▤ 

t Or in your ways is continuance, that we might be saved

For comment on v. 6a, see Isa 64:6a – under No one is righteous before God.

Lam 1:8  Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns her face away. ▤ 

Ezek 36:17  Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. ▤ 

Matt 23:25-28  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. ▤ 

In vv. 25-26 Jesus uses a metaphor based on the cleaning of cups and plates or dishes, to teach that if the Jewish leaders would cleanse their inner selves, then their outward behavior would also be clean in God’s sight.

Pray for persecuted Christians

Epilogue: Israel’s Persistence in Sin

Despite the Mosaic Law’s provision for Israel’s sin, the Israelites as a whole persisted in sin – rebelling against God and breaking his covenant with them. This showed that ultimately the law was not sufficient to deal with sin.

Israel’s sin and rebellion in the wilderness

God gave Israel his law early on in its journey from Egypt to the promised land. Despite this, Israel regularly sinned and rebelled against God throughout its wilderness journey.

Deut 9:7, 16, 22  Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord. ▤ 16And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against the Lord your God. You had made yourselves a goldenu calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded you. ▤ 22“At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. ▤ 

u Hebrew cast-metal

Ps 78:17-19, 40-41, 56  Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. 18They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. 19They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness? ▤ 40How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! 41They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel. ▤ 56Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most High God and did not keep his testimonies, … ▤ 

Ps 95:7b-10  Today, if you hear his voice, 8do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 9when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. 10For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” ▤ 

Ezek 20:13a  But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned. ▤ 

Neh 9:16-19a  “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. 18Even when they had made for themselves a goldenv calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. ▤ 

v Hebrew metal

  • The people’s refusal to go in and take the land – and the consequences:

Num 13:31; 14:2-3, 26-33  Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” ▤ 14:2And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” ▤ 26And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 27“How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. 28Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. 32But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. 33And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. ▤ 

Israel’s sin and unfaithfulness during the time of the judges

See also:

The “judges” – from which the book of Judges takes its name – were the occasional leaders of Israel during the time following Joshua (and the settling of the promised land) until the death of Samuel, Israel’s last judge. The Israelites were often unfaithful to God during this time, whereupon God would use their enemies to punish them – leading them to repent. Then God would raise up a judge to unite the scattered tribes of Israel to repel the common enemy and bring the Israelites back to worshiping him.

Judg 2:10-15  And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. 11And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress. ▤ 

Judg 2:16-22  Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. 18Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people has transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” ▤ 

Judg 17:6  In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. ▤ 

The second part of the verse indicates that the people were doing what they wanted, rather than what was right in God’s eyes. The verse is repeated verbatim in the last verse of Judges (21:25), reflecting generally on the period of the Judges.

  • Samuel’s godly leadership of Israel:

1Sam 7:3-6, 15-16  And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. 5Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah. ▤ 15Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 16And he went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. And he judged Israel in all these places. ▤ 

Israel’s sinful demand for a king – and the choice of Saul

Israel’s demand for a king was sinful as it was in effect a rejection of God as her king. But nevertheless the kingship was part of God’s overall plan for Israel (cf. Deut 17:14-15) and God allowed its institution.

1Sam 8:4-9  Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” ▤ 

1Sam 10:17-21a, 24  Now Samuel called the people together to the Lord at Mizpah. 18And he said to the people of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ 19But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’ Now therefore present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your thousands.” 20Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its clans, and the clan of the Matrites was taken by lot;w and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot. ▤ 24And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!” ▤ 

w Septuagint adds finally he brought the family of the Matrites near, man by man

1Sam 12:12-20  And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king. 13And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. 14If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. 15But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.x 16Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. 17Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.” 18So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. 19And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” 20And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. ▤ 

x Septuagint; Hebrew fathers

  • Saul’s failure as king:

1Sam 15:10-11a, 19, 23, 27-28  The word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” ▤  … [Samuel, to Saul:] 19Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” ▤ 23For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” ▤ 27As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. 28And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. ▤ 

Saul was instructed to totally destroy the Amalekites and everything that belonged to them for what they had done to Israel (cf. v. 3), but he failed to do so (v. 19; cf. v. 9). In v. 28 Samuel makes reference to David, who would follow Saul as king and be faithful to God (cf. God’s Dealings and Covenant with David). David would in turn be followed by his son Solomon.

Solomon’s unfaithfulness and the consequent division of the kingdom under his son, Rehoboam . . .

1Ki 11:1-6  Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. 3He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. 4For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. ▤ 

1Ki 11:9-13  And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice 10and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the Lord commanded. 11Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. 12Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.” ▤ 

1Ki 11:31-33, 39  And he [the prophet Ahijah] said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes 32(but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), 33because they havey forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did. ▤ 39And I will afflict the offspring of David because of this, but not forever.’” ▤ 

y Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate he has; twice in this verse

Note that Solomon may well be primarily in view in v. 33a (cf. text note, CEV, GNT, NCV, NLT).

1Ki 12:1-5, 12-16  Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. 2And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned fromz Egypt. 3And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, 4“Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” 5He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away. ▤ 12So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, “Come to me again the third day.” 13And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. 16And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” So Israel went to their tents. ▤ 

z Septuagint, Vulgate (compare 2 Chronicles 10:2); Hebrew lived in

1Ki 12:19-24  So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. 20And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David but the tribe of Judah only. 21When Rehoboam came to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, 180,000 chosen warriors, to fight against the house of Israel, to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon. 22But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God: 23“Say to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, 24‘Thus says the Lord, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives the people of Israel. Every man return to his home, for this thing is from me.’” So they listened to the word of the Lord and went home again, according to the word of the Lord. ▤ 

Note that although the tribe of Benjamin is not mentioned initially as remaining loyal to Rehoboam (v. 20), it would appear that it soon did so, or that at least a notable portion of it did (v. 21). As such, Benjamin is often mentioned along with Judah in the remainder of OT history, even in the return from the Babylonian exile (cf. Ezra 1:5; 4:1; 10:9; Neh 1:4-9, 36).

. . . Jeroboam’s subsequent archetypical apostasy in the northern kingdom

Following the division of Israel, Jeroboam was the first king of the breakaway northern kingdom, which was simply called “Israel”. Jeroboam was concerned that if his people went to worship at the temple in Jerusalem – in the southern kingdom of Judah – he would risk losing his kingdom. He thus decided to institute false gods and an alternative system of worship. The false worship that Jeroboam instituted persisted throughout the existence of the northern kingdom of Israel, until the kingdom’s demise.

1Ki 12:26-32  And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. 27If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” 28So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” 29And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one.a 31He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. 32And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. ▤ 

a Septuagint went to the one at Bethel and to the other as far as Dan

1Ki 13:33-34  After this thing Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places. 34And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth. ▤ 

1Ki 16:1-3, 18-19, 25-26, 30-31  And the word of the Lord came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha [king of Israel], saying, 2“Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, 3behold, I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. ▤ 18And when Zimri [king of Israel] saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the king’s house and burned the king’s house over him with fire and died, 19because of his sins that he committed, doing evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for his sin which he committed, making Israel to sin. ▤ 25Omri [king of Israel] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. 26For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols. ▤ 30And Ahab [king of Israel] the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. 31And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. ▤ 

Here in one chapter four kings of Israel – Baasha, Zimri, Omri and the infamous Ahab – are each said to have followed the unfaithful ways of Jeroboam.

2Ki 17:21-23  When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. 22The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, 23until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day. ▤ 

  • The southern kingdom of Judah also was unfaithful to God:

2Chr 12:1-2  When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him. 2In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, because they had been unfaithful to the Lord, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem … ▤ 

Here “Israel” refers in particular to the people of Judah (cf. CEV, NCV).

Some kings in Judah did lead the people in godly ways . . .

2Chr 14:2-5  b And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. 3He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim 4and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment. 5He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him. ▤ 

b Ch 14:1 in Hebrew

Verses 3, 5 speak of Asa removing things involved in worship of false gods.

2Chr 15:9-17  And he [King Asa] gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and those from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon who were residing with them, for great numbers had deserted to him from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him. 10They were gathered at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of the reign of Asa. 11They sacrificed to the Lord on that day from the spoil that they had brought 700 oxen and 7,000 sheep. 12And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul, 13but that whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman. 14They swore an oath to the Lord with a loud voice and with shouting and with trumpets and with horns. 15And all Judah rejoiced over the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around. 16Even Maacah, his mother, King Asa removed from being queen mother because she had made a detestable image for Asherah. Asa cut down her image, crushed it, and burned it at the brook Kidron. 17But the high places were not taken out of Israel. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true all his days. ▤ 

2Chr 19:4, 8-10a  Jehoshaphat lived at Jerusalem. And he went out again among the people, from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim, and brought them back to the Lord, the God of their fathers. ▤ 8Moreover, in Jerusalem Jehoshaphat appointed certain Levites and priests and heads of families of Israel, to give judgment for the Lord and to decide disputed cases. They had their seat at Jerusalem. 9And he charged them: “Thus you shall do in the fear of the Lord, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart: 10whenever a case comes to you from your brothers who live in their cities, concerning bloodshed, law or commandment, statutes or rules, then you shall warn them, that they may not incur guilt before the Lord and wrath may not come upon you and your brothers. ▤ 

2Ki 18:3-7a  And he [King Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. 4He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).c 5He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. ▤ 

c Nehushtan sounds like the Hebrew for both bronze and serpent

2Ki 23:1-3, 21-25  Then the king [Josiah] sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. 2And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. 3And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant. ▤ 21And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” 22For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. 23But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem. 24Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. 25Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. ▤ 

. . . but ultimately both kingdoms of Israel failed to keep God’s laws and broke his covenant

2Ki 17:15-16  They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them. 16And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. ▤ 

2Ki 18:11-12  The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria and put them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, 12because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God but transgressed his covenant, even all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded. They neither listened nor obeyed. ▤ 

Ps 78:9-10, 37  The Ephraimites, armed withd the bow, turned back on the day of battle. 10They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. ▤ 37Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant. ▤ 

d Hebrew armed and shooting

Jer 11:10  They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers. ▤ 

Jer 31:31-32  Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. ▤ 

Ezek 16:59  For thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, … ▤ 

Hos 6:7  But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. ▤ 

Hos 8:1  Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law. ▤ 

With the reference to a “vulture” Hosea portrays Israel’s enemy as being poised to attack her.

  • So, Israel failed to fulfill the law and gain righteousness:

Rom 9:31  … but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousnesse did not succeed in reaching that law. ▤ 

e Greek a law of righteousness

Note: The people polluted and defiled the land by their sin

Ps 106:38  … they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. ▤ 

Jer 3:2b, 9  You have polluted the land with your vile whoredom. ▤ 9Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. ▤ 

The final clause refers to Israel’s unfaithfulness to God in worshiping idols – made of stone and wood.

Jer 16:18  But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations. ▤ 

Jer 2:7  And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination. ▤ 

Ezek 36:17-18  Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. 18So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. ▤ 

  • The people had been warned not to pollute the land:

Num 35:33  You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. ▤ 

Pray for persecuted Christians