Clean and unclean are not the same as clean and dirty.

Daily Bible Study Tips

Leviticus, Chapters 2 - 4, 8, and 11

Comments on Leviticus, Chapter 1

Leviticus 2:1-11, Meal offerings.
Leviticus 2:12; 3:1; 4:1-4, 13-15, 22, 27-29, Various offerings.
Leviticus 8:1-12, The Levitical priesthood.
Leviticus 11:1-47, Clean and unclean animals.

Comments on Leviticus, Chapters 12, 13, and 17
Comments on Leviticus, Chapters 18, 19, and 25

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Clean and Unclean Animals. Click to enlarge. See below for provenance.
Leviticus 2:1-11, Meal offerings. (5/7/2010)

Sometimes I wonder if people who pick up the printed study guide are wondering, "What?"  In that version of the study guide, today's reading is labeled, "Meat offerings."  That's because I was planning the study in the car, using a King James Bible.  John Wesley commented in the 18th century, This is a perfect opportunity for me to remind you that you should be reading a good, modern translation, even though no translation or printing is without human error.  Speaking of human error, there is no such book as 2 Titus, which is what I had the print readers searching for on the first day of our study of lesser-read books.  So while I'm at it, I'll also remind you not to believe anything I tell you.  Read the Bible for yourself.
 
Anyway, there are many reasons to offer gifts to God.  Maybe you're happy.  Maybe you want to offer a gift in honor or memory of some person or some event.  Leviticus 2 says, go for it.  No particular reason is given for the grain, or meal, offering; this suggests that you may give God a gift just because you feel like it.  Notice, however, that these gifts are over and above (1) your tithe, and (2) your sin offering.  Those are obligations, not gifts.  Note that the priests and their families may partake of a portion of some types of offerings.
 
Leviticus 2:12; 3:1; 4:1-4, 13-15, 22, 27-29, Various offerings. (5/10/2010)

Not all of the offerings prescribed in Leviticus involve the sacrifice of animals.  Offerings of firstfruits are crops, wine, oil, fleece, etc., and are mandatory (see, e.g., Deut. 18:4). 

Peace offerings were voluntary; John Wesley says they could be offered either in thanks for blessings received or in supplication.  Peace offerings, like sin offerings, involved a sliding scale, from cattle (either male or female, in contrast to sin offerings) down to lambs or kids. 
 
If you've ever read the paper, you may have noticed that public figures, such as political leaders or sports figures, tend to get more press than the rest of us when they get caught committing crimes or sins.  I'd like to think that they are held to a higher standard, and in fact sometimes they do get bad press.  Certainly the Bible holds them to a higher standard.  A leader of people, in this case the priest, who commits a sin - even unintentionally - must sacrifice a bullock.  There is no sliding scale.   The same is true for the congregation as a group. 
 
Overall, though, unintentional sins by individuals are subject to a lesser penalty than intentional sins, and we see the same thing today in U.S. law, where, for example, murder is penalized more heavily than manslaughter.
 
Leviticus 8:1-12, The Levitical priesthood. (5/11/2010)

Great news!  Not all of Leviticus is devoted to instructions for how to sacrifice a goat.  Some of the book is devoted to related liturgical issues, including the qualifications for the priests who are going to sacrifice the goats. 
 
How do you know that your pastor or rabbi is qualified to lead your congregation?  The primary way you know this is that he or she has been through a special worship service or ceremony called "ordination."  Typically, each denomination lays out rules for the process of preparing for ordination (which usually, although not always, includes attendance at a seminary, school of theology, or rabbinical school).  The denominations also lay out rules for the ordination itself.  Ordination consecrates the candidate to the ministry. 
 
Leviticus 11:1-47, Clean and unclean animals. (5/12/2010)

Today's reading is a long one, but that's okay, because everybody enjoys a trip to the zoo now and then.
 
Several years ago, I discovered a cockroach in the left basin of the kitchen sink.  After the screeching and cockroach disposal were all over, my husband needed to put water into a pan.  He was holding the pan over the left basin, and I threw a fit.  He said, "What's the matter with that?"  I said, "It's not clean!"  He said, "It isn't even touching the sink!"  I said, "It's not dirty, it's ritually unclean!"  He said, "Oh," and filled the pan over the other basin.  As a retired Baptist pastor, he perfectly understood the difference between clean and unclean, as opposed to clean and dirty.
 
Now, everybody knows that Jews (not to mention Muslims and Seventh Day Adventists) are forbidden to eat pork.  There's a lot more to it than that. First, many other animals are unclean and therefore forbidden; it's just that we Christians, Jews, and Muslims typically think they're yucky and don't want to eat them anyway.  Lots of other peoples do eat them, so probably the reason we think they're yucky is that Leviticus forbids them, and we've just forgotten that part.
 
Second, it's not just eating these animals that makes you unclean - touching their carcasses, or having one of their carcasses accidentally touch you or a garment or pan makes you, the garment, or the pan unclean.  I was on solid ground about the cockroach, theologically speaking.
 
Third and most importantly, Leviticus is not about clean and dirty.  It's about ritually suitable - i.e., clean - and ritually unsuitable - i.e., unclean.  Only ritually clean animals may be eaten, because we have to be ritually clean in order to approach God, which is the point that God makes in vss. 43-45. Copyright 2010, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter.  All rights reserved.


The illustration is from the Binns family Bible, now in the private collection of Regina L. Hunter.


Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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