Leviticus 1–10
A Law of Performances and Ordinances, Part 1: Sacrifices and Offerings

burnt offering

(14-1) Introduction

Question. Wasn’t the law of Moses given as a genuine rebuke to Israel and imposed upon them as a punishment for rejection of the higher law?

Response. Admittedly, God does chasten His people for disobedience, but the giving of laws is not a punishment. His commandments are, as Moses said, “for our good always” (Deuteronomy 6:24). Every law is meant to lift and inspire, reconcile and perfect. That principle includes the law of Moses. It was a punishment only in the sense that it was less than they could have received. But it was a means for accomplishing God’s ends, as are all His commandments. As the Lord told the early Saints of this dispensation, if they obey His gospel they will “be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few” (D&C 59:4).

Question. But wasn’t the law of Moses at least a great step backward?

Response. No. It was a great step forward, not as great as Israel could have taken, but a great step nevertheless. We know from the record that Israel was in poor spiritual condition when they came out of Egypt. They had lost the prophetic office, prophecy, and the spirit of revelation and had become steeped in Egyptian tradition and idol worship. The Lord commanded Israel to give up their abominations and idols when He first came to deliver them from Egypt, but the people would not listen: “They did not every man cast away the abominations . . . [nor] forsake the idols of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:6–8). Had it not been for His mercy and the covenants made with the early patriarchs, the Lord could have justly vented His anger against Israel and destroyed them all (see Exodus 32:7–14). Instead, He blessed them with a law suited to help them grow spiritually, starting from where they were.

Question. Then the turning of the Hebrews to Egyptian gods in the wilderness was not a new experience for them? The golden calf was actually carried there in the hearts of an Israel that was spiritually weak and immature?

Response. Yes. It was a far greater challenge to get Egypt out of Israel than it was to get Israel out of Egypt. Consider, too, that Moses had to use signs to convince not only pharaoh but also Israel. And when signs have to be used as proof of authority, that is the mark of an evil and adulterous generation (see Matthew 12:39). Moses declared, “Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you” (Deuteronomy 9:24).

Question. Then when you said that the law was not a punishment but a means to an end, you meant that it was a deliberate and carefully designed plan to bring Israel to Jehovah?

Response. That, and more. The law not only would bring them to Christ but would also be the means through which a covenant relationship could be developed to increase their spiritual power so that they could enjoy the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, gain a perfect brightness of hope, and have a love of God and a love for all men. And, if they continued to press forward and endure to the end, they would receive the assurance of eternal life (see 2 Nephi 31:20).

Question. I never understood that the law of Moses could do all that. How was it possible?

Response. It is easier to see when we consider the relationship of all the aspects of the law to the spiritual progress of the individual. The problem is that we generally think of the law of Moses as only that part dealing with performances and ordinances.

Question. What are the other aspects of the law?

Response. The basic elements of the law are defined under the keys of authority of the lesser priesthood (see D&C 13; 84:26–27; 107:14, 20). These are as follows.

• Faith: Though never referred to directly in these scriptures, this principle is implied since faith is absolutely necessary in all acts to please God and fulfill His purposes (see Hebrews 11:6; Romans 14:23). Amulek clearly taught that faith was a prerequisite to the law bringing one to repentance (see Alma 34:15).

• Repentance: The sacrificial systems of Israel were expressly designed to help bring about a repentant attitude by teaching the people of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Then, if they exercised faith in Him and repented of their evil works, their sins were remitted, not by the law of Moses but through their faith in the future Messiah, which was demonstrated by their obedience to the law of Moses (see Mosiah 13:28).

• Baptism by immersion: Baptism was the most important outward ordinance of the law, being the means by which the individual established a covenant relationship with Jehovah. Unfortunately, any reference to baptism in the Old Testament has been lost, but from other sources we learn that it was part of the Mosaic law (see 1 Corinthians 10:1–4; 1 Nephi 20:1; D&C 84:26–27).

• The law of carnal commandments, or the law of performances and ordinances (see D&C 84:27; Mosiah 13:30): In our day the word carnal has sexual connotations, but the Latin word from which it is derived means “flesh.” Therefore, these commandments deal with actions in mortality. As Abinadi taught, these commandments were designed “to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him” (Mosiah 13:30).

• The ministration of angels: This administration is expressly to prepare men to have faith in Christ so that they may receive the Holy Ghost (see Moroni 7:30–32).

Question. Then the Mosaic law really embraced all the basic principles of the gospel?

Response. More accurately, the Mosaic law is called the “preparatory gospel” (D&C 84:26). Because Israel lost the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, they could not have the fulness of the law of Christ. And when the Lord fulfilled the law, the preparatory gospel was brought under the law of Christ and the carnal commandments were done away.

Question. Can we see these things in the Old Testament as it is today?

Response. Yes, once we know what to look for and how to look. Mormon taught that the converted Lamanites properly understood the law of Moses because they had the “spirit of prophecy” (Alma 25:16; see also v. 15). The spirit of prophecy is the “testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 19:10; see also Alma 6:8). The law of Moses was a “schoolmaster” to bring Israel to Christ (Galatians 3:24); however, it was given in “types, and shadows” (Mosiah 3:15; see also 13:31; 16:14). Only those with the spirit of prophecy can understand these symbolic teaching devices. For, as Amulek said, “Behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice” (Alma 34:14).

Instructions to Students

1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Leviticus 1–10.

2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)


(14-2) Leviticus 1:1. What Is the Major Importance of the Book of Leviticus?

The book of Leviticus contains direct revelation from God through Moses to Israel. It was the priesthood handbook of that generation. This fact makes the book of great interest, for whenever God speaks to man He reveals Himself. Through the pages of Leviticus one can come to understand Him and His purpose better. The modern reader may feel the contents of the book are outdated, especially those that deal with blood sacrifice, yet all were designed, as Amulek said, to point to the infinite Atonement of Christ (see Alma 34:14). One scholar noted the following about the various sacrifices and offerings:

“The first point, then, which requires our notice is this:—In each offering there are at least three distinct objects presented to us. There is the offering, the priest, the offerer. A definite knowledge of the precise import of each of these is absolutely requisite if we would understand the offerings.

“What, then, is the offering? what the priest? what the offerer? Christ is the offering, Christ is the priest, Christ is the offerer. Such and so manifold are the relations in which Christ has stood for man and to man, that no one type or set of types can adequately represent the fulness of them. Thus we have many distinct classes of types, and further variations in these distinct classes, each of which gives us one particular view of Christ, either in His character, or in His work, or person. But see Him as we may for sinners, He fills more than one relation. This causes the necessity of many emblems. First He comes as offerer, but we cannot see the offerer without the offering, and the offerer is Himself the offering, and He who is both offerer and offering is also the priest. As man under the law, our substitute, Christ, stood for us towards God as offerer. He took ‘the body prepared for Him’ as His offering, that in it and by it He might reconcile us to God. Thus, when sacrifice and offering had wholly failed,—when at man’s hand God would no more accept them,—‘then said He, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O God: yea, Thy law is within my heart.’ Thus His body was His offering: He willingly offered it; and then as priest He took the blood into the holiest. As offerer, we see Him man under the law, standing our substitute, for us to fulfil all righteousness. As priest, we have Him presented as the mediator, God’s messenger between Himself and Israel. While as the offering He is seen the innocent victim, a sweet savour to God, yet bearing the sin and dying for it.

“Thus in the selfsame type the offerer sets forth Christ in His person, as the One who became man to meet God’s requirements: the offering presents Him in His character and work, as the victim by which the atonement was ratified; while the priest gives us a third picture of Him, in His official relation, as the appointed mediator and intercessor. Accordingly, when we have a type in which the offering is most prominent, the leading thought will be Christ the victim. On the other hand, when the offerer or priest predominates, it will respectively be Christ as man or Christ as mediator.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 44–45.)

(14-3) Leviticus 1:2–3. What Made an Animal Acceptable for an Offering to God?

The Hebrew word translated “without blemish” means to be sound or whole. In addition to this requirement, all sacrificial animals had to meet two other requirements. They had to be of the category that the Lord declared clean (see Leviticus 11), and they also had to be from domesticated herds and flocks (see Leviticus 1:2).

“In the clean animals, which he had obtained by his own training and care, and which constituted his ordinary live-stock, and in the produce obtained through the labour of his hands in the field and vineyard, from which he derived his ordinary support, the Israelite offered . . . the food which he procured in the exercise of his God-appointed calling, as a symbol of the spiritual food which endureth unto everlasting life [see John 6:27; 4:34], and which nourishes both soul and body for imperishable life in fellowship with God. . . . In this way the sacrificial gifts acquire a representative character, and denote the self-surrender of a man, with all his labour and productions, to God.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:275–76.)

This offering was to be “voluntary” (Leviticus 1:3). It was not forced, but served as a free expression of gratitude on the part of the individual. Anything less would violate a basic principle of free will offerings (see Moroni 7:6–10).

priests, altar, Christ
Sacrifice symbolized atonement for sins.

(14-4) Leviticus 1:3. Was the Burnt Offering Actually Slain at the Door of the Tabernacle?

To assist Israel in overcoming idolatry, the Lord specified that offerings be sacrificed in one place, “at the door of the tabernacle” (v. 3). This place was specified because it was here (technically, a few yards in front of the door of the tabernacle or temple) that the altar stood on which the sacrifice or a portion of it would be burned. (Note: This verse and the following verses describe the burnt offerings. Other offerings had different requirements. For a complete description of all the various offerings, see the accompanying chart, which was adapted from Edward J. Brandt, “Sacrifices and Offerings of the Mosaic Law,” Ensign, Dec. 1973, pp. 50–51.)






(Lev. 1; 6:9–13)

This is another name for the ordinance of sacrifice practiced by the patriarchs from Adam down to Israel.

Male animal without blemish (Exod. 12:5; Lev. 1:3; 22:18–25; Num. 28:3–4; Deut. 15:21; 17:1).

Originally the animal was to be a firstborn (Gen. 4:4; Exod. 13:12; Lev. 27:26; Num. 3:41; 18:17; Deut. 12:6; 15:19–21).

The animal used varied according to the position and personal possessions of the individual, as well as the occasion of the sacrifice: bull, ram, he-goat, turtledoves, or young pigeons (Lev. 1:5, 10, 14; 5:7; Gen. 15:9).

burnt offering animals

“This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father” (Moses 5:7; see also Lev. 1:4, 9; 14:20; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 1:19; 2 Ne. 11:4; 25:24–27; Jac. 4:5; Jar. 1; Mosiah 3:15).


Regularly appointed times:

Daily—morning and evening (Exod. 29:38–42; Num. 28:3–4).

Sabbath—double portion given (Num. 28:9–10). New Moon—monthly (Num. 28:11–15).

Seasonally appointed times:

Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, Feast of the Harvest, Feast of the Tabernacles, New Year, and the Day of Atonement


Given for family events—birth, marriage, reunions, etc., and at times of personal need. Most often, private or individual offerings were given during the times of appointed feasts.

(Lev. 3; 7:11–38)

Male or female animal without blemish (Lev. 3:1, 12) and cattle, sheep, or goats, but no fowl or other substitutes (Lev. 22:27). The animal was to be meat for a sacrificial meal. The fat and inward portions were burned upon the altar (Lev. 3:3–5), a specified part was given to the priests (see Heave and Wave Offerings), and the remainder was used for meat in the special dinner (Lev. 7:16).

peace offering animals

The threefold purpose of peace offerings is suggested in the following titles or descriptions given.

THANK OFFERING is given to thank God for all blessings (Lev. 7:12–13, 15; 22:29).

VOW OFFERING (Lev. 7:16; 22:18, 21, 23; Num. 15:3, 8; 29:39; Deut. 12:6) signifies the taking or renewing of a vow or covenant.

FREE-WILL OFFERING (Lev. 7:16; 22:18, 21, 23; Num. 15:3; 29:39; Deut. 12:6, 17; 16:10; 23:23) suggests voluntary receiving of covenants with attendant responsibilities and consequences.

An individual could seemingly give the offering for any of the above declared purposes separately or together.

These were private offerings or a personal sacrifice for family or individuals (see Private Offerings).

(Lev. 4; 5:1–13; 6:25–30)

Male or female animal or fowl without blemish. The offering varied according to the position and circumstances of the offerer: the priest offered a bull (Lev. 4:3; Num. 8:8), the ruler among the people a he-goat (Lev. 4:22–23), the people in general a she-goat (Lev. 4:27–28), the poor two turtledoves or two young pigeons (Lev. 5:7), and those of extreme poverty an offering of fowl or meal (Lev. 5:11; Num. 15:20–21). The offering is not consumed by fire, but is used by the Levitical priesthood as a sacrificial meal. The meat and hide are for their sustenance and use. (Lev. 6:25–30; 7:7–8; 14:13.)

sin offering animals

Sin offerings were given for sins committed in ignorance (Lev. 4:2, 22, 27), sins not generally known about by the people (Num. 15:24), sins in violation of oaths and covenants (Lev. 5:1, 4–5), and ceremonial sins of defilement or uncleanness under the law of carnal commandments (Lev. 5:2–3; 12:1–8; 15:28–30). The purpose of sin offerings, after true repentance on the part of the parties involved, was to prepare them to receive forgiveness as a part of the renewal of their covenants. (Lev. 4:26, 35; 5:10; 10:17; Num. 15:24–29.) This same blessing is possible by partaking of the sacrament today. (JST, Matt. 26:24.)

A special sin-offering for all the people was offered on the Day of Atonement (Exod. 30:10; Lev. 16:3, 6, 11, 15–19).

All other sin offerings were private and personal offerings, most often given at the times of the appointed feasts.

(Lev. 5:15–19; 6:1–7; 7:1–10)

Ram without blemish (Lev. 5:15, 18; 6:6; 19:21). A leper was to offer a lamb (Lev. 14:12), and a Nazarite was also to give a lamb (Num. 6:12).

trespass offering animal

Trespass offerings were given for offenses committed against others: i.e., false testimony (Lev. 6:2–3), forceful and unlawful possession of property (Lev. 6:4), disrespect for sacred things (Lev. 5:16–17), acts of passion (Lev. 19:20–22). The purpose of the trespass offering was to bring forgiveness. (Lev. 6:7.) This was possible after repentance (Lev. 26:40–45) and after fulfilling the law of restitution that required, where possible, that the guilty individual restore completely the wrong and an additional 20 percent (Lev. 5:16; 6:5–17; 27:13, 15, 19, 27, 31; Num. 5:6–10).

All trespass offerings were private and personal offerings, most commonly given at the times of the appointed feasts.

(Exod. 29:40–41; Lev. 2; 6:14–23; 7:9–10; Num. 15:4–24; 28; 29)

An unleavened bread. Few ingredients were permitted with the basic flour: salt (Lev. 2:13), oil (Lev. 2:5), even incense (Lev. 2:15), but no leavening or honey (Lev. 2:11). However, it could be baked or fried in various ways.

This offering completed the sacrificial meal of the burnt and peace offerings. It was then given to the priests for their service and sustenance. (Lev. 7:8–10.)

This offering was always given with the burnt offerings and peace offerings and could even substitute for a sin offering in the stress of poverty. (Num. 15:28–29.)

(Exod. 29:26–27; Lev. 7:14, 32–34; Num. 18:19)

The heave offering is the right shoulder and the wave offering the breast of the peace offering animal given in payment by the offerer for the services of the priest.

Whatever the Levites received for their priesthood service—heave or wave offering, meat offering, or tithe (Num. 18)—they were required to offer to the Lord in sacrifice a portion as a memorial offering (Lev. 2:2, 9, 16; 5:12; 6:15; Num. 5:26; 18:26–29).

“Heave” and “wave” refer to gestures of lifting the offerings up and extending them toward the priest who received them on behalf of the Lord.

This is the priest’s portion. (Lev. 7:35–36; Deut. 18:1–8.)

This memorial offering was a type of peace or thank offering to the Lord, as well as a remembrance of God and service to Him.

The Levites also received the hides of all the animals sacrificed for their labors and services. (Lev. 7:8.)

These were given at the times of burnt offerings and peace offerings.

(Adapted from Edward J. Brandt, “The Priesthood Ordinance of Sacrifice,” Ensign, Dec. 1973, pp. 50–51.)

(14-5) Leviticus 1:4. Why Did the Offerer Place His Hands on the Offering, and How Did This Offering Make Atonement for Him?

The laying on of hands was an important part of every sacrifice. “This meant transmission and delegation, and implied representation; so that it really pointed to the substitution of the sacrifice for the sacrificer. Hence it was always accompanied by confession of sin and prayer. It was thus done. The sacrifice was so turned that the person confessing looked towards the west, while he laid his hands between the horns of the sacrifice, and if the sacrifice was brought by more than one, each had to lay on his hands. It is not quite a settled point whether one or both hands were laid on; but all are agreed that it was to be done ‘with one’s whole force’—as it were, to lay one’s whole weight upon the substitute.” (Edersheim, The Temple, pp. 113–14.)

This practice shows that the sacrifice had a dual symbolism. First and foremost, it represented the only sacrifice that could ultimately bring peace and remission of sins, namely that of Jesus Christ. But the laying on of hands showed a transfer of identity; that is, the offerer put his own identity upon the sacrificial animal. Thus, the slaying of the animal implied symbolically one of two things, depending on the kind of offering. First, it implied that the sinful self, the “natural man,” as King Benjamin called it (see Mosiah 3:19), was put to death in order that the spiritual person could be reborn. Paul used this terminology in Romans 6:1–6, and the baptismal font is compared to a grave in Doctrine and Covenants 128:13. Why? Because the “old man” of sin is buried there (Romans 6:6). Second, if it was not a sin offering, the death of the animal would imply a giving up of one’s life, that is, a total sacrifice of one’s self to God.

The word translated “atonement” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover over or hide.” The connotation is not that the sin no longer exists but that the sin has been covered over, or, more scripturally, blotted out before God through His grace or loving kindness (see Alma 7:13). That is to say, the power of sin to separate man from God has been taken away (see Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:276). Thus, the word at-one-ment was used to show that man becomes one with God again.

priest putting blood on horn of altar
The blood symbolized atonement for sins.

(14-6) Leviticus 1:5. Why Is There Such Emphasis on Blood?

Of all the elements of the ordinance of sacrifice, nothing played a more prominent part than the administration of the blood of the offering. The manner of its offering was minutely specified by the Lord. Depending on the offering, the blood was dabbed upon the horns of the altar, sprinkled or splashed upon all four sides of the altar, or dumped out at the base of the altar.

The Lord chose blood to dramatize the consequences of sin and what was involved in the process of forgiveness and reconciliation. Therefore, blood symbolized both life (see Leviticus 17:11) and the giving of one’s life. Death is the consequence of sin and so the animal was slain to show what happens when man sins. Also, the animal was a type of Christ. Through the giving of His life for man, by the shedding of His blood, one who is spiritually dead because of sin can find new life. Out of this truth grows a spiritual parallel: “As in Adam, or by nature, all men fall and are subject to spiritual death, so in Christ and his atoning sacrifice all men have power to gain eternal life” (McConkie, The Promised Messiah, p. 259).

The purpose of the shedding of blood was to bring expiation, or atonement (see Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). As noted in Reading 14-5, the Hebrew verb which is translated by the English word atonement means “to cover.” Thus, the smearing, splashing, or daubing of blood “covered” sins and thus brought about atonement. There is a beautiful paradox in the idea that the righteous are those “whose garments are white through the blood of the Lamb” (Ether 13:10; see Alma 5:21). It is the blood of Christ that covers sins and makes us pure so that we can receive at-one-ment with God.

Thus, the blood was a symbol for the whole process by which we become reconciled with God. “From all of this it is apparent that those in Israel who were spiritually enlightened knew and understood that their sacrificial ordinances were in similitude of the coming death of Him whose name they used to worship the Father, and that it was not the blood on their altars that brought remission of sins, but the blood that would be shed in Gethsemane and on Calvary” (McConkie, The Promised Messiah, p. 258).

(14-7) Leviticus 1:6–9. What Was the Purpose of Dividing the Animal?

The unique aspect of the burnt offering was the dividing of the animal into various parts and the washing of the inwards and legs of the bullock in water. Yet it is this very thing which gave this sacrifice its own significance apart from the others. One author described the symbolism thus:

“Man’s duty to God is not the giving up of one faculty, but the entire surrender of all. So Christ sums up the First Commandment,—all the mind, all the soul, all the affections. ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’ I cannot doubt that the type refers to this in speaking so particularly of the parts of the Burnt-offering; for ‘the head,’ ‘the fat,’ ‘the legs,’ ‘the inwards,’ are all distinctly enumerated. ‘The head’ is the well-known emblem of the thoughts; ‘the legs’ the emblem of the walk; and ‘the inwards’ the constant and familiar symbol of the feelings and affections of the heart. The meaning of ‘the fat’ may not be quite so obvious, though here also Scripture helps us to the solution. It represents the energy not of one limb or faculty, but the general health and vigour of the whole. In Jesus these were all surrendered, and all without spot or blemish. Had there been but one thought in the mind of Jesus which was not perfectly given to God;—had there been but one affection in the heart of Jesus which was not yielded to His Father’s will;—had there been one step in the walk of Jesus which was taken not for God, but for His own pleasure;—then He could not have offered Himself or been accepted as ‘a whole burnt-offering to Jehovah.’ But Jesus gave up all: He reserved nothing. All was burnt, all consumed upon the altar.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 63–64.)

The washing of the inwards and legs suggests the need for one to be spiritually pure not only in what he does but also in what he desires (see Ephesians 5:26; Jukes, Law of the Offerings, p. 71).

Taken together, these things reveal the quality of the life the Lord lives. His feelings, thoughts, activities, and whole life were placed in submission to God. At the same time, the sacrifice stressed the idea that only when the offerer yields himself to God is his life sweet or satisfying to the Lord.

(14-8) Leviticus 1:10–17. Why Did the Lord Allow for Various Grades of Offerings?

Acceptable sacrifices were from these groups: a male ox or bull, a male sheep or goat, a turtle dove or pigeon. The economic situation of the individual determined which animal was sacrificed. That each of these animals was totally acceptable to God is indicative of His mercy. With Him it is not the gift that counts but the intent of the giver’s heart.

(14-9) Leviticus 2. What Was the Meat Offering?

The word translated “meat offering” is a Hebrew word meaning “a gift” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “meat,” p. 271). Used in a sacrificial sense, the word refers to a gift of grain, flour, or breads. (One meaning of the word meat is “food.”) Through this offering the individual acknowledged God as the giver of all things and surrendered what had been designated (that is, the fruit of the field) in supplication for power to fulfill his duty. Wheat, or products made from wheat, with the addition of oil, frankincense, and salt constituted each offering (see vv. 1, 13). In each case the wheat had to be prepared in some way. “Fine flour” (vv. 4, 5, 14) required the greatest effort in an age when grain was ground mostly by hand. Thus, the offerer’s time, symbolic of his whole life, was invested in the offering.

The bringing together of the oil, frankincense, and grain in this offering is instructive (see v. 1). Oil was used in the scriptures to symbolize the Holy Ghost (see D&C 45:56–57), grain to symbolize the word of God (see Mark 4:14), and frankincense to symbolize prayer (see Revelation 8:3). As man was meant to live physically by eating bread, so too was he meant to live spiritually in Christ by partaking of the word and Spirit of the Lord through prayer.

Only a portion of the offering was burned (see Leviticus 2:2, 9). This requirement was true of all the offerings except the sin offering and burnt offering. The remaining portion became the property of the priests, and they were allowed to share it with members of their families (see vv. 3, 10). In this way the priesthood was supported by the Lord during their time of service.

Those portions of the sacrifice that were burned were designated as “holy,” whereas those portions to be eaten were designated as “most holy” (vv. 3, 10). The distinction appears to be a safeguard. Little could happen to the portion of the sacrifice that was burned, but the portion that was left, if not carefully guarded, could be desecrated.

The oblation of first fruits was not a sacrifice but rather a gift of thanks and praise to the Lord for the harvest (see v. 12). If the offerer wanted to use a portion of this oblation as a meat offering, the Lord designated how it was to be done (see vv. 14–16).

(14-10) Leviticus 2:11, 13. Why Were Leaven and Honey Prohibited and Salt Required?

The prohibition against leaven also extended to honey. The ability of these elements to produce fermentation and spoilage made them excellent symbols of corruption, something which had no place in the refining and purifying effects of the law which the sacrifices symbolized (see Reading 10-7).

“Whilst leaven and honey were forbidden to be used with any kind of [meat] because of their producing fermentation and corruption, salt on the other hand was not to be omitted from any sacrificial offering. ‘Thou shalt not let the salt of the covenant of thy God cease from thy meat-offering,’ i.e. thou shalt never offer a meat-offering without salt. The meaning which the salt, with its power to strengthen food and preserve it from putrefaction and corruption, imparted to the sacrifice, was the unbending truthfulness of that self-surrender to the Lord embodied in the sacrifice, by which all impurity and hypocrisy were repelled. The salt of the sacrifice is called the salt of the covenant, because in common life salt was the symbol of the covenant; treaties being concluded and rendered firm and inviolable, according to a well-known custom of the ancient Greeks . . . which is still retained among the Arabs, by the parties to an alliance eating bread and salt together, as a sign of the treaty which they had made. As a covenant of this kind was called a ‘covenant of salt,’ equivalent to an indissoluble covenant [Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5], so here the salt added to the sacrifice is designated as salt of the covenant of God, because of its imparting strength and purity to the sacrifice, by which Israel was strengthened and fortified in covenant fellowship with Jehovah.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:295.)

(14-11) Leviticus 3. The Peace Offering

The name of this sacrifice in Hebrew is shelamim, a plural form of shalom, or “peace.”

“The plural denotes the entire round of blessings and powers, by which the salvation or integrity of man in his relation to God is established and secured. The object of the shelamim was invariably salvation: sometimes they were offered as an embodiment of thanksgiving for salvation already received, sometimes as a prayer for the salvation desired; so that they embraced both supplicatory offerings and thank-offerings, and were offered even in times of misfortune, or on the day on which supplication was offered for the help of God.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:299.)

Female animals were allowed to be used as peace offerings (see vv. 1, 6), but they still had to be without blemish. No birds could be used.

Only the fat and kidneys of this offering were burned. This action fulfilled the purpose of the sacrifice since the fat (as noted in Reading 14-7) was indicative of the well-being of the whole animal. It came to represent the consecration of the whole life of the individual to God.

A species of sheep common in the Near East has a very fat tail. This fact seems to explain the Lord’s instructions about the “rump” (v. 9) and implies that the whole tail was to be offered up (see Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “rump,” p. 363).

(14-12) Leviticus 4:2. What Does It Mean to “Sin through Ignorance”?

The Hebrew word chata’t, used for this sacrifice, comes from a root meaning “to miss, not to hit the mark” or “to stumble and fall” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “sin,” p. 395). The word interpreted “ignorance” means “to err” (s.v. “ignorance,” p. 225). Thus, the sins which were expiated by this offering were those committed by mistake, error, or oversight; that is, sins committed unintentionally. In other words, this offering covered those sins which came from weakness of the flesh as opposed to those committed deliberately while in a state of rebellion. This sacrifice illustrates the fact that sin, even when not deliberately committed, places one under the demands of justice. The prophet-king Benjamin explained, “For behold, and also [Christ’s] blood atoneth for the sins of those . . . who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned” (Mosiah 3:11).

For this offering, the offerer was allowed to bring many different kinds of offerings (see Leviticus 4:3, 13–14, 22–23, 27–28; 5:6–7, 11–12). From your understanding of the law of Moses, why do you think the Lord allowed so many acceptable offerings to expiate sins of ignorance?

horns of the altar
The horns of the altar

(14-13) Leviticus 4:5–7. Why Was the Blood Carried into the Tabernacle and Sprinkled before the Veil and Also Placed upon the Horns of the Altar?

The blood of all offerings was the direct symbol of expiation or atonement (see Reading 14-6). The number seven was a symbol of perfection (the number coming from the Hebrew root meaning “whole” or “complete”, and also, probably, from the idea of the Creation being completed in seven days). Thus seven became a symbol of the covenant. (See, for example, Douglas, New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “numbers,” p. 898.) Through sin, Israel stood in danger of losing their covenant relationship with Jehovah. Indeed, they were sinners and those sins were ever before the Lord. Though Israel might forget them, God could not. Nevertheless, just as unforgettable was the fact that Christ had atoned for those sins which resulted, not from rebellion, but from weaknesses of the flesh. The blood of the sin offering (symbolic of the Atonement of the Lord), when taken within the veil by the high priest, remained there where it was ever present before the eye of God (see Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 153–54).

The horns on the altar of sacrifice and the altar of incense were a symbol of power (perhaps because many animals with horns have greater power; see Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “horn,” 2:827; see also Psalm 75:4, 10; Jeremiah 48:25; Habakkuk 3:4 for examples of the use of horns as symbols of power). Thus, the horns on the altars suggested symbolically that in these two altars there was power to save. (In Luke 1:69 Christ is called the “horn of salvation.”) To put the blood of the sin offering on the horns of the altar of incense signified that the atoning blood had power to make Israel’s prayers to God more effectual.

(14-14) Leviticus 4:12. What Is the Significance of Burning the Sin Offering outside the Camp?

The offering of the fat and inwards upon the altar demonstrated that the offering itself was acceptable to God. Because this sacrifice represented the effects of sin, however, the offering itself could not come upon the altar. It may be puzzling at first that Christ could be typified as a sin offering. Again, Jukes offered valuable insight into how the sin offering differed from the sweet savor offering (the burnt offering, meat offering, and peace offering).

“Hitherto we have met no thought of Sin in the offerings. The Burnt-offering, the Meat-offering, and the Peace-offering, much as they differed, were yet alike in this, that in each of them the offering was the presentation of something which was sweet to Jehovah, an oblation to satisfy His holy requirements, and in the acceptance of which He found grateful satisfaction. But here, in the Sin and Trespass-offerings, we read of Sin in connexion with the offering. Here is confessed sin, judged sin, sin requiring sacrifice and blood-shedding; yet sin atoned for, blotted out, and pardoned. . . .

“. . . The Sin-offering shews that sin has been judged, and that therefore the sense of sin, if we believe, need not shake our sense of safety. Sin is indeed here pre-eminently shewn to be exceeding sinful, exceeding hateful, exceeding evil before God: yet it is also shewn to have been perfectly met by sacrifice, perfectly borne, perfectly judged, perfectly atoned for. . . .

“. . . The sweet-savour offerings are, as we know, Christ in perfectness offering Himself for us to God without sin: the others, on the contrary, as we shall see, represent Him as offering Himself as our representative for sin.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 137–39.)

The atoning sacrifice which began in Gethsemane and ended on Golgotha the next day could be thought of as an offering for sin, for that was its purpose. Elder James E. Talmage wrote:

“Christ’s agony in the garden is unfathomable by the finite mind, both as to intensity and cause. . . . He struggled and groaned under a burden such as no other being who has lived on earth might even conceive as possible. It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused Him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing. . . .

“In some manner, actual and terribly real though to man incomprehensible, the Savior took upon Himself the burden of the sins of mankind from Adam to the end of the world.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 613.)

In other words, to pay the demands of justice, Christ stood before the law as though He were guilty of all sins, even though He was guilty of none. He became a sin offering for all mankind. This sacrifice involved more than the suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. The completion of the sacrifice took place on the cross outside the city walls. Thus, Paul saw in Christ’s sacrifice a fulfillment of the typology of the sin offering being burned outside the camp:

“For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” (Hebrews 13:11–13.)

(14-15) Leviticus 4:25, 30, 35

The blood of the sin offering for the ruler and common people was not sprinkled upon the sides of the brazen altar but, rather, dabbed upon its horns. The horns symbolized the might and power of Jehovah (see Reading 14-13). Placing the expiating blood upon them suggested that forgiveness could come only through the power of God.

(14-16) Leviticus 5:1–13

These verses are a continuation of the requirements for a sin offering. The sins specified here as needing expiation are those of omission (failure to report a crime one has witnessed), oversight (unconscious defilement), and rashness (thoughtless oath making).

Though referred to as trespass offerings (see v. 6), this sacrifice should not be confused with the trespass offering proper discussed in Leviticus 5:14–19. The trespass offering here is to atone for those acts which came under the sin offering (ignorance, minor offenses, and ceremonial uncleanliness).

(14-17) Leviticus 5:14–19; 6:1–7. What Is the Difference between a Sin Offering and a Trespass Offering?

The Book of Mormon prophets taught that those who have not been “born of the Spirit” or “changed from their carnal and fallen state” (Mosiah 27:24–25) are in “rebellion against God” and indeed are “an enemy to God” (Mosiah 16:5; see also 3:19). This fallen or sinful nature, termed the “natural man” (Mosiah 3:19) is a serious state. This “natural man” must be considered in an attempt to distinguish between the sin offering and the trespass offering.

“With our shortsightedness, our inability to see beyond the surface, we naturally look at what man does rather than at what he is; and while we are willing to allow that he does evil, we perhaps scarcely think that he is evil. But God judges what we are as well as what we do; our sin, the sin in us, as much as our trespasses. In His sight sin in us, our evil nature, is as clearly seen as our trespasses, which are but the fruit of that nature. . . .

“Now the distinction between the Sin and Trespass-offerings is just this:—the one is for sin in our nature [i.e., the “natural man”] the other for the fruits of it. And a careful examination of the particulars of the offerings is all that is needed to make this manifest. Thus in the Sin-offering no particular act of sin is mentioned, but a certain person is seen standing confessedly as a sinner: in the Trespass-offering certain acts are enumerated, and the person never appears. In the Sin-offering I see a person who needs atonement, offering an oblation for himself as a sinner: in the Trespass-offering I see certain acts which need atonement, and the offering offered for these particular offences.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, pp. 148–49.)

Christ in Gethsemane
The blood shed in Gethsemane and on the cross atoned for the sins of the world.

(14-18) Leviticus 5:16. Why Was a “Fifth Part” Added to the Trespass Offering?

“In the case of sin—that is, our sinful nature, where no actual robbery or wrong had been committed against any one—justice would be fully satisfied by the death and suffering of the sinner. But the mere suffering and death of the sinner would not make satisfaction for the wrong of trespass. For the victim merely to die for trespass, would leave the injured party a loser still. The trespasser indeed might be punished, but the wrong and injury would still remain. The trespasser’s death would not repair the trespass, nor restore those rights which another had been robbed of. Yet, till this was done, atonement or satisfaction could scarcely be considered perfect. Accordingly, to make satisfaction in the Trespass-offering, there is not only judgment on the victim, but restitution also: the right of which another had been defrauded is satisfied; the wrong fully repaid.” (Jukes, Law of the Offerings, p. 179.)

(14-19) Leviticus 6:13. Why Was the Fire on the Great Altar Never Allowed to Go Out?

The first fire on the first altar made under Moses’ direction was kindled by direct action of Jehovah (see Leviticus 9:23–24). It was the duty of the priest to keep this fire burning, symbolizing the continuation of the covenant which made the ordinance of sacrifice everlastingly valid. Also, as explained in Reading D-5, the fire symbolized the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, which is never extinguished.

(14-20) Leviticus 7:11–27. Why Did the Offerer Partake of the Peace Offering?

Once the fat, kidneys, breast, and upper part of the back leg were removed, the rest of the animal was returned to the offerer. Upon returning home, he used it in preparing a feast to which his family, friends, and the poor were invited. Since the sacrifice served as a major part of this feast, birds were not acceptable because they provided too little meat. This feast became a holy covenant meal participated in with joy and thanksgiving because it represented fellowship with the Lord. The earthly food symbolized the spiritual power through which the Lord satisfied and refreshed His Saints and led them to victory over all their enemies.

All participants shared in this offering. The Lord specified His portion, that which was given to the priest, and that shared by the family. Therefore, all enjoyed the spirit of the fellowship meal just as all partake of the work of Christ in bringing about salvation to the faithful and victory over death and hell.

To knowingly partake of the peace offering while in a condition of uncleanliness was grounds for excommunication (see v. 21). One cannot be in a state of sin and be at peace with God at the same time.

(14-21) Leviticus 7:28–34. What Is the Heave Offering and the Wave Offering?

The Lord declared that two portions of the animal would be the priest’s. The first was the heave offering, which was the upper portion of the back leg. The term heave means, in Hebrew, “to lift off or remove.” This portion was given by the offerer to the priest in payment for his assistance. The “wave breast” (v. 34) was the brisket or lower chest. This choice piece of meat, along with the fat and kidneys, was the Lord’s. The brisket was presented to the Lord through the act of waving. To do this the priest placed the offering in the hands of the offerer and then placed his own hands beneath it. They then moved the brisket in a horizontal motion toward the altar (symbolically transferring to the Lord) and then back again, representing God’s acceptance of the offering and its transference to his servant the priest. (See Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:330.)

(14-22) Leviticus 8–9

These chapters record the actual setting apart of Aaron and his sons and the sanctification of the tabernacle that were commanded in Exodus 28–29. For the significance of blood on the ear, thumb, and toe, see Reading 13-16.

(14-23) Leviticus 10:1–7. What Was the Strange Fire Offered by Aaron’s Sons?

The Hebrew word translated “strange” means “to be alien . . . as opposed to that which is holy and legitimate” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “strange,” p. 422). Thus, the idea is not that the fire was strange or unusual, but that these two sons of Aaron engaged in an unauthorized form of worship. Whether they took fire (actually hot coals) from another source than the great altar which God Himself had kindled (see Leviticus 9:24), or whether they used an incense not prepared as specified (see Exodus 30:34–37) is not clear from the account. But after revealing the proper preparation of the incense, the Lord warned, “Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people” (Exodus 30:38). Aaron’s other sons were forbidden to officially mourn the death of their brothers, for this action would imply that the Lord had been unjust in the punishment (see Leviticus 10:6).

(14-24) Leviticus 10:16–19. Why Was Moses Angry with Aaron and His Sons?

Part of the sin offering was specified for the use of the priest who administered the offering, thus “bearing the iniquity of the congregation” (v. 17); however, Eleazar and Ithamar had burned all of it rather than eating their portion. This was the second time the sons of Aaron had not followed the law. Moses rebuked them, but Aaron withstood the rebuke.

“The excuse which Aaron makes for not feasting on the sin-offering according to the law is at once appropriate and dignified; as if he had said: ‘God certainly has commanded me to eat of the sin-offering; but when such things as these have happened unto me, could it be good in the sight of the Lord? Does he not expect that I should feel as a father under such afflicting circumstances?’ With this spirited answer Moses was satisfied; and God, who knew his situation, took no notice of the irregularity which had taken place in the solemn service. To human nature God has given the privilege to weep in times of affliction and distress. In his infinite kindness he has ordained that tears, which are only external evidences of our grief, shall be the outlets to our sorrows, and tend to exhaust the cause from which they flow.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:539.)



Question. Did you not say that the law of Moses would be a great step forward? Did you mean only for ancient Israel or for us today as well?

Response. Consider for a moment the effect on the world today if people were willing to really live the principles taught in the Mosaic law. Even some members of the Church do not live up to the standards of that law, let alone the higher law we have been given.

Question. But we have the fulness of the gospel and that does away with the law of Moses for us, doesn’t it?

Response. Of course, but let’s look at it another way. The law of performances and ordinances, admittedly, is no longer required. And the perfection we seek was not possible under the lesser priesthood (see Hebrews 7:11). But the principles which undergirded and overarched that law are just as vital and indispensable today as they were then. These principles, which were part of the preparatory gospel, were also incorporated into the higher law by which perfection will come. But I was not thinking of just that when I said we are not living up to the standards of the law. I’m also including the social and moral aspects of the law under Moses.

Question. What do you mean?

Response. Perhaps the best way for me to answer would be by reversing the procedure. Let me share some concepts that bring the principles of the law into your own life. These ideas will point out not only what living the law of Moses could have generated in the heart of a faithful Israelite anciently but also what living the principle behind the law can generate in the heart of a modern Israelite.

• Concept 1: The law says to serve (see Leviticus 19:13–18, 32–37). What is the nature of your service? Is it out of duty—sometimes wearisome or fitful? Or have you felt the kind of power and knowledge that whole-souled service was designed to bring? Have you received “grace for grace” and “continued from grace to grace” so that “you may come unto the Father in [Christ’s] name, and in due time receive of his fulness”? (D&C 93:12–13, 19). Indeed, can the Lord commend in you what He did in Nephi, son of Helaman, “unwearyingness”? (Helaman 10:4).

• Concept 2: The law suggests prayer (see Deuteronomy 26:13–15). What is the nature of your prayer life? Can you pray as the Nephites did, “filled with desire” and with the Spirit such that “it was given unto them what they should pray”? (3 Nephi 19:24). Do you ever feel, in the course of your prayers, the overwhelming influence of the Spirit quietly assuring you that your prayers are heard?

• Concept 3: The law implies forgiveness (see Leviticus 19:17–18). Do you ever find yourself unwilling to forgive, or doing so grudgingly? Or are you anxious to forgive, feeling as did the Prophet Joseph Smith that “the nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs”? (Smith, Teachings, p. 241).

• Concept 4: The law says to worship God (see Deuteronomy 6:3–11). Do you seek the Lord “to establish his righteousness,” or do you walk in your own way, after the image of your own God, “whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol”? (D&C 1:16). Can you feel, as the Prophet Joseph expressed, that “we can only live by worshiping our God”? (Smith, Teachings, p. 241). Or as Elder B. H. Roberts said, because God is all-wise, all-loving, and completely unselfish, “other Intelligences worship him, submit their judgments and their will to his judgment and his will. . . . This submission of mind to [God] is worship.” (In Smith, Teachings, p. 353, fn. 8.)

• Concept 5: The law says to love (see Leviticus 19:18). Have you felt the vital force in you that Joseph Smith said is “without prejudice,” which “gives scope to the mind,” and “enables us to conduct ourselves with greater liberality toward all”? This principle, he stressed, was “nearer to the mind of God, because it is like God” (Smith, Teachings, p. 147). Indeed, John the Beloved said, “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Have you felt the fulfillment of his promise that “if we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us,” that “he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him”? (1 John 4:12, 16). Can you “have boldness in the day of judgment” because of the perfection of that love so that “as he is, so are we in this world”? (v. 17).

Question. I see. Then the principles incorporated within the law really are a step forward and are of value to me today?

Response. Yes. Whatever God gives His children is uplifting and edifying, though in some cases, because of their own unworthiness, He cannot give them all He would like. Never view the law of Moses as some primitive, lesser law. It is the handiwork of God and, like all His works, bears the mark of perfection. Let us rather be like the psalmist who cried, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. . . . Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. . . . Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart” (Psalm 119:97, 105, 111).

Leviticus 11–18
A Law of Performances and Ordinances, Part 2: The Clean and the Unclean


(15-1) Introduction

The prophet Abinadi characterized the law of Moses as being “a very strict law; . . . yea, a law of performances and of ordinances . . . to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him” (Mosiah 13:29–30). But then he immediately added, “But behold, I say unto you, that all these things were types of things to come” (Mosiah 13:31).

By now you have studied enough of the law of Moses to understand what Abinadi meant. The law had two primary functions: to teach the people obedience so that they could progress spiritually, and to point their minds toward the ultimate source of salvation in Jesus Christ. We have seen both these functions in the commandments of the law, in the plan of the tabernacle and its furnishings, and in the sacrifices and offerings. Now we turn to the laws regarding clean and unclean things. As with the other laws, you must try to look beyond the outward commandments and rituals for what they were meant to teach about spiritual realities.

Take, for example, the laws of clean and unclean animals. There were practical reasons for these laws related to health and sanitation. The flesh of swine is highly susceptible to trichinosis, a malady easily transmitted to man. Shellfish can develop a deadly poison if they are not killed and handled properly, and so on. But the Hebrew word for clean used in the dietary law means more than just physically clean. It carries the connotation of being “clean from all pollution or defilement . . . and implying that purity which religion requires, and is necessary for communion with God” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “clean, cleanse, clear,” p. 78). As one Orthodox Jewish author noted, kosher (the Hebrew word for what fits or meets the demands of the law) means far more than just cleanliness.

“A hog could be raised in an incubator on antibiotics, bathed daily, slaughtered in a hospital operating room, and its carcass sterilized by ultra-violet rays, without rendering kosher the pork chops that it yields. ‘Unclean’ in Leviticus is a ceremonial word. That is why the Torah says of camels and rabbits, ‘They are unclean for you,’ limiting the definition and the discipline to Israel. Chickens and goats, which we can eat, are scarcely cleaner by nature than eagles and lions, but the latter are in the class of the unclean.” (Wouk, This Is My God, pp. 100–101.)

If the dietary code is seen both symbolically and as part of a system of laws that covered all the customary acts of life, it becomes apparent how it served. God was using the diet as a teaching tool. People may forget or neglect prayer, play, work, or worship, but they seldom forget a meal. By voluntarily abstaining from certain foods or by cooking them in a special way, one made a daily, personal commitment to act in one’s faith. At every meal a formal choice was made, generating quiet self-discipline. Strength comes from living such a law, vision from understanding it. Further, the law served to separate the Hebrews from their Canaanite neighbors. Each time they got hungry they were forcibly reminded of personal identity and community bond. Indeed, they belonged to a people set apart. The law therefore acted as a social instrument for keeping the Hebrew nation intact, a psychological instrument for preserving the identity of the individual, and a religious instrument for keeping the people in remembrance of Jehovah.

Instructions to Students

1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Leviticus 11–18.

2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)


(15-2) Leviticus 11. Clean and Unclean Food

Two conditions determined the cleanliness of animals. They had to be cloven-footed (that is, the hooves had to be separated into two parts), and they had to chew their cud (see v. 3). Seafood was limited to those that had scales and fins. This requirement eliminated all shellfish, such as lobster and shrimp, and fish such as sharks and dolphins, as well as other sea creatures such as the eel (see vv. 9–12). Birds forbidden were generally birds of prey that lived on carrion, or, as in the case of the stork and heron, those that may have eaten other unclean creatures (see vv. 13–20). The ossifrage is thought to be a species of vulture, as is the gier eagle. Most flying insects were also forbidden. The phrase “going upon all four” (see v. 21) indicates insects that have four short legs and two long legs used for hopping. Of these, four are suitable for food. All are members of the locust family.

Cattle used in sacrifices

(15-3) Leviticus 11:24, 31. Why Did Contact with a Dead Body Cause One to Be Unclean?

The law specified that contact with the carcass of an unclean animal (or a clean animal that had died in some way other than by proper slaughter) caused one to be unclean. “The human corpse was the most defiling according to Old Testament regulations. In all probability it epitomized for the people of God the full gravity and ultimate consequences of sin.” (Douglas, New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “clean and unclean,” p. 239.) That the unclean person was barred from temple service and fellowship with other Israelites seems to bear out this assumption. The symbolism suggests that contact with sin leaves one tainted, and from this taint there had to be a period of cleansing. This period was symbolized by the restrictions placed on the individual “until the even” (v. 24), at which time the new Israelite day began.

(15-4) Leviticus 12–15. Further Laws for Dealing with Uncleanness

This section of the Levitical law deals with aspects of what could be called uncleanness in the flesh due to infections or secretions of the body, including the expulsion of fluids associated with birth (see 12:1–8), sores or skin infections found with such maladies as leprosy and boils (see 13), running infections (see 15:1–15), the “seed of copulation” (15:16–18), and menstrual fluids (see 15:19–33).

This part of the law raises some questions in the minds of many readers. The most obvious question is, Why should natural bodily functions render one unclean? First, unclean in the Mosaic sense did not suggest something disgusting or filthy, nor did it imply that the body or the natural functions of the body, such as childbirth or sexual relations, were inherently evil. “The term unclean in this and the following cases, is generally understood in a mere legal sense, the rendering a person unfit for sacred ordinances” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:559). This point is very important to understanding the Lord’s revelations on these matters. The ordinances of the Mosaic law were all designed to symbolize spiritual truths. The more nearly one approached perfection in the performance of the law, the more closely one approached the true symbolic meaning of the ordinance. The physical body and its natural functions remind one that he is of the earth, of the physical. Therefore, to say that a man or woman was unclean (that is, not to perform sacred ordinances) at certain times was to suggest to the mind that the natural man must be put aside in order to approach God.

There was a similar teaching in the requirements for the high priest (see Reading 16-9). Any person with a physical handicap was barred from being the high priest (see Leviticus 21:17–21). God does not view such persons as spiritually inferior. Rather, this requirement was a teaching device. The high priest was a type of Christ, the Great High Priest (see Hebrews 4:14), and the requirement for physical wholeness was to typify Christ’s perfection. The laws of natural uncleanness should be viewed in a similar light.

There were certain practical or sanitary aspects of these laws as well. The strict rules about contact with an infected person or objects with which he had come in contact have modern hygienic parallels. One commentator summed up both aspects in this way:

“In Canaan, prostitution and fertility rites were all mixed up with worship. In Israel, by sharp contrast, anything suggesting the sexual or sensual is strictly banned from the worship of God. . . . The intention is not to write off this side of life as ‘dirty’, as is plain elsewhere in Scripture. The purpose is to ensure its separation from the worship of God. The rule of strict cleanliness in all sexual matters was also a positive safeguard to health.” (Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, p. 176.)

(15-5) Leviticus 12:5–6. Why Was the Period of Uncleanness Longer When a Female Child Was Born?

Many things in the Mosaic law are puzzling at first but become clear and understandable upon further investigation. This question, however, is one that seems to have no key at present for its correct interpretation. An obvious implication, quickly taken up by some modern critics, is that this rule is a reflection of the inferior status of women anciently, a status which they regard as supported by the law. This conclusion is fallacious for two reasons. First, elsewhere in the law and the Old Testament, there is evidence that women had high status and their rights were protected. In fact, “women appear to have enjoyed considerably more freedom among the Jews than is now allowed them in western Asia” (Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “woman,” 3:1733; this reference includes numerous scriptural references in support of this statement; see also Hastings, ed., Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “woman,” pp. 976–77). Second, these laws were not the product of men’s attitudes but were direct revelation from the Lord. God does not view women as inferior in any way, although the roles of men and women are different. Speculation on why the Lord revealed different requirements for ceremonial purifying after the birth of male and female children is pointless until further revelation is received on the matter.

(15-6) Leviticus 13. What Is Meant by Leprosy?

The Hebrew root tzarah, which is translated into the English words leper and leprosy, means “to smite heavily, to strike,” because a leprous person was thought to have been “smitten, scourged of God” (see Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “leper,” pp. 248–49). Although it included modern leprosy (Hansen’s disease), leprosy also seems to have designated a wide range of diseases and even such physical decay as mildew or dry rot. The common characteristic seems to be decay and putrefaction, and thus leprosy became a type or a symbol of sin or the sinful man.

Classical leprosy was a dreaded disease that required exile from society and isolation (see Leviticus 13:45).

“When a man has the mark of leprosy, he must go about like a mourner, i.e., he must tear his clothes, leave his hair unkempt, and cover his mustache; and he must be segregated from ordinary human society.

“The disease popularly known as ‘leprosy’ may have two forms known respectively as ‘tubercular’ and ‘anesthetic.’ The tubercular form manifests itself first by reddish patches in which dark tubercles are later found; as the disease develops there occurs a swelling and distortion of the face and limbs. Anesthetic leprosy affects primarily the nerve trunks, particularly of the extremities. They become numb and ultimately lose their vitality. We may ask whether the various forms of leprosy are covered and intended in this chapter of Leviticus. A certain answer cannot be offered. A modern doctor would not diagnose leprosy on the symptoms given here. It seems probable that many skin diseases, some of them of relatively little importance, were called leprosy. It may be argued, on the other side, that we are here given only the very earliest symptoms for which the priest must be on the alert, and further, that since leprosy (in our sense) was almost certainly known in Palestine in biblical times and was pre-eminently a disease that would render a man ‘unclean,’ it must have been meant here, though other skin diseases are also included under the same name.

“Certainly the priests were using sound scientific measures in isolating adults who developed chronic skin diseases that might be transmitted to others. Isolation was the very best method for prevention of the spread of contagion. Furthermore, it is clear that if the individual recovered later—and thus had had some mild recoverable skin disease—then he could be declared cured, and in due time could return to his family and friends.” (Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, 2:66–67.)

(15-7) Leviticus 14. The Cleansing of a Leper

“In Leviticus 14 we have a detailed description of the ritual that was to take place when a person’s leprosy had been healed. Because of the nature of the ritual, many people have seen it as a primitive, superstitious, and abhorrent rite which supports the notion that the Israelites were primitive and superstitious pagans. However, when one applies the guidelines for interpreting symbols as given above, he finds that the ritual is a beautiful representation of gospel truths. But one must first understand the true meaning of the various symbolisms used in the rite. These include the following:

“1. The leper. Leprosy in its various forms was a disease that involved decay and putrefaction of the living body; also, because of its loathsomeness, it required the person to be ostracized and cut off from any fellowship with the rest of the house of Israel. Because of these characteristics, leprosy was seen as an appropriate type or symbol of what happens to a man spiritually when he sins. Sin introduces decay and corruption into the spiritual realm similar to what leprosy does in the physical realm. Also, a sinful person was cut off from a fellowship with spiritual Israel and could not be a part of the Lord’s true covenant people. So the leper himself provided a type or similitude of what King Benjamin called the ‘natural man.’ (See Mosiah 3:19.)

“2. The priest. The priest served as the official representative of the Lord, and he was authorized to cleanse the leper and bring him back into full fellowship.

“3. The birds. As the only living objects used in the ritual, the birds symbolized the candidate. Because of the two truths to be taught, two birds were required. The first bird was killed by the shedding of its blood, signifying that the leper (the natural man) had to give up his life. The second bird, after being bound together with other symbols, was released. This signified that the man had been freed from the bondage of sin.

“4. The cedar wood. The wood from cedar trees is still used today because of its ability to preserve surrounding objects from decay and corruption. So the cedar tree symbolized preservation from decay.

“5. The scarlet wool. The word scarlet (Leviticus 14:4) really meant a piece of wool dyed a bright red. Red reminds us of blood, which is the symbol of life and also of atonement. (See Leviticus 17:11.)

“6. The hyssop. Though we are not sure exactly why, we do know that in the Old Testament times the herb hyssop carried with it the symbolism of purification. (See Exodus 12:22; Psalm 51:7; Hebrews 9:19.)


“7. The basin of water. Notice that the blood of the bird was mixed with the water. In Moses 6:59 we learn that blood and water are the symbols of birth, both physical and spiritual. Also, we know that the place of spiritual rebirth, the baptismal font, is a symbol of the place where the natural man is put to death. (See Romans 6:1–6; D&C 128:12–13.) Over the basin of water the first bird was killed, symbolizing the death of the natural man and the eventual rebirth of the spiritually innocent person.

“8. The washing of the leper. This clearly was a symbol of cleansing.

“9. The shaving of the hair. One cannot help but note that the shaving of the hair of the body (even to include the eyebrows) would bring a person into a state of appearance very much like that of a newborn infant, who is typically virtually without hair. Thus, after going through the process of rebirth symbolically, the candidate graphically demonstrated on his own person that he was newborn spiritually.

“10. The sacrifice of the lamb. The typology is clear, since the lamb offered had to be the firstborn male without spot or blemish. It symbolized the offering of the Son of God.

“11. The smearing of the blood on the parts of the body. In Hebrew the word which is usually translated ‘atonement’ literally means ‘to cover.’ Thus, when the priest touched something with the blood, his action suggested the sanctification of or atonement made for that thing. In this case we find the blood of the lamb sanctifying the organ of hearing or obedience (the ear), the organ of action (the hand), and the organ of following or walking in the proper way (the foot). Thus, every aspect of the person’s life was touched and affected by the atonement of Christ.

“12. The oil. ‘The olive tree from the earliest times has been the emblem of peace and purity’ (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., comp. Bruce R. McConkie [1954–56], 3:180). For this reason, and also because the olive oil was a symbol of the Holy Ghost (for example, see D&C 45:55–57) the oil has deep symbolic significance. To touch with oil suggested the effect of the Spirit on the same organs of living and acting. Thus, the blood of Christ cleansed every aspect of the candidate’s life, and then the process was repeated with the oil to show that the Spirit too affected everything he did. In this manner, the person received peace and purity (symbolized by the olive tree and its fruit).” (Lund, “Old Testament Types and Symbols,” Symposium, 184–86.)

(15-8) Leviticus 16. The Day of Atonement and Israel’s Forgiveness

“The Day of Atonement, which took place in the fall of the year, was the most sacred and solemn of all the Israelite festivals. In it we most clearly see the typology or symbolism of Christ’s work for Israel. It was a day of national fasting and one that signified that the sins of Israel had been atoned for and that the nation and its people were restored to a state of fellowship with God. The feast included the following major items (see Leviticus 16 where the details are given):

“1. The high priest had to go through meticulous preparation to be worthy to act as the officiator for the rest of the house of Israel. This included sacrifices for himself and his house, as well as washing and purification through the sprinkling of sacrificial blood on various objects in the tabernacle.

“2. The high priest put off the official robes he normally wore and clothed himself in simple, white linen garments. (See Revelation 19:8 for the significance of white linen garments.)

“3. Two goats were chosen by lot. One was designated as the goat of the Lord, and one was designated as the scapegoat, or in Hebrew, the goat of Azazel. The goat of Jehovah was offered as a sin offering, and the high priest took its blood into the holy of holies of the tabernacle and sprinkled it on the lid of the ark of the covenant (called the ‘mercy seat’), thus making atonement for the sins of Israel.

“4. The other goat, Azazel, was brought before the high priest, who laid his hands upon its head and symbolically transferred all of the sins of Israel to it. Then it was taken out into the wilderness and released where it would never be seen again. One commentator explained the significance of Azazel by saying that it represented ‘the devil himself, the head of the fallen angels, who was afterwards called Satan; for no subordinate evil spirit could have been placed in antithesis to Jehovah as Azazel is here, but only the ruler or head of the kingdom of demons.’ (C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, bk. 1: The Pentateuch, ‘The Third Book of Moses,’ 10 bks. [n.d.], p. 398.)

“. . . The book of Hebrews [draws] heavily on the typology of the Day of Atonement to teach the mission of Christ. In that epistle he made the following points:

“a. Christ is the great high priest (Hebrews 3:1) who, unlike the high priest of the Aaronic Priesthood, was holy and without spot and did not need to make atonement for his own sins before he could be worthy to officiate for Israel and enter the holy of holies (Hebrews 7:26–27). His perfect life was the ultimate fulfillment of the symbol of wearing white garments.

“b. The true tabernacle (or temple, or house of the Lord) is in heaven, and the earthly tabernacle made by Moses was to serve as a shadow or type of the heavenly one. (See Hebrews 8:2–5; 9:1–9.)

“c. Christ is the Lamb of Jehovah as well as the High Priest. Through the shedding of his blood he became capable of entering the heavenly Holy of Holies where he offered his own blood as payment for the sins of those who would believe in him and obey his commandments. (See Hebrews 9:11–14, 24–28; 10:11–22; D&C 45:3–5.)” (Lund, “Old Testament Types and Symbols,” Symposium, 187–88.)

Notwithstanding the symbolic significance of the ritual of this holy day, the ritual did have the power to bring about a forgiveness of Israel’s sins. Elder James E. Talmage said:

“The sacred writings of ancient times, the inspired utterances of latter-day prophets, the traditions of mankind, the rites of sacrifice, and even the sacrileges of heathen idolatries, all involve the idea of vicarious atonement. God has never refused to accept an offering made by one who is authorized on behalf of those who are in any way incapable of doing the required service themselves. The scapegoat and the altar victim of ancient Israel, if offered with repentance and contrition, were accepted by the Lord in mitigation of the sins of the people.” (Articles of Faith, p. 77; emphasis added.)

wild goat
Wild goat of the Sinai

(15-9) Leviticus 17:1–7. Why Did the Israelites Have to Slay All Domestic Animals, Even Those Intended Only for Food, at the Tabernacle Altar?

“As sacrifice was ever deemed essential to true religion, it was necessary that it should be performed in such a way as to secure the great purpose of its institution. God alone could show how this should be done so as to be pleasing in his sight, and therefore he has given the most plain and particular directions concerning it. The Israelites, from their long residence in Egypt, an idolatrous country, had doubtless adopted many of their usages; and many portions of the Pentateuch seem to have been written merely to correct and bring them back to the purity of the Divine worship.

“That no blood should be offered to idols, God commands every animal used for food or sacrifice to be slain at the door of the tabernacle. While every animal was slain in this sacrificial way, even the daily food of the people must put them in mind of the necessity of a sacrifice for sin. Perhaps St. Paul had this circumstance in view when he said, Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God [1 Corinthians 10:31]; and, Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God and the Father by him [Colossians 3:17].

“While the Israelites were encamped in the wilderness, it was comparatively easy to prevent all abuses of this Divine institution; and therefore they were all commanded to bring the oxen, sheep, and goats to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, that they might be slain there, and their blood sprinkled upon the altar of the Lord. But when they became settled in the promised land, and the distance, in many cases, rendered it impossible for them to bring the animals to be slain for domestic uses to the temple, they were permitted to pour out the blood in a sacrificial way unto God at their respective dwellings, and to cover it with the dust [see Leviticus 17:13; Deuteronomy 12:20–21].” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:566–67.)

(15-10) Leviticus 17:7. “After Whom They Have Gone a Whoring”

The concept that Israel went “a whoring” after false gods is a common one in the scriptures and continues the metaphor that Jehovah was the husband to whom Israel was married. Isaiah said, “For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name” (Isaiah 54:5). When Israel looked to false gods, she was unfaithful to the marriage relationship she had with the true God, and thus was depicted as playing the part of a prostitute.

Jeremiah wrote: “Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. . . . And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks.” (Jeremiah 3:6, 8–9.)

In New Testament times, the same figurative imagery was used when the Church of Jesus Christ was depicted as the bride of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7–8; 21:2, 9).

So, in the scriptures, idolatry was often depicted as spiritual adultery. One Bible scholar added this insight to the phrase “gone a whoring”:

“Though this term is frequently used to express idolatry, yet we are not to suppose that it is not to be taken in a literal sense in many places in Scripture, even where it is used in connection with idolatrous acts of worship. It is well known that Baal Peor and Ashtaroth were worshipped with unclean rites; and that public prostitution formed a grand part of the worship of many deities among the Egyptians, Moabites, Canaanites, Greeks, and Romans.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:567.)

(15-11) Leviticus 18. Purity in All Sexual Relationships

“The prohibition of incest and similar sensual abominations is introduced with a general warning as to the licentious customs of the Egyptians and Canaanites, and an exhortation to walk in the judgments and ordinances of Jehovah [Leviticus 18:2–5], and is brought to a close with a threatening allusion to the consequences of all such defilements [vv. 24–30].” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:411–12.)

The phrase “to uncover their nakedness” (v. 6; see also vv. 7–19) was a Hebrew euphemism for sexual intercourse, and thus all kinds of incestuous relationships were forbidden, including “(1) with a mother, (2) with a step-mother, (3) with a sister or half-sister, (4) with a granddaughter, the daughter of either son or daughter, (5) with the daughter of a step-mother, (6) with an aunt, the sister of either father or mother, (7) with the wife of an uncle on the father’s side, (8) with a daughter-in-law, (9) with a sister-in-law, or brother’s wife, (10) with a woman and her daughter, or a woman and her granddaughter, and (11) with two sisters at the same time” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:2:412).

The injunction against letting any children “pass through the fire to Molech” (v. 21) is explained:

“The name of this idol is mentioned for the first time in this place. As the word molech or melech signifies king or governor, it is very likely that this idol represented the sun; and more particularly as the fire appears to have been so much employed in his worship. There are several opinions concerning the meaning of passing through the fire to Molech. 1. Some think that the semen humanum was offered on the fire to this idol. 2. Others think that the children were actually made a burnt-offering to him. 3. But others suppose the children were not burnt, but only passed through the fire, or between two fires, by way of consecration to him. That some were actually burnt alive to this idol several scriptures, according to the opinion of commentators, seem strongly to intimate; see among others [Psalm 100:38; Jeremiah 7:31; Ezekiel 23:37–39]. That others were only consecrated to his service by passing between two fires the rabbins strongly assert; and if Ahaz had but one son, Hezekiah, (though it is probable he had others, see [2 Chronicles 28:3]) he is said to have passed through the fire to Molech [2 Kings 16:3], yet he succeeded his father in the kingdom [2 Kings 18:1], therefore this could only be a consecration, his idolatrous father intending thereby to initiate him early into the service of this demon.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:570–71.)

Other abominations involving sexual perversions such as homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22) and bestiality (Leviticus 18:23) were forbidden with equal severity. These very abominations of the Canaanites caused them to be cast out of the promised land Israel was about to inherit (see Leviticus 18:24–25; 1 Nephi 17:32–35).


(15-12) What appears at first to be only a series of outdated laws given as part of the Mosaic covenant on uncleanness upon closer examination carries a powerful message to Saints of all ages. If we are to be God’s people, we must become different from other peoples. We must be set apart, or separated, from the influences of the world. To ancient Israel God gave commandments not only to help them remain physically and spiritually clean but also to help them learn of and remember Him. Now, with an understanding of how that law served to strengthen them, write a short paper entitled “The Value of the Mosaic Law for a Latter-day Saint.” Assume that God had given modern Israel a preparatory gospel today, instead of the fulness of the gospel that He has given us. In other words, suppose it was today’s society that was not ready for the full gospel law but instead received a law of strict “performances and of ordinances” (Mosiah 13:30) related to our modern culture and life-style. The following points or questions may help stimulate your thinking as you write this paper.

1. In the higher gospel law, broad principles are laid down and the people interpret and apply these principles to their daily living. In the Mosaic law, specific principles and interpretations were given that related to the actual culture and daily life of the people involved.

2. What specifics would God give today in terms of remaining morally clean? We know the broad principles—keep the law of chastity, stay morally clean, and so on—but what specifics would God give to a Mosaic society today? Would there be commandments about music? entertainment? literature?

3. What modern equivalents of Molech would God warn us about?

4. What kinds of things in modern society could add to a state of “spiritual leprosy”? Are there modern equivalents to clean and unclean objects?

Enrichment Section
Feasts and Festivals


(D-1) The Purpose of Holidays

Almost universally mankind looks forward to its holidays, for they represent a break in the usual rigors of sustaining mortal existence. The Lord Himself has acknowledged their benefit from the earliest times. Knowing that an endless procession of days filled with toil can cause man to become hardened and insensitive to the things of the Spirit, the Lord instituted holidays. The word is important. It means “holy day,” that is, “a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, s.v., “holiday”). Rather than simply designating special days only to break the routine, however, in the Mosaic dispensation the Lord established holy days that would accomplish a spiritual purpose as well. The feasts and festivals were given by revelation to lift the spirit as well as rest the body. Like all other parts of the Mosaic law, the feasts and festivals also pointed to Christ.

(D-2) The Sabbath (Shabbat)

The most important and most frequent of the Lord’s holy days was the Sabbath. It was a regular break in what otherwise could have been arduous monotony. On this day, as on all His holy days, the Lord gave mankind a respite from the commandment He gave to Adam to earn his bread by toil “all the days of thy life” (Genesis 3:17; emphasis added). Mankind was permitted one day in seven to rest, renew, and remember. On the Sabbath he was to remember three important events: (1) that the Creation was an act of the Lord Jesus Christ for the advancement of mankind; (2) that the release of Israel from Egyptian bondage was accomplished through the power of Jehovah; and (3) that the resurrection of Christ would bring the promise of immortality for all mankind. (See McConkie, The Promised Messiah, pp. 394–96; see also Reading 11-8 for extensive commentary on the Sabbath.)

By ceasing from his own work and remembering the Lord’s work, which is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39), man would be drawn to God. This was the purpose of all the feasts and festivals as well as the purpose of the Sabbath. In all the holy days can be seen the ordinances and rites that helped Israel remember their Deliverer and Redeemer and renew their covenants with Him. Each holy day was a celebration observed by feasts and festivities or solemn convocations, fasting, and prayer.

(D-3) The Holy Days of Ancient Israel

Although the ancient Israelites had many days in the year set apart for festivities or fasting and prayer, four besides the sabbaths were of particular importance: the feast of Passover, the feast of Pentecost, the day of Atonement, and the feast of Tabernacles. The feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were joyous festivals having their origins deep in historical events or the cycle of the harvest. The day of Atonement was a period of national contrition and repentance.

These holy days were set down for Israel by the Lord. During these days every male Israelite was commanded to appear “before the Lord thy God” (meaning at the tabernacle, or, later, the temple) as a symbol of his allegiance to his Maker (Deuteronomy 16:16; see also Leviticus 16:29–34). In this way Israel was given a chance four times a year to pause and reflect on the blessings of God. Further, each holy day was organized to emphasize a particular aspect of the nature and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ.

(D-4) The Feast of Passover (Pesach)

The feast of Passover, together with the feast of Unleavened Bread, commemorated the Israelites’ deliverance from Egyptian slavery. The festival began on the fifteenth day of Nisan (the latter part of March) and continued for seven days. The main part of the celebration was the eating of the paschal, or Passover, meal of bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and roasted lamb. The lamb was slain the evening before the celebration began, and the father of each household sprinkled its blood on the door posts and lintel of the home. Strict rules governed the preparation and eating of the paschal meal. The lamb was to be roasted whole, care being taken not to break any of its bones. The members of the family stood and ate hastily. Any portions of the lamb remaining from the meal were to be burned.

The ritual reminded Israel of the days of bondage in Egypt when life, like the herbs, was indeed bitter, and helped them remember their deliverance by the Lord when unleavened bread was eaten for seven days and the people awaited the signal to begin their journey to freedom.

But the chief significance of the ritual was not historical. The details of the performances involved were arranged to bear witness not merely of Israel’s deliverance but also of her Deliverer. (See chapter 10 for further discussion of the purpose of the Passover celebration.)

(D-5) The Feast of Weeks (Shavuot, or Pentecost)

The second great annual feast commemorated in ancient Israel was the feast of Weeks, known to Christians as Pentecost. The word pentecost comes from the Greek and means “the fiftieth day.” The festival, one day in length, came seven weeks, or forty-nine days, after Passover. It fell in the latter part of May or early June. Its timing was important, for it marked the beginning of the harvest of the new wheat. The offerings placed upon the great altar on that day included sheaves of wheat and signified to all present that while man plows the ground, sows the seed, and reaps the harvest, God is the real giver of the increase. It is He who created the earth and gave it productive strength. It is He who sends the rain and causes the sun to shine for living things to grow. One purpose of the festival was so that all Israel would truly say, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

In the sacrifices of the day, however, a greater importance can be seen. On this day two lambs, a young bull, and two rams were offered as sin and peace offerings, and burned on the altar of sacrifice. These sacrifices indicated that the purpose of the feast was for Israel to gain a remission of sins and obtain a reconciliation with God. The sacrifice of animals could not actually bring about this atonement and reconciliation, but rather typified the atoning blood and sacrifice of Christ and the sanctifying, purging influence of the Holy Spirit, which is likened to the cleansing fire that consumes all corruptible things. Burning the sacrifices on the great altar thus signified the way in which Israel’s sins would be truly remitted. Elder Bruce R. McConkie commented on the symbolical significance of the feast and what happened shortly after the Resurrection on the day of Pentecost.

“With the closing of the Old and the opening of the New Dispensation, the Feast of Pentecost ceased as an authorized time of religious worship. And it is not without significance that the Lord chose the Pentecost, which grew out of the final Passover, as the occasion to dramatize forever the fulfillment of all that was involved in the sacrificial fires of the past. Fire is a cleansing agent. Filth and disease die in its flames. The baptism of fire, which John promised Christ would bring, means that when men receive the actual companionship of the Holy Spirit, then evil and iniquity are burned out of their souls as though by fire. The sanctifying power of that member of the Godhead makes them clean. In similar imagery, all the fires on all the altars of the past, as they burned the flesh of animals, were signifying that spiritual purification would come by the Holy Ghost, whom the Father would send because of the Son. On that first Pentecost of the so-called Christian Era such fires would have performed their purifying symbolism if the old order had still prevailed. How fitting it was instead for the Lord to choose that very day to send living fire from heaven, as it were, fire that would dwell in the hearts of men and replace forever all the fires on all the altars of the past. And so it was that ‘when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.’ (Acts 2:1–4.)” (The Promised Messiah, pp. 431–32.)

(D-6) The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)

Of all the religious days in the Hebrew calendar, the day of Atonement was the most solemn and sacred. All manual labor stopped, and there was no feasting or frolicking. It was, instead, a time to “afflict” one’s soul by fasting, a day to cleanse oneself from sin, a day for prayer, meditation, and deep contrition of soul (Leviticus 16:29).

In the observances of the day of Atonement is the heart and center of the whole Mosaic law, namely, the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“This is what the law of Moses is all about. The law itself was given so that men might believe in Christ and know that salvation comes in and through his atoning sacrifice and in no other way. Every principle, every precept, every doctrinal teaching, every rite, ordinance, and performance, every word and act—all that appertained to, was revealed in, and grew out of the ministry of Moses, and all the prophets who followed him—all of it was designed and prepared to enable men to believe in Christ, to submit to his laws, and to gain the full blessings of that atonement which he alone could accomplish. And the chief symbolisms, the most perfect similitudes, the types and shadows without peer, were displayed before all the people once each year, on the Day of Atonement.

“On one day each year—the tenth day of the seventh month—Israel’s high priest of the Levitical order, the one who sat in Aaron’s seat, was privileged to enter the Holy of Holies in the house of the Lord, to enter as it were the presence of Jehovah, and there make an atonement for the sins of the people. In the course of much sacrificial symbolism, he cleansed himself, the sanctuary itself, the priesthood bearers as a whole, and all of the people. Sacrificial animals were slain and their blood sprinkled on the mercy seat and before the altar; incense was burned, and all of the imagery and symbolism of the ransoming ordinances was carried out. One thing, applicable to this day only, is of great moment. Two goats were selected, lots were cast, and the name of Jehovah was placed upon one goat; the other was called Azazel, the scapegoat. The Lord’s goat was then sacrificed as the Great Jehovah would be in due course, but upon the scapegoat were placed all of the sins of the people, which burden the scapegoat then carried away into the wilderness. The high priest, as the law required, ‘lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat’ and confessed ‘over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat.’ The goat then bore upon him ‘all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited,’ even as the Promised Messiah should bear the sins of many. ‘For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you,’ Moses said, ‘that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.’ (Lev. 16.)

“Knowing, as we do, that sins are remitted in the waters of baptism; that baptisms were the order of the day in Israel; and that provision must be made for repentant persons to free themselves from sins committed after baptism—we see in the annual performances of the Day of Atonement one of the Lord’s provisions for renewing the covenant made in the waters of baptism and receiving anew the blessed purity that comes from full obedience to the law involved. In our day we gain a similar state of purity by partaking worthily of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper.

“The symbolism and meaning of the ordinances and ceremonies performed on the Day of Atonement are set forth by Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews. He calls the tabernacle-temple ‘a worldly sanctuary,’ wherein sacrificial ordinances were performed each year by Levitical priests to atone for the sins of men and prepare them to enter the Holy of Holies. These ordinances were to remain ‘until the time of reformation,’ when Christ should come as a high priest of ‘a greater and more perfect tabernacle,’ to prepare himself and all men, by the shedding of his own blood, to obtain ‘eternal redemption’ in the heavenly tabernacle. The old covenant was but ‘a shadow of good things to come, . . . For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. . . . But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.’ (Heb. 9 and 10.) How perfectly the Mosaic ordinances testify of Him by whom salvation comes and in whose holy name all men are commanded to worship the Eternal Father forevermore!” (McConkie, The Promised Messiah, pp. 435–37.)

(D-7) The Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth)

The feast of Tabernacles (also called the feast of Booths or the feast of Ingathering) occurred five days after the day of Atonement on the fifteenth day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, which corresponds to our late September or early October. The feast of Tabernacles began and ended on a Sabbath and so was eight days in length.

A distinctive part of this celebration was the erecting of temporary huts or booths (succoth, in Hebrew) made from the boughs of trees. The people stayed in these huts for the duration of the feast. This requirement reminded the people of the goodness of the Lord during their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness of Sinai and the blessing that was theirs to live permanently, if they were obedient, in the promised land.

“More sacrifices were offered during the Feast of the Passover than at any other time because a lamb was slain for and eaten by each family or group, but at the Feast of Tabernacles more sacrifices of bullocks, rams, lambs, and goats were offered by the priests for the nation as a whole than at all the other Israelite feasts combined. The fact that it celebrated the completion of the full harvest symbolizes the gospel reality that it is the mission of the house of Israel to gather all nations to Jehovah, a process that is now going forward, but will not be completed until that millennial day when ‘the Lord shall be king over all the earth,’ and shall reign personally thereon. Then shall be fulfilled that which is written: ‘And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations . . . shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.’ (Zech. 14:9–21.) That will be the day when the law shall go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Manifestly when the Feast of Tabernacles is kept in that day, its ritualistic performances will conform to the new gospel order and not include the Mosaic order of the past.

“Included in the Feast of Tabernacles was a holy convocation, which in this instance was called also a solemn assembly. In our modern solemn assemblies we give the Hosanna Shout, which also was associated with the Feast of Tabernacles anciently, except that ancient Israel waved palm branches instead of white handkerchiefs as they exulted in such declarations as ‘Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna, to God and the Lamb.’ By the time of Jesus some added rituals were part of the feast, including the fact that a priest went to the Pool of Siloam, drew water in a golden pitcher, brought it to the temple, and poured it into a basin at the base of the altar. As this was done the choir sang the Hallel, consisting of Psalms 113 to 118. ‘When the choir came to these words, “O give thanks to the Lord,” and again when they sang, “O work then now salvation, Jehovah;” and once more at the close, “O give thanks unto the Lord,” all the worshippers shook their lulavs [palm branches] towards the altar,’ which is closely akin to what we do in giving the Hosanna Shout today. ‘When, therefore, the multitudes from Jerusalem, on meeting Jesus, “cut down branches from the trees, and strewed them in the way, and . . . cried, saying, O then, work now salvation to the Son of David!” they applied, in reference to Christ, what was regarded as one of the chief ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles, praying that God would now from “the highest” heavens manifest and send that salvation in connection with the Son of David, which was symbolised by the pouring out of water.’ (Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, p. 279.)” (McConkie, The Promised Messiah, pp. 433–34.)

Leviticus 19–27
A Law of Performances and Ordinances, Part 3: Laws of Mercy and Righteousness

tablets and tabernacle

(16-1) Introduction

In this assignment you will read what has been termed “the heart of the ethics of the book of Leviticus” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:105). These ethics are the heart not only of Leviticus, but also of the entire Old and New Testaments. Recorded here for the first time is the revelation of the one principle that governed all the laws dealing with proper social relationships: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). Thus viewed, it is easy to see that all the other laws were merely the application of the law of love under various circumstances. This law, being both timeless and of universal application, is the seamless fabric on which not only the Old and New Testaments are richly embroidered but our own modern scriptures as well.

Instructions to Students

1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Leviticus 19–27.

2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)


(16-2) Leviticus 19:2–18. “Ye Shall Be Holy: For I the Lord Your God Am Holy”

The last chapter examined in some detail the laws of cleanliness and uncleanliness in both their physical and spiritual senses. The closing chapters of Leviticus focus on laws that defined how one under the Mosaic law lived righteously and in a manner pleasing to God. Leviticus ends with essentially the same message with which it began, namely, the all-important admonition that men are to be holy, even as God is holy. The laws that follow this commandment may seem at first to be without logical arrangement or interconnection, but they are unified when one considers them in light of the injunction to be holy given in verse 2. Note also the strong relationship to the Ten Commandments in what immediately follows (see vv. 3–12). The fifth commandment (honoring parents) and the fourth commandment (keeping the Sabbath day holy) are joined in verse 3, followed immediately by the second commandment (no graven images). In verse 11 the eighth commandment (stealing) is joined with the ninth (bearing false witness), and then again is immediately connected to the third commandment (taking God’s name in vain) in verse 12. By this means the Lord seems to indicate that what follows the commandment to be holy is directly related to these fundamental principles of righteousness. The specific laws that follow the commandments define principles of righteousness that follow naturally from the Ten Commandments. For example, the commandment is not to steal, but these laws show that the commandment means far more than not robbing a man or burglarizing his home. One can steal through fraud or by withholding wages from a laborer (v. 13). The commandment is to honor one’s parents, but here the Lord used the word “fear” (v. 3), which connotes a deep respect, reverence, and awe, the same feelings one should have for God Himself. The example of the gossiping “talebearer” (v. 16) shows that there are ways to bear false witness other than under oath in court. And the concluding principle summarizes the whole purpose of the law. If one is truly holy, as God is holy, then he will love his neighbor as himself (see v. 18).

Moses the Lawgiver

(16-3) Leviticus 19:18. What Commandments Underlie All Others?

During His earthly ministry, the Master was asked by a scribe which of all the commandments was the greatest. The Savior’s reply is well known: Love God and love your neighbor. Then He said: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40; see also vv. 35–39). Or, to put it another way, those two principles are the foundation for all the writings of the Old Testament. All principles and commandments stem either from the need to love God or to love our neighbor.

Both of the laws cited by Jesus are found in the Old Testament, but not together. The first is found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second in Leviticus 19:18. The wording of the second commandment is instructive. The statement that one is to love his neighbor as himself moves the idea of love in this case from a state of emotion to one of will. Love is that emotion which one naturally feels for oneself. Simply expressed, it is a desire one has for his own good. To love or care for oneself is natural and good, but in addition, one must feel this same emotion for others. Each must desire the good of others as well as his own. This desire is not innate but comes through a conscious act of will or agency. The commandment thus implies that one should work both for his own good and the good of others. He should not aggrandize himself at another’s expense. This commandment is at the heart of all social interaction and becomes the standard by which every act can be judged.

Any person who truly understands the implications for daily living that are part of the commandment to love God with all his heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, can function well with no additional laws. One does not need to warn a person who loves God properly about idolatry, for any act of worship not devoted to God would be naturally offensive to him. The prohibitions against stealing, adultery, murder, and so on are not required if a person truly loves his neighbor as himself, for to injure his neighbor in such ways would be unthinkable. But, of course, the vast majority of men fail to understand and keep these two commandments, and so the Lord has revealed many additional laws and rules to show specifically what the commandments require. But truly, all such commandments do nothing more than define and support the two basic principles: all the law and the prophets are summarized in the two great commandments.

(16-4) Leviticus 19:23–25. What Is “Uncircumcised” Fruit?

“The metaphorical use of circumcision is thus explained by the text itself: it denotes the fruit as disqualified or unfit. In [Leviticus 26:41] the same metaphor is used for the heart which is stubborn or not ripe to listen to the Divine admonitions. And in other passages of Scripture it is used with reference to lips [Exodus 6:12, 30] and ears [Jeremiah 6:10] which do not perform their proper functions.” (C. D. Ginsburg, in Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, pp. 147–48.)

Exactly why the fruit produced for the first three years of the tree was to be treated as unfit is not clear, but in this context of laws of righteousness and sanctification, this prohibition could suggest that until the first-fruits of the tree were dedicated to God, just as the firstborn of animals and men were (see Exodus 13:1–2), the tree was not viewed as sanctified, or set apart, for use by God’s people. Because the ground had been cursed for man’s sake when Adam fell (see Genesis 3:17), this law could have served as a simple reminder that until dedicated to God and His purposes, all things remained unfit for use by God’s holy people.

(16-5) Leviticus 19:26–31. Setting Israel Apart from the World

At first, the laws found in these verses may seem to have little application for the modern Saint, and may even seem puzzling as requirements for ancient Israel. What, for example, would the cutting of one’s hair and beard have to do with righteousness? But in the cultural surroundings of ancient Israel, these specific prohibitions taught a powerful lesson related to the practices of Israel’s heathen neighbors.

For example, the Hebrew word nachash, translated as “enchantment” (v. 26), meant “to practice divination,” and the phrase “observe times” (v. 26) comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to observe clouds” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “enchantment,” p. 144). In the ancient world, sorcerers and necromancers often claimed to read the future through various omens or objects. Their methods included watching the stars (astrology), observing the movements of clouds and certain animals, tying knots, casting lots, tossing arrows into the air and then reading the pattern of how they fell, and so on. (See Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “magic, divination, and sorcery,” pp. 566–70.) Thus, verse 26 forbade any use of the occult to read the future.

Another Bible scholar gave an important insight about why cutting the hair and beard was forbidden.

“[Leviticus 19:27] and the following verse evidently refer to customs which must have existed among the Egyptians when the Israelites sojourned in Egypt; and what they were it is now difficult, even with any probability, to conjecture. Herodotus observes that the Arabs shave or cut their hair round, in honour of Bacchus [the god of wine] who, they say, had his hair cut in this way. . . . He says also that the Macians, a people of Libya, cut their hair round, so as to leave a tuft on the top of the head. . . . In this manner the Chinese cut their hair to the present day. This might have been in honour of some idol, and therefore forbidden to the Israelites.

“The hair was much used in divination among the ancients, and for purposes of religious superstition among the Greeks; and particularly about the time of the giving of this law, as this is supposed to have been the era of the Trojan war. We learn from Homer that it was customary for parents to dedicate the hair of their children to some god; which, when they came to manhood, they cut off and consecrated to the deity. Achilles, at the funeral of Patroclus, cut off his golden locks which his father had dedicated to the river god Sperchius, and threw them into the flood. . . .

“If the hair was rounded, and dedicated for purposes of this kind, it will at once account for the prohibition in this verse.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:575.)

In forbidding the cutting of the flesh and the tattooing of marks in the flesh, the Lord again clearly signaled that Israel was to be different from their heathen neighbors. Wounds were self-inflicted in times of grief for the dead and during worship (see 1 Kings 18:28). Also, “it was a very ancient and a very general custom to carry marks on the body in honour of the object of their worship. All the castes of the Hindoos bear on their foreheads or elsewhere what are called the sectarian marks, which distinguish them, not only in a civil but also in a religious point of view, from each other.

“Most of the barbarous nations lately discovered have their faces, arms, breasts, &c., curiously carved or tatooed, probably for superstitious purposes. Ancient writers abound with accounts of marks made on the face, arms, &c., in honour of different idols; and to this the inspired penman alludes [Revelation 13:16–17; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4], where false worshippers are represented as receiving in their hands and in their forehead the marks of the beast.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:575.)

Sacred prostitution was a common practice among heathen worshipers, and often priestesses in the temples to such goddesses of love as Venus or Aphrodite were there only to satisfy and give religious sanction to immoral sexual desires. God strictly forbade these practices.

“Familiar spirits” (Leviticus 19:31) connoted those who today would be called spiritualists, or spirit mediums. They supposedly had the power to communicate through a seance with departed spirits. The Hebrew word for familiar spirit means “ventriloquist,” suggesting in the very name itself the fraudulent character of such people (see Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “ventriloquist,” p. 157).

Clearly, the laws prohibiting such idolatrous practices were designed to set Israel apart from the world and its false worship. And therein is an important lesson for modern Saints. The world has not changed, although the specific practices of evil and debauchery may be different. Today the Lord still directs His people through living prophets to avoid the customs and practices of the world. It should be no surprise, then, that prophets speak out against certain hair styles, fashions in clothing, passing fads, or such practices as sensitivity groups, gambling, couples living together without marriage, and so on.

(16-6) Leviticus 19:35–36. What Are “Meteyards,” “Ephahs,” and “Hins”?

A meteyard signified such Hebrew measures of length as the reed, the span, and the cubit, while the ephah and the hin were measures of volume. By specifying both kinds of measures, the Lord clearly taught that honesty in all transactions was required. (See Bible Dictionary, s.v. “weights and measures.”)

(16-7) Leviticus 20

This chapter specifies some of the sins so serious that they were worthy of death. (For an explanation of what it means to give one’s seed to Molech, see Reading 15-11.) The Lord clearly stated again and again that the purpose of these laws was to separate Israel from other people so that they could be sanctified and become holy unto God (see vv. 7–8, 24, 26).

(16-8) Leviticus 20:22–24. “Ye Shall Not Walk in the Manners of the Nation, Which I Cast Out”

When the Jaredites were brought to the land of promise, the Lord warned them that if they did not worship the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, they would be “swept off” (Ether 2:10). Lehi’s colony was also warned that they would occupy the promised land only on condition of obedience; otherwise, they too would be “cut off” (1 Nephi 2:21; see also v. 20). The Israelites were warned that if they were not willing to separate themselves from the world, the land would “spue” them out (Leviticus 20:22).

Nephi told his brothers that the only reason Israel was given the land and the Canaanites driven out was that the Canaanites “had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity” (1 Nephi 17:35). Because of their extreme wickedness God required Israel to “utterly destroy them” (Deuteronomy 7:2; for further discussion about why God required the Canaanites to be destroyed, see Reading 19-15). Nephi asked, “Do you suppose that our fathers [the Israelites] would have been more choice than they [the Canaanites] if they had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay.” (1 Nephi 17:34.) The same message was clearly revealed to Israel. The Canaanites were cast out because of their wickedness. Either Israel would remain separated from that wickedness, or they would suffer the same consequence.

(16-9) Leviticus 21–22. The Laws of Cleanliness for the Priesthood

In these two chapters are special rules and requirements for the Levitical Priesthood, especially the high priest. Here, for the first time, the title “high priest” was used (Leviticus 21:10). The Hebrew literally means “the Priest, the great one.” As the chief priest, he was the representative of Jehovah among the people. As such, he was required to guard against all defilement of his holy office. (The Old Testament high priest was an office in the Aaronic Priesthood, not an office in the Melchizedek Priesthood as it is today. The high priest was the presiding priest, or head, of the Aaronic Priesthood. Today the presiding bishop holds that position.) All members of the priesthood had to marry virgins of their own people. Prostitutes, adulterous women, or even divorced women, were excluded, thus avoiding the least doubt about personal purity. The priests could not marry “profane” women (non-Israelites; v. 7), be defiled by contact with a dead person other than close relatives (see vv. 1–3), or allow a daughter to be a prostitute (see v. 9).

In other words, all of Israel was called to a special life of separation and holiness, but the priests who served as God’s authorized representatives to the people had to maintain an even higher level of separation and sanctification. The high priest, who was a symbol or type of Jesus, “the great high priest,” had to meet a still stricter code (Hebrews 4:14). In addition to meeting the requirements of the regular priesthood for marriage and defilement, he had to be without any physical defects (see Leviticus 21:16–21). Such strictness was to remind the people that Christ, the true Mediator between God and His children, was perfect in every respect.

(16-10) Leviticus 23

In this chapter the Lord indicated five holy days or feasts that were to be observed by all Israel. These were the Sabbath (see vv. 1–3), the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread (see vv. 4–14), the feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, as it was called in the New Testament (see vv. 15–23), the day of Atonement (see vv. 26–32), and the feast of Tabernacles (see vv. 33–44).

The sabbaths, of course, were weekly; the others are listed in the order in which they occurred. Passover was in late March or early April (corresponding to Easter), and Pentecost followed seven weeks later in May. The day of Atonement, which occurred in late September or early October, was followed five days later by the feast of Tabernacles, or feast of Booths. (For more details on the feasts and festivals, see Enrichment Section D and the Hebrew calendar in Maps and Charts.)

(16-11) Leviticus 23:27

To afflict the soul means to be humble or submissive to the Lord. The Hebrew term carries with it the idea of discipline. Therefore, on these days, Israelites were to devote themselves completely to the Lord in fasting and prayer.

(16-12) Leviticus 23:37

The offerings specified for the feast days were all voluntary. These were the times to celebrate and freely show one’s gratitude to the Lord.

(16-13) Leviticus 24:17–22. Was the Law of Moses Really an Eye for an Eye?

This passage has come to be regarded by many as the substance and summary of the Mosaic law: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (v. 20). This misunderstanding is unfortunate because it makes the law appear cold, unbending, and revengeful. This misconception has resulted from a failure to distinguish between the social law and the criminal law. The social law was based on love and concern for one’s neighbor (see Leviticus 19:18). The criminal law was not outside that love, but was made to stress absolute justice. Even then, however, three things must be noted about this eye-for-an-eye application:

“First, it was intended to be a law of exact justice, not of revenge. Secondly, it was not private vengeance, but public justice. Thirdly, by excluding murder from the crimes for which ransom is permissible (Nu. 35:31f.) it makes it probable that compensation for injuries was often or usually allowed to take the form of a fine.” (Guthrie and Motyer, Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 164.)

The same law that required just retribution and payment also required a farmer to leave portions of his field unharvested so the poor could glean therein (see Leviticus 19:9–10; 23:22), demanded that the employer pay his hired labor at nightfall rather than wait even until the next day (see 19:13), commanded men, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart” (19:17), and summarized the ideal by saying, “Be ye holy” (20:7).

(16-14) Leviticus 25. The Sabbatical and Jubilee Year

Many today look upon the law of Moses as a primitive, lesser law designed for a spiritually illiterate and immature people. This chapter illustrates the commitment of faith and trust in God that was required of one who truly followed the law. The Israelite was told that once in every seven years he was to trust wholly in God rather than in the fruits of his own labor for sustenance. The land, too, was to have its sabbath rest, and no plowing, sowing, reaping, or harvesting was to take place. Further, once each fifty years the land would have a double rest. The seventh sabbatical year (the forty-ninth year) was to be followed by a jubilee year. God had delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt, forgiven their numerous debts to Him, and given them an inheritance in the land of promise. To demonstrate their love of God and fellow men, Israel was to follow that example during the jubilee year. Slaves or servants were to be freed, the land returned to its original owner, and debts forgiven (see vv. 10, 13, 35–36).

Modern followers of the higher gospel law would do well to assess their own commitment to God and their own love of neighbor by asking themselves if they could live such a law. Is their faith sufficient to trust in the Lord for three years’ sustenance as was asked of Israel? (Note vv. 18–22.)

One Bible scholar suggested two important ideas symbolized in the requirements of the jubilee year:

“The jubilee seems to have been typical, 1. Of the great time of release, the Gospel dispensation, when all who believe in Christ Jesus are redeemed from the bondage of sin—repossess the favour and image of God, the only inheritance of the human soul, having all debts cancelled, and the right of inheritance restored. To this the prophet Isaiah seems to allude [Isaiah 26:13], and particularly [61:1–3]. 2. Of the general resurrection. ‘It is,’ says Mr. Parkhurst, ‘a lively prefiguration of the grand consummation of time, which will be introduced in like manner by the trump of God [1 Corinthians 15:52], when the children and heirs of God shall be delivered from all their forfeitures, and restored to the eternal inheritance allotted to them by their Father; and thenceforth rest from their labours, and be supported in life and happiness by what the field of God shall supply.’

“It is worthy of remark that the jubilee was not proclaimed till the tenth day of the seventh month, on the very day when the great annual atonement was made for the sins of the people; and does not this prove that the great liberty or redemption from thraldom, published under the Gospel, could not take place till the great Atonement, the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, had been offered up?” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, p. 1:592.)

Or, as C. D. Ginsburg put it: “On the close of the great Day of Atonement, when the Hebrews realised that they had peace of mind, that their heavenly Father had annulled their sins, and that they had become re-united to Him through His forgiving mercy, every Israelite was called upon to proclaim throughout the land, by nine blasts of the cornet, that he too had given the soil rest, that he had freed every encumbered family estate, and that he had given liberty to every slave, who was now to rejoin his kindred. Inasmuch as God has forgiven his debts, he also is to forgive his debtors.” (In Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 141.)

(16-15) Leviticus 26. Blessings or Cursings: An Option for Israel

Leviticus 26 is one of the most powerful chapters in the Old Testament. The Lord put the options facing Israel so clearly that they could not be misunderstood. If Israel was obedient, they would be blessed with the bounties of the earth, safety and security, peace and protection from enemies. Even more important, the Lord promised: “My soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” (Vv. 11–12.) Those promises could be summarized in one word: Zion. If Israel was obedient, she would achieve a Zion condition.

If Israel refused “to hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments” (v. 14), however, then the blessings would be withdrawn, and sorrow, hunger, war, disease, exile, tragedy, and abandonment would result.

Modern Israel has been given the same options.

In the winter of 1976–77, the western United States faced a serious drought. A living prophet saw in that and other natural phenomena a warning related to that given in the Old Testament.

“Early this year when drouth conditions seemed to be developing in the West, the cold and hardships in the East, with varying weather situations all over the world, we felt to ask the members of the Church to join in fasting and prayer, asking the Lord for moisture where it was so vital and for a cessation of the difficult conditions elsewhere.

“Perhaps we may have been unworthy in asking for these greatest blessings, but we do not wish to frantically approach the matter but merely call it to the attention of our Lord and then spend our energy to put our lives in harmony.

“One prophet said:

“‘When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against thee; if they pray toward this place, and confess thy name, and turn from their sin, when thou afflictest them:

“‘Then hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants, and of thy people Israel, that thou teach them the good way wherein they should walk, and give rain upon thy land, which thou hast given to thy people for an inheritance.’ (1 Kings 8:35–36.)

“The Lord uses the weather sometimes to discipline his people for the violation of his laws. He said to the children of Israel: [Leviticus 26:3–6.]

“With the great worry and suffering in the East and threats of drouth here in the West and elsewhere, we asked the people to join in a solemn prayer circle for moisture where needed. Quite immediately our prayers were answered, and we were grateful beyond expression. We are still in need and hope that the Lord may see fit to answer our continued prayers in this matter. . . .

“Perhaps the day has come when we should take stock of ourselves and see if we are worthy to ask or if we have been breaking the commandments, making ourselves unworthy of receiving the blessings.

“The Lord gave strict commandments: ‘Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.’ (Lev. 19:30.)

“Innumerous times we have quoted this, asking our people not to profane the Sabbath; and yet we see numerous cars lined up at merchandise stores on the Sabbath day, and places of amusement crowded, and we wonder. . . .

“. . . The Lord makes definite promises. He says:

“‘Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.’ (Lev. 26:4.)

“God does what he promises, and many of us continue to defile the Sabbath day. He then continues:

“‘And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.’ (Lev. 26:5.)

“These promises are dependable. . . .

“The Lord . . . warns: [Leviticus 26:14–17, 19–20.]

“The Lord goes further and says:

“‘I will . . . destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate.’ (Lev. 26:22.)

“Can you think how the highways could be made desolate? When fuel and power are limited, when there is none to use, when men will walk instead of ride?

“Have you ever thought, my good folks, that the matter of peace is in the hands of the Lord who says:

“‘And I will bring a sword upon you . . .’ (Lev. 26:25.)

“Would that be difficult? Do you read the papers? Are you acquainted with the hatreds in the world? What guarantee have you for permanent peace?

“‘. . . and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.’ (Lev. 26:25.)

“Are there enemies who could and would afflict us? Have you thought of that?

“‘And I will make your cities waste,’ he says, ‘and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation. . . .

“‘Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths.

“‘As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest [when it could] in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.’ (Lev. 26:31, 34–35.)

“Those are difficult and very serious situations, but they are possible.

“And the Lord concludes:

“‘These are the statutes and judgments and laws, which the Lord made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.’ (Lev. 26:46.)

“This applies to you and me.

“Would this be a good time to deeply concern ourselves with these matters? Is this a time when we should return to our homes, our families, our children? Is this the time we should remember our tithes and our offerings, a time when we should desist from our abortions, our divorces, our Sabbath breaking, our eagerness to make the holy day a holiday?

“Is this a time to repent of our sins, our immoralities, our doctrines of devils?

“Is this a time for all of us to make holy our marriages, live in joy and happiness, rear our families in righteousness?

“Certainly many of us know better than we do. Is this a time to terminate adultery and homosexual and lesbian activities, and return to faith and worthiness? Is this a time to end our heedless pornographies?

“Is this the time to set our face firmly against unholy and profane things, and whoredoms, irregularities, and related matters?

“Is this the time to enter new life?” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Lord Expects His People to Follow the Commandments,” Ensign, May 1977, pp. 4–6.)

Spencer W. Kimball
President Spencer W. Kimball warned that Leviticus applies to Latter-day Saints.

(16-16) Leviticus 26:34–35, 43

To see how this prophecy was fulfilled, see Jeremiah 25:9, 11–12; 29:10; 2 Chronicles 36:21.

(16-17) Leviticus 27:1–34. What Is Meant by a Man Making a “Singular Vow”?

Special vows were a part of the Mosaic law. In that day it was possible for a man or woman to dedicate a person to the Lord, for example, Jephthah’s daughter or the child Samuel (see Judges 11:30–31; 1 Samuel 1:11). Here the Lord was saying that when a man made such a vow, the persons involved had to be reckoned as the Lord’s and could not be taken by another. A person could also vow (that is, dedicate to the Lord) his personal property. These laws governed the making of such vows.

(16-18) Leviticus 27:32. “Whatsoever Passeth under the Rod”

“The signification of this verse is well given by the rabbins: ‘When a man was to give the tithe of his sheep or calves to God, he was to shut up the whole flock in one fold, in which there was one narrow door capable of letting out one at a time. The owner, about to give the tenth to the Lord, stood by the door with a rod in his hand, the end of which was dipped in vermilion or red ochre. The mothers of those lambs or calves stood without: the door being opened, the young ones ran out to join themselves to their dams; and as they passed out the owner stood with his rod over them, and counted one, two, three, four, five, &c., and when the tenth came, he touched it with the coloured rod, by which it was distinguished to be the tithe calf, sheep, &c., and whether poor or lean, perfect or blemished, that was received as the legitimate tithe.’ It seems to be in reference to this custom that the Prophet Ezekiel, speaking to Israel, says: I will cause you to pass under the rod, and will bring you into the bond of the covenant—you shall be once more claimed as the Lord’s property, and be in all things devoted to his service, being marked or ascertained, by especial providences and manifestations of his kindness, to be his peculiar people.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:604.)


(16-19) Pause for a moment to read Psalm 24:3–5 and Leviticus 26:11–12. Then answer the following questions.

1. What did God want for Israel?

2. What qualities are necessary for you to enjoy a close personal association with the Lord?

Notice that two of the qualifications are cleanliness and purity. The use of these two words is important. Pure connotes that which is unpolluted and consistent throughout. In and of itself, however, it does not imply that which is wholly good. For example, there are poisons which are pure. The idea of cleanliness must be added to purity. The term clean indicates that which is free from contamination and defilement, or, in a spiritual sense, freedom from worldliness and sin.

Using the law as a schoolmaster, the Lord symbolically stressed the importance of purity and cleanliness. Consider the following performances in this light: the breeding of cattle, the planting of trees, the sowing of seeds, the texture of garments, the manner of worship, the making of contracts, and betrothal and marriage. Can you see that God’s demands move the idea of cleanliness and purity from a merely religious setting to a part of everyday life? Can you see that in this way God is telling both ancient and modern Israel that consistency, in every phase of life, is a key to developing a strong and enduring relationship with the Master?

(16-20) The heart of Leviticus, and of much of the Mosaic law, is the commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18).

To illustrate this concept, read the following Mosaic requirements and then, in the space provided, write the gospel principle taught by the law. The first two are completed as an example.

The Law


The Principle

1. Exodus 21:33–34; 22:6


I have a responsibility to avoid harming my



neighbor through negligence or neglect.

2. Exodus 23:4–5

2. I should have as much regard for my neighbor’s



property and valuables as my own.

3. Leviticus 19:13






4. Leviticus 19:15






5. Leviticus 19:33–34






6. Deuteronomy 19:16–20






7. Deuteronomy 22:1–3






8. Deuteronomy 22:8






9. Deuteronomy 23:24–25






10. Deuteronomy 24:6, 10–13






Enrichment Section
The Problem of Large Numbers in the Old Testament

ancient army in battle

(E-1) A recurring question in the study of the Old Testament has to do with the accuracy of the numbers used in the text. Some of these numbers seem too large in light of known facts. Sometimes parallel accounts use significantly different numbers. (For example, 1 Chronicles 21:5 records that David’s census counted a total of 1,570,000 men of military age. In 2 Samuel 24:9 the total given is only 1,300,000.) Also, numbers were particularly susceptible to errors in translating.

“Apart from any question as to the accuracy of the original figures, the transmission of the text by repeated copying for hundreds and thousands of years introduces a large element of uncertainty. If we assume that numbers were denoted by figures in early times, figures are far more easily altered, omitted, or added than words; but, as we have seen, we have at present no strong ground for such an assumption. But even when words are used, the words denoting numbers in Hebrew are easily confused with each other, as in English. Just as ‘eight’ and ‘eighty’ differ only by a single letter; so in Hebrew, especially in the older style of writing, the addition of a single letter would make ‘three’ into ‘thirty,’ etc. etc. And, again, in copying numerals the scribe is not kept right by the context as he is with other words. It was quite possible, too, for a scribe to have views of his own as to what was probable in the way of numbers, and to correct what he considered erroneous.” (Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “number,” p. 659.)

(E-2) A Problem with Numbers

“The Old Testament at various places records numbers which seem impossibly large. It has often been assumed that these figures were simply invented, and are evidence that the Bible is historically unreliable. But who would make up figures which are patently absurd? Would any man in his senses invent a story of a bus crash in which 16,000 passengers were killed? It is much more likely that these Old Testament numbers were faithfully copied out, despite the fact that they did not seem to make sense. Invention does not satisfactorily account for them. The explanation must lie elsewhere. And in fact patient research has gone a long way towards resolving this knotty problem.” (Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, p. 191.)

(E-3) The Corruption of Numbers

“There is evidence that the Old Testament text is on the whole marvellously well preserved. There is also evidence from the parallel passages in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles and (especially) in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 that numbers were peculiarly difficult to transmit accurately. We have instances of extra noughts being added to a number: 2 Samuel 10:18 reads ‘700 chariots’, 1 Chronicles 19:18 reads ‘7,000’. A digit can drop out: 2 Kings 24:8 gives the age of Jehoiachin on accession as 18, whereas 2 Chronicles 36:9 gives it as 8. An entire numeral can drop out. . . . In Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 the digits often vary by one unit. And there are other errors of copying, many of which are easily explained.” (Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, p. 191.)

(E-4) The Confusion of Words

“In the modern Hebrew Bible all numbers are written out in full, but for a long time the text was written without vowels. The absence of vowels made it possible to confuse two words which are crucial to this problem: ’eleph and ’alluph. Without vowel points these words look identical: ’lp. ’eleph is the ordinary word for ‘thousand’, but it can also be used in a variety of other senses: e.g. ‘family’ (Judges 6:15, Revised Version) or ‘clan’ (Zechariah 9:7; 12:5, 6, Revised Standard Version) or perhaps a military unit. ’alluph is used for the ‘chieftains’ of Edom (Genesis 36:15–43); probably for a commander of a military ‘thousand’; and almost certainly for the professional, fully-armed soldier.” (Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, p. 191.)

(E-5) Military Statistics

“At certain periods warfare was conducted by two sharply distinguished types of fighting men—the Goliaths and the Davids—the professional soldiers who were fully armed, and the folk army, whose only weapons were those of the peasant shepherd. It seems clear that in a number of places the word for professional soldier has been misunderstood as meaning ‘thousand’. Take, for example, the attack on the little town of Gibeah in Judges 20. Verse 2 says that 400,000 footmen ‘that drew the sword’ assembled. If these were in fact 400 fully armed foot-soldiers, the subsequent narrative makes excellent sense. The Benjamite forces (verse 15) consist of 26 soldiers armed with swords, together with 700 men armed only with slings. At the first attack (verse 21) the Israelites lose 22 of their crack soldiers, the next day (verse 25) they lose a further 18; on the third day (verses 29, 34) an ambush is set, consisting of, or led by, 10 of them. (Could 10,000 men take up their positions undetected?) The losses begin again (verse 31) ‘as at other times’—and in this case the scale of loss has been clearly preserved, for about 30 Israelites (not apparently sword-armed soldiers), 25 Benjamite soldiers and 100 others are killed. Eighteen of them were killed in the first stage of the pursuit, 5 were later ‘cut down in the highways’ and 2 more at Gidom. The remaining 600 slingers took refuge in the rock of Rimmon. Similarly, in the assault on Ai (Joshua 7–8) the true proportions of the narrative become clear when we realize that the disastrous loss of 36 men is matched by the setting of an ambush, not of 30,000 men of valour, but of 30.

“David’s feast in Hebron in 1 Chronicles 12 appears to be attended by enormous numbers, not of ordinary men, but of distinguished leaders—some 340,800 of them. In this case it looks as though in fact there were ‘captains of thousands’ and ‘captains of hundreds’, and that by metonymy or by abbreviation ‘thousand’ has been used for ‘captains of thousands’ and ‘hundreds’ for ‘captains of hundreds.’ ‘Thousand’ and ‘hundred’ have been treated as numerals and added together. When these figures are unscrambled, we get a total of roughly 2,000 ‘famous men’, which seems eminently reasonable.

“Along these lines most of the numerical problems of the later history fall into place. In 1 Kings 20:27–30, the little Israelite army killed 100 (not 100,000) foot-soldiers, and the wall of Aphek killed 27 (not 27,000) more. The Ethiopian invasion had a thousand, not a million, warriors (2 Chronicles 14:9). 10 (not 10,000) were cast down from the top of the rock (2 Chronicles 25:12).” (Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, pp. 191–92.)

(E-6) The Size of the Israelite Nation

“The most interesting, most difficult and (from the historian’s point of view) the most important question is the size of the Israelite population at the different stages of its history. The present texts indicate that the 70 souls of Joseph’s day had risen to two or three million at the time of the Exodus (Numbers 1) and to at least five million in the time of David (2 Samuel 24:9; 1 Chronicles 21:5). With regard to the latter, R. de Vaux rightly says: ‘(2 Samuel) lists 800,000 men liable for military service in Israel, and 500,000 in Judah. . . . The lower total, in 2 Samuel, is still far too high: 1,300,000 men of military age would imply at least five million inhabitants, which, for Palestine, would mean nearly twice as many people to the square mile as in the most thickly populated countries of modern Europe.’

“The solution of the problem of the Exodus numbers is a long story. Suffice it to say that there is good reason to believe that the original censuses in Numbers 1 and 26 set out the numbers of each tribe, somewhat in this form:

Simeon: 57 armed men; 23 ‘hundreds’ (military units).

This came to be written: 57 ’lp; 2 ’lp 3 ‘hundreds’.

“Not realizing that ’lp in one case meant ‘armed man’ and in the other ‘thousand’, this was tidied up to read 59,300. When these figures are carefully decoded, a remarkably clear picture of the whole military organization emerges. The total fighting force is some 18,000 which would probably mean a figure of about 72,000 for the whole migration.

“The figures of the Levites seem consistently to have collected an extra nought. The mystery of Plato’s Atlantis has been solved by recognition of this same numerical confusion. Plato obtained from Egyptian priests what now turns out to be a detailed account of the Minoan civilization and its sudden end. But as all the figures were multiplied by a factor of ten, the area was too great to be enclosed in the Mediterranean, so he placed it in the Atlantic; and the date was put back into remote antiquity, thousands of years too early. This same tenfold multiplication factor is found in the figures of the Levites in book of Numbers. When it is eliminated Levi fits into the pattern as a standard-size tribe of about 2,200 males. These figures agree remarkably well with the other indications of population in the period of the conquest and the judges.” (Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, p. 192.)

(E-7) David’s Census

“The discrepancy between the two sets of figures for David’s census can be accounted for by recognizing at different stages in transmission, first, the addition of noughts, and then, a misunderstanding of ’lp. If we postulate original figures: Israel: 80,000 plus 30 ’lp; Judah: 40,000 plus 70 ’lp, the present text of both Samuel and Chronicles can be accounted for thus:






80,000 plus 30 ’lp

40,000 plus 70 ’lp


800,000 plus 300 ’lp

400,000 plus 70 ’lp









80,000 plus 30 ’lp

40,000 plus 70 ’lp


800,000 plus 30 ’lp


At this stage it would seem that the copyist was perplexed by the floating ‘30 ’lp’, which he took to be 30,000. He wrongly combined it with the Judah figure, so producing:




If the original figures totalled 120,000 men of military age, together with 100 professional soldiers, the entire population would have been nearly half a million, which again tallies well with other indications in the text.

“By the use of these methods a very large proportion of the numerical difficulties can be resolved.” (Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, p. 192.)

(E-8) Conclusion

The scholars are not suggesting that all numbers in the Old Testament are inaccurate, or even that all the large numbers are inaccurate. Joseph Smith stated, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith 1:8). Also, transmission errors have corrupted the text to some degree. It should not surprise us, then, to think that translation and transmission problems may have changed some of the numbers given in the Old Testament text.