These chapters outline the standards for ritual cleanness so the people of God can come near to him. They are similar to the chapters that came before except these come from the priestly perspective. (21:1 “speak to the priests”.) There are laws for touching death, sexual purity, skin diseases, and the quality of the sacrificial animals and the priests themselves. Then, chapter 23 details the Holy Days. A lot of the rules seem negative or punitive when we look at them through our standards and concepts of morality but if we try to discern God’s intent for his people the rules begin to make sense. They are not to punish people. They are not to give them better physical health. They are not for looking down on people with disabilities or illness or to discriminate in any way. They are for holiness. Santification; the process of making something or someone holy is mentioned 6 times in these chapters and given as the reason for each set of rules.
“So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord. And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the Lord your God who sanctifies you.”
Holiness means to make a distinction or to separate. Each of these laws make a distinction between the imperfect and the perfect. The priesthood was tasked with representing God to the people so they were given these rituals which demanded perfection so a distinction would be obvious and the holiness of God displayed. This is not a proclamation that the diseased, deformed or dispersed were lesser but rather that they were not fit to represent the perfection of God. In fact, in these same chapters it is mentioned that Israel was to leave part of their harvest for the vulnerable parts of society (23:22). God is not saying that one kind of person is lesser than any other but rather that we must remember that all persons are lesser than God. We have trouble seeing this distinction even today.
In the priestly rituals and in the Holy Days, Israel had visual and societal reminders built into the fabric of their lives that God was altogether different (holy) from them. That he is perfect and we are not. It’s so important for me to remember this about God, myself and others. God has never been wrong. Alternatively, I and the people in my life are going to be wrong a lot. That means that like God, I need to live a life filled with grace for myself and others. Seeing the holiness of God keeps me from bringing God down to my level and also keeps me from elevating people to the level of God.
All of this becomes absolutely amazing when we look at Jesus. In Jesus, our holy and perfect God did come down to our level. The very presence of Jesus breaks through the separation of these priestly rituals. But he did more than just show up. He touched those with skin diseases and healed them, he healed a bleeding woman who touched him and he to Jairus’ dead daughter by the hand and rose her to life. Jesus, our high priest (who died as an unblemished lamb on the cross) broke all of the rules of the priesthood to illustrate that he had come to remove the separation and create a priesthood of all people who could show off the holiness of God through their lives and not through ritual. Even the timing of Jesus’ life, death and the onset of the church rewrites the Holy Days of Leviticus 23 with Jesus dying at passover and raising on the day of unleavened bread and the church beginning at the first fruits festival. Now as his priesthood we await the last festival, the feast of trumpets and tabernacles. But instead of creating makeshift and impermanent tabernacles for a weeklong harvest festival, the trumpet will sound and the harvest will be gathered into the eternal dwellings of God.