Thursday, July 9, 2009

LEVITICUS: Chapter 16

Chapter 16
Summary:God speaks to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before God, and died*. God said to Moses to warn Aaron not to enter the "holy place" behind the veil, (in the tabernacle) where the ark of the covenant and place of mercy are, just whenever he chooses. God's penalty for intrusion is death, and he claims that he himself will be present in the cloud above the place of mercy.

God instead lays out his conditions for Aaron's entering the "holy place": Aaron must bring a young bull for a "sin offering" and a ram for a "sin offering". He shall bathe himself and put on his sacred linen coat, shorts, belt, and turban. The people of Israel shall then bring him two male goats for their "sin offering" and a ram for their "burnt offering". First, Aaron shall sacrifice the young bull to God as a "sin offering" for himself, making atonement for himself and his household. Then he shall bring the two goats to the entrance of the tabernacle and cast lots to determine which goat is to be sacrificed to God, and which is to be set free as a scapegoat. God's goat is to be slaughtered by Aaron as a "sin offering", while the other goat will have to have a "rite of atonement" performed over it before it is let loose out in the desert as a scapegoat.

After Aaron has sacrificed the young bull as a "sin offering" for himself and his household, he shall take a censer full of burning coals from off the altar, fill his hands with some incense - finely beaten into a powder - and bring them inside the veil in the tabernacle. There he shall put the incense upon the coals, so that a cloud of incense will cover the "mercy place" that is above the ark of the covenant - doing so will ensure that God will not have to kill him. He will also have to bring some of the blood from the young bull he sacrificed and sprinkle it with his finger upon the east side of the "mercy place", and then sprinkle it seven* times in front of it.

Then he shall kill the goat for the people of Israel's "sin offering", bringing its blood behind the veil, and sprinkle it upon the "place of mercy" (and in front of it) just as he did with the bull's blood. This shall make atonement for the "holy place" due to the "uncleanliness" of the people of Israel and the transgression of their "sins", and for the tabernacle that happens to be located right in the midst of them surrounded by their "uncleanliness". There shall be no other man (or person) allowed in the tabernacle when Aaron goes in to make atonement in the "holy place" - until Aaron comes out again and has made atonement for himself, his household, and all of the people of Israel.

Then he shall go out to the altar and make atonement for it; taking the blood of the young bull and the goat he sacrificed, and smearing that blood upon the horns of the altar. He shall also sprinkle the blood upon the altar with his finger seven* times to cleanse it from the sins and "uncleanliness" of the people of Israel, making it holy again.

When Aaron has finished the "rite of atonement" for the "holy place", the tabernacle, and the altar, he shall fetch the living goat and while laying his hands upon the goat's head, confess of it all the inequities of the people of Israel, and all the transgressions of their "sins". This places the "sins" upon the head of the goat, which shall be sent away into the wilderness by the hand of a fit man.
Aaron shall then return to the tabernacle and remove the linen garments that he wore when entering the "holy place", and shall leave the garments there in the tabernacle. He shall then bathe with water in the "holy place", put on the linen garments again, and go out and sacrifice both the "burnt offering" for himself, and the "burnt offering" for the people of Israel - thereby making atonement for himself and for the people of Israel. He shall also burn the animal fat upon the altar for a "sin offering".

The man that was appointed to let the scapegoat loose in the wilderness shall wash his clothes, bathe, and afterward return to the camp.

The carcasses of the bull and the goat used for the animal sacrifices (whose blood was used to make atonement in the "holy place") shall be carried outside the camp and burned, including their hides and internal organs. The person tasks to burn the carcasses shall wash his clothes, bathe, and afterward return to the camp.

This shall be a permanent law: on the tenth day of the seventh month*, you shall do no work and must spend the day "afflicting your soul" in self-examination and humility. This applies whether you are born in the land, or are a foreigner living amongst the people of Israel. For on this day a priest will make atonement for you, to cleanse you, so that you can be "clean" from your "sins" in God's eyes. It shall be a day of sabbath for you, and you shall "afflict your souls" by this statute forever.

The ceremony in later generations shall be performed by high priests, anointed and consecrated in place of his ancestor Aaron; putting on the same linen clothes and "holy garments". He shall make atonement for the "holy sanctuary", the tabernacle, the altar, and for the priests and all of the people of Israel.

This will be an everlasting statute for you annually to make atonement for the "sins" of the people of Israel.

Aaron followed the commands that God had delivered to Moses.
Notes:1.) Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu did not simply "die" when they "offered before God"; God actually brutally killed them both by immolation when they used the wrong fire to light incense in Leviticus: Chapter 10.
2.) Another example of the mystical significance of the number 7 in the bible.
3.) The date of the "tenth day of the seventh month" on the Hebrew calendar corresponds to September 25th on our modern calendar.
Thoughts:Immediately I'm bothered by the wording of Leviticus 16:1 which is written as such in the King James Version of the bible:
"And the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died";
The incident being referred to is from Leviticus: Chapter 10 where Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu use the wrong flame to light God's "holy incense", and in retaliation God burns both of them alive to die horrible deaths from immolation. The wording in Leviticus:16:1 makes Nadab and Abihu's deaths seem trivial or natural and takes God out of the equation. When it states that Aaron's sons "offered before the LORD, and died" sounds like trying to phrase Ted Bundy's death by Florida's electric chair by saying "when Ted Bundy sat on a chair and died".

Why this bothers me so much is that a lot of people don't read the bible from cover to cover like we're doing here. Most people simply pick out a chapter, either by a recommendation from a priest or minister, or by a fellow believer (and maybe sometimes at random) and are given this first verse which takes Nadab and Abihu's deaths out of context. The way the verse reads, it seems to imply that Aaron's sons died by some freak accident and not by means of a brutal punishment from God. The fact that their deaths were the result of God's punishment - whether you believe it is as brutal as I see it, or you can somehow manage to justify it - is completely omitted and we are given a recap that misses the context of Leviticus Chapter 10. It just seems very deceptive to me as a means to de-villainize any possible questioning of God's "punishment" to Nadab and Abihu.

Moving right along however, God reverts back to his atypical mannerism and threatens Aaron with death if he continues to nonchalantly enter the "holy place" behind the veil in the tabernacle. God tells Moses that the punishment for intruding upon the "holy place" in the tabernacle is instant death, which he will deal out from a cloud that he resides in above the "mercy place" in the tabernacle. So God comes up with some rules for Aaron entering the tabernacle, which of course includes some more good ol' animal sacrifices.

First Aaron is to gather up some animals (a bull and a ram), take a bath, change into his priest costume, and have the people of Israel bring him some animals of their own (two male goats and a ram) to add to the festivities. Next, Aaron has to kill the young bull to atone for the "sins" of himself and his household, and then draw straws to figure out which of the two goats he gets to slaughter - as the goat that gets slaughtered belongs to God, and he certainly loves and derives "pleasure" from his animal sacrifices. The lucky goat who doesn't wind up with his blood splattered all over the altar in the tabernacle gets to be a "scapegoat", which means this lucky little guy symbolically gets all the "sins" of the people of Israel placed upon his head and then gets to run away from these nutty Israelis into the desert taking their sins along with him. The unlucky goat (the one that belongs to God) gets to be Aaron's "sin offering" and have his blood paint the inside of the tabernacle.

After Aaron kills the young bull on behalf of his own "sins" and those of his household, he now has to gather up some of the burning coals from the altar and place them into a censer. He is then to bring the censer and some incense behind the veil in the tabernacle. God explains that by Aaron burning the incense behind the veil, that in fact will excuse God from having to kill Aaron(!) How kind and thoughtful.

God now mentions that Aaron will have to gather up some of the blood from the bull he just slaughtered to sprinkle upon the "mercy place". Sprinkle a little bit on the east side of the "mercy place", and then sprinkle the front of it the magical number of seven times. Now the unlucky goat meets its fate, and its blood too is to be used to sprinkle around the "mercy place" behind the veil in the tabernacle - again on the east side, and seven times in the front. According to God, this act will make atonement for the "holy place" due to the contamination of its very existence among the "sinful" and "unclean" people of Israel. God tacks on that nobody else is allowed into the tabernacle while Aaron is doing this ritual.

After Aaron is done playing with the incense and sprinkling blood around the "mercy place" behind the veil, atoning the altar is next, by smearing some bull and goat blood on the horns of the altar, and sprinkling some more blood seven magical times upon the altar itself to cleanse it from the "uncleanliness" of the people of Israel. This ritual will, according to God, make the altar "holy" again.

Once he's done getting blood all over the altar he is now to fetch the lucky goat, place his hands upon the goats head, and transfer all the "sins" of the people of Israel into the goat. Now the goat, filled with all the "sins" of the Israelis get to be set free out into the desert by a man appointed by Aaron to lead the goat out to the wilderness.

Aaron now has to return to the tabernacle and bathe himself, put his priest costume back on, and start up the "burnt offerings" from the animal carcasses laying around the tabernacle, thereby making more atonement for both himself (with the bull) and for the people of Israel (with the unlucky goat). He is also to burn all the animal fat upon the altar as well.

The man that got to let the "scapegoat" run free out to the desert also needs to take a bath, wash his clothes, and return back to the Israeli camp. Somebody else appointed by Aaron gets the job of hauling out the smoldering animal carcasses to the outskirts of the camp and sets them on fire again until they're completely consumed by the flames. This guy also has to go wash his clothes, take a bath, and return home to the camp.

God decides to make this a permanent annual event that is to take place forever on September 25th, and that a day of sabbath is also to be observed - not only by natural born Israelis, but by any strangers living amongst them. He adds that future generations of priests will have to follow the same protocol as Aaron has - complete with the proper costumes and outfits - so as to annually make atonement for the "sins" of the people of Israel.

Aaron did as he was told, as I'm sure that God's death threats as well as the recent memories of his sons' deaths by immolation probably weren't viewed as a desirable alternative.

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