Lev 17:10-12 makes an interesting point worth quoting: “If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood” (ESV).
Thus the reason the people cannot eat blood (a regulation that goes back to Gen 9:4) is that life is in the blood and the blood makes atonement by the life. In other words, because of the role of blood in sacrifice (a point made by Dr. Richard Belcher of RTS, lectures on iTunes, for why discharges of blood make you unclean) and because of the symbolism of blood as life you could not eat it. During the time of the apostles there was a transition (Acts 15:20) where they allowed eating all animals as clean but not the blood (returning us to Gen 9:3-4). This makes sense to keep in place at the time because sacrifices, though effectively done away with in Christ’s one sacrifice, continued to be performed at the temple until it was destroyed in AD 70. So as long as the sacrificial system continued for the Jewish people, this was a way for Jews and Gentiles to have table fellowship. These thoughts are made provisionally, I am open to your comments and ideas. Nevertheless, it is clear that it is important to see that you cannot atone for yourself (discharges of blood make you unclean) and you must be atoned for only by the blood appointed by God. And today we Spiritually drink the blood of Jesus.
But the fact that we are still discussing Lev 11-16 themes as we have moved onto the holiness regulations is one reason that people use to dismiss one commandment today: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev 18:22) and “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them” (Lev 20:13). [The civil dimension to this latter expression of the law no longer applies as the ancient nation of Israel no longer exists (i.e. the death penalty would be inappropriate in our nation).] Both regulations call male homosexual behavior an abomination. But the most common reason people find it easy to dismiss these regulations today is a failure to see the structure of the book and to confuse the moral, civil, and ceremonial dimensions of the law (the moral continues forever, not so with the civil and ceremonial, see the Westminster Standards).
Usually Lev 17-26 is called “the Holiness Code” and Lev 27 has been seen as an appendix to the book of Leviticus. This code deals with everyday life and includes a lot of diversity in content. Belcher suggests that the structure is sacrifices (Lev 17), mostly sexual relationships (Lev 18), center 1: various relationships (Lev 19), mostly sexual relationships with penalty (Lev 20); sacrifices (Lev 21-22), religious calendar (Lev 23), center 2: rules on the tabernacle and case law for blasphemy (Lev 24), Sabbath and Jubilee (Lev 25). Therefore, we will not be addressing the chapters in order but topically.
The structure of Chapter 17, as Wenham notes, is into four paragraphs after the first two introductory verses. Lev 17:3-7 regulates killing animals without offering them, Lev 17:8-9 with offering sacrifices outside the tabernacle, Lev 17:10-12 with the eating of blood, and Lev 17:13-16 with rules about hunting. Each paragraph follows a similar pattern, “If any…,” the sentence of “cutting off” and each has a concluding statement. This chapter ties the themes of Lev 11-16 with Lev 18-27 and we will see the themes of Lev 11-16 elsewhere in the holiness code especially about the Day of Atonement.
Lev 21 and 22 are parallel then to Lev 17. Wenham observes that this should be divided into six sections, each of which ends with “I, YHWH, sanctify you [him, them]” (Lev 21:8, 15, 23, 22:9, 16, 32-33). The regulations related here have to do with the priests and sacrifices. Priests, like the sacrifices, were to be whole and well. This is particularly fitting for Christ who is our priest and sacrifice.
Wenham notes that Chapter 18, follows the Hittite treaty genre (I would add, as does this whole code generally, with Lev 26 giving the curses and blessings). It begins the historical prologue by introducing YHWH (Lev 18:2) and continues by contrasting the way the people of Israel are to live to the ways of the Egyptians (where they lived) and Canaanites (where they will live) (Lev 18:3). Instead of following the statutes of the Egyptians or Canaanites, the people of Israel “shall follow my [YHWH’s] rules and keep my [YHWH’s] statutes and walk in them” (Lev 18:4). And the next verse lays out the principle of the Mosaic covenant: “if a person does them [YHWH’s statutes and rules], he shall live by them” (Lev 18:5). The regulations of Lev 18:6ff cover sexual relations and then the covenant curses are described in Lev 18:24ff.
As you could see from Lev 15, discharges of semen make you unclean so that you cannot be in the tabernacle, which keeps Israel from cultic prostitution like in the surrounding nations (cf. Lev 19:29-30). And Lev 18 builds on that regarding sexual relationships by defining incestuous relationships (marriage makes you one blood and flesh) and other (mostly, but not exclusively) sexual sins including homosexuality and bestiality. Wenham observes that seven times Lev 18 says the people of Israel are not to behave like the Canaanites and six times the chapter says “I am YHWH (your God)”.
It is quite interesting that in this list of sins forbidden in Lev 18 is child sacrifice (Lev 18:21), then homosexual male relations (Lev 18:22), and then bestiality (Lev 18:23). You can see the same general order with a few other things in between in Lev 20, the parallel chapter, with child sacrifice (Lev 20:2-5), homosexual male relations (Lev 20:13), and bestiality (Lev 20:15-16). The issue of child sacrifice to Molech is one of spiritual adultery (Lev 20:5). Wenham observes that the latter chapter is structured by the phrases “I am YHWH your God” and “Keep my rules.” Some regulations do appeal back to Lev 11-16 like forbidding sex with a woman during her menstrual impurity (Lev 20:18). The main theme connecting all of these laws is that these sins make the land unclean. Thus Lev 18:26-30 and 20:22-23 both warn that the land could vomit out the people for the same reason they were displacing the Canaanites.
Between these parallel chapters mostly about sexual relationships (Lev 18 and 20) is the most well known chapter Lev 19. Wenham diagrams the literary structure conclusively: each paragraph ends “I am YHWH (your God),” which reveals four paragraphs of religious duties, four paragraphs of duties to your neighbor, and eight paragraphs of other miscellaneous duties. The first four paragraphs end, “I am YHWH your God” (Lev 19:2b, 3, 4, 10). The second four paragraphs end, “I am YHWH” (Lev 19:12, 14, 16, 18). And the eight paragraphs that follow end with both the shorter (Lev 19:28, 30, 32, 37) and longer versions (Lev 19:25, 31, 34, 36) and open and end with “Keep my rules” (Lev 19:19, 37). While to my knowledge Wenham does not note this it reveals the following pattern: Longer, shorter, shorter, longer, shorter, longer, longer, shorter. Thus there are four groups of four: the first four end with the longer version, the second four with the shorter version, the third four longer, shorter, shorter, longer and the last four shorter, longer, longer, shorter. This is without a doubt intentional.
The second pair of four is very tightly structured, as Wenham notes, with each paragraph adding a new word for neighbor. Lev 19:11-12 uses “fellow citizen” (here translated “one another”). Lev 19:13-14 uses “neighbor.” Lev 19:15-16 uses “fellow citizen” (here translated “neighbor”) as well as “people,” and “neighbor.” Lev 19:17-18 adds “brother” to “fellow citizen” (again translated here “neighbor”), “people, and “neighbor.” Thus all four paragraphs can be summarized, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am YHWH.”
In Lev 23 the phrase “I am YHWH your God” again shows us the structure. There are the spring festivals ending with Lev 23:22 and the fall festivals ending with Lev 23:43. These sections are further divided by the phrase, “it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings (…)” (Lev 23:14, 21-22, 31-32, 41-42). Thus we see (1) Passover and the feast of unleavened bread and firstfruits, (2) the feast of weeks, (3) the festival of trumpets and day of atonement, and (4) the feast of booths. This is a religious calendar for the people.
Lev 25, appropriately parallel to the religious calendar, is the discussion of Jubilee with “I am YHWH your God” marking the closing of a section (Lev 25:17-22, 38, 55). The first section deals with the sabbath for the land, the second with the redemption of property, and the third with the redemption of slaves. The Gospel of Luke shows how Jesus proclaimed Jubilee even though there is no evidence it was ever done in the history of Israel.
So the second center of the holiness code deals with rules for the tabernacle, a case of blasphemy with the eye for an eye principle explained. Wenham notes that Lev 24:16-22 is a chiasm (he calls it concentric because there is not one center), but actually, the whole of Lev 24:13-23 is a chiasm. It begins with YHWH speaking to Moses (Lev 24:13), then the instruction, “Bring out of the camp…” (Lev 24:14), then the instruction, “Speak to the people of Israel…” (Lev 24:15), then the law is said to be for “the sojourner as well as the native,” (Lev 24:16) the next two are “whoever takes a [human or animal] life…” (Lev 24:17-18), and then the center two are “it shall be done [given] to him” (Lev 24:19-20), then killing an animal, then killing a person, then “You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native” (Lev 24:22), then Moses speaks, they “brought out of the camp the one who had cursed” (Lev 24:23), and the conclusion matching the opening: “Thus the people of Israel did as YHWH commanded Moses.” It is interesting that this (beginning with Lev 24:10)is what continues the narrative of Leviticus. And it is interesting that the first center deals with the latter of the Ten Commandments and the second section deals with the former of the Ten Commandments. Lev 24:1-9 perhaps should be grouped with the previous section as it deals with the Sabbath and keeping the lamp burning.
Lev 26 lays out the blessings and curses of the Mosaic Law. It opens with “I am YHWH your God” and “I am YHWH” (Lev 26:1-2), the section ends “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Lev 26:13), and the whole chapter ends, “I am YHWH their God” and “I am YHWH” (Lev 26:44-45). The last verse of the chapter closes the holiness code with the narrative mark: “These are the statutes and rules and laws that YHWH made between himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai.” Verse 13 ends the blessings, and verse 45 ends the curses. The curses can be further divided by noting “If you will not listen to me…I shall [punish] you ([again] sevenfold for your sins)” (Lev 26:14-16, 18, 21, 23-24, 27-28). On the other hand, Lev 26:40-45 offers restoration to the repentant. These blessings and curses fell upon Israel later in their history driving them into exile.
Lev 27, somewhat of an appendix about vows, resembles early chapters in Lev in that it is structured with “if a man…” phrases and “and if” phrases and the book ends with a similar narrative ending to the last chapter “These are the commandments that YHWH commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai” (Lev 27:34).