Why did God make such strange demands of his chosen people?

Leviticus is full of God’s rules for the way his chosen people should conduct themselves. Why are so many of these rules so strange?

1:3 [And the Lord said] If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD.

That’s just right off the bat at the start of the book. It goes on and on in similar vein throughout. Why does God want an animal slaughtered on his behalf and why is he bothered that it be male and “without blemish”? God would take offense otherwise?

You can never get the full meaning of an Old Testament passage without reading it in the light of the New Testament (and vice versa). In this case we we have, as we often do, a passage in the OT which is a “type” of what happens in the NT. The “male without blemish” which is sacrificed is a type, or fore-runner, of the sinless (unblemished) Son of God Who of His own voluntary Will allowed Himself to be sacrificed to save men from their sins. The passage seems strange to you because modern western society has largely lost the meaning of sacrifice which was universally known among earlier peoples.

The Jews recognize three categories of Old Testament laws: mishpatim, eduyot, and chukim.
*]Mishpatim are laws with a clear moral and societal benefit, like “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Many of these laws can be deduced from natural law – that is, even without the Ten Commandments, we could determine that murder is wrong from reason and conscience.
*]Eduyot are those laws governing particularly religious things, like the Sabbath and holy days. These are **not **things which could be known from nature, but they **are **things with a clear moral benefit.
*]Chukim is the third category. These are laws which appear completely arbitrary, like the prohibition against eating shellfish or wearing mixed-linen clothing. They don’t have an intrinsic moral benefit, in the laws on murder or the Sabbath do.

Your question is about this third category. The moral benefit of this category of law was made very clear by the New Testament. Like Petergee said, these are laws which foreshadowed Christ, and exposed the need for Him. The Law in general does this in a few ways:

*]It calls the people to holiness, in both senses of the word. “Holy” means “set apart.” So the Jews weren’t allowed to mingle, and were always required to do things, wear things, and eat or not eat things, which singled them out as Jews, and not as pagans. They were also called to holiness in the other sense, of giving yourself over to God. The two types of holiness go hand-in-hand: Think about the Roman collar that Catholic priests wear - it shows them at once to be priests, and is directly tied to their calling to be moral examples to those around them.
*]It reminded the people of the gravity of their sin. This also deterred sin – if the price of sinning was that you lost a very valuable animal, you’re less likely to do it.
*]It showed the Jews the need for a Messiah. Even with this awareness of their sin, and even with the high earthly price of sin, people kept right on sinning, because of original sin and our fallen nature. As the Old Testament unfolds, you see the authors’ increasing awareness that they **can’t **be righteous on their own.
*]The Law had an obsession with purity and spotlessness. God is pure Goodness, and cannot be in the presence of sin. The Law reflects this - anything symbolizes impurity (spots on an animal, patches on clothing, etc.) was rejected. Shellfish, for example, aren’t clearly fish and aren’t clearly reptiles, so the Jews were forbidden to eat them. From either perspective, they’re imperfect, and fall into a gray area.
*]Related to #4, the Law is premised on this idea of choosing one or the other, and not trying to have it both ways by being a little Jewish and a little pagan. Deuteronomy 30:19 says it clearly: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live!” In the end, there’s Heaven and Hell, no middle option. The Law hammers this life or death notion in at every possible turn.
*]Finally, there are a lot of specific Christological prophesies, like the curse upon He who hangs on a tree, which Paul explains as foreshadowing Christ’s suffering on the Cross.

What you fail to recognize is that these were God’s laws. Yes it may have been tradition but God approved it. Indeed God required the killing of animals. It pleased him in some way. And if these sacrifices weren’t carried out God was angered.

When sacrifice is part of the religion of any other people, e.g. a 10th century South American tribe we clearly see it as backward and primitive. So why don’t we see it that way with the chosen people?

No one has failed to see that these are God’s laws. There previous post were attempts to explain them.

Do you believe in God?
Is He perfect?
If your answers are No to either of these, I don’t think anyone can help you make sense of these commands.

On the other hand, God is perfect, he doesn’t need His creation, His creation is for our benefit. God desires our love and any rules he gives are perfect in that when followed they allow us to love Him and ultimately can be with Him forever. One of the reason for animal sacrifice was God’s way of breaking the Israelites of the habit of animal idol worship which they adopted from the Egyptian culture in which they were enslaved.

Who is denying this? I think both Petergee and myself have argued that the Law served a beneficial purpose. Neither of us are saying that it’s random tradition. I’m arguing specifically that even the seemingly random laws have pretty obvious important implications, in that they set the Jewish people apart as a people called to serve God alone and not simply become part of “the world.” While every pagan religion around them freely worshipped one another’s gods, the Jews (at their best) worshipped God and God alone. They were an insular and distinct group who formed insular and distinct communities throughout the Roman Empire. When Jesus came, it was these communities who first spread the Good News. The success of Christianity worked precisely because of the prior workings of the Law.

Who sees it as backwards and primitive, and why? Is there any particular reason that it’s primitive? Clearly, human sacrifice is wrong, because it’s murder. But animal sacrifice reflects a pretty sane principle, that sin has penalties. The fact that everyone, from South America to Israel and everywhere in between, recognized this fact – that sin *should *cost you – suggests it’s not “primitive,” but is, rather, engrained into our psyches. The tribe you mention is right to call for sacrifice, even if the form of sacrifice is wrong.

To a nomadic people whose wealth is measured in their livestock sacrificing their animals is the greatest sacrifice they can offer to God.

And those animals selected for the sacrifices of the Jews were those which in the cultures that surrounded them were revered as gods; it makes perfect sense that God would employ this method to teach that He Alone is God.

The website below offers a study of Salvation History that you might find helpful in understanding the levitical laws; an excerpt:

IV. After the Golden Calf

A. Reading Leviticus

The whole character of God’s relationship with His chosen people has been changed. God cannot dwell amidst his people. The Levites must stand between God and His people. That is what brings us to the end of Exodus and into Leviticus.

Leviticus is part of the renewal of the covenant made necessary by the golden calf rebellion. Israel’s sin was so grave that it required what amounted to a second legislation.

The Ten Commandments had been a moral law, but this second law is judicial and ceremonial, involving the punishment of criminals and the rules for animal sacrifice. This second legislation deals with Israel’s fallen condition after the golden calf affair. It takes the rest of Exodus (chapters 33-40), all of the Book of Leviticus and the first ten chapters of Numbers, to explain.

Keep that in mind as you read the chapters of Leviticus. It is the handbook for the Levitical priests. Prior to the golden calf, Leviticus would not have been needed. After the golden calf affair, Leviticus becomes necessary. As you read Leviticus, don’t get hung up on all the ritual prescriptions and don’t ignore the book because, as Catholics, we don’t follow these elaborate codes. Keep in mind, too, that Leviticus is a continuation of the story of the Exodus of God’s family.


I’m agnostic regarding God but if he does exist I think he might be better than you guys believe. No creator of the universe with a truly cosmic perspective will be interested in wanting us to go around slitting animal’s throats or chucking them off church towers to get his approval.

If the Jews got involved in the silly business of “sacrificing” animals it’s only because many cultures had by then been doing the same for thousands of years. No prizes for originality there or for the god portrayed in the OT who thought it would be a great idea.

Friends in other churches have explained Leviticus itself is primitive and was written by a people who had primitive understanding of God. In other words God never required such animal cruelty. I’m a bit disappointed to find that Catholics are still taking Leviticus so seriously.

Those cultures were themselves only doing it because God had been receiving such sacrifice from man from the very beginning.

“And it came to pass after many days, that Cain offered, of the fruits of the earth, gifts to the Lord. Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat: and the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings.” Genesis 4:3-4

This sounds pretty speculative on your part. If don’t don’t think there is a god, how would know what the god’s attributes would be?

If the Jews got involved in the silly business of “sacrificing” animals it’s only because many cultures had by then been doing the same for thousands of years.

How do you know this?

No prizes for originality there or for the god portrayed in the OT who thought it would be a great idea.

Friends in other churches have explained Leviticus itself is primitive and was written by a people who had primitive understanding of God. In other words God never required such animal cruelty. I’m a bit disappointed to find that Catholics are still taking Leviticus so seriously.

We take is seriously because it is the written word of God. It documents the story (history) of our salvation from sin.

Edit: Why does “primitive” = incorrect

I really enjoyed reading Belloc Fan’s response. This is a question I have had in the past and I found your answer to be very well thought out and made Leviticus “fit” for me. Well done and thank you.:slight_smile:

Well it’s been explained away.

You are the OP. Why don’t you want to discuss the topic?

Let me state your logic: you’re not sure if God exists, but you are sure about what He wants or doesn’t want. That, my friend, is a non sequitur.

You should study Genesis, which clearly reveals that God doesn’t accept human definitions of right and wrong. Mankind was condemned for simply eating fruit, which (though allegorical or not) demonstrated that obedience was the issue. God decides what is right and wrong.

The final paragraph is laughable. Certain “churches” believe homosexuality, divorce, fornication are OK–that restrictions on human sexuality are primitive. Humans don’t make the rules. The rules are spelled out by God as revealed in Scripture and Tradition.

Free will permits you to make the choices that you determine, whether to obey God’s rules or not.

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