17 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 18 “Speak to Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of the house of Israel or of the sojourners in Israel presents a burnt offering as his offering, for any of their vows or freewill offerings that they offer to the Lord, 19 if it is to be accepted for you it shall be a male without blemish, of the bulls or the sheep or the goats. 20 You shall not offer anything that has a blemish, for it will not be acceptable for you. 21 And when anyone offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering from the herd or from the flock, to be accepted it must be perfect; there shall be no blemish in it. 22 Animals blind or disabled or mutilated or having a discharge or an itch or scabs you shall not offer to the Lord or give them to the Lord as a food offering on the altar. 23 You may present a bull or a lamb that has a part too long or too short for a freewill offering, but for a vow offering it cannot be accepted. 24 Any animal that has its testicles bruised or crushed or torn or cut you shall not offer to the Lord; you shall not do it within your land, 25 neither shall you offer as the bread of your God any such animals gotten from a foreigner. Since there is a blemish in them, because of their mutilation, they will not be accepted for you.”
26 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 27 “When an ox or sheep or goat is born, it shall remain seven days with its mother, and from the eighth day on it shall be acceptable as a food offering to the Lord. 28 But you shall not kill an ox or a sheep and her young in one day. 29 And when you sacrifice a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord, you shall sacrifice it so that you may be accepted. 30 It shall be eaten on the same day; you shall leave none of it until morning: I am the Lord.
31 “So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord. 32 And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the Lord who sanctifies you, 33 who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 22:17-33 ESV
Throughout this section of Leviticus, God emphasizes the mandatory nature of His laws and regulations by repeatedly declaring, “I am the Lord.” The conditions for service He placed on His priests were to be obeyed because they came from the lips of God Himself. They were the binding will of Yᵊhōvâ ‘ănî. By repeatedly revealing His identity as the Lord – “the existing One” – God was associating these laws with His holiness and glory. The people were never to assume that these regulations were the product of Moses’ fertile imagination and, therefore, non-binding. Moses was simply the deliverer of the message, not its creator.
Jehovah demanded absolute compliance to His commands. The priests were to listen and obey because the Lord had spoken and His will was to be treated with the same honor and reverence they would give to God himself. To attempt to worship God without heeding His commands would not only be illogical but impossible. God would later condemn this kind of hypocritical form of worship.
“…this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…” – Isaiah 29:13 ESV
In one of His many confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders of His day, Jesus quoted from this passage in Isaiah to expose their hypocritical and unacceptable worship of God.
“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 ESV
They were guilty of giving God lip service. They seemed to say and do all the right things, but their hearts weren’t in it. They placed a higher priority on their own manmade laws and sacred traditions than they did on the commands of Jehovah. Their will trumped His.
But this was never to be the way of God’s people. He had declared His will in no uncertain terms. His commands had been spoken, written down, and repeated. There was no cause for confusion and no point in pleading ignorance. But God continued to stress the importance of obedience to His divine will by clarifying how it applied to every aspect of daily life.
In this case, He addressed the issue of what constituted an acceptable offering. Much of this is repeated material, but it exists in order to emphasize the priests’ role in ensuring that each sacrifice was of the highest quality. Jehovah, the one true God, deserved nothing but the best, and the priests were assigned the responsibility of quality assurance. It was their duty to examine each animal to determine its health and its worthiness to be presented as a gift to Jehovah.
This responsibility was not to be taken lightly because lives depended upon it. For the offering to be accepted and the giver to receive atonement from God, their sacrifice had to meet God’s exacting standards. And if a worshiper attempted to cut corners by bringing an unacceptable animal, it was the priest’s job to expose the deceit and prevent bringing offense to a holy God. Everything about the sacrificial system was based on the quality of the gift that was offered. There were to be no damaged goods or second-class animals presented to God. God expected and deserved the first fruits, the best of the best; not the bruised and worthless products that no one wanted.
The priests were to be the last line of defense. To bring a less-than-perfect offering as a sacrifice to God was a dangerous thing to do. God had made it clear that any gift given to Him had to be without blemish. All grain offerings were to consist of “fine flour” (Leviticus 6:20 ESV). No day-old flour made from leftover grain would do. All animals were to be free from injury, disease, and disfigurement. The Israelites were forbidden from giving old, worn-out animals as gifts to God. To do so would have been unacceptable and proven to be an offense to a holy and righteous God. And it was the priest’s job to ensure that this never happened.
“…you must offer a perfect animal. It may have no defect of any kind.” – Leviticus 22:21 NLT
At no point was the priest to cut corners or make concessions. He was not to accept a bribe from a worshiper and allow a less-than-perfect animal to make it to the altar. And God was very specific when it came to the kinds of offerings He would not accept.
“If an animal has damaged testicles or is castrated, you may not offer it to the Lord. You must never do this in your own land, and you must not accept such an animal from foreigners and then offer it as a sacrifice to your God. Such animals will not be accepted on your behalf, for they are mutilated or defective.” – Leviticus 22:24-25 NLT
It seems odd that God had to go to such great lengths in describing the kinds of animals He would not accept. But He knew that His chosen people would be tempted to cut corners and take the less costly path when it came to their sacrifices. After all, they were expected to give the best of what they had, and these animals represented their livelihood. Sacrificing a perfectly healthy lamb or ox did a number on their bottom line. These animals constituted prime breeding stock. They were a source of income and food. And their sacrifice required a once-for-all-time commitment. The giver would never see that animal again and never recoup the loss of potential revenue it represented.
It’s interesting to note that God had to place an additional prohibition on bringing animals that were too young. The all-knowing God understood that His people would find ways to cut their losses. Since they were required to bring an animal that was less than a year old, they might decide to give a newborn calf or lamb as an offering. After all, the earlier they gave the animal, the less time and money they had to invest in its wellbeing. And, if they gave it immediately after it came out of the womb, there was little time for it to become ill or suffer injury. So, God put a seven-day moratorium in place.
“When a calf or lamb or goat is born, it must be left with its mother for seven days. From the eighth day on, it will be acceptable as a special gift to the Lord. But you must not slaughter a mother animal and her offspring on the same day, whether from the herd or the flock.” – Leviticus 22:27-28 NLT
These regulations were designed to keep the Israelites from implementing workarounds in an attempt to cut their losses. God’s prohibition against offering “a mother animal and her offspring on the same day” was probably designed to prevent anyone from trying to double-dip. For instance, if the mother animal suffered an injury while giving birth, the owner might be tempted to use that animal as a sacrifice. And if the mother was slaughtered, it would leave the newborn calf or lamb with no source of nourishment, leading the owner to see it as damaged goods and fodder for sacrifice. These kinds of shortcuts and pragmatic decisions were unacceptable for God’s people.
And God sums up this entire section with a reminder of the purpose behind all the laws and regulations He has given.
“Do not bring shame on my holy name, for I will display my holiness among the people of Israel. I am the Lord who makes you holy.” – Leviticus 22:32 NLT
Obedience was a way of glorifying God’s holy name. But disobedience brought shame and disgrace to the name of God. It showed a blatant disregard for His righteousness and a contempt for His glory and grace. God reminded them that He had rescued them from the land of Egypt so that He might be their God. He had redeemed them from slavery and led them all the way to Mount Sinai. There, He had given them His law and decreed the construction of His Tabernacle. He had promised to dwell among them and be their God. But, in return, He expected them to live up to their status as His chosen people. They were to be a royal priesthood and a holy nation, demonstrating their love for Him by living in compliance with His will.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.