Leviticus 16:1–20:27


This week, we continue our journey through the book of Leviticus, looking at two parashot that are placed back-to-back. While there are four chapters in total, there are really two main points we see emphasized.

The first focuses on how we can be restored to God and be in fellowship with Him. If God is holy, how can we approach Him? The second point examines the outcome of having a relationship with God. According to the Scriptures, one of the clearest results of being in fellowship with God is that we will show love and servanthood towards one another.

This common emphasis of “love God” and “love your neighbour” is found many times. When Yeshua was asked: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt 22:36) Yeshua responded: (a) to love the Lord your God, and (b) to love your neighbor as yourself. He states, On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets (Matt 22:40).

But we need to keep in mind that these are not really two distinct laws that could be fulfilled at different times, or one is optional and the other is not; rather, they are so closely linked together that our failure in one area implies a major issue in the other. This is why 1John says Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar (1 Jn 4:20).

So, as we approach our parasha for this morning, we’re faced with the challenge: do the fruits in my life reveal a growing love and servanthood for my neighbour? Or do my actions reflect grudges and slander against others?

Now, our first parasha focuses on how we can be reconciled with God, and it begins in Leviticus 16, where we have this famous passage about Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement. On this day, the priests would provide national atonement for all of Israel.

To do this, the priest would take two goats: one for the Lord, and one for Azazel (or, a scapegoat). The first goat would be offered on the altar to make atonement, and this would erase Israel’s impurities and transgressions (Lev 16:16).

The second goat would represent our forgiveness. The priest would then take the second goat, place both of his hands on its head and confess all of Israel’s sins. And this confession would symbolically transfer the sins of Israel to the animal, who is functioning as our substitute. Then they would send it off into the wilderness, which would symbolize Israel’s sins being taken away. The author writes: The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities (Lev 16:22).

Now, you may ask: without priest and the temple, how can we be reconciled with God today? But the prophet Isaiah used the very language from Yom Kippur to speak about what the Messiah would do. Just as one goat carried away the sins of Israel, and the other was sacrificed for our atonement, so Isaiah 53 brings these two together to describe the Servant of the Lord, who carried our griefs and sorrows, and was crushed for our iniquities. Therefore, like those goats, the Messiah is our substitute, which through His sacrifice, we are reconciled to God.

But now we come to our second question: Is our relationship with God manifested in our love for others?

Now, in our parasha, we have the command “Love your neighbour as yourself,” but what does it mean “Love your neighbour”? On the one hand, we may have the same question that they asked Yeshua 2000 years ago: Who is my neighbour? Is it the people who live on my street? The people I get along with? And in response, Yeshua gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, which essentially teaches that anybody who is in need is your neighbour — friend or foe — we must extend mercy to all people.

So how can we do that? There are at least two things from our parasha to think about.

First, we must be careful not to speak negatively against our neighbour, meaning do not slander anybody. Leviticus 19:16 says You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people.” While we may not think slander is a big deal, Proverbs 18:21 warns us that “The tongue has the power of life and death.” One wrong accusation about someone, and you could ruin a life. One unkind word to somebody, and you could negatively mark them for the rest of their days. So, like James says, we need to control the tongue. If we don’t, James says we deceive ourselves and our religion is worthless.

Second, do not bear a grudge against your neighbour. Always give them the benefit of the doubt. Leviticus 19:18 reads You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge. As we interact with people, we may sometimes feel justified in holding a grudge. How do we stop? We need to practice a heart of forgiveness, which the Lord has demonstrated towards us. When we are reminded of God’s love for us, we can then extend that love to our neighbour.

So our challenge is to make sure our speech, and actions towards our neighbour properly reflect our deep and growing love for God.