Leviticus focuses on the priestly duties, the sacrificial system and the details of worship in Israel. Its name derives from the tribe of Levi who are the designated priests of Israel. The priestly order begins with Aaron and his sons. As we see in today’s reading, much of this book describes in detail how to prepare the sacrifice and minister in the Tabernacle. It gives more information on what are considered sins and unclean, what is clean, and how to ritually purify what has become unclean. Some of what we see in Leviticus might make sense. Some of it will seem confusing and even unnecessary. A lot of it will be foreign and unusual to us. We are not familiar with religious practice which involves such specificity and includes sacrifices. Much of the world today has little experience with this.
But in the ancient world, almost every culture and religion practiced animal sacrifices. Many even required human sacrifices. According to some sources, the Baal of Canaan, which Israel was strictly forbidden to worship and which emerged as an enemy of Yhwh, may have involved child sacrifices. It was not unusual for Israel to sacrifice animals to God. This seems barbaric today, but it was normal and considered necessary in the ancient world. In the case of the Bible, the sacrifices prescribed remind that all things belong to God and come from him. They signify dedication and subjection to the Almighty. And, they point to the coming sacrifice of the Messiah. It was a bit more unusual that their practice did not include human victims or at times cutting or mutilating themselves, as the priests of Baal do in the times of Elijah.