Chapter 16 of Leviticus lays out how and when the day of atonement will be observed, this day is also known as Yom Kippur. The chapter begins with the mention of Aaron’s two sons who were killed for offering incense with profane fire, and so seems to be a further restriction on their access to the presence of God due to something they’ve done.
In this new ceremony, the high priest is allowed to enter inside the veil to the holy of holies, where the Ark of The Covenant is located, only once a year. Above the Ark was called the Mercy Seat, which functioned as a lid, but was also the physical throne of God on earth and the place where his glory would dwell inside the tabernacle and later inside Solomon’s Temple. Because of the profanation of the incense in his presence, their access to the Mercy Seat has been curtailed.
The ceremony itself is different from all the others in that along with sacrifices, there’s also a goat that is released alive into the desert after the sins of the people have been ritualistically passed onto it by the high priest. This goat is where we get the term “scape goat” from.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that the Day of Atonement is established here to be a reminder of the people of their sinfulness and need for atonement. He also makes the point that sins are forgiven in the Old Covenant but they aren’t taken away, only the blood of Christ can wipe them away completely.
Chapter 17 begins with a restriction on sacrificing to be done only at the tabernacle. Anyone who offers sacrifices in the fields or wilderness is to be excommunicated, because apparently according to verse 7, some of the people had been sacrificing to demons clandestinely. God tells them that this must end now.
The chapter ends with a complete prohibition on consumption of blood. This prohibition is based in the fact that the blood Carrie’s the life of an animal throughout its body and is to be used only for sacrifice and never as food.
Chapter 18 goes over a pretty detailed list of prohibited sexual activity. Most of it seems pretty common sense and wholly unnecessary to put in writing, but according to verse 27 everything mentioned was being practiced by the nations of people in the land of Canaan. So that they knew it was all off limits, they had to be told in black and white, because sometimes we can have a feeling something might be wrong, but our neighbor is doing it so can it really be wrong? And the answer to that is plain here and elsewhere; or morality is dictated by natural law and our conscience, not by societal “norms.”
This is why the church doesn’t ebb and flow with the morality of the society around it, the church remains strong in opposing things that are now common place. This chapter condemns homosexuality as an abomination. All of western culture had been on board with that until the 20th century, and now it’s accepted by many even in the church, but it’s still contrary to natural law, and disordered, and so is opposed by the church.
Other notable restrictions is incest, beastiality, and child sacrifices. Even Jacob’s marriage of two sisters, which any thinking person could see causing marital problems, is now prohibited under the Levitical Law.
Thinking of all these sexual sins and moral failures like child sacrifice, the Canaanites apparently learned absolutely nothing from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, because their wickedness has only increased over the 550 or so years between then and the time when the Israelites are on their way to Canaan. I can’t even imagine how wicked of a place the whole country must’ve been,
Chapter 19 contained various commandments for the people to follow on a path to holiness like the God they worshiped. Once again, many are common sense or restatements of the Ten Commandments or other moral laws already passed down. But some are unique here. These include prohibitions on witchcraft and fortune tellers, a command to pay a laborer and not withhold his wages even for a short time. They are told not to take advantage of people with disabilities and to treat them fairly. They are reminding that they were strangers once in Egypt and so to be kind and deal justly with foreigners who live among them. All business must be conducted justly and fairly, with no fraud in weights and measurements.
All these issues of morality are still binding upon us today, because even though we are living under the New Covenant and have access to the graces of God that were unobtainable in the Old Covenant, we are still called by Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves. And in loving our neighbors we must treat them with dignity and respect, this is due to them as human beings and must be remembered at all times.