You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Throughout Leviticus, Israel remains encamped at Mount Sinai while God appears in the Tent of Meeting, dictating to Moses his specifications regarding the Jewish ceremonial laws. The laws are extremely detailed, outlining every aspect of how and when religious offerings are to be presented to God. God gives the instructions himself, and his voice comprises the majority of the text. A brief narrative interlude describes the anointing of Aaron and his sons as Israel’s priests. At the ceremony, God appears and engulfs the altar in a burst of flames, eliciting shouts of joy from the people. Soon after, God also sends fire to consume two of Aaron’s sons when they neglect to make the right preparations for approaching the altar.
God lists various types of forbidden sexual behavior and discusses foods and physical conditions that can make a person unclean. Uncleanliness can result from things such as bodily discharge or touching a dead carcass. An unclean person must leave the Israelite camp or undergo physical cleansing, waiting periods, and religious sacrifices. Typically, sexual sins are punishable by death, but God also instructs the Israelites to kill a man who blasphemes, or curses God’s name. Of all his restrictions, God places particular emphasis on the prohibition against eating meat with blood still in it: doing so will result in banishment, not only from Israel but from God’s graces as well.
In the end, God promises to give Israel great abundance and success if it obeys these laws. If Israel is disobedient, though, God will send destruction and famine and “abhor” the Israelites (26:30). But the laws in Leviticus also set aside an annual Day of Atonement during which the priest is to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of the entire nation. As long as the Israelites confess and repent for their sins, God promises to keep his covenant and never leave them.
At the beginning of Numbers, Israel prepares to continue the journey from Mount Sinai to the promised land. God devotes one of the twelve tribes, the Levites, to assist Aaron in the work of the priesthood, maintaining and watching over Israel’s religious articles. After dedicating the Tabernacle, which houses the Ark of the Covenant, the Israelites leave Sinai, guided by the movements of a cloud that rests over the Tabernacle. Entering the desert, the people begin to complain about everything from the lack of interesting food to Moses’s leadership.
Moses sends spies into Canaan to explore the promised land. Upon returning, two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, report that Israel can successfully conquer the Canaanite people with God’s help. However, some of the spies incite an uprising, arguing that it will be impossible to take the land from the Canaanites and that Israel should return to Egypt instead. God plans to destroy the people for their lack of faith, but Moses intervenes and convinces God to forgive them. God relents but delivers a heavy curse. He announces that the current generation of Israelites, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, will not be allowed to enter the promised land. Moses leads the people back toward the Red Sea to wander in the wilderness for a period of forty years.
Another revolt occurs when three men grow jealous of Moses’s leadership. God plans to destroy the entire nation because of the men’s jealousy, but Moses persuades God to destroy only the guilty parties. Moses warns the people that the men will die as a result of their own disobedience. God causes the ground to open and swallow the men, but the Israelites blame Moses and Aaron for the incident. Very angry, God sends a rapidly spreading plague through the crowd, killing thousands. Aaron runs out into the crowd and holds up the priest’s censer to atone for Israel’s wrongdoing, stopping the plague in its destructive path.