Friday, May 25
Exodus 40: Moses thus did “everything that the Lord commanded him” (verses 16,19,21,23,25,27,29,32). Israel has now been at the base of Sinai for about nine months (verse 17) and has already received, as we saw earlier, its marching orders (33:1). They are nearly ready to depart.
Everything is to be anointed with consecratory oil (verses 9-15). The Christian will read these verses in the awareness that the tabernacle itself is a prefiguration of Christ, the Anointed One. The Son of God, anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, is the permanent presence of God to humanity.
The glory of the divine presence descends into the tabernacle (verses 34-38). This glorious cloud, associated with both the passage through the Red Sea and the giving of the Law on Sinai, is now a feature of God’s ongoing presence with His people. Both events become permanent and “institutionalized” in the Mosaic tabernacle. The divine overshadowing will in due course be transferred to the Solomonic temple at Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11), as well as the second temple (Haggai 2:6-9).
All of these manifestations of the divine presence, as well as the rabbinical speculations regarding the cloud (shekinah), are properly taken as prophetic of the Incarnation, in which God’s eternal and consubstantial Word definitively “pitched His tent (eskenosen) among us” (John 1:14). Thus, all of the earlier overshadowings are but prefigurations of that by which the Holy Spirit effects the mystery of the Incarnation in the Woman who served as the tabernacle of God’s presence in this world (Luke 1:35).
Saturday, May 26
The Book of Ruth: Following the Pentecostal theme of the “first fruits,” this week we will be reading the Book of Ruth, the title character of which was a Gentile who came to worship Israel’s God. Ruth was thus a kind of “first installment” of the Church’s mission to the Gentiles.
In our English bibles, the Book of Ruth falls between Judges and Samuel, the order one also finds in the ancient Greek (Septuagint) and Latin (Vulgate) versions. This arrangement doubtless derives from a desire to read the whole biblical narrative in sequence, for the events in Ruth did occur during the period of the Judges and prior to the establishing of the monarchy.
In the traditional Hebrew text, however, the Book of Ruth is located in a completely different part of the Bible. Whereas the books of Judges and Samuel are found among the “earlier prophets,” one finds Ruth, in the third and last part of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Ketubim or “writings,” stuck between the Song of Solomon and the Book of Lamentations. Within this latter category, Ruth is also part of a little collection of the five meghilloth or “rolls” traditionally read in the synagogue for specific feast days. This usage assigns Ruth to the Jewish feast of Pentecost, a custom that explains why this Daily Devotional Guide appoints Ruth to be read during this week of the Christian Pentecost.
Ruth 1: The Book of Ruth, narrating events that took place about 1100 B. C., may be divided into a series of scenes, the first three of which are contained in Chapter One. The first scene, described in verses 1-5, is marked by a very somber tone, conveyed in the sad events of famine, exile, death and bereavement. Three women are widowed within five verses. Even the names are somber; Mahlon means “sickly,” and Chilion means “wasting away.” While this scene covers about ten years, after which the pace of the narrative will slow down and become more detailed. There is an initial irony that the famine is found in the town of Bethlehem, which literally means “house of bread.” (Much of this story will be taken up with the symbol of grain, thanksgiving for which is one of the themes of Pentecost itself, which occurs at the time of the barley harvest.)
Pentecost Sunday, May 27
Ruth 2: The next scene of the Book of Ruth is situated in the field of Boaz. We are told that Ruth “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz” (2:3). That is to say, the event looked happenstance and accidental. The reader already suspects, however, that it is not. Indeed, God is already beginning to answer the prayer of Naomi in 1:9. Here in 2:4 we find yet another prayer, in the form of a blessing. This prayer will also be answered in the course of the story.
The brief conversation of Boaz and Ruth in this chapter will serve to outline the man’s character, which the reader perceives to be gracious, concerned, generous, and kind. He is also subtle in his generosity. The tone and wording of the conversation also suggests that Boaz is significantly older than Ruth.
In this dialogue, Boaz uses the word “wing” in 2:12. The underlying Hebrew word here is kanaph, which can also mean “skirt,” which is how the word will be translated in 3:9. In both cases it indicates protecting care, as though God is permitting Boaz to fulfill his own prayer on behalf of Ruth.
When Ruth returns home with so much grain at the end of her first day at work, Naomi immediately becomes suspicious about her good fortune. The reader observes that the conversation between the two women that night was about Boaz, not barley. In 2:20 it becomes clear that Naomi perceives forces at work beyond the human; a plan slowly begins to take shape in her mind. By the end of the chapter, the story has moved into the month of June, but nothing further has happened. Naomi begins to consider that perhaps some bolder move is required.
Monday, May 28
Ruth 3: According to Israel’s ancient levirate law, the brother-in-law of a widow was obliged to take her to wife in order to beget children in the name of his deceased brother. An extension of this law to “next of kin” is obviously operative in Naomi’s thinking in the bold project narrated in this chapter. She contrives a plan for Ruth to make this matter unavoidable in the mind of Boaz, in circumstances that will heighten a romantic interest that Naomi suspects to reside in Boaz’s heart. The execution of her plan is the stuff of one of the most sensitive stories in the Bible.
In the course of this account, we then learn that Naomi was correct in her suspicion. Indeed, he is already one step ahead of his future “mother-in-law”; he has researched the matter and learned that he is not, in fact, the next of kin. Thus, nothing happens that night. There is still one more step that Boaz must take.
In this second dialogue between Boaz and Ruth, we detect certain delicate features of both of the man: Boaz’s sensitivity to the age difference between him and Ruth, his consequent reluctance to initiate any previous advance toward her, his gratitude for her interest in him, his continued solicitude for her well-being by not obliging her to walk home in the dark, his discreet concern for her reputation, the shrewdness of his ability to read the mind of Naomi. As he lies there on the granary floor that night, Boaz realizes that he has been “set up” by Naomi; this proceeding had not been Ruth’s at all. So Boaz told her, “Do not go empty-handed to your mother in law.”
Naomi’s response, in turn, shows that she perfectly understands the thoughts of Boaz. It is a marvelous account of two very shrewd individuals who comprehend one another perfectly.
Tuesday, May 29
Ruth 4: Boaz now proves himself as shrewd as Naomi. Just as Boaz had been “set up” by Naomi and Ruth, he now proceeds to “set up” this unnamed kinsman. What we read in this chapter, then, is a classical “sting operation.” One remembers Jacob “setting up” his father Isaac with the famous sheepskin ruse, and how Jacob and Laban were constantly endeavoring to out-maneuver one another.
This relative of Boaz thus “bites” before he knows what he is biting. He is presented with a field, he thinks, but then discovers a possible liability comes with the field – Ruth – and suddenly he realizes that his own inheritance might thereby be compromised. He quickly says “ouch” and pulls back before it is too late. This must rank among the more purely entertaining scenes in Holy Scripture.
This specific shoe-custom had already been a thing of the past long before the biblical story was written, of which we seem to have some memory also in Deuteronomy 25:9 and Psalm 108:9. This older memory is an important feature of the story. It reminds us that the accounts narrated in the Bible often contain information that could only have come from more primitive traditions, many of them oral in nature.
Toward the end of the story (4:7), Ruth is blessed by invoking the memory of Tamar, the mother of twins. Clearly, these blessing elders, the city fathers of Bethlehem, entertained expansive ideas in this matter of progeny! Their blessing also evokes the famous story in Genesis 38, where Tamar herself had done a bit of “stinging” of her father-in-law.
Having begun in sorrow, this finely crafted little story ends in the joy of a grandmother bouncing a new grandchild on her lap. The final lines place the account in the genealogy of King David, and Christian readers are expected to relate that line to the final Heir of that salvific family line.
Wednesday, May 30
The Book of Leviticus: Today we commence reading this third of the “five scrolls” (Pentateuch) of Moses, which is concerned almost exclusively with matters of holiness, the priesthood and sacrifice. Within the New Testament, some of the imagery of the Book of Leviticus is found in the two works more particularly concerned with worship and the priesthood of Christ: Hebrews and Revelation.
A dominant motif throughout the Book of Leviticus is the mutual relationship of worship and holiness. In His salvific self-revelation to His people on Mount Sinai, God is experienced as supremely holy. Because of this, he is properly worshipped only “in the beauty of holiness.” This is the “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). To be holy is to belong exclusively to God. Holiness is not cheaply bought. It requires a transformation of one’s whole life, the deep reformation of one’s lifestyle, and the strenuous eradication of whatever in our souls impedes the working of the Holy Spirit.
Leviticus 1: Because the English noun “sacrifice” is commonly employed to translate several quite different Hebrew words, readers of the Bible in English may not suspect how varied and complex is the Bible’s treatment of this subject.
For instance, the sacrifice treated here in the first chapter is quite distinct. One would not suspect just how distinct from the common English translation (King James, for example), “burnt sacrifice.” Since just about all sacrifices in the Bible, with the obvious exception of libations, were burned, the expression does not tell us very much.
The Hebrew word employed for the sacrifices in this chapter is ‘olah, a participle meaning “ascending.” This term may originally have been connected with the ascending smoke released by the fire that consumed the victim. In the ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint), this term was rendered holokavtoma, which indicated that the whole victim, not just part of it, was consumed in the fire. This Greek word became the Latin holocaustum, whence is derived our English “holocaust.” Because it consumed the entire victim, the holocaust, which is the sacrifice envisaged in this opening chapter of Leviticus, was the most complete form of sacrifice.
The six steps involved in such a sacrifice are described in verses 3-9, which treat of a bovine sacrifice. Nearly identical steps were followed for the holocaust of sheep (verses 1-13) and birds (verses 14-17).
It is clear that a holocaust always involves the sacrifice of a living animal, not a grain or any other form. Those other sacrifices are treated in the next chapter.
Thursday, May 31
Leviticus 2: The sacrifice treated in this chapter is the minhah, or grain offering. In this sacrifice, only part of the grain was burned, the remainder being reserved for the household of the priest (verse 2). In addition, the grain could be baked into bread (verses 4-13).
In these latter cases it was important not to use yeast in the baking process, probably because yeast produces fermentation, which is a form of corruption. There was the perceived need to remove all suggestion of corruption from the sacrifice offered to God. Salt, on the other hand, because it is a preservative, was a normal part of this form of sacrifice. Indeed, this aspect of salt rendered it an excellent symbol of the permanence and incorruptibility of God’s covenant with Israel. It was, in truth, a “covenant of salt” (Numbers 18:19). Holy Scripture contains a number of references to this symbolic value of salt (cf. Ezechiel 16:4; 2 Kings 2:20-22; Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:49; Colossians 4:6).
Friday, June 1
Leviticus 3: What most English translations of the Bible call the “peace offering” is in the Hebrew text known as the zebah shelamim, a term indicating an oblation which harmonizes or makes perfect. It is an offering in which there is some sort of communion through the shared eating of part of the victim. Hence, unlike the holocaust, the entire victim in this kind of sacrifice is not destroyed by fire; parts of its are eaten by the priests who offer it and those individuals for whom it is offered.
The sacrificial victims offered in this sort of oblation were the ox, the sheep, and the goat; animals of both sexes were acceptable. The sacrifice of the ox is described in verses 1-5, in which special attention is given to the animal’s blood. Because blood especially symbolizes life, it could not be ingested. It had to be sprinkled on the altar, as a sign that all life belongs to God. Similarly, those internal organs more especially associated with the processes of life, such as the intestines, the liver, and the kidneys, were burned in the sacrificial fire. Much the same procedure was followed for the offering of the sheep (verses 6-11) and the goat (verses 12-17).
For reasons that are not clear, the fat of these sacrifices could not be eaten, though there are no prescriptions against eating fat outside of the sacrificial context.