Friday, June 5
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 it 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 proscriptions against eating fat outside of the sacrificial context.
Saturday, June 6
Leviticus 4: The “sin offering” of this chapter is an expiatory sacrifice that could be made for the priest (verses 1-12), the whole congregation (verses 13-21), the leader (verses 22-26), or any individual who might need it (verse 27 to 5:23).
The Hebrew name for this sacrifice, ’attata’t, literally means “sin,” but the meaning is extended to include the consequences of sin and, hence, the sacrifice offered to expiate sin (this noun, in the priestly code, always meaning offenses against God), and thus even the victim offered in that sacrifice. Here in Leviticus the normal meaning of ’attata’t is “sin offering.”
With the term understood in this specific way and special sense, we can see that when the Apostle Paul said that God made Jesus “sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21), he meant that Jesus became the victim of that expiatory sacrifice by which atonement was made for our sins. Jesus Himself became the ’attata’t, the “sin offering,” fulfilling the prophetic dimension of the sacrifices with which this chapter deals.
Here in Leviticus the verb used to “make” this sin offering is ‘asah (three times in verses 8-9), which is a normal verb connoting the performance of many sacrifices (cf. 5:10; 6:15; 8:34; 9:7,16,22; 14:19; 15:15,30; 16:9,15,24; 19:9; 22:23; 23:12,19). In the Greek text of the Septuagint this ‘asah is translated as poiein. This is the verb used by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where he says that God “made [Jesus] a sin offering” (hamartian epoiesen).
It should be further noted that these particular sacrifices, although expiatory, are not substitutionary (in contrast to the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, which was substitutionary but not expiatory). The Bible invariably distinguishes between substitutionary and expiatory sacrifices. It is a fact that the Old Testament system of sacrifice prescribed no substitutionary mactation of a sacrificial victim to atone for a sin that deserved death. That is to say, in the sacrificial system of the Bible, no animal is ever sacrificed to atone for the sin of someone who, because of that sin, deserved to die.
With respect to the death of Jesus on the Cross, we say that He died to atone our sins. In this regard His death was an expiatory sacrifice. When we speak of His death, however, as a substitutionary sacrifice, we indicate that He acted as the true Paschal Lamb, of which those earlier lambs were but symbols and types. Thus, the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was both expiatory and substitutionary; He fulfilled both of these sacrificial types, each in way proper to itself. The death of this “Lamb of God” did what the substitutionary sacrifice of the ancient Paschal lambs was never intended to do — namely, take away the sins of the world.
Thus, Jesus fulfilled all of these ancient sacrifices of the Old Testament. The ‘olah, or holocaust (Chapter 1), by being a complete sacrifice. The minhah, or grain sacrifice (Chapter 2), by granting us, in the breaking of the Bread, to “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The zebah shelamim, or “peace offering” (Chapter 3), by sharing with us His own communion with God. The ’attata’t, or sin offering (the present chapter), by taking away the barrier that human sins created between God and the human race.
The sprinkling (hizzah) of the blood purifies the curtain (paroketh that covers the Holy of Holies (verses 6,17). This verb, (hizzah, is also used in Isaiah 52:15 with reference to the Suffering Servant: “So shall He sprinkle many nations,” meaning that the blood of the Servant cleanses the sins of the nations.
Sunday, June 7
Leviticus 5: For the forgiveness of sins it was necessary to “confess” what one had done (verse 5). In context this confession was made to the priest, who was then charged to offer the sacrifice specific to the offense (verses 1-4). Thus, even in the Old Testament, priests were already “father confessors.” Such confession of sins pertained to the regular liturgical worship of God’s people (Psalms 32:5).
These sins, being confessed, were then forgiven through the Old Testament sacrament of the sin offering. The priest thus made “an atonement for him concerning his sin” (verse 6). The expression “concerning his sin” (mehatta’to was translated in the Septuagint as peri hamartias. This Greek expression is later found in Paul’s description of the sacrifice of Jesus, concerning whom he wrote, “what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin (peri hamartias): He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).
Thus, in Leviticus, through the rite of the sin offering God “forgives” the sins of those for whom the sacrifice is offered. There are three points about this verb salah, “to forgive.”
First, it is the very purpose of this sacrifice for sin, which is offered “so that they may be forgiven” (4:20). This formula appears only in connection with the sin offering (verses 10,13; cf. 4:26,31,35; Numbers 15:25,28) and the peace offering (verses 16,18,26; cf. 19:22).
Second, in the Bible the meaning of salah is never legal, forensic, or judicial. Unlike the corresponding English verb, salah is used only of God—not of a human judge or court. The term is theological in the strict sense and means a release from punishment.
Third, in Leviticus salah is not used apart from certain liturgical, sacrificial rites. That is to say, without the shedding of blood, there is no remission. Through these sacrifices the people were restored to communion with God, thus enabled to share in the divine worship. Otherwise the worship would be defiled by their participation.
Acts of unintentional desecration of something holy or the inadvertent violation of an oath were not covered by the sin offering, but by a separate sacrifice traditionally called a “guilt offering,” ’asham (verses 15-26 in the Hebrew text, 5:15—6:7 in most English translations). Of necessity this offering was for an individual, not the congregation. It bore something of the character of a reparation or compensation, a feature that explains why the prescriptions for this sacrifice, unlike the others, took note of the value of the sacrificial victim (verses 15-16,20,24-25). Some authors prefe
r to translate ’asham as “reparation offering.”
With respect to the holy things covered by these prescriptions, we observe that Sacred Scripture distinguishes degrees of consecration (21:22; Numbers 18:8-19). The “most holy things,” consecrated by actual physical touch (6:18,27; Exodus 29:37; 30:29), could be handled only by the priests.
We likewise bear in mind that the desecrations covered in these laws were unintentional offenses. Deliberate sacrilege carried the death penalty (Numbers 4:19-20).
Inadvertent or unintentional perjury was also covered by the legislation in this chapter (verses 20-26; 6:1-7 in most English translations), inasmuch as it involved desecration of God’s name. Intentional perjury was covered by very different legislation (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11).
The fulfillment of the Old Testament’s ’asham is, of course, the sacrifice of the Cross, where the Suffering Servant gave his soul (nephesh) as an ’asham for our sins (Isaiah 53:11; cf. Matthew 20:28; 26:28).
Monday, June 8
Leviticus 6: These next two chapters treat of the sacred food by which the Israelites shared in various prescribed sacrifices. The verb ’akal is found five times in these chapters.
This participation, an integral part of Old Testament religion, is correctly thought of as sacramental, inasmuch as it was a physical means, established by God, by which His people communed with Him in grace. In the history of salvation, this participation prepared God’s people for the sacraments of the New Testament, chiefly the Holy Eucharist.
The five sacrifices treated in these two chapters include both daily offerings and sacrifices prescribed for special occasions. The daily offerings of participation were the burnt offering (verses 8-13) and the grain offering (verses 14-23). The special sacrifices of participation were the sin offering (verses 24-30), the guilt (or reparation) offering (7:1-10), and the peace offering (7:11-36). These five sacrifices give structure to these two chapters.
Because of the nature of the subject, the style in these two chapters abandons the case law procedure of the previous chapters and adopts that of instruction, or torah. Indeed, each of these five instructions is called a torah (verses 9,14,25; 7:1,11), giving us, as it were, a small Pentateuch. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are also five “speeches” given to and through Moses (verses 8,19,24; 7:22,28).
Tuesday, June 9
Leviticus 7: All the blood sacrifices in this chapter (and 6:24-30) have the identical ritual structure, consisting in the mactation of the animal, the use of the sacrificial blood for atonement, the burning of the animal’s flesh on the altar, and the subsequent ritual meal of meat and grain. It is significant that the meal, since it is a means of communion with God in grace, follows the rite of blood atonement.
The Christian reader will see in this ritual the outline of theological truth. These ritual sacrifices, all fulfilled as prophecy in the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 7:27; 10:12), indicate that communion with God in Christ requires the shedding of His blood for atonement. The sacrifice of the cross, that is to say, and Christ’s entrance into the holy place with His sacrificial blood are necessary requirement of our sharing in His Eucharistic meal.
Whereas in the Old Testament sacrifices of communion a strict distinction was made between priests and other Israelites with respect to this participation, no such distinction is made in the Eucharist of the New Testament. All Christians participate in the same Sacred Food. Through this Eucharistic meal, believers become the holy people of God. The Food itself is the means of this communion in grace. It is through this physical Food of this sacrificial meal that the Church is rendered holy.
Wednesday, June 10
Leviticus 8: Here begin three chapters (8-10) of stories describing especially the institution of Israel’s priesthood and the inauguration of its priestly worship. This narrative section thus describes of various divine commands received by Moses in Exodus 29 and 40. Central to this whole section is the theophany in 9:23-24.
This long account proceeds in three steps, each developed in an individual chapter. Thus, chapter 8 tells of the consecration of Israel’s priests, chapter 9 describes the inauguration of the priestly worship, and chapter 10 narrates the sacrilege and death of two priests that failed in their responsibilities. This last story prompts the pronouncement of further rules to prevent the repetition of such a tragedy.
Chapter 8, which describes the priestly ordination of Aaron and his sons, refers to the Tabernacle (moshken–verse 10; cf. 15:31; 17:4; 26:11). This portable shrine had two parts: the outer part, which is to be identified with the “tent of meeting,” and the inner part, commonly called the “holy of holies” (Hebrews 9:2-3).
Moses was not a priest, but in this chapter we see him, as a mediator of the Covenant, ordaining the priests. All priestly ordinations in the Israelite religion go back to what Moses did in this chapter.
We observe that the ordination lasted, like Creation, a whole week (verses 33,35; 12:2; 13:4,5,21,26,31,33,50,54; 14:8,38; 15:13,19,24,28). The number seven, the standard biblical number symbolizing perfection, is important to this chapter. Thus, for instance, some version of the formula “as the Lord commanded” is found here seven times (verses 4,9,13,17,21,29,36); That is to say, the rite of ordination required seven acts of obedience. In fact, this ordination rite follows exactly—to the letter—what was prescribed about ordinations in Exodus 29.
The vestments of the priesthood were sacramental, inasmuch as they not only symbolized the office and authority of the priests, but also were the means through which that office and authority were conferred. The investiture of the priests was part of the consecratory act itself (verses 7-9; Ezekiel 44:19-20).
Also essential to the ordination was the oil by which the priests, the altar, and its instruments were consecrated (verses 10-12). This oil, mixed with the sacrificial blood (verse 30), also consecrated the priestly vestments. The mixing of oil and blood is not found in the Bible except in the rite of ordination.
There seems to be a detailed symbolism in the smearing of the sacrificial blood on the right earlobes, thumbs, and big toes of the priests. These latter were to be consecrated in their obedient hearing of God’s Word, the execution of the ministries through their hands, and their walking into the holy place.
The priestly ordination is called a “fulfillment” (milu’im), evidently indicating that all the prescriptions of the ritual were carried out to perfection (and thus were “valid”). The Septuagint translated this word literally as teleiosis, “perfection” (verses 22,28,31,33; cf. 7:37; Exodus 29:22,26,27,31,34), and the normal Greek verb meaning “to ordain” as teleio, “to perfect” (verse 33; 16:32; 21:10; Exodus 29:9,29,33,35; Numbers 3:3).
It is theologically significant that this same verb is used in the Epistle to the Hebrews to designate the priesthood of Christ (2:10; 5:9; 7:28). It is also the verb used of Christians, who by baptism share in the priesthood of Christ (9:9; 10:14; cf 7:11,19). Consecrated by Jesus’ own sacrificial blood (9:13; 10:22; cf 1 Peter 1:2), they can “approach” or “draw near” to the true sanctuary of which He is the High Priest (4:16; 7:19,25; 10:1,22).
Thursday, June 11
Leviticus 9: We come now to this book’s first reference to the “eighth day” (verse 1), a symbolic time that will become a virtual theme in Leviticus (12:3;14:1023;14:14,29;22:27; 23:36,39). Because seven days represents the work (and rest) associated with Creation, the eighth day sign
ifies the beginning of history, the work of man that follows the work of God. It is the new day of the new week. Hence it represents renewal.
For this reason, it is the day that separates the Israelite from the rest of the human race. As all men were created during the first week, so the sons of the Covenant are created on the first day of the second week. Hence, circumcision takes place on the eighth day.
If this eighth day was so important for the Jew, how much more for the Christian! The eighth day, after all, is Sunday, and “Sunday seems to be an image of the age to come. Notice that although Sunday is the beginning of days, Moses did not call it the first day, but one day: ‘And there was evening and there was morning, one day,’ because this day would recur many times. Therefore ‘one’ and ‘eight’ are the same, and the ‘one’ day refers to itself and to the ‘eighth’ day. Even the Psalmist follows this custom in certain titles of the psalms [e.g., Psalms 6 and 12 in the LXX]. This day foreshadows the state that is to follow the present age, a day without sunset, nightfall, or succession, an age that does not grow old or come to an end” (St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit 27.66).
For this same reason, major feast days in the Christian Church often last eight days, what we call an “octave.” Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas come to mind. One likewise recalls that the traditional baptismal fonts of the Church are commonly octagonal, in accord with the number eight associated with Baptism, the beginning of the new life (cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21).
The whole congregation “approaches” (qarab) and “takes its stand” (‘amad before God (verse 5). To “approach” or “draw nigh” suggests the intimacy of worship (cf. Hebrews 10:22), whereas “standing” indicates the respect due to the majesty of God. The latter word, for example, is used with respect to throne rooms (cf. 1 Kings 1:28). The priest always stands before God (Deuteronomy 10:8; 2 Chronicles 29:11; Hebrews 10:11).
This chapter twice refers to “the glory of the Lord” (verses 6,23), the divine radiance that prompts the respect and reverence indicated by the “standing” of verse 5. Israel has beheld this divine glory in the desert (Exodus 16:7,10), on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:18,22), and at the consecration of the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35), which will become the regular place of its appearance (Numbers 14:10; 16:19,42; 20:6).
Friday, June 12
Leviticus 10: The prohibition against drinking alcohol prior to divine services (verse 8) immediately follows the tragic account of Nadab and Abihu (verses 1-7), a fact suggesting that these two priests may have been intoxicated when they undertook the unauthorized liturgical rite that cost them their lives.
In any case this latter incident discloses the danger inherent in divine worship. This probably needs to be emphasized, because some of those who drive off to church each Sunday morning seem not to be aware that they are placing their very souls in peril. (Otherwise they would be dressed with modesty and dignity, arrive on time, stay until the service is over, and avoid distraction and gossip while they are in church. Indeed, sometimes the behavior of the clergy up in the sanctuary is even worse.)
Worship, after all, is encounter with God, and God is anything but safe. Throughout Holy Scripture, therefore, we find the theme of danger with respect to the things of God, particularly the rites and appointments associated with the divine worship. Nowhere in Holy Scripture is worship portrayed as completely safe.
In this sense biblical worship is nearly the opposite of “seeker friendly,” the adjective describing worship along lines dictated by the religious tastes of the uninitiated, worldly, unrepentant, and spiritually immature folks who are likely to drop in at church on Sunday morning.
Those that would draw near to God must resolve to feel uncomfortable (very much like Moses, when he was commanded to take off his shoes at the burning bush), at least until they become accustomed to the discipline of the worship. The experience of the holiness of the true God is not native to man (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32; Hebrews 12:28-29).
These reflections pertain with special intensity to those charged with the oversight of divine worship, the stewards who safeguard the sacred mysteries (1 Corinthians 4:1-5; 6:9-11; Revelation 22:14-15). It is instructive to observe that St. Paul warns such men (for Holy Scripture never envisions women in this ministry) especially against the evils attendant on the drinking of alcohol (1 Timothy 3:3; 2 Timothy 4:5).