Friday, June 10

Exodus 40: Moses thus did “everything that the Lord commanded him” (verses 16,19,21,23,25,27,29,32).

The Israelites have now been at the base of Sinai for about nine months (verse 17) and have already received, as we saw earlier, their 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; cf. Luke 1:35.

Ephesians 6:1-24: Within this text, Paul describes the panoplia of a soldier standing guard. One does not sit guard, or lie down guard. He stands guard. Indeed, Paul especially emphasizes this point: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth” and so on.

Standing is more than a posture. It is essentially an attitude and a sustained disposition of soul. We chiefly stand in our hearts and minds. This is the proper expression of being “on guard.” Even when we sit or lie down, our minds and hearts must still stand guard.

The obvious context here is the threat of combat. We stand because there are enemies about, and Paul speaks of these enemies: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Saturday, June 11

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 its common English translation (King James, for example), “burnt sacrifice.” Since just about all sacrifices in the Bible, with the obvious exception of libations, were burnt, 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—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 grain or any other form. Those other sacrifices are treated in the next chapter.

Barnabas the Apostle: The impressive appearance of Barnabas—mistaken for Zeus in the Book of Acts!—was matched by his generosity and nobility of soul. He made one of the first large financial donations to the Christian Church, and it was the trusted Barnabas who could introduce the recently converted Saul of Tarsus to the frightened Jerusalem church, oversee the new ministry at Antioch, lead the first mission to Cyprus and Pisidia, and later restore young John Mark to the mission field (4:36–37; 11:22–25; 13:2–14; 15:36–39). Reassured even to be in the presence of this huge, competent, and gentle human being, all Christians knew Barnabas as the “Son of Consolation.”

Pentecost Sunday, June 12

The Feast of Pentecost: In the early Christian liturgical calendars the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost constituted a single lengthy feast, because the Resurrection of Jesus is inseparable from the giving of the Holy Spirit (thus, cf. John 20:19–22).

This day, the name of which signifies that it is the fiftieth day, was known in the Old Testament as the “feast of weeks.” That is to say, it marka as many weeks as a single week has days. For the Jews it commemorated the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai fifty days after the Passover. The two events—the Exodus and the revelation at Sinai—formed a single theological reality, containing both deliverance and covenant.

Likewise, according to Acts 2, it was on the day of Pentecost that God also gave the Church the New Law, the indwelling Holy Spirit by whom the community of faith would be directed to the end of time. All of those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God, says Romans 8, and the Book of Acts, which we are reading during this season, repeatedly tells how the apostles put their entire ministry under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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 was considered 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. Ezekiel 16:4; 2 Kings 2:20-22; Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:49; Colossians 4:6).

Monday, June 13

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 by 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.

John 18:1-11: In the reflected glare of the torches, Malchus saw the flashing sword coming at him swiftly from the right—apparently a back-hand swing aimed at his throat—and he ducked to his left to avoid decapitation. Even so, the blow glanced along his helmet, so that his right ear was partly severed by the tip of the blade (Luke 22:50). Just then, however, Jesus stepped forward, grabbed the dangling ear, and calmly replaced it to the head of the high priest’s servant, as though the thing had never happened.

For Malchus, the rest of that night was a blur, and the whole next day, as he walked around in a daze, going to Pilate’s palace and elsewhere but reaching up, from time to time, to feel his ear and trying to make sense of it all.

Some decades later, Malchus—a Christian now for many years and long repentant of his actions on that dreadful night—sat down and described his part in the event to a physician named Luke, who happened to be writing a new account of the ministry and teaching of Jesus. Malchus told how the Savior reached out his hand through the enveloping darkness and reattached the dangling ear. Malchus asked Luke not to include his name in the account, unaware that another writer would put it in anyway (John 18:10).

This other writer, John, had also been present when it happened, and he may have learned the name of Malchus from a cousin, who encountered Simon in the courtyard of the high priest somewhat later that night (John 18:26).

Tuesday, June 14

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 signifying 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.

Wednesday, June 15

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[31]: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 into the Septuagint Greek as peri hamartias. This same 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 prefer 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).

Thursday, June 16

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).

Acts 3:11-26: The “walk” in verse 12 is literally “walk around,” in Greek peripatein, the root of “Peripatetic,” meaning the philosophy of Aristotle, who “walked around” the Lyceum at Athens discussing thorny questions with his students. Thus, Luke presents us with a Peripatetic on the Stoa!

Now Peter, like a good philosopher, sets himself to clear up a misunderstanding (verse 12). Relating his remarks immediately to the theme of his Pentecost sermon—the glorification of Jesus—Peter summarizes the Lord’s trial (verses 13-15) in a way that reflects Luke’s narrative of that trial (cf. Luke 23:4,14,16,20,22).

In verse 22, where Peter quotes Deuteronomy, the context provides a subtle word-play in “the Lord God will raise up (anastesei) for you a Prophet.” This “raising up” of Jesus (cf. verse 26 too) is, of course, the unifying theme of these first two sermons of Peter.

After his citation from Moses, he goes on to announce that “all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow,” had borne witness to the very message that he was preaching. This note again fits Luke’s motif of biblical fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. Luke 24:27,45), a motif that had so dominated Peter’s sermon on Pentecost.

He finishes by quoting Genesis 22:18, clearly understanding the “seed” (sperma) of Abraham as referring to Jesus (as does Paul in Galatians 3:16).

Friday, June 17

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 required for 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.

Acts 4:1-12: We now come to the first arrest of Christians and their first trial before the Sanhedrin. There was surely reason for concern on the part of the Sanhedrin, because the number of Christian converts, as a result of Peter’s brief sermon, had grown dramatically (verse 4). There will ensue a mounting local persecution, leading to the dispersal of the believers at the beginning of Chapter 8.

The Sadducees, direct successors of those “sons of Zadok” that we read about in Ezekiel, are the first to be offended (verses 2,3,5,6; cf. also 5:17). Unlike the Pharisees, they did not believe in a doctrine of resurrection, so when the apostles are brought to trial, the Sadducees were careful not to mention why they had been arrested! The whole affair having begun, as we saw, in late afternoon, it is now too late for court business, so the apostles are thrown in jail for the night (verse3).

The chief leaders of the Sadducees, the priests Annas and Caiphas, had been the instigators of the trial of Jesus, and now two of His apostles will appear before the same group. As on Pentecost day, Peter is “full of the Holy Spirit” (verse 8), and his brief testimony, which includes the exegesis of a Psalm verse (cf. Luke 20:17 as well), summarizes his Pentecost sermon. It was also a Psalm verse, by the way, to which Peter would return several years later (cf. 1 Peter 2:7).