Friday, May 31
Leviticus 14: We come now to purification from blights, both blights of the flesh and blights of the home.
With respect to the first (verses 1-32), we have already considered its significance in our reflections on leprosy in the previous chapter.
The blights on human flesh lead to a consideration of the blights on human homes (verses 33-57). This sequence is both logical and symbolic. As a person’s social relationships are “defiled” by his appearance, the same is true for the appearance of his home. The rules for each, accordingly, are similar.
In this legislation we perceive a relation between the Israelite’s house and the house of God. This relation is continued in the New Testament, where Jesus enters the homes that would receive him (Mark 2:14-15; 14:3; Luke 19:9).
Indeed, the apostolic ministry itself was directed to the home. This truth is very clear in the Gospels: “And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace [shalom] come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace [shalom] return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet” (Matthew 10:12-14). It was to homes, to households, that the authority of the Apostles was sent.
A Christian home is a home where the Apostles are invited in and well received. A Christian home is a household where the apostolic authority holds sway, and this fact proposes a challenge for all our homes. Do we live in households that are governed by the presence of the Apostles? Or are our homes places where the apostolic authority is not admitted? When the Apostle bids shalom to our homes, does that greeting abide therein, or does it return?
The authority and teaching of the Apostles is not something found in a church building. After all, Christians spend very little of their time at church. Indeed, we would be subject to apostolic authority on a few hours each week if we found it only in church. In the Gospels, however, the Apostles are chiefly sent to homes, places where people actually live.
This truth poses certain questions for each household: “In what measure does the authority of the Apostles actually live and prevail in my home? Do the behavior and conversation in my home reflect the active presence of the Apostles? Do the values and entertainment in my home manifest and respect the authority of the Apostles? Worse yet, do we live in homes where the Apostles have already left in disgust and shaken the very dust from their feet?
In this respect the Apostles replace the Old Testament priests in their capacity of “home inspectors.”
Saturday, June 1
Leviticus 15: The rules in this chapter, we notice, all pertain to “case law.” Because it has no strict parallel in the New Testament, this chapter’s concern with the defilement occasioned by the discharge of bodily fluids is more difficult to appreciate in a Christian context. How should a Christian approach these rules?
He should recognize, first of all, that sexuality in the Bible is hardly ever neutral. As St. Augustine recognized in the experience of his own life, God created human sex as one of His highest goods in the physical order, but man’s Fall from grace, as described in Genesis 3, seems to have infected the experience of sex more deeply than other aspects of man’s life. This is why Adam and Eve, after they had disobeyed, became aware of their nakedness before anything else. Indeed, Augustine speculated that all sexual expression had at least some amount of sin in it.
While this latter view is neither that of the Bible nor of the Christian Tradition as a whole, it does express the reserve and restraint that the Christian conscience properly feels with respect to this subject. In the prescriptions of this chapter we gain some sense of this reserve and restraint.
That is to say, while sex itself is not inherently defiling, it is defiling in most circumstances. For starts, it is always defiling outside of the relationship of marriage. It is always morally defiling in adultery, fornication, homosexuality, masturbation, pornography, and the intentional cultivation of wrong sexual fantasies (cf. Matthew 5:27-28). Even within marriage, sex is morally defiling when accompanied by brutality, anger, selfishness, and those expressions that place the marital intercourse outside of its natural and divinely intended purpose.
In other words, God’s law, as expressed in nature and divine revelation, hedges the proper expression of sex into a fairly narrow set of circumstances. This truth, hardly popular in any period, seems most offensive in today’s atmosphere of moral glibness. It is difficult for contemporary man to understand that “safe sex” involves a great amount of caution, circumspection, reserve, and restraint. It is arguable that the Puritans understood this truth better than most, and consequently seemed to have appreciated the joys of sex better than many people today.
Sunday, June 2
Leviticus 16: We come now to a detailed instruction respecting the Day of Atonement, an instruction broken into two unequal parts. The first (verses 1-28) prescribes the elaborate ritual for the feast, the second treats of related concerns, particularly the associated fasting and the prescribed rest (verses 29-34). These instructions are given to Moses, who is to convey them to his priestly brother Aaron.
The first prescription is a prohibition against the priest’s entering into the Holy of Holies except after the rest of the ritual prescribed (verse 2). This prohibition refers to the “propitiatory” (kapporet), the golden cover of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:17-22). It is here that God’s luminous glory is revealed (Exodus 40:34; Numbers 7:89).
The rite preparatory to Aaron’s entrance into the Holy Place includes a sin offering (hatt’t) and a burnt offering (‘olah), a ritual washing, and a prescribed vesting (verses 2-3). More extensive sacrifices are then prescribed for the priests and the congregation (verses 4-7; cf. Hebrews 7:27-28; 9:7).
One goat is offered in sacrifice. The other, chosen by lot, is not sacrificed but becomes the scapegoat (literally, “the goat that escapes”) that is sent out into the desert, ritually bearing the sins of the people to carry them away (verses 8-10,20-22).
The sacrificial blood of the slain victims is sprinkled on the propitiatory in order to expiate the sins of both the priests and the congregation (verses 11-15; cf. Hebrews 5:1; 9:7,13,25).
One purpose of this latter ritual was to expiate and consecrate the Holy Place itself (verse 16; cf. Hebrews 9:23). From this text it appears little or no distinction was made between expiation and consecration with respect to the Holy Place. Expiation was a consecratory act, whereby the Holy Place was consecrated through the blood sacrificially offered to God (verses 18-20).
Those animal parts that remained after the sacrifice were to be burned outside the camp (verse 27; Hebrews 13:11).
The Day of Atonement, observed like the Sabbath as a day of rest (verse 31), was to be kept annually (verse 34; Hebrews 9:7; 10:3) in the autumn. To accompany this ritual, the people were to “afflict themselves”; that is, to observe a fast (cf. Isaiah 58:3-5). Because this was the only fast prescribed in the Torah, the Day of Atonement became known simply as “the Fast” (cf. Acts 27:9).
Monday, June 3
Leviticus 17: The following ten chapters, referred to frequently as the Holiness Code, is a very early collection of precepts, a collection with its own literary integrity. Its underlying theme, which serves as a motive for the precepts themselves, is the holiness of the Lord, a holiness to be recognized and honored in every aspect of Israel’s life. This application of respect for the Lord’s holiness pertains not only to the precision of the prescribed ritual but also to the entire moral life.
The pertinence of this principle of holiness to the entire human life remains an important element of true holiness for all times, including our own. The Book of Leviticus remains in the Bible so that no one can ever imagine that holiness pertains only to sacral situations. Biblical holiness pertains, rather, to every dimension of our lives. That is to say, God is interested, not only in the authenticity of my worship, but also in the sanctity of my entire life.
The present chapter is concerned with the sacred nature of blood, all shedding of which has about it something akin to sacrifice. The life, or soul, was in the blood (cf. Revelation 6:9-10).
Thus, the shedding of blood was the pouring out of life and represented the handing back of that life to God (verses 3-4). The shed blood, representing the life offered to God, was to be sprinkled on the area of worship, to dedicate and purify the place for worship (verse 6; Hebrews 9:18-22).
Certainly such sacrifices must not be offered to demons—literally, satyrs ( se‘irim—verse 7). Indeed, the text prescribes that this practice should not be done “any more” (‘od), indicating that the Israelites had engaged in it hitherto. Such an abomination was radically at odds with the holiness to which Israel was called (cf. 2 Kings 23:8).
Verses 8-12 repeat the prescriptions of verses 3-7, adding thee particular applications. First, these rules apply also to non-Israelites sojourning among God’s People (verses 8,10,12). Second, these rules apply to all sacrifices, including the holocaust (‘olah). Third, all consumption of blood is proscribed, because of its sacral nature as the bearer of life (verse 10). All of this is to say that, nephesh habbashir badam, “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (verse 11).
Weighing the gravity of this assertion, along with its concomitant prohibition against the drinking of blood, we sense the shock of Jesus’ listeners when He commanded them to drink His blood (John 6:53-54.60). Nonetheless, in each case—in both Leviticus and John—the symbolic reason is the same; namely, the life is in the blood. Because the life is in the blood, Leviticus forbids the consumption of blood. Because the life is in the blood, Jesus commands the drinking of His own blood. Infinitely more than the sacrificed blood of bulls and goats, the blood of Jesus is appointed “to make atonement,” lekaphpher.
Like the body, the blood is to be buried. This is why blood shed outside of the liturgical setting is to be immediately covered with earth (verse 13).
Tuesday, June 4
Leviticus 18: The consideration of blood, which is the symbol and bearer of life, is appropriately followed by regulations concerning sex, the sole means appointed by God for the transmission of life. The biblical laws governing sex are mainly negative and apodictic (as in “Thou shalt not . . .”).
The core material embracing the twin concerns in this chapter (listed below) is contained by an introduction (verses 1-5) and a conclusion (verses 24-30). Since the introduction and conclusion lay the foundation for the chapter’s core material, we will discuss these first.
The introduction (verses 1-5) establishes the serious tone of the chapter. It is stated, as a first principle, that Israel’s sexual behavior is to resemble neither that of Egypt nor that of Canaan—the place that Israel was leaving and the place where Israel was going. The Lord’s “judgments and ordinances,” it should be noted here, do not mean that Israel is suddenly faced with “rules” about sex, whereas Egypt and Canaan had no such rules. On the contrary, both Egypt and Canaan had their own sexual ordinances. No nation or culture is without rules and ordinances governing sex, in the sense of social expectations. The important thing, however, is that such expectations be correct and proper, and this is the tone in which Israel is to receive the ordinances of God on this subject. (Our own modern American culture certainly has its rules, or social expectations, on the matter of sex. Alas, they are almost all wrong!)
The conclusion of the chapter takes up once again the theme established in the introduction, namely, Israel’s separation from the sexual deviations of the Canaanites, among whom the Israelites will soon be living (verses 24-26). Just as those Canaanites were dispossessed of the Holy Land by reason of committing these abominations, so Israel runs the identical threat (verses 27-28). The teaching of this passage is the same as that of Israel’s prophets, who later traced Israel’s exile back to Israel’s copying the behavior of the Canaanites.
Thus framed, the central core of the chapter contains the specific laws governing sex for God’s Holy People. These laws do address concrete social questions of two kinds:
First, in a culture where normally all the members belong to the same tribe, it is not surprising to find prohibitions against marriage within identified degrees of consanguinity and affinity (verses 6-18). Questions concerning these matters were bound to arise, and it was imperative to have clear, non-negotiable norms by which to address them.
The various prohibitions regarding consanguinity and affinity govern the household and family, where members of both sexes live in greater proximity than with other people. They are also bound by affections that are not shared outside of the family. Hence, the relationships established within the household are to be regulated with intentional severity, and on this severe code depends the stability of the whole society. A society that does not abhor incest has no future (verses 6-18). If relationships within the family are not closely and strictly governed, society collapses in one generation.
Second, because the experience of sex is so closely related to the imagination, it is inevitable that a society must eventually cope with more “imaginative” expressions of the sexual experience. Hence, there are rules to govern the proper judgment of such matters (verses 19-23). The Sacred Text is understandably severe about sex outside the family, such as adultery (verse 20), homosexuality (verse 22), and bestiality (verse 23).
It is instructive that in the midst of these references there is a prohibition of child sacrifice (verse 21). We gain some sense that sexual offenses and child sacrifice go together, a sense confirming our suspicions that a society that encourages promiscuity will be permissive with respect to the murder of children.
Wednesday, June 5
Leviticus 19: This chapter, like the previous, has its own literary unity, with both an introduction (verses 1-2) and a conclusion (verses 36-37).
Although the ordinances in chapter 18 were concerned specifically with sexual offenses, that chapter did lay down the more general principle that Israel was not to copy the behavior of the Canaanites. The present chapter spells out more implications of that principle. These implications include laws on chastity, a theme that ties this chapter to the previous one, but it also includes rules concerning worship, justice, and the care of one’s neighbor.
The chapter’s introduction bases the ensuing rules in a deep regard for the holiness of the Lord; because God is holy, God’s people must be holy. Israel itself must partake of the “otherness” of God and not conform to the standards of other peoples. That is to say, the idea of the Holy is inseparable from the notion of the Chosen People, and the Christian reader recognizes that this theme is every bit as prominent in the New Testament as in the Old. Indeed, the notion of the Chosen People, called to holiness, is not abolished; it is extended.
Taking up concerns contained in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:2-6,8,12; Deuteronomy 5:6-10,12-16), this list of the holiness laws addresses (in reverse order from the Decalogue) the honoring of parents, the maintenance of the Sabbath, and the avoidance of idolatry (verses 3-4)>.
There follows a set of prescriptions respecting peace offerings (verses 5-8), prescriptions complementary to those we studied in 7:15-19.
One of the duties of holiness is the exercise of compassion for the poor (cf. James 1:27). This compassion forbids the farmer to be thorough in the harvesting of his fields, vines, and trees; he must leave some of his harvest to be gleaned by the poor (verse 9-10; cf. Deuteronomy 24:19-22). The Moabite exile Ruth, an ancestor of Jesus, would in due course be a beneficiary of this provision.
In the following verses (11-18) this social concern is extended to many concomitant duties of charity, justice, and truth. These include the duty of fostering an internal attitude of love for one’s neighbor (verses 17-18; Matthew 22:37-39). This is the context for the prohibition against sexual exploitation (verses 20-22).
Such social concern has even an ecological dimension, which forbids the exploitation of trees that have not yet reached their maturity (verses 23-25).
The prohibitions in verses 26-29 are significant in the context of pagan practices among the Canaanites, who will soon be Israel’s neighbors. God’s Holy People must not even look like God’s enemies. Although these regulations at first may seem insignificant, modern secular customs with respect to clothing and adornment render them pertinent to our own times. Particularly to be noted here are prohibitions against tattoos and bodily piercings, customs especially offensive to those who regard their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. It is still the case that God’s people are not to be conformed to the standards of this world.
Thursday, June 6
Acts 7:1-10: Here begins Stephen’s long discourse, which is chiefly an historical survey constructed to show that Israel, throughout its history, has ever been disposed to idolatry and rebellion. Its recent killing of the Messiah, Stephen argues, is of a piece with all of Israel’s earlier sins.
He begins to recount these, stage by stage, starting with the call of Abraham in ancient Mesopotamia. His point in starting in Mesopotamia is to show that God’s Word is not limited to the Holy Land nor tied to the temple or any Jewish institution. To demonstrate this point, Stephen speaks of the endless wandering characteristic of the patriarchal period. Even the covenant itself, he notes, was prior to Israel, whose son Isaac was not conceived until afterwards. (This characteristic of the covenant with Abraham, particularly its priority to the Mosaic Law, will be an important aspect of the treatment of Abraham in Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews.)
In Stephen’s discussion of Joseph (verse 9), he begins to introduce the theme of jealousy and rebellion, taking the attitude of Joseph’s sinful brothers as a foreshadowing of Israel’s rejection of Jesus. Their cruel treatment of Joseph makes him a type or figure of the coming Messiah, who, albeit innocent and unoffending, would also be condemned, sold, arrested, and put in prison.
Then, Stephen goes on, a pagan Pharaoh would receive favorably the very one that the sons of Israel had rejected, accepting him as their “leader.” Again those events formed a foreshadowing of Jesus’ rejection by the Israelites and His turning to the Gentiles. Here Stephen is addressing one of the most important messages of the Acts of the Apostles.
Leviticus 20: The present chapter prescribes the sanctions (verses 10-21) attached to some of the sexual offenses discussed in chapter 18. Thus there is a close relationship between these two chapters. Nonetheless, the reader detects a literary unity and integrity in the present chapter; it can stand on its own.
A notable feature of Phoenician and Canaanite religion was child sacrifice, which was offered to the god Baal Moloch. The modern reader recognizes in contemporary abortions our own equivalent to that ancient atrocity. We observe here (verses 1-5) that this crime of child-killing, or even a passive complicity in this crime, merits the most severe punishment.
Israel’s vocation to holiness also requires respect and honor, not only for God-given posterity, but also for God-given ancestry (verse 9).
Following the general affinities between the present chapter and chapter 18, we observe the parallel between verses 22-26 and 18:24-30. Both texts, which serve as conclusions to their respective chapters, appeal to the general principle that God’s people are not to follow the ways of God’s enemies.
This spirit of holiness, which requires Israel to accept an either/or with respect to the Lord, took root very deeply in the prophetic movement of the ninth century, chiefly in the preaching of Elijah. The tone of the Holiness Code in Leviticus permeates Elijah’s message, and it is easy to discern: “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).
Likewise, the references to being “cut off from the people” are amply illustrated by Elijah’s treatment of the baby-killing prophets of Baal Moloch: “And Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let one of them escape!’ So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Brook Kishon and executed them there” (18:40). In short, there are no compromises with the God of the Bible.
Friday, June 7
Acts 7:11-25: Stephen’s point in verse 11 is that the Israelites, not able to feed themselves, were dependent on a pagan people. Thus Jacob, father of all Israelites, died outside of the Holy Land, along with all the tribal patriarchs. Though they were buried in the Holy Land, the site of their graves was purchased from yet another Gentile (verse 16). Meanwhile, it was in a Gentile land that the Israelites experienced their phenomenal growth. Even Moses was raised in a Gentile home and received a Gentile education (verse 22). He too was repudiated by the other Israelites, who have never, Stephen contends, shown themselves satisfied with the leaders that God sends them.
Leviticus 21: The next two chapters treat of the special holiness of the priesthood and the sacrifices. The present chapter deals first with all the priests (verses 1-9), then the high priest (verses 10-15), and finally the impediments to the exercise of the priesthood (verses 16-23).
Contact with the dead, which always carries a temporary ritual defilement (Numbers 19:11-19; 31:19,24), is permitted to a priest only when the deceased person is an immediate relative (verses 1-4).
Similarly the priest is restricted with respect to the choice of a wife. He may marry only a virgin (verse 7) or the widow of another priest (Ezekiel 44:22). The daughter of a priest, should she become sexually immoral, is more severely punished than other sinners committing the same crime, for she carries in herself the blood of the priestly family (verse 9).
As for the high priest, he is held to a higher standard in every respect. For instance, he may never render himself ritually impure by handling a dead body, no matter who the dead person may be (verse 11). In addition, in order to avoid all possible contamination, the high priest may never leave the compound of the sanctuary (verse 12). Unlike other priests, he may not marry the widow of another priest (verse 14). Likewise, depending on the meaning “of his people,” it appears that the wife of the high priest must also be of the priestly family (cf. Luke 1:5).
The integrity required of the priest was incompatible with any serious physical blemish or defect (verses 17-24). It would be unseemly and incongruous for unblemished sacrificial animals (1:3,10; 22:22-25) to be offered by a blemished priest. Such a one, however, was not to be deprived of his living; he might continue to partake of the sacrificial meals shared by the priestly family (verse 22).