Friday, 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 a 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; and the ’attata’t, or sin offering (the present chapter), by taking away the barrier that human sins created between God and the human race.

Saturday, 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 to be made 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, take note of the value of the sacrificial victim (verses 15-16,20,24-25). Some authors prefer to translate ’asham as “reparation offering.”

Trinity Sunday, June 16

2 Corinthians 13:5-14: The ancients understood the strength of things arranged in threes, and the thesis that “a threefold cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) expressed a truth that no one in olden times was prone to doubt.

A simple deference to geometry sufficed to settle the question. The triangle, after all, is plain geometry’s only stable figure with straight lines. Geometry–literally, the measuring of the earth–is solidly founded on trigonometric functions, and the surest way to calculate the earth (or the heavens!) is by a survey using a succession of triangulations.

Perhaps it was the consideration of these simple facts of physics that prompted men of old to carry triangulation over into rhetoric. That is to say, if having three sides was of benefit to a pyramid, what might it not do for a sentence? Three good solid feet thus became the expected support of good solid pronouncements.

Arguably, no author in history used this device more convincingly than the Apostle Paul, right from the beginning of his earliest extant work, where he told the Christians at Thessaloniki of his prayers for them, “remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope” (1 Thessalonians 1:3).

Paul’s preference for the tripodic form rested on a deeper reason, illustrated in today’s epistle reading: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

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).

 

1 Corinthians 15:1-11: This reading, concerned with the historical truth of the Lord’s Resurrection, might be considered under three headings:

First, the foundational principle of the event itself—the Christian religion is the world’s only religion based on a single historical fact: the truth of the Resurrection of Christ.

If He is not risen from the dead, wrote St. Paul, then we, of all men, are most to be pitied. If He is not raised from the dead, then everything that we do counts for naught. If his dead and crucified body fell into decay in some Palestinian tomb, then we are utter fools. If the tomb is not empty, then the Gospel is empty.

It is by virtue of Jesus’ Resurrection that we are justified. In fact, the first time the noun “justification” appears in the New Testament, Paul proclaims that Jesus “was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). He had earlier written, “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:17) No Resurrection, no justification.

Second, the Resurrection of Christ, as the object of prophecy, is the fulfillment of history. Paul declares in today’s reading that “He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

It is at this point in the story that Jesus dispatches the Apostles to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Their proclamation includes both the event itself and the Hebrew Scriptures that that event fulfilled. Through the Resurrection of Christ, the writings of the Hebrew people became the foundational literature of all mankind.

Third, the Resurrection of Christ becomes the formal principle of Christian thought and Christian moral behavior, which Paul refers to as having “the mind of Christ” and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In His assumption of our humanity, God’s Word sanctified our personal histories by gaining a human, first-hand, personal familiarity with life and death, adding thereto the utterly new experience of eternal life gaining victory over death. This total assumption of human history is the basis for a new and transformed humanity. We live in the Resurrection.

Tuesday, June 18

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 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 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 for 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 with 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.

Wednesday, June 19

1 Corinthians 15:20-34: In this reading Paul continues his argument against the Corinthian skeptics, who decided to second-guess the good news of the Resurrection. Apparently, they wanted to turn it into some entirely unphysical.

The permanence of the soul, its continued life after death, was not in contention among the early Christians. Indeed, thanks in part to Plato, some form of belief in a spiritual afterlife was quite in fashion in the Greco-Roman culture where the Apostles proclaimed the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul, for his part, certainly anticipated an afterlife immediately following death. This persuasion prompted him to “desire to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23). This immediate afterlife was not, however, the true goal of Paul’s striving, which was to “attain to the resurrection from the dead” (3:11). Anyway, no early Christians—as far as we can tell—contested the expectation of an immediate afterlife.

When the Apostles proclaimed Jesus as risen, however, they did not mean that he had somehow survived in a spiritual state after his death on the Cross. They meant, quite plainly, “he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4). It was an event, not a static condition.

Also, it was emphatically physical, not in the sense of induced by physical forces, but in the sense that it happened to the body. Had this not been the case, the Resurrection of Jesus would not have happened according to the Scriptures. The Resurrection-hope held out by Holy Scripture had to do with the body. When Isaiah prophesied, “Your dead shall live,” he went on to specify, “their corpses will arise” (Isaiah 26:19).

It was this physical quality of the Christian hope that proved to be too challenging for some of the brethren at Corinth. What those individuals contested was the physical cosmology implicitly contained in the thesis, “the God of our fathers raised up Jesus” (Acts 5:30). They were unable to grasp that the Gospel proclaimed this truth as a vindication of the whole created order.

Holy Scripture, after all, had not declared, “God approved of all the spiritual things He had made,” but, “God saw everything (kol) that He had formed, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31).

Thursday, June 20

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).

Friday, June 21

Leviticus 11: We come now to five chapters specifying many rules concerning ritual purity and impurity. These rules form a logical sequence after the story of Nadab and Abihu, who perished from their thoughtlessness about the holiness required in God’s true worship. They also prepare the reader for the section on Yom Kippur (chapter 16), which provides a general rite of purification. These five chapters, then, join Yom Kippur back to the tragedy of Nadab and Abihu.

This section, which interrupts the narrative of Leviticus, is sometimes called the Manual of Purity. Its structure consists of six divine revelations: four to Moses and Aaron (11:1; 13:1; 14:33; 15:1), and two to Moses alone (12:1; 14:1). In these three instances, when the subject matter of the revelation is intended for the general instruction of the Israelites as God’s holy people, Moses is instructed to hand the material on to them (11:2; 12:2; 15:2). Each of these revelations concludes with a summation of the material contained (11:46-47; 12:7; 13:59; 14:32,54-57; 15:32-33). The final revelation ends with a general summary (15:31).

This first chapter deals with the difference between “clean” and “unclean” meats, both adjectives being understood in a ritual and cultic sense. The distinguishing characteristics of these two classifications were probably more obvious at the time than they are to us, but this consideration is not important to the theology of the chapter. In principle, the Israelites are to be governed, even in their diet, by distinctions that do not govern the rest of mankind. This restricted diet was a sign of the holiness of God’s people. Why God chose to make one animal “clean” and “another” unclean is, after all, a matter that can safely be left to God.

That principle established, it is worth reflecting on the Bible’s general classification of the animal world into wild, tame, and swarming (Genesis 1:26). Only the tame animals, the domesticated animals, properly share in man’s daily life. Some of these could be used for food (sheep, cattle), others for labor (horses, oxen). No animal could be used for both.

Among wild animals, preference is shown for animals that feed on grass, not those that feed on flesh. Those animals that feed on carrion (vultures, bottom-feeder fish) are unclean.

For two reasons these rules do not govern the diets of Christians (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:9-16):

First, Gospel purity is of a more spiritual nature. This is why the determining factor for dietary purity in the Christian Church is related to demon worship (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:21).

Second, the distinction between Israelite and Gentile, a distinction expressed in these ancient dietary laws, is destroyed by the common source of holiness, which is the sanctifying blood of Christ.