Friday, June 18

Leviticus 25: According to a prescribed hierarchy of time, both the land and the ownership of the land were to be given a regular season of rest and restoration, these periods of rest in analogy to the weekly day of rest provided for the people and animals that worked the land. Thus, every field was to be given a rest during every seventh year, a period called the “sabbatical year,” or “year of Sabbath” (verses 2-7). In addition, every year following seven-times-seven years (that is, 49 years) was the period when every field must be returned to the ownership of the family to whose inheritance it originally belonged. This fiftieth year of restoration was called the Jubilee (verses 8-55). Both of these customs served to remind Israel that the land belonged to God, and they themselves were only given the use of it (verse 23).

In the custom of the sabbatical year the Israelites were to learn that the land must not be fully exploited. That is to say, the land had an existence of its own. It did not exist solely for human exploitation (verses 4-5). Israelite history indicates that these provisions were sometimes ignored (26:34-35; Jeremiah 34:4), as were nearly all the provisions of the Mosaic Law. In times of religious renewal, nonetheless, the rule of the sabbatical year was taken seriously and restored (cf. Nehemiah 10:31; 1 Maccabees 6:49,53).

As for the difficulty and potential danger incurred by letting the land lie fallow for a year, God’s people were to trust in His provision for those who obey Him (verses 18-22).

The Fiftieth Year, the year of the restoration of property, was called the Jubilee, a name derived from the ram’s horn (yobel) that was blown to mark it (verse 9). It is worth observing that this year began on the Feast of the Atonement, a fact suggesting how the first day of the year, Rosh Hashanah, eventually became identified with the autumnal feast that we examined in 23:23-25.

The Jubilee was the occasion on which all alienated farmland and village homes, whether held in surety or in payment of a debt, was to be returned to the family that originally inherited it. Ideally, thus, no family could lose its proper inheritance for more than half a century. This humane and democratic provision guaranteed a certain measure of political and social equality. In an era when all wealth was based on the holding of real estate, no family could become too poor, nor any family too rich, if all real estate had to revert to its original owner within fifty years. The land would necessarily be divided according to a rough equality, and hence wealth would be divided in the same way. This was the reason that respect for inherited family property would mean so much to the Bible’s social prophets, such as Elijah (1 Kings 21:1-19) and Micah (Mica 2:2).

The Jubilee rule pertained only to inherited pasture, farmland, woods, and village homes, not to property in walled cities (verses 29-30). Special provision was made for the Levites, who did not inherit land separately, as did the other tribes (verses 32-34).

Besides the land, the law of the Jubilee pertained to the freedom of those whom poverty had forced into slavery (verses 35-43). The people, like the land, belonged to the Lord (verse 55).

Saturday, June 19

Leviticus 26: Here at the end of the Code of Holiness come the blessings promised to those who observe these statutes (verses 3-13) and the curses of those who don’t (verses 14-39). The repetition of the hypothetical “if” (’im), found eight times in this chapter, shows that the decision is still in doubt.

The blessings and curses are preceded by an introductory admonition about idolatry and the Sabbath (verses 1-2).

The promised blessings have to do with agriculture, the tilling of the Land of Promise (verses 3-5), peace (verse 6), victory in battle (verses 7-8), offspring and prosperity (verses 9-10), and the continued presence of God in fidelity to His covenant (verses 11-13). These blessings are conditioned on a double “if” (verse 3). This section begins with Israel “walking” in the Lord’s commandments and finishes by the Lord “walking” in the midst of Israel (verses 3,12).

On the other hand, if Israel walks contrary to God, God will walk contrary to Israel (verses 21,23,27,28). The curses, which occupy a list much longer and more detailed, are arranged in an ever more emphatic progression, from sickness, sorrow, and hunger (verse 16), to foreign occupation (verse 17), famine (verse 20), and then all of these plagues together (verses 23-26). Israel will be punished sevenfold for its offenses (verses 18,21,24,28).

The curses begin with Israel not hearkening to God (verses 14,18,21,27) and end with God not hearkening to Israel. Instead of the abundant harvest of the Promised Land, the people will be reduced to such penury that they will resort to cannibalism (verse 29; cf; Deuteronomy 28:53; 2 Kings 6:28-30; Jeremiah 19:9; Ezekiel 5:10).

After this, Israel will be carried away into exile from the Land itself (verse 33). Taking an image from the previous chapter, the Lord threatens to place the whole Promised Land into an indefinite Sabbath (verses 34-35). Instead of eating in the Promised Land, Israel will be consumed in a foreign land (verse 38).

If, finally, Israel repents, the Lord will remember His covenant (verses 40-42), and Israel will be restored (verse 44; Ezekiel 16:53-63).

Sunday, June 20

Acts 9:10-25: Paul did not find salvation and then look around for likeminded folks with whom to throw in his lot. The Church—the visible body of human believers in Damascus—was not optional. It was of the very substance of the revelation that Saul received. He did not start with a personal theology about salvation and proceed to search for some group that agreed with that theology. No, the revelation of the risen Christ was also a revelation of the Church. In Paul’s experience, there was no separation between these two realities.

The rest of Paul’s ecclesiology over the years was a development of this perception. First, it was at Damascus that the Church told him exactly how to get rid of his sins: “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (22:16). For Paul, forgiveness of sins was not something distinguishable from being baptized into the Church.

That is to say, Paul learned that “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Through this sacramental experience he came to know that there is “one body and one Spirit, . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:4-5). Then, sharing in the Lord’s Supper, Paul learned the mystic source of the Church’s union with Christ, discerning that “we many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). The Church was Christ’s own body because she partook of that body through the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery.

Leviticus 27: This appendix to the Code of Holiness treats of substitutions and redemptions for offerings vowed to the Lord. Such offerings might include a person’s labor for the service of the sanctuary, to be redeemed for a price commensurate with the age and condition of the person (verses 1-8).

Such offerings also included animals, certainly, greater value attaching to those animals appropriate for sacrifice (verses 9-13). Indeed, these latter could not be redeemed at all.

Property of all kinds could be vowed, particularly real estate. As in the case of an unclean animal, such property could be redeemed at the increase of a double tithe (one-fifth) of its value (verses 14-16,19). Since such an offering of property involved an alienation of it, the actual worth of the offering was affected by the date of the next jubilee year (verses 17,18,21,23,24).

Firstborn animals, belonging to the Lord as a matter of course, could not be redeemed if they were animals fit for sacrifice. In the case of other animals, redemption was based on the same double-tithe we saw in the case of property (verse 27).

Finally, all goods were to be tithed for the sake of the worship, the support of its ministers (verses 31-33; Numbers 18:21,24), and the care of the poor (Deuteronomy 26:12).

Monday, June 21

Acts 9.31-43: Given the grievous animosity that had long estranged mutually the Jews and the Samaritans, it is no small grace to read in verse 31 that “the Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace.” This initial reconciliation now accomplished, Luke will direct our attention more emphatically to the conversion of the Gentiles, initiated by Philip’s baptism of the Ethiopian and to be extended by Peter over the next two chapters. Prior to Peter’s baptism of Cornelius, however, Luke describes the apostle’s new travels outside of Jerusalem, to which he had returned in 8:25. Two more miracles of Peter are narrated in this section, the healing of Aeneas and the raising of Tabitha. The first occurred at Lydda, some 28 miles northwest of Jerusalem, and the cured paralytic was Aeneas, named for the fabled leader of those Trojans who laid the ancient foundations of the Roman Empire. Since Virgil’s account of that adventure, the Aeneid, published in the previous century under Augustus, enjoyed a quasi-official status in Roman culture, it is unthinkable that the cultured and cosmopolitan Luke would have been ignorant of it or have missed the spiritual significance of Peter’s healing a man bearing that name. Joppa, where Tabitha was raised from the dead, was another twelve miles further northwest, on the Mediterranean coast and thirty miles south of Caesarea Maritima (“Caesarea on the Sea,” as distinct from Caesarea Philippi).

Numbers 1: It was the Lord’s presence with Israel that made this nation a holy people, so the book is first concerned with the people, even down to listing the people. This first chapter gives a rough census of all the Israelite tribes except Levi, the priestly tribe.

Like the bible’s various prophetic books, Numbers begins with a precise chronological reference that contains no fewer than three ordinal numbers (verse 1). The second verse, in turn, requires a counting “according to the numbers” (bemispar). Verse 3 then specifies the ages by the computation of the years. In short, this is a book about quantity.

There follows the first census in Numbers. The second, a census reflecting a later time, is found in Numbers 26. The present census is clearly made for military purposes, since it concentrates on males eligible for warfare.

Commentators have invariably remarked on the extraordinary numbers indicated in this text, mentioning that, if these numbers of warriors are taken at face value, then Israel certainly had the largest army in the ancient world and could easily have defeated the combined forces of both Egypt and Babylon. Indeed, Alexander the Great conquered much of the world with an army barely a fraction of the size of the army indicated here in Numbers 1.

To gain a more realistic assessment of the situation, however, it is useful to bear in mind that the Hebrew word for “thousand,” ’eleph, is actually a subdivision of a tribe, the numerical count of which varied a great deal but seldom came to a full thousand. In the context of this chapter ’eleph indicates a military unit, comparable to our “battalion,” “regiment” or “brigade.” The numerical force of any of these units may vary a great deal, and this is also true of the Hebrew ’eleph. if this military context is borne in mind the very high numbers of troops in this chapter are rendered much more plausible than at first seems to be the case.

Tuesday, June 22
Acts 10.1-8: In Chapter 10 the overt directing of the Gospel to non-Jews results from two divine revelations and the manifest outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his friends. Each vision is narrated twice, Peter’s in 10:9-16 and 11:7-9, and Cornelius’s in 10:3-8 and 10:30-33. Because this event is so important in the development of Luke’s missionary theme, it will be told again, by St. Peter, in the next chapter. Thus, the reader of Acts reads the story three times!

Today’s reading contains one account of the first of these visions. The “Italian Regiment,” to which Cornelius was attached, was well known to antiquity. It consisted of auxiliary archers assigned to the Province of Syria at this time. Quartered at Caesarea, they were equally distant from Jerusalem and Antioch. Cornelius, as a “fearer of God” (phoboumenos ton Theon), worshipped Israel’s God according to patterns of piety (synagogue attendance, prayer, fasting, almsgiving) that did not oblige him, by circumcision, to become a Jew.

The earliest Gentiles converts to the Christian Church will come largely from these “fearers of God” (10:22,35; 13:16,26,43,50; 16:14; 17:4,17; 18:7).

Numbers 2: As the Israelite tribes journeyed through the wilderness, they really marched. Which is to say, they walked in martial ranks, both of these words derived from the name Mars, the Roman god of war. We speak of that era as a period of “wandering” in the desert, but this wandering was marked by an internal structure of great cohesion and purpose. The wandering Israelites were—as God’s people must ever be—a company of warriors.

Consequently, the organization of Israel in the desert was arranged along martial lines, an arrangement that should not surprise us, in light of the military interest of the census in the preceding chapter. As in any military expedition, it was imperative to know just where the various forces were stationed and where it was feasible, if need be, to deploy them. We find this imperative at play in the present chapter.

Indeed, it seems to have been the major determining factor of Israel’s physical organization. Whereas the previous chapter had recorded the troop strength of each tribe, the present chapter strategically distributes that strength. In fact, the strategic position of each large unit was made visible by its corresponding ensign, each of which served as a symbol of every soldier’s position and direction on the field (verses 2,3,10,17,18,25,31,34). In addition, each tribe was answerable to a single commander, identified in every instance (verses 3,5,7,10,12,14,18,20,22,25,27,29). No good military leader would be satisfied with less organization.

If the overall arrangement of Israel served a military purpose, this arrangement did not exclude theological considerations. Among the tribes, such a consideration is arguably clearest in the case of Judah, destined to be the royal tribe (Genesis 49:8-12), from which, in due course, the Messiah would come. Judah, accordingly, is placed to the east (verse 3), the direction of the rising sun, blessed with its attendant symbolisms.

Similarly, the Tabernacle of God’s presence, Israel’s theological hearth, was placed in the center (verse 2), and around it all the bribes were gathered in assort of square, for its protection (Compare Ezekiel 48:30-35). The Levites, naturally, were positioned nearest to the Tabernacle, the care of the latter being their chief charge (verse 17).

Wednesday, June 23

Numbers 3: We come now to the tribe of Levi, the priestly family that marched closest to the Tabernacle of the divine presence. Each division of this tribe was assigned to carry and care for specified instruments for the worship in the Tabernacle (verses 25-26,31,36-37). Like the other tribes, which were divided into four groups to form a square around the Tabernacle, the sons of Levi were divided into four to form a small square inside the larger one (verses 23,29,35,38). This arrangement itself is symmetric and related to the theme of numbers.

In this last reference (verse 38) we observe that among the sons of Levi, Moses and Aaron and his sons occupied the position of honor, to the east, nearest the tribe of Judah. This arrangement would eventually be expressed by the establishment of the Temple in the tribe of Judah, so that this latter tribe, but especially its king, would become the chosen protectors of the priesthood. This will become a large theme in the Book of Chronicles.

In this chapter too the preoccupation is with “numbers” (verses 15,16,22,28,34,39,40,42), a preoccupation carried over, at the end, to financial considerations (verses 47-50).

Discourse about Aaron’s sons must include, and even start with, the tragedy attendant on the unfaithful ministry of the two oldest of those sons, Nadab and Abihu (verse 4), whose sin is recounted in Leviticus 10:1-2 and Numbers 26:61). This tragedy was a very sobering experience for Israel and served to brace the spirits of the remaining priests. For instance, when we consider the later zeal of Phineas the nephew of Nadab and Abihu, it is reasonable to think that zeal to come, in part at least, from his fearful reaction to the tragedy of his uncles. In any case, Nadab and Abihu died without offspring, leaving only Eliezar and Ithamar to carry on the Aaronic line.

This chapter reminds us that the Old Testament priesthood was one of biological inheritance, in which sons succeeded and were trained by their fathers. This ministry was one of trust and duty and included the safeguarding of the instruments and appointments for the maintenance of Israel’s sacrificial cult (verse 8).

The themes in this chapter will appear in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which will contrast the inherited Aaronic priesthood and the unique, eternal priesthood of Jesus, and the earthly Tabernacle with the heavenly Sanctuary made without hands.

The Levites, the non-Aaronic members of the Levitical tribe, were “given” to assist Aaron and his sons in the ministry. This term “given,” netunim, became the name of certain ministers within the Levitical order at the time of the restoration of the Temple after the Babylonian Captivity (Ezra 2:43,58,70; 7:7,24; 8:17,20; Nehemiah 3:26,31; 7:46,60,73; 10:28; 11:3,21), but here the term appears to refer to all the Levites, who were “given” to the Lord (8:16).

Just as the first fruits of all products pertained by right to the service of God, the sons of Levi were thought of as being the first born sons of Israel and therefore pertained entirely to God’s service (verses 11-12,41,45-46). This analogy suggests that there was a sacrificial quality to the lives of those who served in the sanctuary, which was the place of sacrifice.

The early Christians thought of their own order of deacons (diakonoi=”servants”) as the New Testament’s correspondence to the Old Testament order of Levites (cf. Clement of Rome 40.1-5).

Thursday, June 24

John the Baptist: According to today’s Gospel John was in his sixth month of gestation when he recognized the presence of the Messiah. Even at that age, he had already assimilated enough of his religious inheritance that he leaped in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary voice and the approach of the Son of God that she carried.

That is to say, even three months before he was born, and without the slightest ability to reflect critically on his existence, he was already a believer. He already had faith, a faith proportionate to his age and condition. He was in possession of an infant’s faith, the only kind of faith of which he was capable. This is why, eight days after his birth, he was circumcised as a member of God’s people.

This infant faith has been essential to the history of the Christian Church, because it is a fact that the great majority of Christians did not come to the Christian faith as adults, but as infants and children. We baptize the infant members of the Church for exactly the same reason that John the Baptist was circumcised eight days after his birth. That is to say, such children are already believers, just as John the Baptist was a believer.

In the case of John the Baptist, moreover, this faith began before he was born. His ears could already hear the prayers of his mother and father. He could already listen to the hymns they sang at home and in the temple. The sounds of their voices were already giving shape to his soul. In proportion to his tiny abilities, his culture was already taking shape. He was already assuming his place in history.

Numbers 4: The duties of the Levitical ministry were apportioned among their three clans. The tasks in this chapter all had to do with carrying the Tabernacle and its myriad instruments and appointment from place to place. Each time the Israelites moved away, the Tabernacle had to be disassembled and packed up, and each time Israel arrived at a new place, it was necessary to reassemble everything again.

There is an ordering among these tasks, the first place being given to the Kohathites, the descendents of Levi’s second son (Exodus 6:16). The primacy of this clan was surely determined by the fact that Amram, the father of Moses and Aaron, belonged to it (Exodus 6:18,20), so it was more closely related to the priestly family itself (verses 2-4).

The task of the Kohathites was to carry the sacred vessels associated immediately with the ritual of the Tabernacle. Even this, however, they were unable to do until everything had been properly wrapped and prepared by the priests themselves, according to a very detailed prescription (verses 5-14). Only under the careful supervision of Eliezar, the older of Aaron’s two remaining sons, could the Kohathites presume to carry this great burden (verse 15).

The next place in the order was held by the Gershonites, the descendants of Levi’s eldest son, who were charged with carrying the various drapes, veils, and hangings of the Tabernacle (24-26). All this work was supervised by the priests (verse 27), particularly Ithamar, Aaron’s younger son.

The clan of Merari, Levi’s youngest son, was to carry the more solid parts of the Tabernacle, the sections made of wood and metal (verses 31-32). This task was also to be supervised by Ithamar (verse 33).

The sense of order in this chapter is consistent with the interest in numbers and proportion that we find throughout this book. As in the previous chapters, the verb “to number” or “to count” appears repeatedly. This is a book of transcribed calculations. Everything is prescribed. Everything is proportioned.

Friday, June 24

Numbers 5: These next two chapters give various prescriptions partly repetitious of the Holiness Code in Leviticus 17—26.

In accord with this book’s concern with proportion and due order, this section begins with the “cleanliness” of the camp, the marked term referent to both hygienic and religious considerations (verses 2-4). These prescribed expulsions from the camp did not involve a removal of citizenship; those affected by it did not cease to be members of the congregation. Their condition, nonetheless, and a solicitude for the welfare of the congregation required that they be treated in a special way that involved a measure of exclusion.

The holiness and wellbeing of God’s People in this world has ever required exclusionary canons of this sort, analogous to the laws of quarantine by which other societies are protected from harm. The notion of “infection” covers a wide application of pathologies, whether moral, psychological, intellectual, or physical (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7-13; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; Revelation 21:27). As long as we are in this world, healthy societies will necessarily resort to censure and exclusion from time to time.

Concerns about proportion and due order also inspire the rules for repentance and restoration that follow those of exclusion (verses 5-10). We observe that such repentance and restoration also involve an open, audible confession of the offense, a confession explicit enough to determine the size of the restitution and nature of the sacrifice offered for its atonement. This confession is official, in the sense that it is received by the established priesthood. Even in the Old Testament, therefore, the priest served as a Father Confessor.

A certain affinity of symbolism may be the line between those rules of restitution and the ensuing regulations for trial by ordeal (verses 11-31). Once again the nature of the alleged offense is made known to the priest (verse 15). Indeed, the ritual itself required the use of “holy water” (mayim qedoshim—verse 17), which was mixed with the very dust from the floor of the sanctuary. The, as is clear, sanctified everything that it contained.

The woman that failed this test was punished by God Himself, evidently by the curse of barrenness (verses 27-28). There is no indication that she was stoned to death, the usual punishment for adultery proven in court (Leviticus 20:10). With respect to the elaborate ritual described here, it may be said that the narrative parts of Holy Scripture do not seem to indicate frequent recourse to it.

We may add that even this ritual was not without its interest in quantity and proportion. There is mention of a measuring device, the ephah (verse 15), which seems to have contained about seven pints.