Friday, May 28

Leviticus 4: The Hebrew name for the sacrifice in this chapter, the “sin offering,” is ’attata’t; this noun 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.” It always involves the shedding of blood, because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9.22).

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. 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. This verb is also used throughout Genesis 1, with respect to Creation.

In the Greek text, the Septuagint, of Leviticus 4. 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.

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. The imagery of this ritual provides the structure for the entire argument in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Jesus, with his own blood, purifies the heavenly sanctuary.

Saturday, May 29

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.

Sunday, May 30

Galatians 4.1-17: Sometimes it is good to start the consideration of things, especially the things of God, not at the beginning, but at the end. Since we Christians believe we are living in the “end times,” this approach seems eminently reasonable. We should commence with “the fullness of time.” It is this “fullness of time,” which fulfills all things within time, that must serve to interpret everything human, including philosophy. Exactly what, then, has occurred “in the fullness of time”? Paul answers, in this reading from Galatians:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that he might redeem those under the Law, that we might receive sonship. And because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba,” “Father.”

Not least among the striking features of this text is the apostle’s use of exactly the same verb to speak of the sending forth of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. In each case he says, exsapesteilen ho Theos—“God sent forth his Son. . . . God sent forth the Spirit of his Son.” This is a summary of how we know God: We know him because he has revealed himself by his sending forth of his Son and Holy Spirit.

This text of Galatians speaks of the sending of the Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit as two realities subject to distinction. In thus distinguishing them, Holy Scripture justifies our investigating each of them in distinctive (though not separate nor separable) ways. Let us, then, speak of each distinctly.

Leviticus 6: These next two chapters of Leviticus 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).

Monday, May 31

Acts 3:1-10: Peter and John go up to the temple “at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.” This was late afternoon, the time of the daily evening sacrifice for devout Jews and proselytes (cf. 10:3). As we see in Tertullian and Hippolytus at the beginning of the third century, this hour of prayer was also maintained by Christians, as is the canonical rule unto the present day. In the Christian practice, of course, the “evening sacrifice” is the death of Jesus on the Cross, which also took place at this very hour (cf. Mark 15:34-37). Peter heals the lame man in the powerful name of Jesus (cf. 2:21,38-39; 3:16; 4:7-10), of which we will soon be told that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (4:12).

The healed man immediately enters the temple with the two apostles, making quite a scene by his enthusiastic worship. The fairly secular word “amazement” in verse 10 is actually “ecstasy” in Greek, which is a term descriptive of religious experience. The “porch” of Solomon in verse 11 is stoa in Greek, from which was derived the name of philosophers called “Stoics” (cf. 17:18), so named because they studied under Zeno at the Poecile, a colonnaded porch in Athens. As the Fathers of the Church observed in this connection, Luke is thus contrasting the Solomonic wisdom of the Bible with the pagan wisdom of the Hellenic philosophers. Peter will now preach wisdom from that “porch of Solomon.”

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.

Tuesday, June 1

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.

There seems to be a detailed symbolism in the smearing of the sacrificial blood on the right earlobes, thumbs, and big toes of the priests. These latter were to be consecrated in their obedient hearing of God’s Word, their executing of the ministries through their hands, and their walking into the holy place.

The priestly ordination is called a “fulfillment” (milu’im), evidently indicating that all the prescriptions of the ritual were carried out to perfection (and thus were “valid”). The Septuagint translated this word literally as teleiosis, “perfection” (verses 22,28,31,33; cf. 7:37; Exodus 29:22,26,27,31,34), and the normal Greek verb meaning “to ordain” as teleio, “to perfect” (verse 33; 16:32; 21:10; Exodus 29:9,29,33,35; Numbers 3:3).

It is theologically significant that this same verb is used in the Epistle to the Hebrews to designate the priesthood of Christ (2:10; 5:9; 7:28). It is also the verb used of Christians, who by baptism share in the priesthood of Christ (9:9; 10:14; cf 7:11,19). Consecrated by Jesus’ own sacrificial blood (9:13; 10:22; cf 1 Peter 1:2), they can “approach” or “draw near” to the true sanctuary of which He is the High Priest (4:16; 7:19,25; 10:1,22).

Wednesday, June 2

Leviticus 9: We come now to this book’s first reference to the “eighth day” (verse 1), a symbolic time that will become a virtual theme in Leviticus (12:3;14:1023;14:14,29; 22:27; 23:36,39). Because seven days represents the work (and rest) associated with Creation, the eighth day signifies the beginning of history, the work of man that follows the work of God. It is the new day of the new week. Hence it represents renewal.

For this reason, it is the day that separates the Israelite from the rest of the human race. As all men were created during the first week, so the sons of the Covenant are created on the first day of the second week. Hence, circumcision takes place on the eighth day.

If this eighth day was so important for the Jew, how much more for the Christian! The eighth day, after all, is Sunday, and “Sunday seems to be an image of the age to come. Notice that although Sunday is the beginning of days, Moses did not call it the first day, but one day: ‘And there was evening and there was morning, one day,’ because this day would recur many times. Therefore ‘one’ and ‘eight’ are the same, and the ‘one’ day refers to itself and to the ‘eighth’ day. Even the Psalmist follows this custom in certain titles of the psalms [e.g., Psalms 6 and 12 in the LXX]. This day foreshadows the state that is to follow the present age, a day without sunset, nightfall, or succession, an age that does not grow old or come to an end” (St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit 27.66).

For this same reason, major feast days in the Christian Church often last eight days—what we call an “octave.” Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas come to mind. One likewise recalls that the traditional baptismal fonts of the Church are commonly octagonal, in accordance with the number eight associated with Baptism, the beginning of the new life (cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21).

The whole congregation “approaches” (qarab) and “takes its stand” (‘amad before God (verse 5). To “approach” or “draw nigh” suggests the intimacy of worship (cf. Hebrews 10:22), whereas “standing” indicates the respect due to the majesty of God. The latter word, for example, is used with respect to throne rooms (cf. 1 Kings 1:28). The priest always stands before God (Deuteronomy 10:8; 2 Chronicles 29:11; Hebrews 10:11).

This chapter twice refers to “the glory of the Lord” (verses 6,23), the divine radiance that prompts the respect and reverence indicated by the “standing” of verse 5. Israel has beheld this divine glory in the desert (Exodus 16:7,10), on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:18,22), and at the consecration of the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35), which will become the regular place of its appearance (Numbers 14:10; 16:19,42; 20:6).

Thursday, June 3

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, Jun 4

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.