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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
The Law of Holiness (Leviticus 17-27).
The main section of the Book of Leviticus is constructed on a definite pattern. It commences with a description of the offerings and sacrifices of Israel (1-7), and ends with a description of the times and seasons as they are required of Israel (23-25). It continues with the establishment of the priesthood (8-10), which is balanced by the section on the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (21-22). This is then followed by the laws of uncleanness (11-15) which are balanced by the laws of holiness (17-20). And central to the whole is the Day of Atonement (chapter 16).
This second part of the book has been spoken of as ‘The Holiness Code’. We may balance this by calling chapters 1-15 ‘The Priestly Code’. The first part certainly has a priestly emphasis, for the priests control the offerings and sacrifices (1-7) and administer the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (11-15), and the second part a holiness emphasis. But this must not be over-emphasised. The whole book is mainly addressed to the people, it is for their benefit as God’s covenant people, and the maintenance of the holiness of the priests is just as important in the second half. It is to be seen as a whole.
We may thus analyse it as follows (note the chiasm):
1). THE PRIESTLY CODE (1-15).
a) Offerings and Sacrifices (1-7)
b) Establishment of the Priesthood (8-10)
c) The Laws of Cleanness and Uncleanness (11-15)
2) THE DAY OF ATONEMENT (16)
3) THE HOLINESS CODE (17-25)
c) The Laws of Holiness (17-19)
b) Maintenance of the Holiness of the Priesthood (20-22)
a) Times and Seasons (23-25).
As will be seen the Day of Atonement is central and pivotal, with the laws of cleanness and uncleanness and the laws of holiness on each side. This central section is then sandwiched between the establishment of the priesthood (10-12) and the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (20-22). And outside these are the requirements concerning offerings and sacrifices (1-7) and the requirements concerning times and seasons (23-25).
So the Holiness Code may be seen as a suitable description of this second half of the book as long as we do not assume by that that it was once a separate book. The description in fact most suitably applies to chapters 19-22. It describes what Israel is to be, as made holy to Yahweh.
It was as much a necessary part of the record as what has gone before. The Book would have been incomplete without it. The Book of Leviticus is, as it claims, the record of a whole collection of revelations made to Moses at various times, brought together in one book, and carefully constructed around the central pivot of the Day of Atonement. There is no good reason for doubting this, and there are possible indications of colophons to various original records which help to substantiate it. It was the necessary basis for the establishment of the religion of Yahweh for a conglomerate people.
So having in what we know of as the first sixteen chapters of the Book laid down the basis of offerings and sacrifices (1-7), the establishment of the Priesthood (8-10), the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (11-15), and the requirements of the Day of Atonement (16), the whole would have been greatly lacking had Moses not added some further detail of the holiness that God required of His people and of His priests.
The former is contained in 17.1-20.27. In this section Moses deals with the sacredness of all life (17), the sexual relationships which can defile (18), and the positive requirements for holiness in the covenant (19-20).
It is then followed by the further section dealing with the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (21.1-22.16), with 22.17-33 forming a transition from speaking to the priests to speaking to the people.
Chapters 23-25 then deal with sacred times and seasons, including the seven day Sabbath (23.1-3), the set feasts of Israel (23.4-44), the daily trimming of the lamps and the weekly offering of showbread (24.1-9), the Sabbatical year (25.1-7), and the year of Yubile (25.8-55). Included in this is a practical example of blasphemy against the Name (24.10-23), which parallels the practical example of priestly blasphemy in 10.1-7. Thus practical examples of the blasphemy of both priests and people are included as warnings.
Chapter 26 seals the book with the promises of blessings and cursings regular in covenants of this period, and closes with the words ‘these are the statutes and judgments and laws which Yahweh made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses’ (26.46). Chapter 27 is then a postscript on vows and how they can lawfully be withdrawn from, and closes with a reference to tithing, the sanctifying of a tenth of all their increase to Yahweh.
Chapters 11-15 dealt with the uncleannesses of Israel, leading up to the Day when all uncleannesses were atoned for (chapter 16). But the Day of Atonement covered far more than those. It covered every way in which the covenant had been broken. It also covers the direct transgressions of Israel. Chapter 17 onwards therefore deals further with the basis of the covenant against which they ‘transgressed’ and for which they also needed atonement. Chapters 11-15 dealt with practical matters considering what was ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ as they faced daily life, these chapters from 17 onwards now deal with the basis on which they should live their lives as Yahweh’s holy people, and the attitudes that they should have. They deal with prospective sin and disobedience. The former were more within the cultic section up to chapter 16, but the latter are firmly directed at the people’s moral response, so that their responsibilities under the covenant might be made clear directly to them. The distinction must not be overpressed. They are all still, of course, cultic, but the latter from a less direct viewpoint. They do not have so much to do with priestly oversight. They come more under the jurisdiction of the elders.
There is, however, no change of direction in overall thought. The whole of Leviticus emphasises holiness from start to finish. There is not a change of emphasis only a change of presentation because God is now directly involving the people.
It must, however, be firmly asserted that, as we shall see in the commentary, there is nothing in what follows that requires a date after the time of Moses. Having been given by God control of a conglomerate people (Exodus 12.38), with a nucleus made up of descendants from the family and family servants of the patriarchs (Exodus 1 - ‘households’), he had to fashion them into a covenant keeping nation under Yahweh and provide the basis on which they could be one nation and kept in full relationship with their Overlord. It was precisely because the disparate peoples believed that his words came from God that they were willing mainly to turn their backs on their past usages and customs and become one nation under Yahweh, culminating in them all being circumcised into the covenant when they entered the land (Joshua 5).
And with such a conglomeration of people with their differing religious ideas, customs and traditions, it is clear that this could only have been successfully achieved by putting together a complete religious system which was a revelation from Yahweh, which would both keep them together as one people and would ensure that when they reached Canaan they would have no excuse for taking part in the Canaanite religious practises such as he knew of from his time of administration in Egypt and from his time with the Priest of Midian. Had they arrived in Canaan without a single binding system, they would soon have fallen prey (as they almost did anyway) to the attractions of Canaanite religion. It was only the firm foundation that Moses had laid (combined with God’s own powerful activities) that finally resulted in their rising above their backslidings, and in their constantly turning back to Yahwism, because Moses had rooted it so deeply within them. And this finally enabled the establishing of the nation under Samuel and David after times of great turmoil.
This system did not come all at once. He had to begin instructing them soon after the crossing of the Reed Sea (Exodus 15.26), and a system gradually grew up (Exodus 17.13-26) as they went along, based as we learn later on a tent of meeting set outside the camp (Exodus 33.7-11), until at Sinai the book of the covenant (Exodus 20.1-23.33) was written down as a result of God’s words to the people and to Moses. Then in his time in the Mount this was expanded on. But it would continue to be expanded on in the days to come, until the time came when Moses knew that he had to accumulate in one record all the regulations concerning sacrifices, priesthood and the multitude of requirements that went along with them. By this time he had much material to draw on.
For leaders from different groups had no doubt been constantly coming to him for direction and leadership (Exodus 16.22), and especially for those who were not firmly established in the customs of Israel he no doubt had to deal with a wide number of diversified queries, and seek God’s will about them. This explains why sometimes the collections may not always seem as having been put together in as logical order as they might have been. They partly depended on what questions he had been asked, and what particular problems had arisen, and what particular issues were important at the time. But it was on the basis of all this activity that we have the Book of Leviticus as a part of the wider Pentateuch.
THE HOLINESS CODE.
The first emphasis on the holiness that Yahweh required of His people comes out in His requirements concerning the sacredness of life, and the shedding of blood.
Chapter 17. The Sacredness of Life and The Shedding of Blood.
With the emphasis that God has placed on the need for the careful regulation of the shedding of blood which represented God-given life (Genesis 9.2-6), it was necessary at some stage that Israel be carefully instructed in how to deal with situations where such questions arose. God wanted them to recognise that life was sacred, and that all life belonged to Him. And this is now the basis of what we find in this chapter, combined with definitions as to the significance of the blood which are of importance to us all.
But there is more to it than that. It will have already been noted that pivotal to this Book is the idea of sacrifice. The first seven chapter centralised on it. The priests were anointed in order to be able to perform it. Severe uncleanness required it. The Day of Atonement focused on it. And now this chapter introduces the remainder of the Book, stressing that underlying the whole covenant lies the idea of sacrifice. Without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness of sin, no atonement, no covenant. All is based on sacrifice. For the shedding of the blood in offerings and sacrifice of all clean, sacrificeable animals lies at the root of atonement in the Old Testament. Their lives are God’s great requirement for the sins of His people. And yet the very offerings themselves revealed that they were not enough. More and more were required, and were still insufficient. They merely pointed ahead to the one great sacrifice for sin that one day He Himself would make Who would alone be sufficient for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2.2).
17.1 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
Again it is stressed that we have here God’s word to Moses.
17.2 “Speak to Aaron, and to his sons, and to all the children of Israel, and say to them, This is the thing which Yahweh has commanded, saying,”
This brings out that, while Aaron and his sons were responsible for the priestly ministry, the details of the Law were still the province of Moses. It was he who had to convey to Aaron and his sons and the children of Israel the whole word of God. The priests’ task would then be to apply that Law as it had been given to them by Moses.
In a sense this verse looks forward to the remainder of the book. It is ‘to Aaron, to his sons, to all the children of Israel’ (only here, and in 22.18 where it forms a transition from words to the priests to words to the people). This overall phrase covers both groups to whom Moses will speak in this last part of the book.
The Law Concerning the Slaying of Clean Domestic Beasts (17.3-10).
17.3-4 “Whatever man there is of the house of Israel, who kills an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or who kills it outside the camp, and has not brought it to the door of the tent of meeting, to offer it as an oblation to Yahweh before the tabernacle of Yahweh, blood shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood. And that man shall be cut off from among his people.”
He begins by declaring that any clean (eatable) domestic animal that was slain, whether in the camp or outside, had to be brought to the door of the tent of meeting to be offered as a gift to Yahweh. If it was not the person involved would be seen as guilty of ‘shedding blood’ without acknowledgement to Yahweh, and would therefore have to pay the penalty. He would be bloodguilty and would be cut off from among the people. ‘Cutting off’ probably signifies being put to death, although some have seen it as being cast permanently out of the camp. Thus every clean domestic animal that was slain was acknowledged as belonging to Yahweh, and as His gift to His people, and as being in its death part of the great atonement for them.
Apart from the daily and seasonal offerings this slaughter would not be such a regular an occurrence as we might at first imagine. We must remember that, while in the wilderness, the children of Israel would be seeking to preserve their herds and flocks, so that such optional slaughtering would not necessarily be very common. They saw their domestic animals as there to provide milk and wool, and to act as beasts of burden. They lived mainly on the manna provided by God, supplemented by hunting, by fishing, on bird’s eggs and on any other food that they were able to gather, and on the milk with its by-products provided by the domestic animals. They would not want to eat the animals themselves except on special occasions.
Once settled at the oases in Kadesh and its surrounds they would sow such crops as might grow. They would have been keen to preserve and build up their herds and flocks ready for when they reached Canaan. Thus this provision ensured that when they did partake of meat it would also ensure that a peace offering was made to Yahweh, so as to maintain peace with Him, and that they acknowledged their debt to him for His goodness towards them. Every deliberate death of such an animal contributed to atonement, acknowledged that life belonged to God, and confirmed their recognition that all that they had came from His hand (Psalm 50.10), that they were His covenant people.
17.5 “To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices (cattle they have slaughtered), which they sacrifice (slaughter) in the countryside, even that they may bring them to Yahweh, to the door of the tent of meeting, to the priest, and sacrifice them for sacrifices of peace-offerings to Yahweh.”
The reason for this provision was so that any clean domestic animal which was slaughtered was brought as a peace sacrifice to the door of the tent of meeting to be offered up by the priests. This would then ensure that the blood was properly dealt with, that the fat was offered to Yahweh, and that the life was offered back to God, and from this it would be made quite clear to them that they had received its benefits from Him. They could then themselves partake of its meat, once the priest had had his portion, the fat and vital parts having been offered to God. Every animal slaughtered for meat thus also became a sacrifice of peace offering, confirming peace and wellbeing before Yahweh.
17.6 “And the priest shall sprinkle the blood on the altar of Yahweh at the door of the tent of meeting, and burn the fat for a pleasing odour to Yahweh,”
The priest would deal with it as usual (as described earlier in 1-7) by sprinkling the blood on the altar, and burning the fat, which would arise as a pleasing odour, well pleasing to Yahweh. Continually atonement had to be made. This summary of such sacrifices indicates that the detail must have been given previously. This legislation could not stand on its own.
17.7 “And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to the he-goats (or ‘demons’), after which they play the harlot. This shall be a statute for ever to them throughout their generations.”
An apparent further reason for this requirement, apart from the fact that it was an acknowledgement that life was sacred, and that all their cattle essentially belonged to God, was in order to counter pagan practises that had clearly sprung up, or may even have continued among some of them since they left Egypt. It is indicated here that some of the people had been slaughtering sacrifices ‘to the he-goats’ which they were falsely and indecently worshipping (‘playing the harlot’ with them). There may be a reference here to the goat worship practised in Lower Egypt which involved among other things women worshippers copulating with the goats. Such abominations would now be prevented by ensuring that all such animals were offered to Yahweh before the tent of meeting, which would make the other almost impossible, except by gross breach of the covenant.
17.8-9 “And you shall say to them, Whatever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a whole burnt offering or sacrifice, and does not bring it to the door of the tent of meeting, to sacrifice it to Yahweh, that man shall be cut off from his people.”
The principle was now firmly laid down, and the whole burnt offering and all other sacrifices were also now included in the provision, that all offerings and sacrifices of any kind were to be brought to the door of the tent of meeting to be offered or sacrificed, whether it be by Israelites themselves, or by aliens who had settled among them. Any who did not do so would be cut off from among the people. Later the principle would be altered to take into account the fact that, once they were in the land, the site where the tabernacle was situated might be too far for people to come regularly for such a purpose (Deuteronomy 12.20-28). Then the blood had rather to be poured out on the earth like water, to ensure that it was not eaten or drunk.
Note the continued stress on resident aliens. They were not to be free to outwardly practise their own religion or worship as they pleased. If they wished to do so they must go elsewhere. While they lived in Israel, or in the camp, there must be no danger of their leading Israel astray. While they lived in Yahweh’s land they must worship and make offering to Yahweh alone.
For us the lesson comes over quite clearly from this that we must give proper thanks to God for all meat of which we partake. It is His provision for us, it is part of His creation, it has cost a life that belongs to Him, and it provides us with a specific opportunity for worship and thanksgiving. And it is above all a reminder of Him Who was offered as a peace offering for us, of Whom we may continually partake by faith.
17.10 “And whatever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who eats any manner of blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people.”
Furthermore, God stressed, no one in Israel must partake of the blood of an animal, whether it was those within the covenant or the alien who settled down among them. It was absolutely forbidden. God would set His face against anyone who ate blood. Rather than receiving life from it they would be cut off from among the people.
The Reason Why Abstaining From Blood Is So Vital (17.11-12).
17.11 “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your persons. For it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life.”
And the reason for this provision, which was permanent and binding, and permitted of no exception, was because ‘the life of the flesh is in the blood’, the blood uniquely represents the life. It was the life principle of the animal, and no human being should seek to partake of an animal’s life principle. It belonged solely to God.
But God had in His goodness provided that that life principle might be laid out in death on the altar in order to make atonement for the people. The life of that part of creation that God had provided as food for men, and as suitable for sacrifice, was offered in lieu of the lives of the sons of men. For the blood atones precisely because it represents the life laid out in death. Such continual sacrifice resulted in continual substitution for, and atonement for, sin, as the death of others provided by God was in this way constantly used to purify the sin of Israel and atone for it.
17.12 “Therefore I said to the children of Israel, No one of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.”
That is why no permanent resident of Israel, whether homeborn or sojourner (permanent alien resident) would be permitted to partake of blood. The blood was the life of the animals, could only be given to God in death, was laid out in death for man’s sins, and was the sacred symbol of God’s atoning work. It was thus not available for man’s use.
So constantly the people of God had the reminder of their own sin, and of the death which was the consequence of sin, and of the atonement that God had made available for them, in each domestic animal that was slain. So too must we daily and continually remind ourselves of the One Who was slain for us, that we might be forgiven and find reconciliation with God, and live out our lives to please Him.
The Law Concerning The Eating of Hunted Down Wild Beasts And Birds (17.13-14).
17.13 “And whatever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird which may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood, and cover it with dust.”
When a beast or bird ‘which may be eaten’ (compare chapter 11) is taken in hunting, and the main stress here is on the hunting of clean beasts and birds, their blood must be poured out on the ground and covered in dust. On no account must the blood be eaten. Again this applied to both Israelite and resident alien. All life belonged to God and He had the sole right to its disposal. The flesh of such animals could be eaten, but not their blood.
17.14 “For as to the life of all flesh, its blood is all one with its life. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, You shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.”
For the blood represents the life of the animal or bird. It is its life principle And no one was to seek to partake of an animal’s life principle. Men and women were made in the image of God, and were of a different nature to wild beasts. To seek to imbibe an animal’s life principle was therefore to seek to alter one’s nature, and to turn oneself into a beast (which indeed was what they saw as one of its purposes, to give them the ferocity and/or strength of the beast). It was an example of what would later be described as ‘confusion’ (18.23; 20.12).
This teaching concerning the blood brings home the fact that we too can find life through blood shed, the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29). It is through His life given in death that we can find forgiveness and new life. Jesus even spoke of ‘drinking His blood’ (John 6.53-56), but the thought there also was of putting Him to death and benefiting by it (compare Isaiah 49.26; Zechariah 9.15 LXX; Matthew 23.30; 2 Samuel 23.17). Men ‘drank His blood’ when they killed Him as they had the prophets (Matthew 23.30). We ‘drink His blood’ when we claim and participate in the benefits of His death.
The Law Concerning The Eating Of What Is Not Slain Or Hunted Down But Dies of Itself Or Through Other Wild Beasts (17.15-16).
17.15 “And every person who eats what dies of itself, or what is torn of beasts, whether he be home-born or a sojourner, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening. Then shall he be clean.”
With regard to beasts’ carcases, where the death had occurred naturally, or as a result of one beast killing another, so that some of the blood would have drained out, then to eat of them was to render the eater unclean. The blood had not been properly dealt with. But still the blood and the fat must not be consciously eaten of, although the problem now arose as to how to remove the blood. Nevertheless the blood and fat were sacred to Yahweh. In fact elsewhere the Israelite was discouraged to eat of such animals at all (compare 11.39-40; 22.8 of priests) because as the people of God they were ‘holy’ (Deuteronomy 14.21). If they did eat of them they became unclean, although, once they had washed their clothes and washed themselves thoroughly, their uncleanness only lasted until the evening. Once the evening came they would be clean again.
(It will be apparent to all that the total removal of all blood was not practical even with sacrificially slain animals. It was the principle that was important, the avoidance of the deliberate imbibing of blood).
17.16 “But if he wash them not, nor bathe his flesh, then he shall bear his iniquity.”
But if they became unclean in this way and did not wash their clothes or themselves, then they must bear any punishment that God sees fit to mete out to them. There seems to be an indication here that unpleasant results can follow such eating, especially if they do not wash fairly soon afterwards. In view of the fact that the animal would either be diseased or possibly infected by other animals and birds who had torn at it with tooth and claw, there was a good likelihood of their picking up infections, and those who followed God’s instructions not to eat at all made the most sensible choice. The hygienic reasons for this are quite clear.
One great lesson that comes from this chapter is the wonder of life. God gave all life, and it is His. It is never something to be taken or treated lightly. It is holy to Him.
Chapter 18. God’s Covenant Is Concerned With Right Sexual Relations.
In this chapter, having laid the basis in sacrifice, God now commands His people to walk in His ways and in accordance with all that He has shown them. And here He especially declares to them what relationships with women they are to avoid. So as in 11-12 the pattern is maintained. First the treatment of domestic and other animals (compare chapter 11), then the treatment of sexual relations with their results in the bearing of life (chapter 12, 15).
The chapter is in twelfth century BC treaty form. It begins with the declaration of the overlord, ‘I am Yahweh your God’, goes on with the preamble about their required behaviour, followed by the promised blessing that those who did His commands would live in them, details the further requirements, and finishes up with the final warnings for disobedience. Note how ‘I am Yahweh’ is repeated (verse 2, 4, 5, 6, 21, 30), stressing the connection with the covenant.
This Is The Word Of God (18.1).
18.1 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
Once more we have the emphasis on the fact that these are God’s words to Moses. The ideas are not to be seen as Moses’ ideas, but as God’s.
The Command To Obey Yahweh Their God Whose Commands Bring Life (18.2-5).
18.2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, I am Yahweh your God.”
What follows very much has the covenant in mind. God stresses constantly, as He did at the giving of the covenant (20.2), that He is Yahweh their God, and that He therefore expects their response. Note that these words are directed solely at the people. This continues from now until 20.27, and then from chapter 23 onwards.
18.3 “You shall not do after the doings of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelt, and you shall not do after the doings of the land of Canaan, to which I will bring you, nor shall you walk in their statutes.”
Because He is Yahweh their God, and because they are His, they are not to live as others live and do as others do. They are not to follow the doings of the land of Egypt. They are not to follow the doings of the land of Canaan. Nor when he has brought them there are they to walk in their statutes, their behavioural rules that were recorded and required of men. They are rather to do as He requires.
Particularly are they not to follow their attitudes towards sexual relationships. Both the Egyptians and the Canaanites allowed sexual relationships and marriage within some of the degrees described below, and the Canaanites especially were free with their sexual favours, but Israel was not to be so.
This was particularly important in view of the conglomerate nature of ‘the children of Israel’. All among them were used to living in accordance with differing long established and varying customs picked up in Egypt, and previously in Canaan and other places. They were a total mixture of customs. But now they were to put all those behind them and begin to follow Yahweh’s statutes and ordinances. The new beginning established at Sinai had to be seen as pre-eminent. The past must be put behind them.
18.4 “My ordinances shall you do, and my statutes shall you keep, to walk in them. I am Yahweh your God.”
Rather are they to do the ordinances and judgments that He has required of them, given them in judgments, or caused to be written as their guide (see Exodus 17.14; 24.4; 34.27; Numbers 33.1-2; Deuteronomy 31.9), and to follow His demands and declarations, and walk in His ways. And they are to do this because He is Yahweh their God, their Great Deliverer.
We are reminded by this that we too when we become Christians have become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17). We too have to put aside the old ways and walk as new men and women (Ephesians 4.22-32; Colossians 3.5-11; Galatians 2.20).
18.5 “You shall therefore keep my statutes, and my ordinances, which if a man do, he shall live in them. I am Yahweh.”
For it is in keeping those statutes and ordinances that they will find life. First of all they will avoid the danger of dying because of sin (compare Exodus 28.35, 43; 30.20, 21; Leviticus. 8.35; 10.6, 7, 9; 15.31; 16.2, 13). Secondly they will live in prosperity and blessing, for in Deuteronomy the idea of life and prosperity go very much together (Deuteronomy 30.15-16). The blessings of Deuteronomy 28.1-14 were to be for those who ‘lived’. And thirdly elsewhere in Leviticus it is stressed that they would enjoy the abundant blessings of God. ‘If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments and do them, then I shall give you rains in their season, and the land will yield its abundant produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. And your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time, and you will eat your food to the full and live securely in your land’ (26.3-5).
So fullness of life, He tells us, results from knowing God and walking in His ways. This was also the essential message of the writer of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 2.24-26; 3.22; 5.18-19; 11.9) as he sought to understand the meaning of life. He pointed to the free and happy life under God available to those who trusted in Him. And that was the life that the Law was intended to give, as the people responded to God in love and worship and sought eagerly to do what pleased Him and to enjoy the good things in life that He gave them.
This was not saying that the Law could ‘give life’ as we might understand it. It very much could not. It could only show the life that should be lived. It could show what life was. It was the God of the covenant Who could give life, Who could renew His spirit within them (Psalm 51.10; 139.7; 143.10 compare Numbers 11.25), Who could give them clean hearts if they sought them (Psalm 51.10; Ezekiel 18.31). For the purpose of the ordinances was that they should constantly be returned to cleanness, and to a sense of a right relationship with God. The one who had raised up Abraham, Who had raised up Jacob, could also constantly raise them up. This is the message that the prophets would remind them of again and again. But it was true from the beginning. And through this they could live according to His covenant and enjoy His fullness of blessing. They would ‘live in them’.
Relationships Which Are Forbidden.
But central to this fullness of life were satisfactory family relationships. If they wished to enjoy ‘life’ these were vital. Living in a patriarchal society where the wider family lived in close relationships with each other, and where authority was vested in the wider family and very much determined by status in the household, there was the greatest possible danger among such families, knowing the propensities of men, that the closeness of their relationships in their living together could produce sexual problems, and that those could then produce situations that struck at the very roots of the family and of authority. Men’s lusts would be able to destroy families and especially womenfolk. They could also make life very difficult for everybody in a constant changing of relationships. They could in effect destroy ‘life’.
This was especially true because men who were in positions of authority in the family could, without these regulations, have enforced their will sexually and caused untold hurt within their own family circles. Without regulation children especially would clearly be vulnerable to those whom they loved and who were responsible for their protection. It was therefore necessary to have strict rules to control these relationships, to prevent them getting out of hand, and to so legislate that such aberrations should not even be thought of.
Practically speaking there were a number of good reasons why the relationships that follow were to be carefully regulated and any stepping across the boundary avoided, even if the assumption is that marriage, albeit often ‘forced’ marriage, was mainly in view by the perpetrators. They could produce complications in status and in inheritance, cause deep rows, division and distress within families, result in huge tensions, destroy inter-relationships, foster discrimination and jealousies between blood relations, produce insecurity and uncertainty in family life, encourage constant distrust and fear, leave young children very vulnerable, and cause much bad blood and hurt which might affect a number of generations. They could destroy the stability, trust and love of the family. Such practises could also have been carried out deliberately in order to concentrate wealth and power within a few families to the general harm of the nation (compare the inter-marriage policy of Abraham’s family in order to maintain status).
In most cases they were also totally unseemly anyway, denoting total lack of what was decent and natural (like boiling a kid in its mother’s milk was to be unthinkable because it went against nature), and underlying them were also no doubt a recognition by God of the genetic problems that could arise. But above all they are a reminder that we are not just to be free to follow ‘love’ (or lust) but must first do what is seemly and considerate for all. There are things that come before ‘love’. The family unity must not be destroyed for the selfish gratification of the few. That is why rigid barriers were and are necessary.
Where Christian standards of marriage and life, based on these words, have held sway, these relationships described have not outwardly seemed much of a problem. They have simply not been openly breached (although much has gone on under cover which we would be ashamed to talk about if we knew of it). But now that in many countries sex has become a free for all once again they have again begun to raise their heads, and many families are being affected, and many people hurt, by uncouth sexual behaviour in lands once thought of as ‘Christian’.
The problem of incestuous relationships was acknowledged elsewhere in the ancient world, but in a wide variety of ways and with varying penalties, many not very severe. It was, therefore, often not treated too seriously and never dealt with in detail in quite this way. This is thus a rare attempt to formalise in depth how such relationships should be viewed.
Relationships Within Families (18.6-18).
18.6 “None of you shall approach to any who are near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am Yahweh.”
Firstly the initial principle was laid down that there should be no sexual approaches among those who were of near kin, no approaches of the kind which were with a view to marriage and sexual relations. This was because Yahweh was Yahweh and disapproved of anything that could destroy family relationships, and knew what great dangers there were of sexual relationships doing this, and what tragedy they could bring about. This principle is now expanded in detail. For He wanted it known that His people were simply not expected to behave like that because they accepted Who and What He is.
That ‘marriage’ is probably mainly in mind throughout, in that the person would seek to justify their behaviour by that means, comes out in that without legal marriage such behaviour should automatically have resulted in the death penalty anyway. Thus to have legitimacy they would have to marry the person involved. For when two had sexual relations they became one flesh. So it had to be made clear that in relation to those who are of near kin marriage is as bad as fornication and adultery.
On the other hand it might be argued that illicit sex within the family would be so hushed up, and so never revealed, that it had to be legislated against anyway, which explains the strong statements against it within close family relationships. Each man must be made to recognise that God would know and would punish what he did even if men could not. The point is being made that these activities are in fact forbidden under any circumstances, whether within marriage or not, and the emphasis is not so much on marriage as on the evil of sexual relations between such related people. They were wrong under any circumstance, and a professed marriage did not excuse them. To ‘uncover nakedness’ refers to sexual intercourse.
From this point until verse 23 the commands are all in the singular, stressing their application to each individual. He then again returns to the plural.
18.7 “The nakedness of your father, even the nakedness of your mother, you shall not uncover. She is your mother. You shall not uncover her nakedness.”
The first forbidden relationship for a man was with his own mother. To marry and/or have relations with his own mother, to uncover her nakedness, was clearly totally unseemly. To do so would be to utterly shame his father’s name, with whom his mother was one flesh, and indeed his mother herself as made one with his father. He would be exposing his father’s nakedness as Ham had done long before (Genesis 9.22). It would be totally unnatural and could not even be considered. Here God was enforcing the fact by statute.
Among other things such a relationship would dishonour the father with whom his wife had been one flesh, so that the revealing of her nakedness was the revealing of his; would distort positions of authority as the son, as the husband of the mother, would gain a status contrary to and in apposition to that of the firstborn son; and it could be seen as against nature. It also carried with it genetic dangers.
The sin of Lot’s two daughters, which resulted in the birth of Ammon (Ben-ammi) and Moab (Genesis 19.30-38), can be compared to this although they literally uncovered their father’s nakedness.
18.8 “The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover. It is your father’s nakedness.”
The next forbidden relationship was with any other wife or ex-wife of a man’s father. This was forbidden because she and his father were one. Therefore to marry her and/or have sexual relations with her would be shaming his father. It is as if he had had sex with his father. He must not seek to take his father’s place in this way. Furthermore it would again undermine authority.
And on top of that lust for a beautiful relative, if not absolutely forbidden, could cause all kinds of evil behaviour through the centuries, including convenient murder of the father. Without these laws forbidding it, any father with a very beautiful wife (like Sarah) might always be in danger of being murdered by his sons so that they could have her for themselves. But if legally they could not marry acceptably, much of the danger was removed. In Israel God was seeking to scotch that from the beginning by indicating that marriage to her would be out of the question. In this case the penalty for failure was to be death (20.11).
In fact a man lying with his father’s wife was accursed by the law (Deuteronomy 27.23). He stood cursed before God. Such an incestuous relationship was engaged in by Reuben with Bilhah (Genesis 35.22), and by Absalom with his father's concubines or secondary wives (2 Samuel 16.22). The one lost his pre-eminence as the firstborn, the other his life. It was the sin that especially shocked Paul among the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:1), one not even thought of among the Gentiles.
18.9 “The nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father, or the daughter of your mother, whether born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness you shall not uncover.”
Marriage and/or sexual relations with a blood sister or half-blood sister were also forbidden, even if she had been born elsewhere. It is quite clear how impossible family life would have been if men could pressurise their own sisters. Family unity would have been impossible and no beautiful woman would have been safe to pursue an ordinary life (see 2 Samuel 13.12-32). But the regulations produced a mind set in Israel which helped to prevent all but the worst of men even thinking in this way. Those who did this were to be ‘cut off in the sight of the people’ (20.17). They were cursed (Deuteronomy 27.22).
‘Born abroad’ may indicate an illegitimate daughter, but there may have been cases where a man had two families living separately.
When man was first in the world it is clear that such relationships did occur, but that was another matter, for then there was no alternative. All Adam’s sons married their sisters, including Cain. It had to be so then, and genetic make-ups were simpler. But this was now forbidden.
18.10 “The nakedness of your son’s daughter, or of your daughter’s daughter, even their nakedness you shall not uncover: for theirs is your own nakedness.”
Marrying and having sexual relationships with grandchildren was also forbidden. Again families could have been destroyed by it, and the future of young children regularly blighted. It was vital that those who had responsibility for such children should honour them and not take advantage of them. They were intended to be their protectors! They should be able to trust their grandfathers absolutely, to watch over them and look after their best interests, not to be themselves pursuing them for sexual gratification. After all, they were a part of himself. How could he seek sexual relations with himself?
It would also distort lines of authority. If a child resulted a man could thereby find himself under the ‘authority’ of his own daughter, which would make a mockery of authority.
18.11 “The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, begotten of your father, she is your sister, you shall not uncover her nakedness.”
This confirms verse 9, especially in the case of a half sister. Abraham seemingly went contrary to this rule, which had not, of course, then been laid out. Such intermarriage seems in his day to have been approved of in order to maintain the family aristocracy. Here it is forbidden. In 20.17 the punishment is to be cut off in the sight of the people
18.12-13 “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister. She is your father’s near kinswoman. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is your mother’s near kinswoman.”
Here aunts are forbidden as objects of lust, marriage and sexual relations. Again the protection of family unity, and lines of authority, and the necessity to ensure that those who should be protecting relatives left without protection did so with no ulterior motive, is in mind. This was especially so when they were children. A woman should be able to have confidence that her affectionate response to, and reliance on, her relatives did not result in unfortunate situations or coercion. She must be able to trust them. In this case the matter would be brought up for judgment and a suitable penalty be decided on, ‘they shall bear their iniquity’ (20.19). It was thus not seen as quite such a serious offence. In fact Amram, Moses’ father/ancestor, married his father’s sister (Exodus 6.20).
18.14 “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother, you shall not approach his wife. She is your aunt.”
The prohibition also includes aunts through marriage. Marrying and having sexual relations with an uncle’s wife would be a shaming of one’s uncle, whether alive or dead. This also would be judged by the courts, but in this case, additionally, God would punish it directly by making them childless (20.20).
18.15 “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law. She is your son’s wife. You shall not uncover her nakedness.”
A daughter-in-law, a son’s wife, is forbidden for marriage and sexual relations to a father. The daughter-in-law is one flesh with his son. Thus the father must honour what is his son’s, and not shame his son. Among other things the inheritance problems and the resulting hatreds and rivalries could have been horrendous. The point was that a son should be able to trust his father in such matters absolutely and be confident that he would not complicate or take advantage of his family if he died or divorced, but would act only in their best interests. The punishment in this case is death because it has ‘wrought confusion’ (20.12). It is intermixing two generations.
18.16 “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife. It is your brother’s nakedness.”
Nor shall one brother marry and have sexual relations with his brother’s wife, with a view to her becoming his wife and bearing children to him, whether his brother is dead or divorced, for to do so would be to shame his brother, with whom his wife was ‘one’, and destroy family relationships. This was the sin for which John the Baptiser rebuked Herod Antipas. This is not forbidding levirate marriage. In that case the brother was dead and the aim was to honour his brother, and raise up children in his name. In that case also the children were seen as the brother’s. That was not a case of family conflict, but of family cooperation. The penalty for not fulfilling the levirate law but taking the wife for himself would be that the marriage went childless (20.21).
It may well be that in levirate ‘marriage’ the sexual relations were deliberately carried out more discreetly.
18.17 “You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, you shall not take her son’s daughter, or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness. They are near kinswomen. It is wickedness (prostitution).”
To marry and have sexual relations with both a mother and her daughter, or with a mother and her granddaughter, was forbidden. They were near kinswomen. The tensions that would arise and the pain that could be caused are not to be contemplated, and no man should so take advantage of his position. He should be aware of the great harm and misery that could result. It was to treat them like prostitutes just available for his lust, have no regard for their deeper feelings and play havoc with relationships. And once again lines of authority and inheritance would be blurred. This was another case where death was the penalty for both (20.14). For a man to lie with his mother-in-law was to be cursed (Deuteronomy 27.23).
18.18 “And you shall not take a wife to her sister, to be a rival to her, to uncover her nakedness, besides the other in her lifetime.”
Nor should a man marry one sister after another while they were both alive. In a polygamous marriage wives were rivals, and this would be to make two sisters rivals and possibly antagonistic to each other, and would be to destroy the natural love between them. This was not to be contemplated. Family love was important to God, the Supreme Father. This was, of course, what Jacob did and it caused great grief of heart.
In all these prohibitions we see God’s concern that non-sexual, loving relationships and responsibilities within families were of prime importance, that lines of authority should be clearly maintained, that inheritance questions must not be complicated unduly, and that these things must come before all others, so that lust especially must not be in a position to destroy them. They reveal a deep sense of the current and counter-currents that sexual feelings could cause within close family units, and provided the standards by which they should be assessed and dealt with.
However, they also served another purpose. The inter-marriage of relatives who are in too close a relation to each other can also be the cause of an increase in birth defects and, if continued in through the generations, can result in a lack of vitality and vigour in the strain. That also is therefore not something to be advised.
Other Forbidden Sexual Relations (18.19-23).
18.19 “And you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is impure by her uncleanness.”
Sexual relations are forbidden with a woman while she is menstruating. This is put in for completeness here so that all aspects of sexual relations are covered, but it has been dealt with previously (15.24; compare 20.18).
To lie with a woman so that her blood comes on him renders a man unclean for seven days (15.24). But this would seem to refer to a situation which is ‘unwitting’, for 20.18 makes a deliberate lying with a menstruous woman a ground for being ‘cut off’, and Ezekiel lists it as a sin parallel to idolatry and adultery (Ezekiel 18.6; 22.10). This would make this an absolute prohibition, on a par with the previous ones.
Whether this should apply in a modern medically hygienic situation is often questioned. The purpose of this in those days was partly because the blood was seen as ‘unclean’ because of what it indicated and probably partly because of medical dangers and dangers of infection. To lie with her in her blood was to treat ‘life’ and ‘death’, and the woman herself, casually, and to deliberately come in contact with the ‘unclean’ (see on chapter 15). With modern knowledge we do not see things in that way and should possibly rather be aware of any hygiene dangers. But whether it is seemly is certainly something that we should consider carefully.
18.20 “And you shall not lie carnally with your neighbour’s wife, to defile yourself with her.”
Adultery is once more specifically forbidden. This again is in order to have a complete picture of sexual relations that are totally forbidden. To lie with a neighbour’s wife is to be defiled, and as we know from elsewhere, deserving of death.
18.21 “And you shall not give any of your seed to make them pass through the fire to Molech, neither shall you profane the name of your God. I am Yahweh.”
This at first seems out of place. It describes the sacrificing of a child to the Ammonite god Molech by ‘passing it through the fire’, which seems to have nothing to do with sexual relations. But this might suggest that in fact such a sacrifice was seen as some kind of ‘marriage’ by which the child (or the sacrificer) was being given to Molech so that he could satisfy his infernal lust, being seen as ‘having sexual relations’ with the sacrificed child for the good of the sacrificer. If so, by doing this with their children they profaned the name of Yahweh. For they were giving to Molech what belonged to Him as the husband of His people (Isaiah 54.5; Hosea 2.7). This would add a new dimension to the thought of idolatry as ‘going a whoring’ or ‘playing the harlot’ (Exodus 34.15, 16; Deuteronomy 31.16).
18.22 “You shall not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”
For men to have sexual relations with another man is immediately declared to be an abomination. Compare 20.13 where both parties are to be put to death. Compare 1 Kings 14.24. The use of the term abomination demonstrates the strength of God’s feeling against it. It ranked with the creatures in the dirt (11.20) and those who engaged in the occult (Deuteronomy 18.12), but see also 18.26 below. It should be noted that to the Old Testament writers and to God there was no such thing as a ‘homosexual’. Men were men. It was their deeds which were judged. This is not a question of whether ‘God loves homosexuals’. This is a question of what actions are wrong. The fact that this was still God’s attitude in the New Testament is confirmed by Paul in Romans 1.26-27. Practising homosexuality and practising adultery were both seen as equally abominable in the sight of God, however ‘natural’ they may be, and both were deserving of death. The paeodophile (who has been in mind above in relation to family relationships) could also claim that his feelings were ‘natural’.
The context of this command is to be noted. It is that of sexual expression. Thus the idea is that practising homosexuality itself is wrong, not that it has anything to do with idolatry. It is true that homosexuality was practised by the Canaanites in connection with their religion, but so were all the other ‘abominations’ described above, and it is the practise of these things in general which is condemned. There is no suggestion that the condemnation was limited to cult male and female prostitutes (Deuteronomy 23.17; 1 Kings 14.24), although they were equally condemned.
18.23 “And you shall not lie with any beast to defile yourself with them, neither shall any woman stand before a beast, to lie down with it. It is confusion.”
For a man or woman to have sexual relations with an animal is defiling. This is because it breaks down the barrier between man and beast. It is ‘confusion’ (compare 20.12). It is punishable by death. 20.15-16 indicates that the man or woman, along with the animal, must be put to death compare Exodus 22.19.
Bestiality was practised at various times among the Canaanites, the Egyptians, the Hittites and the Babylonians, among others. It illustrates why the nations were seen as wild beasts.
Summary Warning Of The Consequences Of Disobedience (18.24-30).
18.24 “Do not defile yourselves in any of these things, for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out from before you, and the land is defiled. That is why I am visiting its iniquity on it, and the land is vomiting (about to vomit) out her inhabitants.”
All that has been described is defiling. They are therefore to avoid doing such things. They should remember that it was this kind of behaviour that has caused God’s anger to come against the Canaanites in order to drive them from the land. The land is vomiting the Canaanites out because it has been made sick because of their behaviour. And it is because of that that God is now visiting His judgment on them for it. Their iniquity has now peaked (compare Genesis 15.16). His purpose is to cleanse the land of them.
18.26-28 “You therefore shall keep my statutes and my ordinances, and shall not do any of these abominations; neither the home-born, nor the stranger who sojourns among you, (for all these abominations have the men of the land done, who were before you, and the land is defiled); that the land vomit not you out also, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.”
So Israel must now ‘keep’ (take note of, observe and carry out) His statutes and His ordinances, His laws and His cultic requirements. Neither they nor those whom they allow to dwell among them must engage in such abominations. They are replacing the Canaanites in Yahweh’s land in order to purify the land. If they do such things they too will be vomited out because they have defiled themselves and the land. For it is because of such abominations that the Canaanites are to be driven out in order to cleanse the land ready for their occupation.
We are reminded here how the Laodicean church made God vomit (Revelation 3.16). We should beware lest we too make God vomit through our disobedience and cold-heartedness.
18.29 “For whoever shall do any of these abominations, even the people that do them shall be cut off from among their people.”
Therefore any who behave in any of these ways are to be cut off from among the people. The point is that they must be removed from among God’s covenant people and from the land. It may be that God allowed the people to do the ‘cutting off’ in whatever way they wished, by death or exile (as the Canaanites could be either killed or driven out), or that He intended to do it Himself.
18.30 “Therefore shall you keep my charge, that you do not practise any of these abominable customs, which were practised before you, and that you do not defile yourselves in them. I am Yahweh your God.”
So they are to keep God’s charge, obey His will, and are not to practise any of the abominable things practised by the Canaanites. Such things are defiling, and they must remember with Whom they have to do. He is Yahweh, the Holy One, their God Who has spoken all these things and is there to ensure that they fulfil them (Yahweh - ‘the One Who is there’).
It need hardly be said that it is also incumbent on us to ensure that we too avoid such ‘abominations’.
Chapter 19. God Requires His People To Be Holy.
Having spoken of what God requires of His people especially as regards sexual relations which had a vital place in a patriarchal society, God now moves on to remind them that they are to be holy in every way. They must not be spiritually skin-diseased.
It is not apparent from the English text but in this chapter there is continual movement from plural to singular and back again in order to bring home the personal application of the words. In view of this we will mark the verbs (p) - plural, or (s) - singular to bring out the difference.
The Command To Be Holy As Yahweh Is Holy (19.1-2).
19.1 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
Once more we have the emphasis that all this was God’s word to Moses.
19.2 “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You (p) shall be holy; for I Yahweh your God am holy.”
We now come to the central point of all these statutes, ordinances and regulations. It is that God’s people be holy as He is holy, be set apart from the world’s ways as He is set apart from them, be pure as He is pure. They all know the purity and moral demands of Yahweh that reveal Him as distinct from all gods. They are therefore to be as pure and holy as He is, for they are His people. Their aim must therefore be to be like Him. Thus what comes next follows closely and expands on the ten words of the covenant of Sinai and the spirit of the covenant. Note the constant refrain, ‘I am Yahweh your God’ (compare Exodus 20.2, and see here verses 3, 4, 10, 25, 31,34 and especially 36. Note also the slightly different phrase ‘I am Yahweh’ in verses 12, 14, 18, 28, 30, 32, 37). The covenant God was speaking to them constantly, personally and powerfully.
That God is ‘the Holy One of Israel’ is stressed by Isaiah, based on His own vision of Yahweh’s holiness which made him cry out in his uncleanness (Isaiah 6.1-6). He knew Him as the high and lofty One Who inhabits eternity Whose name is Holy (Isaiah 57.15), the One Who meets with the humble and contrite, who worship Him in the beauty of holiness (Psalm 96.9). There is nothing impure in Him (Habakkuk 1.13). This was what holiness meant to Israel.
“Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel.” It is again stressed that God’s words are directed directly to the people. This concerns the behaviour of the whole people.
Various Holiness Requirements (19.3-37).
Rightness Of Attitude Towards God and Generosity Towards One’s Neighbours (19.3-10).
19.3 “You (p) shall fear every man his mother, and his father; and you (p) shall keep my sabbaths. I am Yahweh your God.”
They are to show godly and reverent fear for mother and father. It is interesting that here mother comes first (contrast Exodus 20.12). In spite of it being a patriarchal society her influence is seen to be very important. But the point is that to obey parents, set in their place by God, is to obey God and recognise His authority (compare the fifth commandment).
Their obedience to God will also be shown by keeping His sabbaths, both every seven days and on special occasions (compare the fourth commandment). Observing the sabbaths was a positive way of demonstrating that they belonged to Yahweh, that they were obedient to His will, and of keeping their minds on Him (compare Isaiah 58.13-14).
19.4 “Do not turn (p) to idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods. I am Yahweh your God.”
They must not turn to idols, or make themselves molten gods. The first are the regular ‘gods’ (literally the elilim - the ‘nothings’ - see Isaiah 44.10) of other people, compared with the God (elohim) of Israel. The second are the home-made ones made from molten metal that Isaiah describes so graphically (Isaiah 44.9-18). This covers the first two commandments.
19.5 “And when you (p) offer a sacrifice of peace-offerings to Yahweh, you (p) shall offer it that you may be accepted. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the morrow: and if anything remain until the third day, it shall be burnt with fire.”
The one offering by which the Israelite could show his full obedience was the peace sacrifice. The others were ministered by the priests, but this one he had a part in himself, and made the choice as to what should be done with it. He is to treat it rightly and with reverence. As well as honouring parents, keeping the sabbaths and avoiding idolatry, thus honouring Yahweh’s authority, every Israelite was to show true respect for His offerings and sacrifices.
They were to offer their peace/wellbeing sacrifices exactly in accordance with how they had been told and to ensure that it was ‘accepted’ by not keeping any meat until the third day. Any that remained after the second day was to be burned with fire (compare 7.16-17). So would they honour God.
Limiting the time available in which to eat the meat in fact enabled more to be called to the feast. It was part of God’s desire to benefit all. The point was that those who would be at peace with Him and enjoy wellbeing must be also be obedient and hospitable. The obedience looks back to recognition of God’s authority (‘I am Yahweh’). The being hospitable looks forward to the thoughtfulness for the needy (verse 9 etc).
19.7 And if it be eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination. It shall not be accepted.”
Any attempt to eat the meat on the third day will make their sacrifice an abomination. It will then not be accepted. They will just be being greedy and forgetting Whose sacrifice it is. It will be an affront to God.
19.8 “But every one who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned the holy thing of Yahweh, and that person shall be cut off from his people.”
Indeed anyone who eats of it on the third day will have to bear the punishment that his iniquity deserves. It is the holy thing of Yahweh and he will have profaned it. He will be cut off from the people. It is probable that the punishment here is left to Yahweh as He would be the one who knew of the failure to obey His command. Often the cooked meat which had been in the hot air for more than two days would have turned bad and would bring its own judgment!
At first sight it may have seemed strange that this seeming snippet from the previous regulations was introduced here, but a moment’s thought reveals that this was the one way in which the people themselves could destroy the effectiveness of a sacrifice. This was the part for which they had direct responsibility. And these words were intended specifically for the people. It was also seen as a sacrifice through which they could give directly benefit to others, which ties in with what follows.
19.9 “And when you (p) reap the harvest of your land, you (s) shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you (s) gather the gleaning of your harvest.”
God’s concern for the poor and needy constantly comes out is His provision for them. It comes out here in that the farmer was to leave in his fields what was in the corners, as well as any gleanings (stray pieces that fell when they were gathering the grain). These were to be left as available for the poor to gather (as Ruth would do later on - Ruth 2.2-3).
19.10 “And you (s) shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you (s) gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard. You (s) shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner. I am Yahweh your God.”
Nor should the vinedresser, once he has picked the bunches, gather all the spare grapes nor should he pick up what falls to the ground. These are to be left for the poor and the resident alien who has no land. For the same idea see Exodus 23.11.
The Requirement For Full Honesty Towards One’s Neighbour (19.11-13).
19.11 “You (p) shall not steal; neither shall you deal falsely, nor lie one to another.”
As well as generosity, honesty is required. Three aspects of honesty are in mind here, avoiding stealing, avoiding cheating and avoiding deceit. There are not many societies where people can be trusted but Israel’s was to be one of them. Avoiding stealing, and avoiding dealing falsely, reflected the eighth commandment (Exodus 20.15). They were not to take other people’s property, nor to cheat them in their dealings. Not to lie to one another meant that all should be able to believe what they said (compare Psalm 15.4). It was to be an open and honest society.
19.12 “And you (p) shall not swear by my name falsely, nor shall you (s) profane the name of your God. I am Yahweh.”
When called to testify on oath they were to speak truly as required by the ninth commandment (Exodus 20.16), and not to bear false testimony against a neighbour, for this would profane the name of God, and He is Yahweh, the God of truth and justice. They could also profane His name by neglecting to take note of when they were ‘unclean’, by misusing the Sanctuary (21.12; Ezekiel 22.8), by sexual misbehaviour (21.9) and by idolatry (18.21; 21.5). These represent the third and ninth commandments.
19.13 “You (s) shall not oppress your neighbour, nor rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not abide with you (s) all night until the morning.”
They were not to use their superior position or strength in order to oppress a neighbour in order to get their own way, or in order to get from him dishonestly what they wanted. And if they hired workers they were to pay them the same day. For the poor would need what they had earned immediately, and they must not take advantage of them. Thus in all their dealings they were to be fair and honest.
The Requirement To Ensure Fairness and Compassion (19.14-16).
19.14 “You (s) shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am Yahweh.’
They were not to take advantage of the weak and helpless. To deliberately shout comments at someone who is deaf which they cannot hear, often derisory, or to put obstacles in the way of a blind person so as to cause him to stumble, is the sign of a sick mind. It should never be done or even considered. That this had to be said suggests that the doing of such things was not unknown among some who had a coarse humour, or even a nasty and cruel temperament. Compare Deuteronomy 27.18.
Sadly the need for this command demonstrates that there must have been quite a good number of severely deaf and blind people among the people of Israel.
19.15 “You (p) shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: you (s) shall not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty, but in righteousness shall you (s) judge your neighbour.”
They were to be absolutely honest in their system of justice. Every decision must be fair and square. Those responsible for carrying out justice should favour neither one side or the other; they were to favour neither the poor on the one hand, nor the wealthy or the powerful on the other. They should rather judge absolutely fairly, and seek to come to the right and true verdict, regardless of the influence of others and the importance or need of the people that they have to deal with. (Easier said than done by us prejudiced mortals). Prejudice on behalf of the poor is as bad as prejudice on behalf of the rich and powerful, and perverts justice.
19.16 “You (s) shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people, nor shall you (s) stand against the blood of your neighbour. I am Yahweh.”
This was an important provision. They were not to go about spreading lies and gossip and rumours, whether malicious or otherwise. They were to have consideration for each other’s reputations and feelings and not to seek to destroy them. Nor were they to stand by and do nothing when their neighbour’s blood was likely to be spilled, or engage in violent activity against their neighbours themselves. For Yahweh Who knows all is present here, and requires of them right and considerate behaviour towards their neighbours.
It will be apparent from these laws that they would provide a foundation for the true and just society where all were honoured equally, and where men sought to do the right and obey God’s commandments. This should be the godly aim of all societies. Once they come short of it society itself is undermined.
The Required Attitude To One’s Neighbour (19.17-18).
19.17 “You (s) shall not hate your brother in your heart. You (s) shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.”
This principle is then applied to the thoughts of their hearts (compare the tenth commandment - ‘you shall not covet’). They were not to hold hatred in their hearts. Thus they were not to hold grudges or secret resentments, or carry in the hearts a continual hatred of a brother in the covenant community. Rather they should bring up with their neighbour any grievance that they might have and clear the air, thus preventing themselves from carrying sin in their own hearts which might result in activities which would bring judgment on them so that they had to ‘bear sin’.
If we would but keep short accounts we would not end up in troublesome situations.
19.18 “You (s) shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people; but you (s) shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am Yahweh.”
Thus they were not to carry vengeance in their hearts, nor exact it, nor should they continue to bear a grudge against others. They were not to be negative. Instead they were to love their neighbours as themselves. This was one of the two great commandments which summed up the whole law, cited by Jesus (Matthew 19.19; 22.39; Mark 12.31; Luke 10.27). To have as much concern for one’s neighbour as for oneself, and to reveal it by loving action, is to be like Yahweh. And that is what Yahweh desires of His people. Life should be lived out in full consideration and thoughtfulness for others and with a desire for their good.
Further Requirements For God’s People.
The Non-mixing of Kinds (19.19).
We have already had cause to see in chapter 11 the principle of the separation of living things, now this is more specifically applied. A blurring of distinctions can be harmful to society. This is illustrated from everyday affairs.
19.19 “You (p) shall keep my statutes. You (s) shall not let your cattle gender with a diverse kind. You (s) shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, neither shall there come on you a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together.”
‘You (p) shall keep my statutes.’ This general statement introduces the section that follows and stresses the need for observing the instructions carefully. There is also the reminder here that they must keep no one else’s statutes but His.
‘You (s) shall not let your cattle gender with a diverse kind.’ No attempt was to be made to breed hybrids. God made animals after their kind, and men should be satisfied to leave them so. There should be no interfering with nature. They could consider, for example, how animals that they could eat which were ‘clean’ were of a specific kind, whole and complete (chapter 11). This was how God wanted it to be.
This may have been partly because hybrids are not productive. They do not produce seed. Or it may have been the fear that one ‘confusion’ could lead to another and that before long men could be involving themselves. It was not a dictate against interbreeding of the same species (Genesis 30.37-40) but against inter-mixing species. The very fact that such animals cannot breed demonstrates that it is against creation ordinances. It is against nature. They cannot go forth and multiply (Genesis 1.22). Once men begin to play with nature dreadful results can follow.
‘You (s) shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, neither shall there come on you a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together.’ The intermingling of seed could result in neither of them achieving their best growth, and could help to exhaust the land by overproduction. The intermingling of cloths could result in the garment losing strength and being more easily torn; in discomfort in wearing them; and even in the discomfort of static electricity.
But the principle to be got over by all these regulations was that God did not favour the blurring of distinctions. Distinct things should be kept separate. His purpose then was that this would pass over into the religious and moral realm, so that again distinctions might not be blurred. No one is better than man at blurring distinctions to his own benefit in order to get his own way. His people therefore had to recognise from daily life that this was not pleasing to God, either in religious practise or in practical living. This comes out once more in the next example.
Adultery and the Bondwoman (19.20-22).
19.20 “And whoever lies carnally with a woman, who is a bondmaid, betrothed to a husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; they shall be punished. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free.”
Adultery between a bondwoman and a free man is not automatically to be punished by death as it would be with a freewoman. That would not be fair on the bondwoman who was possibly not in a position to have any choice in the matter, especially if it was her master who was involved. Rather the courts must investigate the situation and decide on the punishment to be meted out to each depending on the circumstances. If the bondwoman had been redeemed or given her liberty before it happened that would be a different matter. She would have been a freewoman. Then the death penalty would apply.
From this point of view we need to recognise that in those days betrothal was the equivalent of, and as binding as, marriage, and presumably this bondmaid was betrothed to a bondman (otherwise the penalty would have been stronger). Thus the act was one of adultery. Yet she would have had no option but to obey her master if he wanted her, or even to obey his demand that she pleasure a friend. Thus the person involved needed to be aware that he would be liable to be judged for his offence. For being betrothed (presumably with her master’s agreement) she should be seen as untouchable
The very law meant that a master was aware that a bondmaid could lay complaint against him in circumstances like this and make the situation less likely to arise. It provided her with some protection. The death penalty was excluded because having been rejected for the bondmaid it would not be right to punish only one in that way. The bondmaid could in fact benefit more in other ways as now outlined.
19.21-22 “And he shall bring his guilt offering to Yahweh, to the door of the tent of meeting, even a ram for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before Yahweh for his sin which he has sinned: and the sin which he has sinned shall be forgiven him.”
The man involved must also, on top of any punishment meted out, offer a guilt offering in the form of a ram, a pretty hefty preventitive fine in itself. This was to be offered in the usual way at the door of the tent of meeting. There atonement would be made for him and he would be forgiven. There was probably in this a suggestion to the court that the bondmaid should be compensated if she was innocent, for compensation and guilt offerings regularly went together (5.16; 6.4). Compensation would be more useful for her than vengeance (who would in future want a vengeful bondmaid?). It is noteworthy that she does not have to offer a guilt offering. It is recognised that she has offended no one.
Overall it should be noted here from a practical point of view that the consequences of having had ‘pressurised’ sexual relations would probably not be so severe for a bondwoman as for a raped freewoman, as her marriage options would probably not have been so much reduced, unless she was a blameworthy participant, because her partner would recognise that she had had no choice. The responsibility was put on the courts to defend her interests, or to blame her as the facts determined, and yet to leave her employable and still acceptable in society. But for the man the minimum punishment he could receive was the high cost of a ram, and any other punishment the court may decide.
While in some ways this might not seem ‘fair’ it actually probably left the bondmaid in the happier position of not having to face up to the resentments of an unfair society, while at the same time possibly being compensated. If the law was too heavy it or demanded too much it would just have been ignored. Good law takes into account the likelihood of it being carried out.
Care For Trees (19.23-25).
19.23 “And when you shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then you shall count its fruit thereof as their uncircumcision, three years shall they be as uncircumcised to you, it shall not be eaten.”
When they arrive in the land and begin to plant trees they are to allow them to grow for three years without picking their fruit. They are to look on them as though they were like uncircumcised babes, not yet a part of the covenant, and therefore not available for their use.
19.24 “But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, for giving praise to Yahweh.”
Then in the fourth year they were to be seen as now within the covenant, but with all their fruit seen as holy and available for giving praise to Yahweh. It was His, and still not to be eaten. It was to be seen as an offering of praise and gratitude and a recognition that the trees, like everything else in the land, were His.
This practise was good for the trees which thus had time to develop without being depleted. It was good horticultural practise. The ancient Babylonians also gave a similar time for trees to mature before they picked their fruit.
19.25 “And in the fifth year you shall eat of its fruit, that it may yield to you the its increase. I am Yahweh your God.
From the fifth year onwards, they could eat the fruit from the tree, and its increase would be theirs. It was given to them by Yahweh their God. Thus this provision resulted in healthy trees, acknowledged God’s ownership of the land, and finally was beneficial to all. It was also a reminder of the good things which were to be theirs.
This practise would remind them that He was Yahweh their God. The phrase ‘I am Yahweh’ in one form or another now become predominant (verses 28, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36, 37). These final short commands are to be seen as being given with the full force of His authority.
Bans In Religious Matters: Warnings Against Pagan Practises (19.26-29).
There now follow in the name of Yahweh a number of provisions banning various aspects connected with ‘other-worldly’ practises which were forbidden. They were to look to Yahweh and Yahweh alone, and He was against these things. They were contrary to what He was.
19.26 “You (p) shall not eat anything with the blood: neither shall you (p) use enchantments, nor practise divination.”
As has already been noted nothing must be eaten with its blood. The blood must be drained out (17.10-14). They must not seek to eat the life principle of the animal, for that is the practise of bestial men. This repetition brings home the vital importance of the pronouncement. It was a reminder of the strength of the prohibition. Its mention in this list may also suggest it was a particular idolatrous trait. It was anti-Yahweh.
Nor were they to use enchantments or practise sorcery or divination. All magic was forbidden. Divination was a means of discovering what the ‘portents’ pointed to in the making of ‘right’ choices, especially with regard to the future. But they were to leave their futures in the hand of God, not look to superstitious and evil practises. Both forbidden things would result in going out of their spheres.
This makes clear to us today that all contact with the supernatural and the occult apart from prayer and worship to God are totally forbidden and can only lead men into harm. They are firmly and strongly forbidden, and we disobey at our peril.
19.27 “You (p) shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shall you (s) mar the corners of your beard.”
These were either idolatrous or magical practises. They were forbidden. Compare 21.5. They were not to be tempted to follow the ways of the idolatrous ‘world’ outside. Again it would be going outside their sphere into the realms of the gods or of magic.
19.28 “You (p) shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print (p) any marks on you. I am Yahweh.”
‘Cuttings in the flesh’ for the dead were pagan mourning practise and were also forbidden (Deuteronomy 14.1-2). To follow them was to enter the sphere of the dead. Tattoos were a forbidden mark of ownership. The invisible God needed no visible marks of ownership, and they were not to mark themselves as belonging to anyone else. Thus tattoos were also totally banned. And this because God was Yahweh. (Even today our tattoos reveal what we are and whether we put first God or the world).
19.29 Do not profane your daughter, to make her a prostitute, lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.”
The main thought here is against prostitution as a whole, but making her a religious prostitute may have been a way of trying to make it seem respectable. However, for a man to make his daughter a prostitute so that he could profit by it was to be seen as obscene, whatever the circumstances, and if permitted would be the first beginnings of a downward slide for Israel. Men should have a higher regard for their daughters. Sexual relations on this basis were forbidden. Even though extreme poverty often did mean that fathers succumbed in this way, they did so contrary to God’s law, and had to face their shame.
If the thought was of making her a cult prostitute, that would be no better. They were not to even consider following such Canaanite practises and sex in that way had no part in the religion of Yahweh. This was thus also strictly forbidden.
The Importance of a Right Attitude Towards Yahweh (19.30-31).
19.30 “You shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary. I am Yahweh.”
Indeed rather than sinking to the depths of the other nations they should look to exalt Yahweh. The regulations had begun with a reference to the God-given authority of mother and father, and the need to keep God’s sabbaths (verse 3), now as we draw to a close the keeping of sabbaths is confirmed along with the need to reverence God’s Sanctuary.
The keeping of the sabbath was an open sign of obedience, and marked them off as belonging to Yahweh, and their attitude towards His Sanctuary revealed their attitude towards Him. Thus they were both very important practises. But this meant keeping all His other commandments, for breaking the regulations, both ritual and moral, would profane His Sanctuary. They were therefore to recognise the effects on Him of their sins. For He is Yahweh.
19.31 “Do not turn to those who have familiar spirits, nor to the wizards. Do not seek them out, to be defiled by them. I am Yahweh your God.”
Reverencing His Sanctuary includes turning away from familiar spirits and wizards. They are at the very opposite extreme. Seeking God and His guidance at the Sanctuary was the true way of looking to the future. Thus familiar spirits and wizards were not to be sought out or approached. Their effects could only be defiling. They dealt with the dead and peeped and muttered from the dust (Isaiah 8.19). Such attempted contact with the dead could only defile God’s camp and God’s land. They needed to be free of both because God is the living God and death is foreign to His ways. Rather they should look to Yahweh their God, and keep His Sanctuary holy. They must remember Who their God is. He is Yahweh, and Yahweh has nothing to do with such things.
The Need To Honour The Elderly (19.32).
19.32 “You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and you shall fear your God. I am Yahweh.”
Honouring the old is something also required of His people. They are to be treated with the honour due to those who have lived long lives and faithfully served God. For He is Yahweh and looks on such with love and compassion. Furthermore they often have the wisdom that hotter heads do not. To honour them is to fear God and to acknowledge Yahweh.
The Right Attitude Towards the Resident Alien (19.33-34).
19.33-34 “And if a stranger sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the home-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.”
The resident alien who lives among them is not to be wronged. Rather he is to be treated as though he were a native of the land, and is to be loved by them as they love themselves (compare verse 18). This is because Israel will remember how they were in the same position in the land of Egypt, and will recognise that they must treat him as they would have wished to be treated.
This application of the principle of loving one’s neighbour to all who came to live among them is one of the most remarkable teachings of the Old Testament. Had it been carried through it would have been a beacon to the world.
The Importance Of Justice And Honesty (19.35-36).
19.35-36 “You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, of weight, or of quantity. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall you have. I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
The chapter finishes with concern about the public administration of justice (compare verse 15), and rightness in all dealings. The courts are to be fair and just, and their systems of weights and measures is to be accurate and honest, as are their balances. For they are the people of Yahweh, the great Deliverer from Egypt. And there is nothing crooked about Him. They have been delivered so that they can be like Him, and this must be revealed in everyday life.
An ephah and a hin were both volume measurements of differing sizes.
The Final Command (19.37).
19.37 “And you shall observe all my statutes, and all my ordinances, and do them: I am Yahweh.”
So are they to observe all His statutes and ordinances, and are to do them. This is the requirement of Yahweh. We are all very good at ‘observing’ His statutes and ordinances but how good are we at doing them? This chapter of practical moral teaching is one that we all need to take to heart. We need to go through it item by item asking ourselves how it compares with our own lives. Are we truly obedient to God in all things?
Chapter 20 Punishment On The Transgressors.
Having been faced with the covenant requirements of Yahweh thought is now given to the punishment for disobedience to His demands. In this chapter various regulations from previous chapters are listed and the judgment to come on them is now emphasised. The principle is that in the end all sin will bring us into judgment.
20.1 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
It is again stressed that these are God’s word, given to Moses. They possibly indicate another separate revelation.
Child Sacrifice To Molech And Involvement In The Occult Is Forbidden To All In The Land (20.2-6).
20.2-3 “Moreover, you shall say to the children of Israel, Whoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who gives of his seed to Molech, he shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. I also will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he has given of his seed to Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name.”
The horror of what Molech was comes out in the constant mention of him. He was the god of Ammon, but he demanded child sacrifice, and was clearly fairly widely worshipped in Canaan in a day when it was considered that the greater the sacrifice the greater the benefit received. His name was probably Melech (King) but the writers changed the vowels to the vowels used on bosheth (shame) in order to indicate their view of him.
Anyone, whether Israelite or resident alien, who encouraged the worship of Molech or gave to him their ‘seed’ was to be put to death without question. The ‘people of the land’ were to stone such a person with stones (see Deuteronomy 13.10; 21.21). He had defiled ‘the land’. It was to be a people’s execution for the removal of evil from among them. The thought is probably that the execution should be carried out immediately on one who was an isolated case, and discovered in the act. The worship of Molech was to be allowed nowhere in the land by anyone. Stoning with stones was later especially the punishment for blasphemy, carried out by the people (20.27; 24.23; Numbers 14.10; 15.35-36; Deuteronomy 8.9; 13.10; 17.5; 21.21; 22.21, 24; Joshua 7.25; 1 Kings 12.18), and could be carried out immediately (compare Stephen - Acts 7).
Moreover God Himself would set His face against that man and cut him off from among his people, for by giving his seed to Molech he had defiled Yahweh’s Sanctuary, and profaned His holy name. So the people had to act to maintain the purity of the land, God Himself would act to maintain the purity of the Sanctuary.
The ‘people of the land’. Some see this as a technical description of a group of property owning aristocrats (compare 2 Kings 25.19), others as signifying the whole people acting as one (compare Genesis 42.6). In Genesis it means the indigenous population (Genesis 23.7, 12, 13), but not so here. In Exodus 5.5 it refers to a section of the common people in a particular place, which may well be its meaning here.
20.4-5 “And if the people of the land do at all hide their eyes from that man, when he gives of his seed to Molech, and do not put him to death, then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that play the harlot after him, to play the harlot with Molech, from among their people.”
But if the people of the land deliberately ‘hide their eyes’ and refrain from doing their duty and the worship becomes more prevalent, then this case is so bad that God Himself will step in to intervene. He will set His face against the man, his family, who will undoubtedly be involved with him in it, and with all others involved in the worship. They will all be cut off. This is because they are ‘playing the harlot’. They are looking to Molech rather than to their ‘husband’ Yahweh.
It is interesting that at this stage Molech is seen as the great enemy they will face in the land. This may be because he was particularly objectionable, or because at this stage they were close to Moab and Ammon where his worship was prevalent.
20.6 “And the person who turns to those who have familiar spirits, and to the wizards, to play the harlot after them, I will even set my face against that person, and will cut him off from among his people.”
And the same is to apply to the occult. Those who look to familiar spirits or to seekers after the dead, which is again described as ‘playing the harlot’ and being unfaithful to Yahweh, will discover that Yahweh sets His face against them and cuts them off from among the people. They will no longer be His. But we also have here again the contrast between life and death, what was ‘clean’ and what was ‘unclean’.
This too would have had special significance if it came at the time when Balaam had been called on to ‘fight’ against Israel (Numbers 22-24).
Israel Are To Be Sanctified And Obedient (20.7-8).
Israel are to sanctify themselves to being holy (verse 7) and must be obedient because Yahweh is santifying them (verse 8).
20.7 “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be you holy; for I am Yahweh your God.”
So they are rather to set themselves apart totally to Yahweh, and be holy (set apart in what they were as uniquely like Him) as He is holy, by walking in His revealed ways. For He is Yahweh their covenant God. They are to look to none other but Him, and to serve Him only.
20.8 “And you shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am Yahweh who sanctifies you.”
And because He is the One Who is continually sanctifying them as His people, making them holy, caring for them, watching over them, shepherding them, they are to keep in their hearts, and do, His statutes, all that He has laid down for them to do. We also may treasure His word, but the question is, do we ‘do’ it? See Matthew 21.30. To hear is good, but to obey is what is demanded. Some of those statutes are now outlined.
Crimes Which Deserve The Death Penalty (20.9-18).
20.9 “For every one who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be on him.”
The first such crime is that of a man cursing his father or mother. This does not mean that he just swears about something they have done, or at them because they have annoyed or frustrated him. It refers rather to a man who seeks to put his father and mother under a specific curse. He calls on Yahweh to do the very opposite of what Yahweh has declared He will do. The man is not only dishonouring them, he is seeking to do them real harm, and dishonouring Yahweh.
The use of curses was widespread. A multitude of examples have been found in Egypt, and many could be bought and sold. The purpose of a curse was to use ‘occult’ means to do someone harm. It would especially appeal to the weak who had no other means of vengeance.
In a patriarchal society where the father figure was the supreme authority this would have been a deliberate attempt to undermine tribal authority, and even to take over power for himself. It was a blow at the family structure, and if successful could have undermined the society in which he lived. The one who attempts something like this must be put to death. Such a person with such aims to carry out in such an evil way cannot be allowed to live, because of the harm he will do in destabilising society. And he has brought his blood on his own head. There will be no guilt on any who put him to death. The guilt will be on him.
20.10 “And the man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, even he who commits adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”
The next crime is adultery, where a man takes his neighbour’s wife. In this case both he and the adulteress were to be put to death. Again it was a blow at the family which was the very basis of society.
20.11 “And the man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness. Both of them shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be on them.”
The third such crime was when a man lay with his father’s wife, that is, had sexual relations with her. Both he and she were to be put to death. For it would be as if he has publicly stripped his father naked. A man’s wife is one flesh with him (Genesis 2.24). To make her naked would be to make her husband naked. They have brought their blood on their own heads. Anyone who executes them is guiltless.
20.12 “And if a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death. They have wrought confusion. Their blood shall be on them.”
The same principle applied between a man and his daughter-in-law. If they had sexual relations, both were to be put to death. They would have mixed up the generations, causing ‘confusion’, (for the son could become brother to his wife’s son), and the man would have exposed his son to shame and ridicule. Again those who put them to death will bear no guilt. The guilt is on their own heads. In all these examples the destruction of family relationships is central.
20.13 “And if a man lies with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be on them.”
For a man to have sexual relations with another man is an abomination. No other relationship is always described specifically as an abomination in this way, so it is clearly particularly hateful to God. And being in the midst of a passage dealing with sexual matters this refers to any practising homosexual relationship, not just to cultic practise. It is saying that there is no such thing as a Christian practising homosexual. This has nothing to do with whether a man has homosexual tendencies, it is speaking of a deliberate giving way to those tendencies. Those who do so shall ‘surely be put to death’. Again they have brought their blood on their own heads.
20.14 “And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is sexual wickedness. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there be no wickedness among you.”
Equally guilty would be a man who had sexual relations with both his wife and her mother. This would be sexual wickedness. They are all three to be burned with fire. The burning may indicate a death of particular shame as devoted to destruction (as Achan was - Joshua 7). Or perhaps the thought is that they deserve the same thing as happened to worshippers of Molech. They have shown themselves worthy only of Molech.
20.15 “And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall slay the beast.”
The same principle applies to a man who has sexual relations with a dumb animal. Both he and the beast must be put to death. But it is not quite as abhorrent as a man who beds mother and daughter for the punishment is less horrific.
20.16 “And if a woman approach any beast, and lie down with it, you shall kill the woman, and the beast. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be on them.”
A woman is no different. If she allows a beast to have sexual relations with her, both she and the beast must die. They shall surely be put to death. Their actions have brought their blood on themselves. There will be no bloodguilt for those who slay them. (The beast, if previously a clean one, is clearly not to be offered as a sacrifice).
20.17 “And if a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter, or his mother’s daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness, it is a shameful thing. And they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness. He shall bear his iniquity.”
No man shall have sexual relations with a sister or half-sister by blood. It is a shameful thing and means that they must be cut off ‘in the sight of the children of Israel’, presumably this indicates stoning. He must take the punishment for the evil he has done.
20.18 “And if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness, and shall uncover her nakedness, he has made naked her fountain, and she has uncovered the fountain of her blood, and both of them shall be cut off from among their people.”
The one who deliberately lies with a woman during menstruation, while the blood is on her, shall be cut off from among the people, as shall also the woman, he because he has exposed her bleeding, she because she has uncovered her bleeding. Her bleeding is an uncleanness and related to death. It speaks of sin and death. It should be hidden and not exposed. To expose it is to deserve the death of which it speaks.
It is, however, possible that this does not refer to husband and wife, but to where a man forces a woman who is not his wife during her menstruation. By shaming her like this it is as if he had committed adultery.
These then (from verses 2-18) are the major crimes which in God’s eyes are worthy of death. They are so evil that they override the concept of the sacredness of life. Those who do them have forfeited the right to life.
Lesser Penalties (20.19-21).
Three examples are now given of slightly lesser crimes, still forbidden but not punishable with death.
20.19 “And you shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, nor of your father’s sister, for he has made naked his near kin. They shall bear their iniquity.”
Men must not have sexual relations with aunts or uncles of the blood whether in marriage or out of marriage. That will be to make naked their near kin, and that is displeasing to God. In that case they must receive whatever punishment the courts or God decide.
20.20 “And if a man shall lie with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness. They shall bear their sin. They shall die childless.”
For a man to have sexual relations with his uncle’s wife is unseemly, for she is one flesh with his uncle. They are not to marry. This too may be judged by the courts, but they are also warned that they will go childless.
20.21 “And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness. They shall be childless.”
For a man to take his brother’s wife is impurity. It is unseemly. He will have uncovered his brother’s nakedness and exposed his brother to shame. The punishment will be childlessness. But this was not to stop him from raising up seed to his brother under a levirate marriage. That would be a different matter. The consummation was then probably more discreetly arranged.
Israel Are Inheriting A Land Flowing With Milk And Honey And Must Not Defile It But Must Be Holy To Yahweh (20.22-27).
20.22 “You shall therefore keep all my statutes, and all my ordinances, and do them; that the land, to which I bring you for you to dwell in it, does not vomit you out.”
So they must be careful to keep all God’s statutes and all His ordinances, and do them, obeying all regulations and all commands. Then once they have arrived in the land they will not be vomited out, as the nations in the land are about to be vomited out. Rather will they continue to dwell in it and prosper, which is God’s real purpose for them.
20.23 “And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation, which I cast out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.”
They are to be careful not to behave like the nations who are already there, whom God will drive out before them. They in fact did all these things that he has forbidden to Israel. That is why God hated them, that is, had an aversion towards them because of their sinfulness.
20.24 “But I have said to you, You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess it, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am Yahweh your God, who has separated you from the peoples.”
For God’s purpose for His people is that they might inherit the land and receive it as a gift from God, as their own possession. An inheritance is something freely given and undeserved. Thus He is giving it to them freely. It is a land flowing with milk and honey, having plenteous sustenance and sweetness. And He, Yahweh their God, has separated them from the peoples that they might be holy to Him and live in holiness in the land that He has cleansed. They are His and must reveal that they are His separated ones by the way that they live and the way they behave.
20.25 “You shall therefore make a distinction between the clean beast and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean, and you shall not make yourselves abominable by beast, or by bird, or by anything with which the ground teems, which I have separated from you as unclean.”
And one clear way in which they will do this is by only eating what is clean, as described in chapter 11. They may eat all that is clean and must avoid all that is unclean, especially that which lives in the ground. They must especially avoid all abominable things.
20.26 “And you shall be holy to me, for I, Yahweh, am holy, and have set you apart from the peoples, that you should be mine.”
So He re-emphasises, they must be holy because Yahweh, their God is holy. He has set them apart from all peoples, in order that they might be His, and live as he has directed both ritually and morally, and that they reveal Him in their lives. Then they will be His own separated off possession.
‘Set you apart.’ The verb is strong. ‘Severed.’ He has used His mighty arm to separate them from Egypt and from all who have come against them, and will also sever them from the Canaanites.
20.27 “A man also or a woman who has a familiar spirit, or who is a wizard, shall surely be put to death. They shall stone them with stones. Their blood shall be on them.”
And especially they must avoid anyone who has anything to do with the occult or with the dead. If they find among them any indulging in contact with familiar spirits or with the dead they are to stone them with stones. Their blood will be on their own heads. There will be no guilt on Israel. This constant stress on avoiding the occult must be seen as a strong condemnation of such practises as much today as then.
So does God stress the seriousness of those things concerning which He has charged His people, and warn us that we must take His commandments seriously.
Chapter 21. Instructions Concerning The Maintenance of the Holiness of the Priests.
Having laid down the basic principles behind the covenant as regards the people and their holiness, Moses now turns again to the priests. In so doing we remind ourselves of the pattern around which Leviticus is built. It began with the laws relating to sacrifice (1-7), continued with the consecration of the priests (8-10), which was then followed by the laws of cleanness and uncleanness for the people (11-15), leading up to the Day of Atonement (16). This was then followed by the laws of ritual and moral holiness for the people 17-20), which is now followed by instructions re the maintenance of the holiness of the priests (21-22), a reversal of the order in the first part, which will then be followed by laws relating to the ritual requirements on the nation with regard to times and seasons (23-25). It is of a basic chiastic construction. Chapter 26 then closes off with the blessings and curses which were a normal ending to covenants around the time of Moses in 2nd millennium BC, and chapter 27 is a postscript in respect of vows.
The sections concerning the people are thus sandwiched within the ministry of the priests. The priesthood is given responsibility for them, and their holiness is therefore of prime importance.
This is brought out here in that this section is divided into subsections by the phrase “For I am Yahweh, Who sanctifies them,” or similar (21.8, 15, 23; 22.9, 16, 32), stressing the exceptional importance of the fact that the priests must be holy (although they are not the only ones - 20.8). They are God’s specially set apart ones, set apart to holiness.
As Christians we too are His priests (1 Peter 1.5, 9; Revelation 1.6) and sanctified by Him so that our lives too might be pure and clean, and might reveal His praise and glory. We too therefore must ensure that we avoid all that might defile us.
The Priests Must Not Defile Themselves Unless Absolutely Necessary.
The priesthood was the essential link between Yahweh and His people. They were therefore to be especially careful in the maintenance of holiness so that they might fulfil their functions before a holy God. Great was their privilege, but great the demands made on them. Humanly speaking the holiness of God’s people depended on them.
The Requirements for Exceptional Holiness For the Priesthood (21.1-7).
A). Avoidance of Contact With The Dead (21.1-4).
Especially must they avoid coming in contact with death. To come in contact with a dead body was to become unclean for seven days (Numbers 19.11-13), for as has been apparent in the laws of uncleanness death was the opposite of all that Yahweh stood for. He was Lord of life. This would render a priest inoperative over that period.
He was thus totally to avoid all contact with the dead, in order to prevent himself from being ‘defiled’. He was not free to do as he would. He was ‘holy’. Contact with the dead was a major source of uncleanness for a man. It lasted seven days. So the stress on the need to avoid this uncleanness, includes within it the idea that they should avoid all lesser uncleanness (as will be demonstrated later). They were ever to remain clean. The only exception was where close family relationships made it necessary
21.1-3 ‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, None shall defile himself for the dead among his people, except for his kin, who is near to him, for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother, and for his sister a virgin, who is near to him, who has had no husband, for her may he defile himself.”
So the priest was to avoid all contact with the dead apart from near kin. These comprised father, mother, son, daughter, brother or a virgin sister who has no one else responsible for her. Where she was married the latter was her husband’s responsibility. For these he could be responsible for their mourning and burial. This both emphasises proper respect for close kin, and the need for continuing purity in all other cases. There is no mention of his wife. This is quite usual (compare Exodus 20.10). That she was included would be assumed. She was of one flesh with him.
21.4 “He shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.”
And the reason for these extreme precautions is given, his prominence as a ‘chief man’ among the people, someone set apart from the ordinary with a principal function. This made it important that he did not profane himself by making himself unable to operate in fulfilment of his responsibilities. Those who have the greatest responsibility must exercise the greatest care in maintaining a worthiness necessary for the fulfilment of their responsibilities.
While not forbidden to touch dead bodies, those who would serve God most truly today must avoid all contact with anything that is unseemly to God. Their eyes too should be turned away from the mundane to seek those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3.1-3). They should be taken up with the things of eternal life, not with the things of death through trespasses and sins. They are to look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are unseen (2 Corinthians 4.18). For they know that they are passed from death to life because they love their Christian brothers and sisters (1 John 3.14), and that love should permeate their whole lives. They must throw all their weight into things to do with life and purity. Their thoughts must be on whatever things are true, honourable, righteous, pure, lovely and gracious (Philippians 4.8). Like the priests they are to be separated to God.
B). Avoidance of Pagan Cultic Acts (21.5).
21.5 “They shall not make baldness on their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.”
Nor were they were ever to profane themselves by engaging in activities and dress that were foreign to Yahweh’s ways. These included shaving their heads, trimming their beards in any fashion that might be connected with idolatry, and making cuttings in their flesh (compare 1 Kings 18.28). All these were pagan methods of representing a state of mourning or seeking to influence deity (see also 19.27-28), and may also have been utilised on other religious occasions. All were forbidden. They would be seen as blemishes which would render them ineligible to enter the sanctuary, for they would declare that they were not Yahweh’s men, but defiled by paganism.
The ‘baldness’ mentioned here is probably the same as the ‘rounding of the corners of the head’ in 19.27, and may have reference to offering the hairs of the head to the dead to help them maintain some form of life among the dead shades of the underworld. Later the shaving of the full head was seen as a legitimate sign of mourning (Isaiah 22.12; Amos 8.10; Micah 1.16). But that had no such idolatrous connections, and was simply a way of expressing a sense of bereftness and distress.
Thus those who would serve God truly must abstain from anything that is doubtful in the ‘spiritual’ realm, seeking only to God Himself. Anything to do with the occult is to be seen by the Christian as taboo, as something not to be touched and to be avoided. For we are Christ’s, and our lives are hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3)
The Requirement Not To Render Common God’s Name But To Be Holy As Befits Their Sacred Responsibilities (21.6).
21.6 “They shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God; for the offerings of Yahweh made by fire, the bread of their God, do they offer. Therefore they shall be holy.”
For the priests were to be seen as holy to God, and must not degrade Him by making Him seem like other supposed gods, or bringing death into His presence. They were to avoid anything that might profane His name, that is, might wrongly represent how He was seen and what He was, anything that would hide how different He was. For they were the ones who offered to God ‘the offerings of Yahweh made by fire, the bread of their God’. They were His chosen servants. So in order to be fitted for this holy task they must be holy, and set apart from all that is related to death and to paganism, and all that misrepresents Him. (Mourning was given as the extreme example).
‘The bread of their God do they offer.’ The word ‘bread’ (lechem) refers to the staple food of a people. It can refer to such diverse things as honey (1 Samuel 14.24) and goat’s milk (Proverbs 27.27). Compare verse 22 where the priests eat ‘the bread of their God’. It is therefore a general expression for sacrificial offerings through which God makes food available for His priests.
In 24.9 the bread of the presence which is mainly eaten by the priests is described as an offering made by fire to Yahweh. That may be in mind here. In Exodus 29.25 the whole burnt offering and the bread combined are an offering made by fire to Yahweh, compare with verse 32 where the priests eat it. In Numbers 28.2 where God speaks of ‘my offering and my bread’ it refers to the morning and evening sacrifices, offered with the grain offering part of which is partaken of by the priests. See also Leviticus 3.11, 16, where the offering is called ‘the bread/food of the offering made by fire’. But it does not indicate food for God Himself. God Himself is always from the very beginning depicted as receiving the pleasing odour, not as eating the sacrifices. It is specifically and constantly stated that it is the priests who eat the offerings and sacrifices, and the bread and grain, that can be eaten. And that is why they must be holy.
We too are to be concerned for the name and reputation of God. By our lives we are to bring glory to Him (1 Corinthians 10.31), and to avoid anything that would besmirch His name (1 Peter 4.14-16). Rather we are to show forth the excellencies of His Who has called us out of darkness into His most marvellous light (1 Peter 2.9), and by our good works glorify our Father Who is in Heaven (Matthew 5.16)..
The Requirement To Marry A Suitable Woman (21.7).
21.7 “They shall not take a woman that is a harlot, or profane, nor shall they take a woman put away from her husband, for he is holy to his God.”
The priests must also have no sexual contact with ‘second-hand’ women. Because the priests are holy they must not marry a prostitute, whether cult or otherwise, or a woman with a reputation for not being godly (or possibly an alien woman who had not entered within the covenant), or a divorced woman, who was still seen as in some way ‘one’ with her divorced husband. Their wives must be of good repute and virginal, as they came from the hand of God, fitted in purity to be the wives of God’s servants. Seemingly, however, they could marry widows of good repute (contrast verse 13). Such were no longer one with their husbands because the death of their husbands had removed the oneness.
In the same way those who would serve God truly must beware of whom they marry. Not only should they avoid marrying a non-Christian (2 Corinthians 6.14), they should look for chastity and purity and a right attitude of heart towards God. A man or woman’s future can be made or broken by the partner that they marry.
Thus He Is To Be Kept Apart From The Run Of Men (21.8).
21.8 “You (s) shall sanctify him therefore; for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I, Yahweh, who sanctify you, am holy.”
These words are spoken to either Moses or Israel as a whole. Yahweh is thus telling Moses to ‘sanctify’ (make holy) each priest by strictly requiring of him a life of purity and separateness from all that was unclean, precisely because he offers and eats the bread of his God. Moses had a continual responsibility, while he was alive, to watch over the holiness of the priests. If the reference is to Israel then ‘sanctify’ probably means ‘see as holy’. This was so that each one would be holy in Moses’ eyes, and therefore in Israel’s eyes, just as Yahweh, Who Himself sanctifies both Moses and Israel, is holy, and is to be seen as holy in their eyes. All was to be holiness.
‘For I, Yahweh, who sanctify you, am holy.’ This is the first of a number of similar phrases which end each of the divisions in this section, stressing the unique position of the priests (compare 21.15, 23; 22.9, 16, 32). As His priests they had to be like Him and truly represent Him as the Holy One.
The Behaviour Of Priests’ Daughters (21.9).
21.9 “And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the harlot, she profanes her father. She shall be burned with fire.”
The thought of the priest not marrying a prostitute leads on to the possible danger of a priest’s daughter becoming a prostitute by virtue of her situation. As probably in the case of the worship of the golden calf (‘rose up to play’ - Exodus 32.6) it is clear that many people, even those with priestly connections, were ever in danger of desiring to participate in sexual rites connected with idolatry, possibly revering them as a kind of religious expression. And they would see sexual union with a priest’s daughter as the most desirable kind of such an expression. They had clearly had much contact with such sentiments and tended to revert to them. Such ideas had an understandable magnetic attraction. But they were forbidden to Israel, and especially to a priest’s daughter.
If a priest’s daughter was therefore encouraged by some to act in this way, and did so, she would be profaning her father, bringing shame on him and connecting him with worship that was both crude and unacceptable, and she must therefore be burned with fire. This punishment is on a par with that for a man marrying both mother and daughter at the same time (20.14), and for sinning in sacred things (Joshua 7.25). She would be being ‘devoted’ to Yahweh because she had sinned in a sacred thing. A priest’s family members were seen as holy, and must behave so.
In the New Testament also the failure of a child to live rightly always brings disrepute on its parents and makes them unfitted for ministry. See 1 Timothy 3.11; Titus 1.6. They are a reflection of their parents. Our children reveal what we are.
The Special Case Of The High Priest (21.10-15).
There was one for whom there were no exceptions. His position was so high and so privileged that he must seek to avoid all contact with death under any circumstance.
21.10-12 “And he who is the high priest among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured, and who is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not let the hair of his head go loose, nor rend his clothes, nor shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother; nor shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God. For the crown of the anointing oil of his God is on him. I am Yahweh.”
The High Priest especially is unique. He represents the whole of Israel continually before God, and is the anointed one of Yahweh. He alone has been consecrated to wear the holy garments. He stands alone. His holiness therefore is of primary concern and must be preserved at all costs and at all times. He must avoid anything that might lessen his ability to fulfil his function at any time.
He therefore must not show signs of mourning, or touch a dead body, not even that of his father and mother (compare the Nazarite while under his vow - Numbers 7.7-8). He must not leave the sanctuary for this purpose, nor carry signs of death within the sanctuary. For he bears the crown of the anointing oil of his God. Yahweh is ‘the One Who is’, the living God, to Whom death and all connected with it is a stranger. The High Priest must therefore avoid all such contact. He must be seen to be on Yahweh’s side of things at all times.
21.13-14 “And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or one divorced, or a profane woman, a harlot, these shall he not take, but a virgin of his own people shall he take to wife.”
He may only marry a virgin, the purest of the pure. He must not marry a widow, or a divorcee, or a godless, careless living, woman (or possibly a ‘foreigner’ not within the covenant), or a prostitute for they are all blemished by their state. They are not pristine. Thus sex itself was not seen as sinful, although he would have to restrict sexual relations to ensure that he was ‘clean’ whenever he was likely to be needed for sanctuary worship, for such relations did convey temporary uncleanness (15.16), which was clearly allowed even in his case as long as he was not required for duty.
21.15 “And he shall not profane his seed among his people, for I am Yahweh who sanctifies him.”
For to produce children through such would be to make them reduced in holiness in the eyes of the people. They would not have their due respect nor be fitted for High Priesthood. Thus all connected with the High Priest must be whiter than white.
And the High Priest must be like this because it is the Holy One, Yahweh, Who sanctifies him, and has anointed him to this position, and because he represents Yahweh to the people.
Those who would serve God most truly will like the High Priest put away all things that could hinder their work and service for God. The High Priest had the choice of being the best for God, and that is what he was called to. He had to put aside all that could be a hindrance. We are also called on to choose the best. It is those who seek the best who will be the best for Him.
No Blemished Person May Be A Fully Officiating Priest (21.16-24).
The reason for this requirement is to bring out that only what is ‘perfect’ may directly enter the sanctuary of Yahweh, or serve in it, demonstrating the perfection of the sanctuary. The relationship to God of the blemished priests is not affected, only the particular service for God in the sanctuary. The centre of the circle of holiness must be seen to be supremely ‘holy’, a place of total perfection, in order to bring out visually that Yahweh is ‘perfect’.
We must recognise here that what was physically so, what could be seen, was considered in those days to be extremely important. They had no solely spiritual conception of things. Thus what God was, was seen as depicted by what surrounded Him, and that had therefore to be ‘perfect’ (as perfect as possible) in order to demonstrate His perfection.
21.16 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
God continually speaks to Moses. In spite of Aaron’s supreme position he was not God’s spokesman. That privilege rested with Moses. And when there was a word for Aaron and his sons it came through Moses, except for the special admonition in 10.8. This careful usage is against seeing the headings as merely a formality, or even ‘a pious hoax’.
21.17 “Speak to Aaron, saying, Whoever of your seed throughout their generations has a blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God.”
No one obviously blemished must approach God to offer the offerings as priests, to offer the ‘food of God’ which would come as a pleasing odour to Yahweh and of which the priests might eat. ‘Bread’ (lechem) refers to the staple food of a people. It can refer to such diverse things as honey (1 Samuel 14.24) and goat’s milk (Proverbs 27.27). Compare verse 22 where the priests eat the bread of their God. It is therefore a general expression for sacrificial offerings through which God receives worship and tribute from His people and makes food available for His priests.
21.18-21 “For whatever man he is who has a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he who has a flat nose, or an overlong limb, or a man who is broken-footed, or broken-handed, or crook-backed (or possibly ‘misshapen-browed’), or a dwarf (or ‘consumptive’ - the word is used of the lean cows in Genesis 41.3), or who has a blemish in his eye, or is scurvied, or scabbed, or has his stones broken; no man of the seed of Aaron the priest, who has a blemish, shall come near to offer the offerings of Yahweh made by fire. He has a blemish. He shall not come near to offer the bread of his God.”
A list of possible blemishes is now given. We are not sure in a number of cases of the correct translation or the state described, but the general principle is clear. Whoever was looked on as blemished was to be excluded. It was no reflection on the individuals, it was how people saw it that mattered. It was they on whom the impression of holiness was to be made.
21.22-23 “He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy, only he shall not go in unto the veil, nor come near to the altar, because he has a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries. For I am Yahweh who sanctifies them.”
They were not excluded from the privileges of priesthood, only from the carrying out of its ministry in the sanctuary. Thus they could partake of the priestly offerings, even those which were most holy of which only the priests could partake. But they were excluded from the Holy Place, from approaching the veil, and from approaching the altar to minister on it. They could, however, presumably carry out the teaching and judicial functions which were incumbent on the priests.
‘My sanctuaries.’ The sanctuary and the outer sanctuary containing the altar, that is, the tabernacle court.
‘For I am Yahweh who sanctifies them.” Again we are reminded that they are the sanctified of Yahweh, those totally set apart by Him in His service, and for His purposes. And He could only sanctify for the sanctuary what was outwardly ‘perfect’. This stress continues throughout the section.
21.24 ‘So Moses spoke to Aaron, and to his sons, and to all the children of Israel.’
The importance of these restrictions with regard to the priesthood is such that they end with this confirmatory statement. This then especially is what Moses spoke to Aaron and his sons and to all Israel. The purity of the priesthood was vital.
Thankfully for us it is not blemishes like this which will in our case prevent our full approach to God. Rather are we restricted by the blemishes in our hearts. Spiritual crookedness, blindness, deafness, dumbness, smallness, distortedness, are all things which prevent us from being heard by God and from serving Him.
Chapter 22 Dealing With Holy Things.
This chapter is divided into sections. The priesthood are not to approach God while unclean (2-9), eligibility to partake of priestly food which is Holy but not Most Holy (10-16), nothing unblemished must be offered to Yahweh (17-25), and reference to the right use of Peace offerings (26-33).
22.1 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
Once more we have confirmed that these are Yahweh’s word to Moses.
For Priests, Discernment of Uncleanness Is Vital. They Must Not Approach Yahweh While Unclean Lest They Die (22.2-9).
22.2 “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, that they separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel, which they hallow to me, and that they profane not my holy name. I am Yahweh.”
Aaron and his sons must ensure that they see themselves as separate from the holy things of the children of Israel, which the children of Israel hallow to Yahweh. The sanctuary was not theirs, they were privileged to minister there. The holy things were not theirs, they were privileged to have a part in them. They had no automatic right to have contact with them. They may minister with them when they were clean, but not when they were unclean. Such things were God’s and God’s alone. Thus when they were unclean (verse 3) they must have nothing to do with them. They must see themselves as separate from those holy things in such a way that uncleanness barred them from them. Otherwise they would profane and make common the holy Name of Yahweh. Even Aaron and his sons must not presume on God.
22.3 “Say to them, Whoever he be of all your seed throughout your generations, who approaches to the holy things, which the children of Israel hallow to Yahweh, having his uncleanness on him, that person shall be cut off from before me. I am Yahweh.”
So even looking into the far future, if anyone of the seed of Aaron presumes, and approaches the holy things of Yahweh while ritually unclean, he is to be cut off from being a priest. For they must remember that God is Yahweh, the Holy One whose holy things must not be defiled.
22.4a “Whatever man of the seed of Aaron has a suspicious skin disease, or has an issue, he shall not eat of the holy things, until he is clean.”
This includes the fact that a man of the seed of Aaron is barred from eating the holy things until he is clean. This includes those who have a suspicious skin disease, and those who have an issue. They are unclean all the while that they have either.
22.4b-7 “And whoever touches anything which is unclean by the dead, or a man whose seed goes from him, or whoever touches any creeping thing, whereby he may be made unclean, or a man of whom he may take uncleanness, whatever uncleanness he has, the person who touches any such shall be unclean until the evening, and shall not eat of the holy things, unless he bathe his flesh in water, and when the sun is down, he shall be clean; and afterward he shall eat of the holy things, because it is his bread.”
Indeed all the laws of uncleanness apply equally to the priests. Touching anything that has had contact with death, a man emitting semen, any forbidden creeping thing, touching anyone who can convey uncleanness, whatever that uncleanness is, will render the priest unclean until the evening. He shall not eat of holy things until that uncleanness is dealt with. This will be by washing his flesh thoroughly in water and waiting until the evening. Then he may eat of holy things because it is his God-provided food.
22.8 “What dies of itself, or is torn of beasts, he shall not eat, to defile himself with it. I am Yahweh.”
They must also not eat anything that dies of its own accord, or anything that is torn by beasts. Both would defile them. And they must remember that God is Yahweh, the living God.
22.9 “They shall therefore keep my charge, lest they bear sin for it, and die in it, if they profane it. I am Yahweh who sanctifies them.”
So must they keep His charge, lest they receive punishment for any transgression or sin that they commit, a punishment which will result in death. To touch holy things while unclean would be to insult and disparage Yahweh and treat them as common. They must remember that the One Who has sanctified them is Yahweh. And He must not be approached with defilement.
Once more then we have an emphasis on the fact that all who would serve God must keep themselves from all forms of uncleanness. They must be pure in heart and mind and in outward living. They must avoid all that could defile them.
Eligibility To Eat of Holy Things (22.10-16).
22.10 “There shall no stranger eat of the holy thing: a sojourner of the priest’s, or a hired servant, shall not eat of the holy thing.”
Those not of priestly stock may not eat of a holy thing, whether they be visitors or hired servants.
22.11 “But if a priest buy any soul, the purchase of his money, he shall eat of it; and such as are born in his house, they shall eat of his bread.”
But permanent members of the household may eat of holy food, whether bondservants or family members and permanent servants born in the house and seen as part of the household.
22.12 “And if a priest’s daughter be married unto a stranger, she shall not eat of the contribution offering of the holy things.”
However a priest’s daughter who has married outside the line of Aaron may not eat of the contribution offering of the holy things. She no longer comes under the descent of ‘Aaron and his sons’.
22.13 “ But if a priest’s daughter be a widow, or divorced, and have no child, and be returned unto her father’s house, as in her youth, she shall eat of her father’s bread, but there shall no stranger eat of it.”
On the other hand if through widowhood or divorce she return to her father’s house childless she once again becomes eligible. If she has a child than she will have responsibilities to her husband’s family and will still be seen as part of that family. But none who is not of true descent may eat of it.
22.14 “And if a man eat of the holy thing unwittingly, then he shall put the fifth part of it to it, and shall give to the priest the holy thing.”
If a man accidentally and unwittingly partakes of a holy thing, then he must remedy the situation by replacing it and adding a fifth part to it. He would presumably do this by offering a guilt offering or peace sacrifice himself, with the holy thing going to the priest, and extra besides.
22.15-16 “And they shall not profane the holy things of the children of Israel, which they offer to Yahweh, and so cause them to bear the iniquity that brings guilt, when they eat their holy things. For I am Yahweh who sanctifies them.”
So the priests are to guard their privileges and not treat them lightly. They are not to profane what they receive as holy things from Yahweh, which have been offered by the children of Israel. Otherwise they will bring guilt on themselves when they eat of them. They must remember that they are from Yahweh Who sets them apart and has made them holy.
We too must ensure that when God entrusts us with something we are careful to ensure its right use. It is not given to us for us to do what we like with, but to use it in accordance with His instruction. Some is for use in God’s work alone, other is for us and our families. We must not mix the two. But what is His should not be used for our own pleasure.
Offerings and Sacrifices Must Be Unblemished (22.17-25).
Having come to the end of this section concerning the priests the people are now reintroduced. For God’s words and commands are for them all, and His desire and demand is that they all be holy. As the record will now move shortly into the times and seasons which are in God’s hands, all are to be involved. But first an application must be made to the people occasioned by the idea of blemishes. They too must not come with what is blemished.
22.17 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
Another confirmation that we have here words of Moses from God. Possibly also an indicator of a separate revelation.
22.18-20 “Speak to Aaron, and to his sons, and to all the children of Israel, and say to them, Whoever he be of the house of Israel, or of the sojourners in Israel, who offers his oblation, whether it be any of their vows, or any of their freewill-offerings, which they offer to Yahweh for a whole burnt offering; in order that you may be accepted, you shall offer a male without blemish, of the bull oxen, of the sheep, or of the goats, but whatever has a blemish, that you shall not offer. For it shall not be acceptable for you.”
Note how ‘all the children of Israel’ are reintroduced, preparatory for the next section. Whoever offers a whole burnt offering whether it be in relation to a vow, or as a freewill offering must offer an animal which is without blemish. A blemished offering will not be acceptable. It will not count. Thus the person themselves will not be accepted on the basis of it.
22.21-22 “And whoever offers a sacrifice of peace-offerings to Yahweh to accomplish a vow, or for a freewill-offering, of the herd or of the flock, it shall be perfect to be accepted. There shall be no blemish in it. Blind, or disabled, or maimed, or having a discharge, or an itch, or scabbed, you shall not offer these to Yahweh, nor make an offering by fire of them on the altar to Yahweh.”
The same applies to a peace sacrifice, again whether in respect of a vow or a freewill offering. To be accepted it must be ‘perfect’. Any animal which has a fault and is blemished will not be accepted. Nor must they offer such as an offering made by fire on the altar to Yahweh.
22.23 “Either a bull ox or a lamb which has anything superfluous or lacking in his parts, that you may offer for a freewill-offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted.”
However, if the offering is a freewill offering an animal with what is merely a genetic malformity may be accepted. But not as a vow offering.
22.24 “What has its stones bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut, you shall not offer to Yahweh; nor shall you do thus in your land.”
An animal mutilated or injured or in any way affected in its vitals shall not be offered to Yahweh. It is unable to produce seed and is not a whole animal.
22.25 “Nor from the hand of an alien shall you offer the bread of your God of any of these, because their corruption is in them, there is a blemish in them. They shall not be accepted for you.”
Even if the offering be brought by a foreigner it shall not be accepted if it is blemished. A blemished animal is unacceptable under any circumstances with the sole exception of the example in verse 23 where there is limited acceptance of an animal naturally born with a genetic malformity. Thus no blemished offering will be accepted from anyone.
Thus does God stress that we must not bring to Him what is blemished. If we would bring to Him the offering of our praise, or our worship, or our service, it must be from a full heart. Half hearted worship and service is unacceptable. But if our heart is right then it will be accepted through the One Who made His perfect sacrifice on our behalf.
Further Instructions In Respect Of Offerings (22.26-30).
It is noteworthy that behind all these examples the special idea of thoughtfulness and consideration stands out. God’s people are not to be callous or greedy. They must do what is seemly.
22.26 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
Again a word of God through Moses.
22.27 “When a bull ox, or a sheep, or a goat, is born, then it shall be seven days under the dam, and from the eighth day and from then on it shall be accepted for the oblation of an offering made by fire to Yahweh.”
No animal may be offered in sacrifice until it is at least eight days old (compare Exodus 22.30). This may be because it is seen as not yet within the covenant (as with a newborn son - 12.3; compare also 19.23) or it may be in order to prevent distress to the mother and not seen as fitting. Or the idea may be that until that ‘perfect period’ has passed it is not really developed enough to be acceptable. All three may in fact be included, with ‘what is fitting’ being especially in mind in view of what follows.
22.28 “And whether it be cow or ewe, you shall not kill it and its young both in one day.”
A mother and its young should not be slain in sacrifice on the same day. This may have been due to certain pagan practises, or may simply be on the basis of what is seemly. We can compare how a bird and its eggs should not both be taken on the same day (Deuteronomy 22.6-7). Having taken the eggs the bird should be allowed to go free. His people were not to be greedy or callous or thoughtless. So must they not kill a cow/ewe and its young on the same day.
22.29-30 “And when you sacrifice a sacrifice of thanksgiving to Yahweh, you shall sacrifice it that you may be accepted. On the same day it shall be eaten. You shall leave none of it until the morning. I am Yahweh.”
When a peace sacrifice for thanksgiving is offered it must be offered in a way that will be accepted. Especially must it all be eaten on the same day. The thanksgiving should be shared with as many as possible rather than be simply retained for the benefit of the offerer. Thus none must be left until the morning. They must remember Who Yahweh is and how generous He is, and be generous as well.
Summary of This Section.
22.31-33 “Therefore shall you keep my commandments, and do them. I am Yahweh. And you shall not profane my holy name, but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel. I am Yahweh who makes you holy, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. I am Yahweh.”
So people and priests together are to keep Yahweh’s commandments and do them. His holy Name must be honoured by their lives, and by their behaviour, and by their obedience so that His holiness is recognised and acknowledged. That is why He has made them holy, setting them apart as His people and delivering them and giving them His instruction (torah - Law). That is why He requires them to be holy. For they are His covenant people whom He has brought out of Egypt so that He could be their God. He is Yahweh. (There is no other).
Our Times Are To Be In His Hands (23.1- 25.55).
We now come to the final section of the book before the listing of the blessings and cursings, which deals with different aspects of how Israel should celebrate and regulate the passing of time. In the make-up of the book this parallels the section dealing with offerings and sacrifices (1-7). All their lives were to be an offering to God.
Chapter 23 covers the Sabbath and the religious festivals which were to be celebrated at different times in the year throughout the years (a year of twelve moon periods, with an extra intercalary moon period added when necessary in order to keep the seasons in line), chapter 24 covers the daily and weekly indicators of the passage of time in the tabernacle, and chapter 25 looks at the longer outlook and includes instructions concerning the sabbatical year, which was to come every seven years, and the year of jubile which was to come every fifty years. The whole of their lives in both the short and the long term were to be seen as regulated by, and under the control of, Yahweh.
Chapter 23 The Set Feasts of Yahweh.
In this chapter the set feasts of Yahweh are described which were to be celebrated annually. It begins with the regular feast of the seventh day Sabbath, and follows with a brief description of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Sevens or Harvest (Pentecost), and the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.
These three main feasts of the year where when the men of Israel were to gather at the central sanctuary to worship Yahweh (Exodus 23.14; Deuteronomy 16.16 with 1-17) and to celebrate God’s provision of the different harvests for that year. They were to be a time of binding together and of oneness within the covenant. Ideally at these feasts they would discuss major events which were taking place among the tribes, together with any necessary major covenant decisions which needed to be considered, and there they would hear read to them words from the covenant. Once every seven years the whole of the covenant was to be read out (Deuteronomy 31.10-13). But most importantly the celebrations would include the prescribed ceremonies and offerings which indicated confirmation of and renewal of the covenant.
It would be a time of joining together as one, and of settling differences. How regularly this happened once they were in the land we do not know, for no record would be kept of these feasts, and they would only be mentioned in the records we have if something unusual had occurred, and then only in passing. But they probably happened as laid down, although attendance may have varied. There are certainly indications of such gatherings, and they are the only real explanation as to why when we come to the time of Samuel, Saul and David the people were still to be seen as a kind of unity, even if a partly divided one.
The theory had, of course, been that the land would be quickly conquered with the inhabitants expelled. Israel would then divide the land between them, with each tribe controlling its own section, and the land would then be distributed among the people, with each member of the covenant receiving his own portion of the land. This is in fact the general picture portrayed by the Book of Joshua, although it is admitted that ‘there remained very much land to be possessed’ (Joshua 13.1).
But the final reality was far different from the dream. Initial faithlessness and disobedience had previously led to the postponement of the entry into the land for thirty eight years, and when entry was made, once the initial successes were behind them and they were established in the hill country, the continuing disobedience of the people and their continual flirtation with idolatry resulted in the situation portrayed in the Book of Judges.
Under those conditions we need not doubt that the regular gathering of the tribes would certainly have been attempted, but some would at various times have been less well represented there than others, and constraints on attendance, especially for those a greater distance away, would have been many. Indeed outside the hill country they were not the rulers of the land but partly subjected to other nations, including the Philistines to the West, and the northern Canaanites.
However, it is clear from Joshua and Judges that such gathering of the tribes certainly did happen at times, and that they continued to happen, and that leaders of tribes felt that they could call on other tribes for help. Consider Joshua 23.2; 24.1; Judges 1.1; 2.1-5; 20.1; 21.13 with 24; compare Judges 4.27; 5.14-20; 6.34-35 with 7.24; 1 Samuel 1.3; 4.1; 7.3, 8; 8.4; 10.17; 11.15 etc., and that by the time of Samuel, after many trials, we have the picture of a nation (although as it proved divided into two main groups) responding to the leading figure at the Central Sanctuary, even though it was no doubt a very different nation from that first envisaged. Had it not been for these important gatherings of the tribes and the Central Sanctuary this would never have happened. Unity would not have been maintained.
Introduction With Regard To The Feasts And The Sabbath (23.1-3).
23.1 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
Once more it is stressed that we have the words of Moses as given to him by God.
23.2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, The set feasts of Yahweh, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my set feasts.”
Moses is to declare to the children of Israel what are His set feasts. He is to proclaim them as ‘holy convocations’, holy ‘calling-togethers’. They are the times when His people must come together for the purposes of joint worship and renewal of the covenant which bound them all together as His people.
There were, of course, already recognised times of celebration among many nations and tribes. They covered the lamb harvest, the barley harvest, the wheat harvest and the harvest of summer fruits and vintage. But in Israel’s case they also included celebration of the deliverance from Egypt at the Passover, and a recognition of the nation’s failures at the Day of Atonement, and a reminder of when they had dwelt in tents in the wilderness. Thus they were to celebrate both Yahweh’s continual provision in the various harvests and Yahweh’s deliverance, both past and present, deliverance from Egypt in the past (Passover), and deliverance from sin in the present (Atonement).
The Sabbath (23.3).
23.3 “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no manner of work. It is a sabbath to Yahweh in all your dwellings.”
The first celebration mentioned is of the seventh day feast. This was the Sabbath, the seventh day, the day laid down in the covenant beginning at sunset after each period of six working days when all work was to cease in the camp, and later throughout the land (Exodus 20.11; Deuteronomy 5.12-14). Wherever they were throughout the land they would on that day cease from labour, both they, and all their servants, and all their bond-men and women. No manner of work could be done. It was a Sabbath of solemn rest, in every dwelling. The whole of Israel was to stop work as one. And as work ceased they would remember, ‘we were once in bondage in the land of Egypt, we had to work without ceasing, and by His mighty power Yahweh delivered us’ (Deuteronomy 5.15).
The Sabbath was a holy ‘calling-together’ in an act of obedience and tribute to Yahweh, and recognition of His overlordship. This more than anything else would bind them together, distinguishing them from all others, and forming a bond of unity between them. They were the Sabbath-keepers to the glory of Yahweh.
On this day at the Central Sanctuary two lambs instead of one would be offered for the morning and evening sacrifices (Numbers 28.9), and twelve loaves of showbread were presented to God (24.5-9; 1 Chronicles 9.32). However far they may be from that Sanctuary they would be aware that ‘the Priest’ was offering these on their behalf.
There was no day like it anywhere else in the world. The Babylonian sabbatu was not part of a regular cycle but occurred on specific days of the month (the fourteenth, nineteenth, twenty first and twenty eighth), and was for the purposes of religious observance and sacrifices in order to divert the wrath of certain gods. But it was limited to certain classes of society, including the ruler and certain priests, while work continued on it for others, as is evidenced by business contracts of which we have copies. It was not a day of total rest. Other nations also had days in the month on which there were certain restrictions, but none like the Sabbath. The Sabbath was totally free from connection with the moon (see below). It was a new idea altogether.
We are so used to the idea of ‘a week’ that we automatically read it into Scripture. But everyone, including Israel, dated things by the moon. Everything happened on such and such a day of a moon period. The first possible mention of ‘a week’ in the sense in which we know it was in Jeremiah 5.24, and even there it is extremely questionable. Otherwise the concept does not appear in the Old Testament. (Where we find the translation ‘week’ we should retranslate as ‘seven’). The seven day period leading up to the Sabbath operated independently of dating. There is never any reference to a particular ‘day of the week’, it is always to a ‘day of the month’.
With regard to the Sabbath being a day of complete cessation of all work it is difficult for us in our day, when we have so much free time, to recognise what it must have been like to live in days when some had no free time at all, and when many could find themselves literally worked without respite until they died of exhaustion. The Sabbath ensured that this could not happen to anyone in Israel. No exceptions were allowed specifically for this reason. Men must not be allowed to find a way round it. All men, slave or free, must every seventh day have that one day of total rest.
The timing of the ‘seventh’ day Sabbath was probably determined by the first day on which manna appeared (Exodus 16.23). Whether it was known before that we do not know. There is no mention of the Sabbath prior to that point, nor of a regular day when men were to cease to work, even though, once commenced, it was patterned on the seventh day of the creation narrative. But Moses declared that the reason that Yahweh had given them the Sabbath was as a reminder of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt by His mighty power (Deuteronomy 5.15). Isaiah would later stress that it was to be a day when men remembered God and sought His pleasure and not their own (Isaiah 58.13-14). Then they would be blessed indeed.
Note On The Sabbath.
The first mention of the Sabbath is in Exodus 16. The impression given there (verses 23, 25, 26, 29) is that when Moses spoke of the Sabbath he was imparting new information. He was declaring that at the same time as the giving of the Manna God had given them the Sabbath (verse 29). He explained that the seventh day of the giving of the manna was to be a holy sabbath (a ‘ceasing from work’), and therefore also that every seventh day after that was to be a Sabbath as it followed a six day supply of Manna.
Indeed the ‘rulers’ were confused about it and had to have it explained to them (verse 22). This can only be explained by the fact that they were at this stage unaware of a regular Sabbath. If they had been their question could hardly have arisen. Had the Sabbath already been instituted they would have expected that there should be no gathering on the Sabbath.
The seventh day Sabbath was then firmly established as something which was to continue while the Manna was given (verse 26). Later in the giving of the covenant at Sinai it was made a permanent feature, and there it was made a reminder of creation (Exodus 20.8-11) which established its permanence. God had rested on the seventh day and blessed it, and now also so must Israel on each seventh day that followed the giving of Manna. But it should be noted that the creation account says nothing about the Sabbath, nor about ‘a week’. Nor does it suggest that time should follow that pattern. It simply speaks of a divinely perfect period of ‘seven days’.
In fact Moses specifically declared in Deuteronomy 5.15 that the reason that Yahweh commanded them to keep the Sabbath day was as a memorial of their delivery from Egypt, with the ceasing from work symbolising their ceasing from bondage. Every Sabbath as they ceased work it would be a reminder of that great deliverance from bondage by the mighty power of Yahweh.
This gives good reason to think that Exodus 16 was in fact the time when the regular permanent seventh day Sabbath was first established, in order to commemorate the giving of the Manna as something better than the bread of Egypt, and as a symbol of deliverance and of God’s care. Previously holy rest days had been mentioned on which all work should cease (Exodus 12.16), and they were sometimes, but not always, ‘seventh days’, but they had never been called sabbaths, and they were specific memorial days indicating the beginning and ending of special feasts. The Sabbath was something new.
Because it was a sabbath (shabbath - a stopping of work) they were to cease work on it. It was a holy rest (shabbathon). This would hardly have needed to be explained if they were familiar with it.
So while no specific statement was made in Exodus 16 that it was a new institution, everything about the narrative suggests that it was. The sabbath had not previously been mentioned, and the only mention of a seventh day feast previously was in Exodus 13.6 and there it was a seventh day numbered from another day (the first day after the fourteenth day of Abib) fixed by the moon. And new and full moons did not always occur on a specific day of the week. Indeed in Exodus 13 there was also a special feast on the first day after the fourteenth of Abib as well as on the seventh after. Both were holy days. This was the pattern of special days elsewhere. They were on fixed days of a moon period
It may well be therefore that the first giving of the Manna also represented the first establishing of the strict seven day ‘week’ pattern and of the regular Sabbath. Previously they probably simply numbered the days of each moon period and have utilised periods of the moon for recording time, or followed the ways of the Egyptians. This new way of measuring time from one Sabbath to another would be another indication of their new nationhood, and their new position under God their Provider. But they still dated everything under the old non-week system.
Indeed had the Sabbath and the seven day period on which it ended already been a well recognised feature we might have expected that those who broke it (Exodus 16.27) would be put to death (compare Numbers 15.32-36). But instead they are only rebuked for having disobeyed the command not to gather.
It is also interesting to note that there is no specific emphasis in Exodus 16 of doing no work, although it may possibly be seen as implied in verse 23 and verses 26-27, the latter only being stated, however, after the failure to observe the Sabbath. This may be why they were only rebuked.
If this be so its introduction was probably made easier by the fact that ‘seven days’ (not directly related to the week) was often seen as a holy period (see Genesis 7.4, 10; 8.10, 12, 29; 29.27-28; 50.10; Exodus 7.25; 12.15, 19; 13.6-7 and often). Seven was the number of divine perfection. Thus they learned that from now on their life was in a sense to be made up of holy periods of seven days in which God provided their food for six days, followed by a day on which they ceased work as a reminder of their deliverance from bondage.
It is true that in Genesis 2.1-3 God stopped working on ‘the seventh day’ from all His activity in creation, but that is not applied there to any requirement for man to observe it, and had it been a requirement when that was written we would have expected it to be mentioned, especially if that was the intention. Nor is the seventh day there called the Sabbath, although it is true that shabbath is related to shabath, to stop, be at a standstill, stop working, the verb used there. Later in Exodus 20.10 (see also 31.17) this example is given as proving that the idea of the seventh day was something which God has blessed but there is no necessary suggestion or indication that the Sabbath itself was inaugurated at the time of creation. Creation did not take place in a ‘week’, it took place over a seven day period. The distinction is important for accuracy. As we have seen in Deuteronomy 5.14-15 it is in fact the deliverance from Egypt that is given as the reason why God instituted the Sabbath. The bondmen had become free and in gladness and gratitude would honour Yahweh by dedicating a work-free day to Him.
Thus we should note that ‘the seventh day’ was not something that was fixed as the last day in a week. The week did not come first. The idea of the seventh day of a series of days came first. The reason that it was special was precisely because it was the seventh day of a divinely complete series. It was because God introduced the idea of a Sabbath every seventh day in Exodus 16 to follow each six day series of giving of the Manna that the week eventually resulted. This brings out how important the Manna was seen to be, that the giving of it led up after each six day period to a Sabbath. God was sealing the fact that it was a divine supply. But for calendar purposes they still thought of moon periods.
End of Note.
So the Sabbath was to be seen as primary. It would distinguish Yahweh’s people from all others, and ensured that on one day in seven they turned from the demands and trials of daily life to a day of contemplation and worship. Every seven days they would observe a feast. It was to be Yahweh’s day, a day of ceasing work and a day of remembering. It reminded them of creation, and of the Creator (Exodus 20.11). It reminded them that their lives continually followed His creation pattern. It reminded them that they had been delivered from bondage in the land of Egypt, that they had not been able to cease work then, and that Yahweh had mightily delivered them. Indeed the latter is why He commanded them to keep the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5.15).
The Set Feasts.
23.4 “These are the set feasts of Yahweh, even holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their appointed season.”
The writer now goes on to outline the recurring feasts, ‘the set feasts’ other than the Sabbath, which were to occur throughout the year, ‘in their appointed season’. These were almost certainly based on agricultural feasts with which they were already familiar, but with them also being given a new significance. The Patriarchs would certainly have observed such feasts at lambing and at harvest times.
These indicated that not only was the passage of time from Sabbath to Sabbath in His hands, but also the times and seasons. While the earth remained, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night would not cease (Genesis 8.22), and they were to recognise the fact and be grateful for it.
The three main feasts, Unleavened Bread, Sevens and Tabernacles, were the times when the men of all Israel would gather together at the Central Sanctuary to worship Yahweh, and to renew the covenant (Exodus 23.14; Deuteronomy 16.16 with 1-17). And every seven years at Tabernacles there would be a reading of the whole covenant (Deuteronomy 31.10-13).
The Passover (23.5).
23.5 “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, is Yahweh’s passover.”
The first feast was the Passover which occurred on the fourteenth of Abib/Nisan (March/April), fourteen days after the new moon which marked the beginning of the new year as established in Egypt (Exodus 12.2). This was in remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt when Yahweh ‘passed over’ their houses when he smote the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 12.2-14, 21-36). Later the feast and the feast of unleavened bread would be seen as united together in one as ‘the Passover’ (Luke 22.1). Whatever happened in their future Israel never forgot how God had delivered them from Egypt.
At this feast over a thousand years later (John 19.14-18) God’s great Passover Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ would be offered as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29; 1 Corinthians 5.7).
The Feast of Unleavened Bread (23.6-8).
23.6 “And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to Yahweh. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.”
Passover was immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12.15-20; Numbers 28.16-25) which began when the moon was full. This was probably an old feast adapted for the new situation of fleeing from Egypt. For seven days unleavened bread was to be eaten as a reminder of the speed with which they had had to leave Egypt. But the unleavened bread may also have previously celebrated a newly arrived harvest when the old leavened grain would no longer be required. It may well have once celebrated the beginning of the barley harvest when the Patriarchs were in Canaan, and have been continued by long custom as a feast to celebrate even when things were different in Egypt (old habits die hard), possibly being adapted to connect with the wheat harvest or with lambing or some other aspect of life in Egypt. The old customs would continue although their significance would be reinterpreted. Once they reached Canaan it would be re-established with its old significance (verses 10-11).
23.7 “In the first day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no servile work.”
The first day of that week was to be a sabbath, no matter which day it fell on (Exodus 12.16), a day when no servile work was done. The minimum necessary so that they could eat and celebrate the feast was allowed. This restriction was possibly not quite as rigid as for the regular Sabbath.
23.8 “But you shall offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh seven days. In the seventh day is a holy convocation, you shall do no servile work.”
The seventh day was also ‘a holy convocation’, a further sabbath (and the regular Sabbath would fall somewhere during the seven day period). Each day of the feast an offering by fire would be made to Yahweh.
This feast is a reminder to us of the need to remove from our lives all the leaven of wickedness and malice and to partake of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5.7-8). We are to purge out the old leaven so that we might be like a new lump, totally unleavened. We are also to beware of the leaven of false teaching, the ‘leaven of the Pharisees’ (Matthew 16.6, 12), and of worldly constraint, ‘the leaven of Herod’ (Mark 8.15).
The Firstfruit of the Barley Harvest On The Second Day of Unleavened Bread (23.9-14).
23.9 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
This continually repeated may suggest that these details had been provided and built up separately and were now being drawn together to form a total picture. But again there is the emphasis that they were all God-given.
23.10-11 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you are come into the land which I give to you, and shall reap its harvest, then you shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before Yahweh, to be accepted for you. On the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it.”
Once they were again in Canaan (this was continually stressed so as to maintain their hope for the future) they would revive the celebration of the firstfruits of the barley harvest, and during the feast of Unleavened Bread, on the evening after the Sabbath, would bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of the harvest to the priest for him to wave before Yahweh. This would be accepted by Him on their behalf as an acknowledgement of gratitude for the harvest.
23.12-13 “And in the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a he-lamb without blemish a year old for a whole burnt offering to Yahweh. And its grain offering shall be two tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire to Yahweh for a pleasing odour; and its drink-offering shall be of wine, the fourth part of a hin.”
On the same day a whole burnt offering of a year old lamb would be offered together with a grain offering (seven litres) mingled with oil and a drink offering (1.7 litres) of wine. These would be offerings made by fire to Yahweh, and their offering would give Him pleasure, arising as a pleasing odour. Each of these represented an expression of gratitude to God. for the gift of lambs, the gift of barley harvest and the gift of wine.
23.14 “And you shall eat neither bread, nor parched grain, nor fresh ears, until this selfsame day, until you have brought the oblation of your God. It is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.”
Until this oblation and firstfruit was offered to God they were not to partake of anything to do with the harvest. They must eat neither bread, nor parched grain nor fresh ears. God’s goodness must be acknowledged first.
The firstfruit reminds us of many things. It reminds us that we must never be slow in expressing our gratitude to God for His provision. We have much to be grateful for and we must not be like the healed lepers of whom only one returned to Jesus to give thanks (Luke 17.17). It reminds us that we must continually give thanks for Jesus Christ Who is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.20). And it reminds us that we who have been begotten again by Him are the firstfruits of His creation (James 1.18)
The Feast of Sevens (Weeks) or Harvest - Pentecost (23.15-22).
This was a one day feast (Deuteronomy 16.9-12) to be held fifty days after unleavened bread.
23.15-16 “And you shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave-offering, seven sabbaths shall there be complete, even to the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall you number fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal-offering to Yahweh.”
From the second day of unleavened bread, the day after the initial Sabbath, the day of waving of the sheaf of the wave-offering, seven seven day periods ending with the Sabbath are to be measured, and then on the next day, the fiftieth, the feast of sevens is to be celebrated. This was a joyous feast which celebrated the gathering of the harvest and expressed gratitude to God for His provision of food.
Note the continual emphasis on ‘sevens’. Unleavened Bread lasts seven days, and then seven sevens lead up to the fiftieth day Feast of Sevens. The final feast will be in the seventh moon period. This divinely perfect and sacred number underlines all.
23.17 “You shall bring out of your habitations two wave-loaves of two tenth parts of an ephah: they shall be of milled grain, they shall be baked with leaven, for first-fruits to Yahweh.”
In recognition of this gratitude two wave-loaves made of milled grain (about seven litres), baked with leaven (a rare use of leaven), were brought as first-fruits to Yahweh. Leaven could be offered as firstfruits, but not as an offering made by fire (2.11). They were waved before Yahweh as an offering to Him, firstfruits of the final harvest, although their final destination was the priests.
The deliberate change from unleavened to leavened may indicate the difference between the firstfruits of the harvest (when there would have been no time for it to leaven) and the finally gathered in harvest when leavened dough would be plentiful and rejoiced in.
23.18 “And you shall present with the bread seven lambs without blemish a year old, and one young bull ox, and two rams: they shall be a whole burnt offering to Yahweh, with their grain offering, and their drink-offerings, even an offering made by fire, of a pleasing odour to Yahweh.”
With the bread was a multiplied offering. Seven lambs without blemish a year old, one young bull ox and two rams were to be offered as whole burnt offerings to Yahweh, each with its usual grain and drink offerings. These made up an offering made by fire, a pleasing odour to Yahweh. This multiplied offering was a demonstration of rededication and tribute, a joyous response to God’s love and goodness revealed in the harvest.
23.19 “And you shall offer one he-goat for a purification for sin offering, and two he-lambs a year old for a sacrifice of peace offerings.”
On top of the whole burnt offerings a he-goat was to be offered as a purification for sin offering. Even on such a joyous occasion there had to be a recognition of the need for forgiveness, of a need to be made pure before God. And two one year old he-lambs were offered for a sacrifice of peace offerings, to indicate peace and wellbeing. These would be for the priests.
23.20 “And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the first-fruits for a wave-offering before Yahweh, with the two lambs: they shall be holy to Yahweh for the priest.”
The bread of the firstfruits and the two lambs offered as a peace sacrifice were to be for the priests. They were waved before Yahweh to indicate that they were offerings to Him, before being passed on to the priests. They were ‘holy to Yahweh for the priest’.
23.21 “And you shall make proclamation on the selfsame day; there shall be a holy convocation unto you. You shall do no servile work. It is a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.”
And that day was to be a sabbath, a ‘holy gathering-together’ during which no servile work should be done. It was a statute which was to be permanent into the distant future in all their dwellings.
23.22 “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleaning of your harvest, you shall leave them for the poor, and for the sojourner. I am Yahweh your God.”
And in recognition of all that God had given them they were to ensure that they left in their fields sufficient food for the poor and needy. They were not to reap the corners of the fields, nor gather loose grain that had fallen to the ground. These ‘gleanings’ should be left for the poor and the resident alien (who would have no land). And this on the authority of Yahweh their God.
This feast too is a reminder to us of the gratitude that we should show to God, this time not only for firstfruits but for the whole harvest. And it reminds us that of what God has given to us we should be ready and eager to give to others.
It is especially a reminder of the greatest gift of all which came at Pentecost, the giving of His Holy Spirit (Acts 2), Who came that He might produce a harvest in the bringing of men and women to Christ. We are that harvest. How full of praise we should be. And the offerings made on this day remind us of our Lord Jesus Christ Who was offered up for us as a purification for sin offering, and Who as a multiplied whole burnt offering was fully satisfactory to God to make atonement for us and bring us to God as His own.
The Day Of The Blowing Of Rams’ Horns (shophars) (23.23-25).
23.23-24 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month (moon period), on the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest to you, a memorial of blowing of rams’ horns, a holy convocation.”
Rams’ horns as described in Numbers 10.1-10 were blown at the commencement of every moon period, and on special and solemn days (Numbers 10.10). But the first day of the seventh month was a special day (compare Numbers 29.1). It was a solemn rest (shabbaton), a holy convocation. The rams’ horns were blown as a memorial before Yahweh. They were a call to God to consider them on this special month of the year. All would be aware that on that day the rams’ horns were being blown to call them to the Day of Atonement and to the Feast of Tabernacles.
It is no coincidence that the seventh month was so full of feasts. Seven was the number of divine perfection and completeness, and the seventh month must thus inevitably be full of awareness of and response to God. It was His month like no other was, a time for getting right with God, and rejoicing in what He had abundantly provided and looking to the future for what He would provide. No wonder it was welcomed with a special feast for the blowing of ram’s horns. It would then be followed by the Autumn/Winter rains, the hopefully abundant former rains, which would prepare the ground for sowing, would bring nature back to life again, and would improve the grazing grounds so that the flocks and herds could prosper, all no doubt, they would think, the result of their faithful repentance and worship in the seventh month. And then later still it was followed by the latter rains in the spring which finalised what the former rains had begun, commencing the new year of harvests as another round of reaping began. Together their coming was the basis of their physical happiness and prosperity.
23.25 “You shall do no servile work, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh.”
It was a day when all servile work should cease, and an offering be made by fire to Yahweh. This would include as whole burnt offerings a bull ox, a ram, seven lambs of the first year together with suitable grain offerings in each case, and a young goat for a purification for sin offering, in order to make atonement This was besides the whole burnt offering for the month, and the daily whole burnt offerings offered with grain offerings and drink offerings. (For details see Numbers 29.2-6).
We should see the day of the blowing of the rams’ horns as a wake-up call. Now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation (our full final deliverance) nearer than when we first believed (Romans 13.11). Are we alert and ready for that day, or are we sleeping as do others? (1 Thessalonians 5.6).
The Day Of Atonement (23.26-32).
Here the Day of Atonement (compare chapter 16) is looked at from the point of view of the people. Its solemnity is emphasised by the strict warnings concerning proper observance (verses 29-30). On this important day all the failures and sins of Israel that had not previously been atoned for would be gathered up and atoned for.
23.26-27 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Howbeit on the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement. It shall be a holy convocation to you, and you shall afflict (humble) yourselves; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh”
The tenth day of the seventh month is to be the Day of Atonement. It is to be a holy ‘calling-together’, a day on which they ‘afflict themselves’ and a day when an offering is made by fire to Yahweh. For full details of the latter see chapter 16.
‘Afflict (humble) themselves.’ That is, deal hardly with themselves (compare Genesis 16.6; 31.50), or submit themselves humbly (compare Genesis 16.9; Exodus 10.3). No indication is given of exactly what this means. It may refer to fasting, to self-examination and family-group-examination, or to other forms of consideration of sins and of repentance, or to a general humbling before God. The main point is presumably a demonstration to God of a genuine desire to put away sin. Compare Isaiah 58.5 where ‘afflicting themselves’ appears to refer to ‘bowing down the head as a bulrush’, and ‘spreading sackcloth and ashes’, presumably to kneel on as a sign of repentance.
23.28 “And you shall do no manner of work in that same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before Yahweh your God.”
No manner of work may be done on that day (thus going further than banning ‘servile work’). It was a day when all concentration must be on atonement.
23.29 “For whatever person it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from his people.”
And whoever fails to take the day seriously and to make a genuine effort to deal with their sinfulness must be cut off from his people.
23.30 “And whatever person it be who does any manner of work in that same day, that person will I destroy from among his people.”
And whoever does any manner of work, God Himself will destroy from among his people. For it will be evidence that he has no time for getting himself right with God.
23.31-32 “You shall do no manner of work. It is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. In the ninth day of the month in the evening, from evening to evening, shall you keep your sabbath.”
What has been said is now repeated as a permanent statute into the distant future. No manner of work is to be done. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest, a day for self-humbling and self-chastisement, and it shall commence at the twilight of the ninth day, and continue until the twilight of the tenth day, by which time the High Priest will have satisfactorily made atonement for the sin of Israel.
This feast reminds us of our deep need continually for repentance from current sins. Jesus Christ made atonement for us once for all, and we rejoice in that, but we are to constantly walk in God’s light, allowing Him to reveal to us our sins so that we might admit to them and have them removed (1 John 1.7-10).
The Feast of Tabernacles (23.33-36).
23.33-34 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of tabernacles for seven days to Yahweh.”
In the seventh month, when the moon was at its full, there would in fact be a few days of bright moonlight, the Feast of Tabernacles was to begin. If the Day of Atonement was a day of gloom, the feast of Tabernacles was the opposite. It was a time of joy and feasting, of making merry and enjoying the vintage harvest. It was a time for giving thanks for the harvests that had been, and for praying for the coming of the rains for the new series of harvests for the following year, the rain that would soften and prepare the ground, and which if it failed to appear would mean heartbreak for the days to come. It paralleled the other seven day feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, which came six months before, as a seven day period of worship and praise for both past and future blessings.
23.35 “On the first day shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no servile work.”
The first day of the feast was a holy ‘gathering-together’. It was a sabbath. During it no servile work (work not associated with the feast) was to be done. All concentration was to be on God and His call to worship and thanksgiving. None was to be prevented from its full enjoyment.
23.36 “Seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh, On the eighth day shall be a holy convocation to you; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh. It is a solemn assembly. You shall do no servile work.”
And then for seven days the joyous feast would continue, with offerings being made every day by fire to Yahweh. The full count of these munificent offerings can be found in Numbers 29.13-34, including the whole burnt offerings over the week of seventy bull oxen, fourteen rams and ninety eight lambs of the first year (all multiples of seven) together with their accompanying grain offerings. And each day the necessary he-goat for a purification for sin offering. And this would be followed by another sabbath on the eighth day, with special offerings (one bull ox, one ram and seven lambs, and the compulsory he-goat), no servile work performed, and all attention on Yahweh.
This feast is the climax of all the others. It is a reminder to us of all that God has given through the year in which we can rejoice and be glad, it reminds us that we are but strangers and pilgrims in the earth who should abstain from all worldly desires which war against our souls (1 Peter 2.11), living in tents and in temporary booths because here we have no continuing city but seek one to come (Hebrews 13.14; 11.8-10), and it points us forward to seek the ‘rain’ of the Spirit from the new season that will produce a further harvest of men and women to the glory of God (John 4.35-36).
A Summary (23.37-38).
23.37 “These are the set feasts of Yahweh, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh, a whole burnt offering, and a grain offering, a sacrifice, and drink-offerings, each on its own day;
These then were the set feasts of Yahweh which were to be proclaimed as holy ‘getting-togethers’ for the offering of offerings made by fire to Yahweh, including whole burnt offerings, grain offerings, sacrifices and drink-offerings each on its own day. The ‘sacrifices’ were presumably the purification for sin offerings of the he-goats.
23.38 “Besides the sabbaths of Yahweh, and besides your gifts, and besides all your vows, and besides all your freewill-offerings, which you give to Yahweh.”
And this time and these offerings were offered to Yahweh on top of the regular Sabbaths, and their own freewill gifts, and all their vows, and all their freewill offerings which would provide the basis of the feasting. All these too would be given to Yahweh.
Further Instruction On The Feast Of Tabernacles Re Dwelling In Booths (23.39-44).
23.39 “Howbeit on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruits of the land, you shall keep the feast of Yahweh seven days: on the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest.”
But most important of all was the feast of Tabernacles, when the final fruits of the land have been gathered in and for seven days they can keep a feast to Yahweh, with a shabbathon on the first day, and a shabbathon on the eighth day as days of solemn rest.
23.40 “And you shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Yahweh your God seven days.”
And these days were to be days of great joy and excitement. They were all to live in booths constructed from natural materials such as branches of palm trees, boughs from thick trees and willows which flourished by the waters, to partake of the fruit of goodly trees and of the vintage, and to eat of the freewill offerings, and a good time was had by all. But also during this period, when the regular whole burnt offerings were made, the Law would no doubt be read, and necessary admonition given. Every seventh year the Law had to be read out in full.
23.41-43 “And you shall keep it a feast to Yahweh seven days in the year: it is a statute for ever throughout your generations. You shall keep it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths; that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.”
And they were to keep this feast for seven days each year, in the seventh month. Both sevens symbolic of divine blessing. It was a statute to be observed into the distant future. And they would dwell in booths as a reminder of how they had dwelt in booths and tents when they were delivered from Egypt and brought to the land of His inheritance. All home-born Israelites would dwell in booths over the whole period for this purpose. And they will remember that He is Yahweh their God, their great Deliverer, their covenant Lord, the One to Whom they owe everything. And they will rejoice, and they will worship, and they will remember. And they will renew the covenant.
23.44 “And Moses declared to the children of Israel the set feasts of Yahweh.”
Thus did Moses declare to the children of Israel the set feasts of Yahweh.
Chapter 24 Ministrations In The Tabernacle: All Life is Continually Watched Over By Yahweh; The Man Who Cursed The Name.
Having established the importance of the seven-day Sabbath, and the set periods of sevens over the year when His people will gather to worship Him and renew the covenant, he now goes on to deal with the day by day ministry in the Tabernacle which will demonstrate Yahweh’s continual interest in and concern over His people. For His watch over them is not only on the Sabbath, and at special times and seasons, but day by day, and week by week over the years and the centuries. They are ever remembered before Him.
The Israelites had no theoretical concept of time. Indeed they had no word for time. All their time words spoke of the passage of time. But they were very conscious of that passage of time, and were concerned to know that as time went by, Yahweh was always with them. This was what the Sabbath and the feasts of Israel assured them of. He controlled the times and the seasons, and He was over all time. Through all they were in His hands.
But they were also assured of it daily in the Tabernacle. For Yahweh graciously assured them of it through the continual burning in the Holy Place of the seven-branched golden lampstand, and through the Bread of the Presence (the ‘bread of the face’) set continually on the holy table.
The sevenfold golden lampstand, representing divinely perfect (sevenfold) light, revealed the One Who was the Light of the world, and was symbolic of the presence of God among His people, calling to remembrance the pillar of fire and all the times when God had revealed Himself in fire. He was the One Who gave light to Israel in deliverance (Exodus 13.21; 14.20 compare Psalm 18.28; 27.1; 36.9; 43.3; 78.14; 105.39; 112.4; 118.27; 119.105, 130; Isaiah 60.1). The ‘light of His face’ is a regular expression (Psalm 4.6; 89.15; 90.8). It was a reminder that behind the veil, at least at the beginning, was revealed the full glory of Yahweh, but that in the Holy Place His reflection was, as it were, revealed more dimly and more bearably in the lampstand that the priests could look on. It shone brightly on in the darkness.
This is confirmed by the fact that Jesus applied the same picture to Himself when He called Himself the Light of the world (John 8.12; 9.5). It is the constant stress of John’s Gospel that God’s light had come among us (1.4. 9, 14; 3.19), His lampstand in a dark world (John 9.5), to be later represented by seven lampstands representing His people (Revelation 1.12-13).
It is stressed that all Israel contributed the olive oil in order to keep the flame burning continually. While the flame shone they knew that He was there and that they were His people. And it was up to them to ensure that it remained so.
In the Old Testament a man’s life was often called his ‘lamp’ (Job 21.17; Proverbs 20.20; 24.20 see also 2 Samuel 21.17; 1 Kings 11.36), and this golden lampstand was God’s perfect sevenfold lamp, representative of Himself, of His life, of Himself as the living God. Thus the lampstand represents the very life of God present with His people.
This was gloriously illustrated in Zechariah 4 where the two sons of oil who stood by ‘the Lord of the whole earth’ (verse 14), and stood by the lampstand, received ‘the golden (oil)’ from the golden lampstand (verse 12) as the anointed ones of Yahweh. However we translate that verse in context ‘the golden’ can only come from the golden lampstand, the only golden thing mentioned. The lampstand thus signified the presence of the living God, the Lord of the whole earth, Who would work through His Spirit, and the seven lamps were the seven eyes of Yahweh, the all-knowingness of God (verse 10), active throughout the earth. The olive trees were the instruments though which He worked, those whom He had anointed, who received ‘the golden’ from the lampstand upon themselves. (Incidentally you do not pipe oil from an olive tree).
So the sevenfold lampstand here represents divine life, and indicates that God is ever present with His people and is ready to illuminate them and to show His power in a divinely perfect way, just as in Zechariah 4 it represented the living God, ‘the Lord of the whole earth’, fully present and fully aware and able to impart life and power through His Spirit.
(Note. While this contradicts the commonly held view that the lampstand in Zechariah 4 represents God’s people as a witness fed by the olive trees, that view is not at all borne out by a careful examination of the narrative in Zechariah 4 and the applications actually given there. If we look for the interpretation in the passage, that is not the picture it presents at all. The lampstand was rather declared in the passage to be symbolising (1) the Lord of the whole earth (verse 14), (2) the Spirit of God as empowering Zerubbabel (verse 6), and (3) the seven eyes of Yahweh (verse 10). It is true that the seven lampstands in Revelation did represent God’s witness in the churches but central to them as lampstands was the glorious Son of Man, like the sun shining in its strength. It was He Who was manifested through the churches, the Light of the world shining through His people, and Who was the mainspring of His people. He it was Who was the equivalent of the stem of the sevenfold lampstand. The church had become one with Him and was part of His revelation of Himself as the light of the world (John 8.12 with Matthew 5.14), just as it was also the Suffering Servant (Acts 13.47). But that was progressive revelation. In Zechariah 4 the golden lampstand was the living God, with the seven lamps that were His active eyes, and Who fed the olive trees, the servants of God, with golden oil, in Revelation 1 the Son of Man, the living Christ Who shone like the sun, ‘fed’ the lampstands. The final idea was similar).
And as the lampstand was a reminder of God present in fire among His people, the ‘light of His face’, so was the ‘Bread of the face’ a reminder of the Manna that God had provided for His people. So did they pray that He would continually supply them with bread. And so do we look constantly to Him Who is the true manna, the Bread of Life (John 6.35).
This Is The Word Of Yahweh.
24.1 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
Once again we are assured that these are Yahweh’s words through Moses.
The Golden Lampstand (24.2-4).
24.2-4 “Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. Without the veil of the testimony, in the tent of meeting, shall Aaron keep it in order from evening to morning before Yahweh continually. It shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations. He shall keep in order the lamps on the pure lampstand before Yahweh continually.”
In the tabernacle, in the Holy Place outside the veil, was the seven-branched golden lampstand (Exodus 25.31-37). This represented the perfect light of God shining in Israel (see above). While it shone out God was present with His people. This light had to be maintained by Aaron, the High Priest, so that one of its lamps burned ‘continually’, fed with olive oil specifically provided by the people of Israel. Whether God remained with His covenant people or not depended on them. Its sevenfoldness declared the perfection of God’s light. It declared that day after day, on and on throughout their generations, God was present with His people, ready to act if they were responsive to Him. In Zechariah 4 we have an illustration of that action (see above).
But the prime emphasis here in line with the emphasis in this part of Leviticus is on the people’s responsibility. This was to provide pure oil for the lamp so that it could burn continually. Aaron is then to ensure that it maintains its function day by day continually (see Exodus 25.37-38; 30.7-8; 40.4; Numbers 4.9; 8.2-3 compare 2 Chronicles 13.11).
The showbread consisted of twelve large cakes placed on the table in the Holy Place. It was the responsibility of the sons of Kohath (1 Chronicles 9.32). The number twelve suggests that the cakes represented in one way or another the twelve tribes of Israel. But the fact that they are eaten by the priests is against literal identification with the twelve tribes (although the argument could be used that once the new replaced the old the symbolism ceased for the old so that they could be disposed of conveniently).
To interpret their significance we need to look at the situation carefully. They were twelve, they were placed on the golden table, they were before Yahweh for seven days, part was then offered as a sacrifice made by fire (and thus had not ceased to be symbolic), and the remainder was eaten by the priests.
Twelve connects them with the twelve tribes, their being brought in and placed on the golden table suggests that they were a kind of grain offering, that they were before Yahweh for seven days (a divine period) suggests that they were being drawn to His attention, that part was offered as an offering made by fire confirms that they are an offering, and that part is eaten by the priests as most holy confirms His acceptance of that offering. It would appear then that we are to see in these twelve loaves a symbol of the whole of God’s physical provision for His people, and of the people’s gratitude for it, a perpetual grain offering before Yahweh. As ever the eating is not even hinted at as being intended to be by God, it is by the priests.
But we need not doubt that they would also be a reminder of the Manna. That was the bread on which God had fed His people continually. Pieces of it lay within the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh (Exodus 16.33). Here in the ante-room, as with the light, was its visible reminder.
24.5-6 “And you shall take milled grain, and bake twelve cakes with it: two tenth parts of an ephah shall be in one cake. And you shall set them in two rows, six on a row, on the pure table before Yahweh.”
Like the lampstand the table is also ‘pure’ (compare 2 Chronicles 13.11). It receives on God’s behalf this continual offering of the twelve baked cakes which symbolise God’s provision for His people in the grain, the people’s activity in the milling and the baking, and their worship in the frankincense. They are a continual grain offering, and are a continual reminder to Him of His people.
24.7 “And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be to the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire to Yahweh.”
On the bread is placed the frankincense. This is primarily intended to be a pleasing odour to Yahweh, an act of worship and homage (compare Psalm 141.2; Malachi 1.11; Jeremiah 6.20; 18.15), but it may also represent the outside world from which it comes (this is not the product of His people, but of Arabia - Jeremiah 6.20) who are also to be seen as under His overlordship. See notes on 2.1-2. It is a memorial to be offered by fire to Yahweh while the bread will be eaten by the priests.
24.8 “Every sabbath day he shall set it in order before Yahweh continually; it is on the behalf of the children of Israel, an everlasting covenant.”
Again the continuity of time is emphasised. It is to be set before Yahweh every Sabbath day, it is set on behalf of the children of Israel, and it is for an everlasting covenant. It represents the oneness of Yahweh with His people in their lives in continuity and emphasises their covenant responsibility. The aim is a continual act of worship and that it will result in His provision of their needs as promised in the covenant, for ever.
24.9 “And it shall be for Aaron and his sons; and they shall eat it in a holy place, for it is most holy to him of the offerings of Yahweh made by fire by a perpetual statute.”
And in the end, like all grain offerings, once the memorial has been offered by fire to Yahweh, the remainder is for the priests as a most holy thing. It is indeed the most holy of the offerings made by fire to Yahweh. And this too is for a perpetual statute like the non-eating of fat and blood (3.17); the priesthood (Exodus 29.9); and the sprinkling of the water of purification for those who have been in contact with a dead human being (Numbers 19.21).
So the stress with regard to the lampstand and the showbread is on their continual nature day by day and Sabbath by Sabbath before Yahweh, representing Yahweh’s presence with His people as their covenant God and His continual dealings with them over time as His covenant people, and His continual provision for them, into the far distant future. But both depend on His people’s response.
But we who are more privileged enjoy a greater blessing. We walk in His light (1 John 1.7) because we have the light of life (John 8.12) and have His light continually in our hearts. We are the children of light (John 12.36). And we partake continually of Him as the Bread of Life (John 6.35).
Blasphemy Against The Name (24.10-14).
In the midst of all the ritual instructions in the first part of the book came the practical example as a warning of the sons of Aaron who offered strange fire before Yahweh. It was a warning that the ritual must be carried out meticulously. Now here in the second part of the book, which concentrates more on the practical expression of the covenant and its moral demands as associated closely with the name of Yahweh (we have noted the continual stress on ‘I am Yahweh’ in 18-22), comes a practical example of the danger of blaspheming the Name. God’s instructions are not to be taken lightly.
24.10-11 ‘And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and the son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp, and the son of the Israelitish woman blasphemed the Name, and cursed; and they brought him to Moses. And his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.’
An incident takes place in which a man ‘blasphemes the Name and curses’. His father was an Egyptian and his mother a true-born Israelite whose genealogy can be traced. These were the facts. However the Egyptian had no doubt become a partaker in the covenant (Exodus 24) and identified himself with a tribe, probably the tribe of Dan, as had all the ‘mixed multitude’ which had come out of Egypt. The description is not derogatory but because the man had no antecedents in the tribe. The contempt is revealed in the failure to give the name of either the son or the father. The son has made himself a nonentity and an outcast whose name was not to be mentioned. But the mention of ‘an Egyptian’ would have the underlying significance that this was something that harked back to the influence of Egypt.
The incident was merely a brawl between this man and an Israelite, but the crime lay in the blasphemy against the Name. It would appear that he cursed Yahweh in disobedience against the third commandment (Exodus 20.7).
24.12 ‘And they put him in ward, that it might be declared to them at the mouth of Yahweh.’
As it was the first time that this had happened he was kept under guard until they could discover from Yahweh what should be done with him.
24.13-14 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring forth him who has cursed outside the camp; and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him.”
Moses approaches Yahweh about what should be done and Yahweh gives His verdict. It is given in such a way that the man’s crime is compared and contrasted with what are seen as the worst sins of men, harm against the person.
In it He commands that the man was to be brought outside the camp, identified with the laying on of hands by those who had heard him, and then stoned by the whole congregation. This latter would mean that the whole congregation was gathered together for the judgment and execution, while some of their representatives actually hurled the stones on their behalf. The point is that all are a part of the execution.
One reason for the method of execution was probably so that the man would not need to be touched once the execution began. The man could be buried under the cairn of stones. But it may be significant that he was not burned with fire. This may have been because he could not be devoted to Yahweh because of his crime.
Instructions Arising From The Incident (24.15-23).
The incident, and the execution, followed by these instructions, are intended to bring out the sacredness of life and the awfulness of the crime. It was true that life was sacred, but for one who had cursed or blasphemed God, or who took human life, it was forfeit.
The instructions cover all forms of assault moving downwards: cursing God (spiritual weapons against a spiritual God), blaspheming the Name (ditto), deliberate murder, killing an animal belonging to another, physically harming a neighbour. Each strikes at a life principle and they move from high to low, and punishment is to be tempered to the level of the crime. By so listing these greatest of crimes in descending order the enormity of what this man has done is brought out.
The punishments are also in descending order. Death by stoning (in both cases of crime against God), death, full substitution, like for like.
24.15 “And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin.”
Anyone who curses God will ‘bear his sin’, that is will be judged and punished accordingly as previously declared by God in verse 14.
24.16 “And he who blasphemes the name of Yahweh, he shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the sojourner, as the home-born, when he blasphemes the Name , shall be put to death.”
Anyone who blasphemes the Name of Yahweh will surely be put to death. In this case the crime is so serious that the whole congregation will be gathered and participate in the execution as in the example above. This applies to all, both home-born and resident alien. Anyone who comes under the authority of Israel is bound by this requirement.
24.17 “And he who smites any man mortally shall surely be put to death.”
A man who deliberately slays another shall be put to death. Provision is to be made elsewhere for one who does so accidentally. For such the cities of refuge are provided.
24.18 “And he who smites a beast mortally shall make it good, life for life.”
Anyone who slays a beast belonging to another will replace it with another its equal.
24.19-20 “And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he has done, so shall it be done to him, breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be rendered to him.”
But if anyone cause a blemish in his neighbour this is not to be the reason for a revenge killing. Rather the punishment shall be limited to the same blemish being given to the guilty party. The purpose of this law was to prevent revenge killings and put a limit on the extent of punishment, while still satisfying the sense of justice of the injured party. In practise satisfactory compensation would no doubt often have been agreed on and accepted. This was merely the maximum that could be demanded.
24.21 “And he who kills a beast shall make it good: and he who kills a man shall be put to death.”
This now summarises the two main principles above to make clear the differences in punishment for different deaths. It differentiates quite clearly between capital punishment for a human death and some other form of punishment for a beast’s death. It is to stress that no one must be slain because of the death of a beast, but that human life is sacred so that the murder of a human being must result in death for the perpetrator. Both these were something on which there must be no doubt. Death for death only applies to when a man is slain. (Hotheads ever needed to be reminded of this).
24.22 “You shall have one manner of law, as well for the sojourner, as for the home-born. For I am Yahweh your God.
All laws are to be applied equally to home-born and resident alien. Both are to be treated equally. For Yahweh is their God and He is totally just and fair.
24.23 ‘And Moses spoke to the children of Israel; and they brought forth him who had cursed out of the camp, and stoned him with stones. And the children of Israel did as Yahweh commanded Moses.’
Then Moses communicated God’s decision about the man and he was taken out of the camp and stoned with stones. It is stressed that all the people did as Yahweh commanded Moses. All were appalled at the blasphemy.
The placing of this incident here would seem to be because it follows the examples of Yahweh’s continual daily and weekly presence with and watch over His people. The sons of Aaron had sinned grievously in the responsibility that was theirs as priests, this man had sinned grievously against the very light of Israel. It was a warning of the fact that God’s presence among His people made them a holy people, and that to dishonour His name in any way could only bring supreme judgment.
Chapter 25 Their Future Is In Yahweh’s Hands And In It They Must Honour Him As They Continually Enjoy The Land That Belongs to Him Which He Is Giving Them. A Foretaste of Heaven.
The prime principle in mind here is that all the future also belongs to God. The seventh day Sabbath, the seven day feasts, the seven sevens feast, all stressed God’s control over their life and service over the whole year, with the number seven bringing out their sacredness and their glory, now we have here expressed the larger vision, the seven year Sabbath, and the seven sevens year of yubile which express the same control over their life and service into the longer term, and the same divine perfection of what their future was intended to be.
In this chapter we are given provisions both for a sabbatical year for the land every seven years (compare Exodus 23.10-11), and a year of ‘yubile’ (possibly ‘blowing of rams’ horns’ or ‘year of release’) after every seven sevens of years, that is every forty nine years, once the promised land was Israel’s. These were to make clear to Israel that the land was really Yahweh’s and that they were His tenants with their land ‘given’ by Yahweh (25.23; compare Exodus 6.4; Deuteronomy 5.16). The whole of their lives should be lived in this light, and their practical behaviour towards each other in terms of what He had given them determined by it.
The provisions were based on the ideal that Israel would conquer the land, expel its inhabitants and within a certain period control the whole land, which would then be divided up among them, each receiving his share. Each family would have received its share and that share was to be theirs permanently. No one could permanently take it away from them, because at the end of forty nine years it would always be restored to them.
The basis behind this was that the land belonged to Yahweh, that no one should build up vast amounts of land in perpetuity but His people would always share among themselves and that no Israelite should be permanently in bondage in the land. The land was His and after forty nine years there would be a year of Grand Release, of Yubile, when all would revert to its original owner-tenants, and all Israelite bondmen would be freed. His people were all provided for in perpetuity, for each forty nine years all would be restored to what it was in the beginning. It was symbolic of the everlasting Kingdom.
The sevens would not cease, for at the end of each forty nine years they would commence again, just as after the Sabbath a new period of seven days began. It was tied to no calendar. It was directly in the hands of God. The future was secure.
But it never came fully into being, according to Judges because of disobedience and failure to obey God and trust in Him, and once the monarchy took hold and began to behave like the monarchies of other nations it was even more unlikely to continue to be carried through because man and greed took over. Man seized what was God’s. But it was intended to be the godly principle behind Israel’s existence, His whole people going forward together as one.
Later writers (e.g. Judges) make clear that due to disobedience the ideal situation never arose as first envisaged. Due to disobedience the land never quite belonged to Israel in the way anticipated. But that is not to say that no attempt was made to carry out these provisions. The sabbatical year could be applied from the start as each sub-tribe received its land and divided it up, and may well have been so. And the year of Yubile, while more difficult, may well have been practised in many areas. The latter required an idealistic and optimistic environment in which to be welcomed, and settled conditions under benevolent authority for it to be carried out.
The very conception of this on a nationwide scale fits well to its being promulgated at this time of optimism and expectation, when such a situation could be envisaged, but with the right conditions never being fully achieved, or possibly only achieved in the early unrecorded years in the parts then in subjection. The fact that the etymology of ‘yobel’ has never been satisfactorily explained favours a very early date for the provisions, while its occasional mention in other passages confirms that some at least saw themselves as living in an environment where they expected it to be carried out (27.18, 21; Numbers 36.4 see also Isaiah 5.7-10; 61.1-2). There is therefore no real reason to doubt that the idea was conveyed through Moses. It was certainly a grand idea, a basis for God’s final future deliverance.
That it finally failed comes out in the laments of the prophets, but in their laments we see a reflection of the ideas behind it (Isaiah 5.8 which gains in strength against this background; compare Amos 2.6), of a divine ideal which men had finally rejected. But this ideal was the equivalent of the city of gold in Revelation 21. It was of God’s glorious future for His people.
That the idea was not carried through as it was intended to be carried through was the consequence of disobedience and failure by men Israel to carry through God’s commands. But it conveyed ideas and attitudes about the land and about relationships as regards to debts, that were intended to influence general behaviour and which could be put into practise, and which we should still consider today. It concerned the maintenance of fairness for all.
The very purpose of yubile would to curb the ambitions of those who looked to the long term and were greedy, and its principle would have an influence for good on men’s minds. And it may well have affected prices of redemption to the good both for property and people. It also clearly indicated to future generations what the nation had missed out on due to sin. It was a pointer to the ideal future that could have been theirs, and, at least theoretically, still could be.
Later the Chronicler would certainly point to the exile as caused by the failure of the land to observe its sabbaths (2 Chronicles 36.21). And this was in accord with what Leviticus 26.34 warned would happen if they were disobedient to the covenant, while Daniel would use the idea of the year of Yubile as a means of emphasising that the fulfilment of God’s final deliverance and release for His people would actually take ten times that long as anticipated (Daniel 9). In Daniel’s terms the year of Yubile pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom.
The Sabbatical Year (25.1-7).
25.1 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses in mount Sinai, saying,’
Again we have stressed that here we have God’s word to Moses.
25.2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath to Yahweh.”
He was to inform the children of Israel that not only must they keep Sabbath every seventh day, but the land must keep sabbath as well every seventh year. Once they had entered the land and it had been distributed to them as their gift from Him, they were to observe a sabbath rest for the land after every period of six years, a period again in which they did no labour.
25.3 “Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruits,”
Compare Exodus 23.11. For six years things were to go on as normal. They were to sow and prune and gather. The land was theirs to do what they liked with. They must work to make the most of it.
25.4 “But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to Yahweh. You shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard.”
But when the seventh year came all was to cease. The land must be allowed to rest. They must cease from work. They must neither sow nor prune. It was to be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, and for themselves. It would be a year in which their thoughts could be turned on to covenant matters, and to doing good. It was a period when God and His ways were to be central in their thoughts. It was intended to be in this seventh year that the whole law was read at the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31.10-13). It was to be their Sabbatical.
25.5 “That which grows of itself of your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.”
Indeed they must go further. They must not gather in an organised way what grows of itself, neither reaping, nor gathering grapes and fruit. They must treat the land as if it was not theirs. What grew on the land should be seen as God’s and would be open to anyone to collect. The ‘landowner’ would in that year simply have the same rights as everyone else. It was a time for sharing all that they had.
25.6 “And the sabbath of the land shall be for food for you; for you, and for your servant and for your maid, and for your hired servant and for your stranger, who sojourns with you.”
So what grew on the land in that seventh year would be for everyone who went out to collect it for themselves. There were to be no organised labour parties, no work on the land organised by the owner. Anyone could go individually and collect what he was able. It was to be an exercise in magnanimity. All could live off what the land naturally produced under God.
25.7 “And for your cattle, and for the beasts that are in your land, shall all its increase be for food.”
The produce of the land was also to be left to the cattle and to beasts generally. They too were to be able to enter the land and eat what they would. The more ideal equivalent is portrayed in Isaiah 11.6-9.
That this could not happen in all places at the same time in this way, once the land was not captured as a whole, is clear to us. It could only happen piecemeal. It may well have happened to the land distributed in the first distribution, in the hill country and the lowlands, and later as more was gradually absorbed piecemeal it could be worked into the system. It may even have been observed on a differing basis in different localities. But the leaving fallow of the fields for a year was good practise, and was also practised elsewhere, and would give the soil time to recover and would actually be good for the land. And it was an indicator of God’s purpose of fullness of blessing yet to come.
This year would also have been the year of release mentioned in Deuteronomy 15.1-2 where all loans to fellow-Israelites were to be written off. Although this was no longer to apply once there were no poor people in the land. This attitude was reflected in the teaching of Jesus about giving and lending (Matthew 5.42). And He would point out that in His day ‘you have the poor always with you’ (John 12.8).
The Year of Yubile. The Year of Grand Release (25.8-55).
The year of grand release might well never have been put fully into practise throughout the whole of Israel, as it required full ownership of all the land, and as we know some tribes found difficulty in possessing the land (Judges 1.27-36). But we cannot discount the fact that it might well have been put into practise in the early days in the parts which were securely taken. It was certainly expected that it would be (Numbers 36.4). The early enthusiasm would suggest that it would be applied in the early days in those areas where it could be applied, the areas which were securely subjugated, for example in the days of the elders who outlived Joshua (Joshua 2.7), and even beyond in some form. We may even surmise that it was the monarchy with its ways that finally brought it to an end.
But whether fully carried out or not it would certainly provide a guide to the people of what God expected of them in their behaviour towards each other, would emphasise that the whole land belonged in the final analysis to Yahweh, being given to them by Him for their use, and would set their thoughts on good practise with regard to different aspects of commercial life and their attitude towards their ‘brothers’, their fellow-Israelites.
It demonstrated that Yahweh frowned on greed, on the practise of adding field to field and building up large estates for themselves (Isaiah 5.8), while the principles with regard to creditors (compare also Deuteronomy 15.1-2), and bondservice, were no doubt also carried through, at least to some extent, to the advantage of all in the areas where they were practised. The years of first enthusiasm and struggle would be the very time when such principles would carried through. Dogmatism is ruled out, however, for we actually know very little about the behaviour of the tribes from this point of view in the period of Joshua and Judges.
So these provisions of the year of Yubile could well have been put into practise in certain areas, possibly even over hundreds of years, without our being aware of it, even though the organisation and application of it nationally in the land as a whole would probably have been a feat beyond the tribes in periods when they were splintered, or some were subject to foreign rule. Thus its ideal fulfilment would have been restricted due to the circumstances of the time and the continued presence in the land of non-Israelites in large numbers. But that is not to say that no attempt was made to carry it out in some parts, especially in that part first captured in the highlands and in Transjordan.
For we should note how the Book of Ruth gives us glimpses of practises connected with this legislation in the action of the Kinsman Redeemer (Ruth 2.20; 3.4, 9, 13; 4.3-14), even though it is only brief. And the story of Naboth and his vineyard illustrates how, even in the kingdom which had split off, the rights of a man to his family land were seen as a sacrosanct to a king brought up on God’s laws (1 Kings 21.3-4). That incident also, however, illustrated how foreign ideas of kingship were gradually altering those rights (1 Kings 21.7). Thus if we had we other similar literature we might get a different picture.
The ideal kingship was intended to carry this idea on. It looked forward to the future Kingly Rule of God. But once the idea of kingship based on the ideas of surrounding countries took over, with its great demands, its taxes, and its need to reward favourites, the large scale fulfilment would become almost an impossibility, and totally unacceptable to the nobles and princes who began wanting more for themselves (thus Isaiah 5.8). The kingdom of God was rejected by the desire for the kingdom of this world. Although some have traced the effects of similar provisions in the kingships of the reforming kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah.
Certainly Ezekiel saw the future in terms of it, and stressed that the true Prince to come would not break this law and thrust people out of the land of their inheritance. ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “If the prince gives a gift to any of his sons, it is his inheritance, it shall belong to his sons. But if he gives a gift from his inheritance to one of his servants, it shall be his until the year of liberty; then it shall return to the prince . But as for his inheritance, it shall be for his sons. Moreover the prince shall not take from the people’s inheritance, thrusting them out of their possession; he shall give his sons inheritance from his own possession so that My people shall not be scattered, every man from his possession”’ (Ezekiel 46.16-18).
So the year of Yubile and what lay behind it was Israel’s equivalent of the coming Kingly Rule of God and the everlasting Messianic kingdom put in terms appreciated by an agricultural community.
The Timing and Purpose of the Year of Yubile (25.8-19).
The year of Yubile was not just a year like any other year calendarwise. It commenced not on the first of the first month, Abib (Exodus 12.2) but on the tenth of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement. While then, coming at the end of forty nine years, it could be described as ‘the fiftieth’, it was not actually a year like any other year. It was overlapped on one side by the forty ninth year, and on the other by the first year of the new series. We must not tie the ancients down to our strict ideas of calendars.
25.8 “And you shall number seven sabbaths of years to you, seven times seven years; and there shall be to you the days of seven sabbaths of years, even forty and nine years.”
The principle was that after seven consecutive sabbatical years (each ending a seven year period) there would come the ‘fiftieth’ year which should be the year of Yubile, the year of grand release.
25.9 “Then shall you send abroad the loud ram’s horn on the tenth day of the seventh month; in the day of atonement shall you send abroad the ram’s horn throughout all your land.”
And on the Day of Atonement of that forty ninth year the rams’ horn (shophar) should sound throughout the land and the year of grand release would begin. The forty ninth year would already be a sabbatical year, and therefore a year of solemn thought, thus the solemn Day of Atonement was a good day for commencing the activities of the year of grand release. First Israel could rid itself of its burden of sin, and then it could set about remedying the commercial and agricultural situation for all ‘true-born’ Israelites. All would be restored to the visualised perfect beginning once the land was subjugated and divided among all Israel.
25.10 “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a yubile to you. And you shall return every man to his possession, and you shall return every man to his family.”
It was to be a hallowed year, a year set apart to the glory of Yahweh, a year when Israelite bondservants would gain their release, and all agricultural land and village property would revert to its original owners.
25.11 “A yubile shall that fiftieth year be to you: you shall not sow, nor reap that which grows of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of the undressed vines.”
It was to be like the sabbatical years in that the land was to be left fallow, and in it no sowing, reaping or organised gathering of grapes was to take place. Instead all that was in the fields and the vineyards would be open for anyone who wanted it. all could gather to their hearts content, for the produce that year was Yahweh’s.
25.12 “For it is a yubile; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its increase out of the field.”
‘For it is a yubile.’ Unfortunately we do not really know what yubile means. The term was so obscure that Joshua had to explain it in terms of the shophar, ‘the ram’s horn of Yubile’ (Joshua 6.6-8). This demonstrates the age of the concept. It was thus connected with the triumphal entry into the land. It comes from an unused verbal stem which was connected with running and flowing. But whatever it indicated it was a year of grand release of one form or another, with the releasing of property, bondmen and debts and a period when men reverted to living off the land without labour. It was to be very special to them. It may indicate a time of the flowing forward of God’s purposes.
25.13 “In this year of yubile you shall return every man to his possession.”
Repeating the contents of verse 10 in true ancient fashion he repeats that in that year of Yubile every man was to return to his possession, that is would again receive the land originally given to him and his family once the conquest had taken place, the principle behind this being that that family could never totally lose its inheritance whatever went on during the fifty year period. A black sheep in the family could not permanently lose the family its inheritance. In the end it would always revert to them. This repetition then leads on to an expansion to explain the idea more fully.
25.14-16 “And if you sell aught to your neighbour, or buy of your neighbour’s hand, you shall not wrong one another. According to the number of years after the yubile you shall buy of your neighbour, and according to the number of years of the crops he shall sell to you. According to the multitude of the years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewness of the years you shall diminish its price, for the number of the crops does he sell to you.”
Those who bought or sold property were to take this situation into account. They must not wrong one another. The purchase/sale price must always take into account the time left to the year of Yubile. It must be based on the amount and number of crops which were likely to be produced from the land between the purchase/sale date and the year of Yubile.
25.17 “And you shall not wrong one another; but you shall fear your God: for I am Yahweh your God.”
To wrong one another would be against the whole principle of what God was laying down. Its purpose was for the good of all and to prevent excessive greed. In all dealings in these matters they were therefore to fear God, remembering that He Is Yahweh, and therefore act in accordance with all the principles that He had laid down, remembering that they were accountable to Him..
25.18-19 “Wherefore you shall do my statutes, and keep my ordinances and do them, and you shall dwell in the land in safety. And the land shall yield its fruit, and you shall eat your fill, and dwell in it in safety.”
For this was His promise. They were to do His statutes and keep His ordinances as laid down through Moses, and He in His turn would ensure that the land yielded its fruit, and that they could eat their fill. And it is doubly stressed that if they did these things they would dwell in safety.
What does the year of Yubile mean to us? It is a concept. It reminds us that God’s purposes go forward to a specific goal, a time when all will be restored and all God’s people will receive the blessings that God has for them, when all will be put right. Whatever the future holds we need not fear, for one day will come the glorious year of Yubile, the year of restoration, the year of liberty. Daniel describes it in Daniel 9.24. It is a reminder of our glorious heavenly future, a future of permanence of blessing that nothing can take away.
The Problem Of Having A Seventh Year Without Sowing and Planting (25.20-21).
25.20-21 “And if you shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase, then I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for the three years.”
The first question we must raise here is as to the reference of ‘the seventh year’. Does it signify each sabbatical year after the six years of activity, ‘the seventh year’ as described in verse 4, or does it refer to the forty ninth year before the year of Yubile (but which is never elsewhere thought of in terms of the seventh year)? The view followed here is that it has in mind the sabbatical years following each six year period, that is the ‘seventh year’ of verse 4, the only seventh year referred to in the passage. Thus in the whole series of forty nine years the eighth and ninth years follow the first seventh year, and that is the first year in which the cause for concern described here would apply. The question is thus relating to all that has been spoken about since verse 2.
So the question was, would the observance of the sabbatical year mean that in the seventh year, and in each succeeding seventh year, they would have to go short? No, God assured them, as he had multiplied the Manna on the sixth day so would He multiply His provision so that it covered the years when there was no organised production. As He had already given them evidence with the Manna that He was able to do a similar thing, they had no reason to be afraid.
The need for three years was because while activity on the land would take place in the last months of the sixth year for growth during the sabbatical year, there would be no organised reaping to follow in the first part of the seventh year, and no sowing was to take place within the last part of the sabbatical year, the seventh year, because it was forbidden. Thus the first sowing would be in the eighth year (the last part of the first year in the new series) which would produce growth in the ninth year. This confirms that at this time the year began in the spring (Exodus 12.2).
25.22 “And you shall sow the eighth year, and eat of the fruits, the old store; until the ninth year, until its fruits come in, you shall eat the old store.”
Thus in the seventh and the eighth years they would eat ‘the old store’, that which had been laid up in the sixth year.
Others see ‘the seventh year’ in verse 20 as referring to the forty ninth year. But it should be noted that the ‘fiftieth year’, the year of Yubile, does not begin at the beginning of the year, the first day of the first month (Abib), but begins on the tenth day of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement, and thus half way through the year, presumably of the forty ninth year commencing on the first of Abib. It is thus only loosely called the ‘fiftieth year’, for it is a year beginning at a different date.
This is quite in accord with usage in those times when calendars were not strictly worked out. But to speak then of an eighth and ninth year in terms of it would be confusing to say the least. The first year of the new Yubile period probably began in the fiftieth year as well, so that the ‘fiftieth year’ spanned the last part of the forty ninth year and the first part of the following first year which began the new forty nine year period. This would mean that sabbatical years, as we would expect by comparison with the Sabbath, would continue to be on the seventh year as numbered from the previous seventh year without the arrival of the ‘fiftieth year’ changing the sequence. The ‘fiftieth year’ was thus not an agricultural year, in accord with the other years, but a year of accounting on a different basis, in which grand release took place.
The Land Belongs To Yahweh And Cannot Be Passed On Permanently. It Can Either Be Redeemed Early Or Will Be Passed Back At The Year of Yubile (25.23-28).
25.23 “And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.
The principle is now made clear. The reason that all this was to happen was because the land was Yahweh’s. From this point of view they lived in it, not as owners, but as though they were resident aliens and visitors. That is why it could not be sold in perpetuity. All the land was His. They therefore had no right to sell it, only its use for a number of years.
25.24 “And in all the land of your possession you shall grant a redemption for the land.”
Furthermore this meant that they must be willing to guarantee redemption rights to those who through misfortune had been forced to sell the use of their property. This was to apply wherever His people lived in the land.
25.25 “If your brother has become poor, and sell some of his possession, then shall his kinsman who is next to him come, and shall redeem that which his brother has sold.”
Indeed when a man became poor and had to sell his land in order to survive, it was incumbent on his nearest male relative to buy the land back as soon as possible, and the purchaser could not refuse to sell. We call this man ‘the Kinsman Redeemer’.
We see this principle in action in the book of Ruth where Boaz acts as Kinsman Redeemer on behalf of Naomi. There Naomi had not yet sold her land, but was having to do so, and Boaz bought it as Kinsman Redeemer. But by putting himself in the position of ‘nearest relative’ he also put himself in a position of having to raise up children in the name of Ruth’s dead husband (Ruth 4.5, 10). While this was not strictly required by the levirate Law which referred to ‘a brother’ (Deuteronomy 25.5-6), it had clearly become the interpretation of that Law, ‘brother’ being given its wider meaning. Thus those who would inherit the land as a ‘brother’ must inherit the wife and raise up seed to the dead man. However, as he was not literally a brother, there was nothing unseemly in his marrying her as well, and it would seem that he was required to do so. The woman and land went together. To take on the land meant to take on the responsibility of the dead man’s family.
The book also illustrates how men were already finding ways round the legislation, i.e. the nearer kinsman who refused by pretending that he could not afford it (Ruth 4.6) when he had already said he would buy it (Ruth 4.4) simply because he did not want to have to raise up seed to Chilion. (Whether he could have taken this course if Boaz had not been willing to take on the responsibility we do not know. It appears to have been a mutually satisfactory arrangement allowed by custom - Ruth 4.7 with Deuteronomy 25.9. The spitting was excluded because it was by satisfactory arrangement).
25.26-27 “And if a man has no one to redeem it, and he has grown rich and finds sufficient to redeem it, then let him reckon the years of its sale, and restore the overplus to the man to whom he sold it; and he shall return to his possession.”
Should a man have no near kinsman wealthy enough to act for him, if he himself later became wealthy later he would still retain the right to buy back his land, giving compensation depending on the number of years still to go to the year of Yubile. So the right of a family to its own original land was very strong, and if one section of a family died out the right passed to the nearest relatives (Jeremiah 32.7-8). But the land must remain in the family. Even if sold it returned in the year of Yubile.
25.28 “But if he is not able to get it back for himself, then that which he has sold shall remain in the hand of him that has bought it until the year of yubile: and in the yubile it shall go out, and he shall return to his possession.”
Should he find himself in a position that he has no Kinsman Redeemer, and of not himself gaining sufficient wealth, then he would have to wait until the year of Yubile, but at the year of Yubile the land passed back to him anyway, and he could take possession of it, the buyer meanwhile having retained the use of it up to this date. Thus all were dealt with fairly.
The principle from all this for us is the concern that we should have that we share our good things with others. Our aim should not be to grab as much as we can for ourselves but to ensure that all share the good things of life, and that we do not claim for ourselves more than a reasonable proportion.
Dwelling Houses In Walled Cities Are Exempt From Yubile (25.29-31).
25.29 “And if a man sells a dwelling-house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; for a full year shall he have the right of redemption.”
But if a man sold a house in a walled city the situation was different. He was given one year in which to redeem it. This was because this was a property built or bought by choice in a city which was for defensive purposes. It was not connected with his inheritance given to him by Yahweh.
Yahweh did not see walled cities as necessary in His inheritance. When the ideal time came Israel would be known as ‘a land of unwalled villages’ and would be secure from even the most devastating of enemies (Ezekiel 38.11) because they would be trusting in Yahweh. And houses in unwalled towns would probably have land connected with them.
We must not compare this situation with our own property ideas. The walled cities were mainly formed so that people could build their houses there where they could enter to be ‘safe’ from marauders. House and inherited land were totally separate. Apart from the largest cities most ‘cities’ were in fact not planned, but ‘grew up’, with houses huddled together at random, with a narrow ‘street’ round the inside of the wall (a wall on which houses had also been built) and an open space by the gate of the city. Once all spaces were filled no more building could take place, but one house could be built on to another and those already there could be sold on, subject to any regulations. They were clearly not seen as part of God’s overall long term plan.
25.30 “And if it is not redeemed within the space of a completed year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be made sure in perpetuity to him who bought it, throughout his generations: it shall not go out in the yubile.”
If the house sold through necessity in the city was not redeemed within a full year (presumably twelve moon periods, unless ‘completed year’ was intended to mean 365 days, a concept probably known at that time) then it belonged to the purchaser in perpetuity.
25.31 “But the houses of the villages which have no wall round about them shall be reckoned with the fields of the country. They may be redeemed, and they shall go out in the yubile.”
But houses in unwalled towns were seen as part of the agricultural and pasture land around the towns and could be redeemed along with the land, and returned to the original owner in the year of Yubile.
When Jesus taught us to pray He included the thought that we could ask for basic provision, our daily bread. Then the concentration turned on to spiritual need. The fact that houses in walled cities were not included in Yubile demonstrated the same principle. God provided for His people’s basic needs, not for their luxuries. That was up to them.
Houses In The Cities Of The Levites Are Redeemable At Any Time (25.32-34).
This special provision for Levites was because they did not have fields of their own. Their houses were their possession. God was their inheritance.
25.32 “Nevertheless the cities of the Levites, the houses of the cities of their possession, the Levites may redeem at any time.”
In the cities of the Levites (including the priests) the houses were given to them by God as a possession. They had no fields which were their personal possession. Thus their houses were treated as their inheritance in the land and were permanently redeemable or returned to the original owner in the year of Yubile. These cities included the six cities of refuge, and the forty two others to be allocated to the Levites (Numbers 35.1-8; see Joshua 20-21). The six represented twice three (three on each side of Jordan) which indicated completeness. The remainder were six times seven, completeness with divine perfection.
25.33 “And if one of the Levites redeem, then the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, shall go out in the yubile; for the houses of the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel.”
The general intent of this verse is clear although the detail is a little problematic. The important point is that each property in a Levite city returned in the year of Yubile (‘goes out’) to its original Levite owner, and the whole city therefore returned to its combined Levite owners, because being Levites this was their permanent possession in the land.
AV translates ‘if a man purchase of the Levites’, (i.e. a non-Levite buying Levite property) but this is probably not right as the same verb is unquestionably used in context above to mean ‘redeem’, and the root is g’l (redeem, redeemer). Thus we must translate ‘redeem’ and understand accordingly. It may refer to a Levite redeeming the property on behalf of another Levite or the Levites in general redeeming property in their city which a poor Levite had had to sell. If so it could not be kept beyond the year of Yubile. It returned to its original Levite owner. As indeed the whole city returned to its Levite owners.
25.34 “But the field of the suburbs of their cities may not be sold; for it is their perpetual possession.”
However, Levite fields surrounding the city could not be sold. They belonged to the Levites as a whole. They were their permanent possession.
Those who through dedication to God lose what is looked on as normal to men can be sure that God will watch over their needs and especially provide for them. In the words of Jesus, ‘Every one who has left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life’ (Matthew 19.29).
What The People of Israel’s Attitude Must Be Towards Their Brothers (25.35-43).
‘Brothers’ here means fellow-Israelites who got into financial difficulties, who were to be treated with especial loving concern.
They Must Assist The Recovery Of Their Brother Who Falls On Hard Times Without Seeking To Gain From Him (25.35-38).
25.35 “And if your brother has grown poor, and his hand fail with you, then you shall uphold him. As a stranger and a sojourner shall he live with you.”
If a fellow-Israelite grew poor and failed financially among them for one reason or another, he was to be ‘upheld’. He must be shown the same loving concern as a resident alien or foreigner (compare 19.34), whom the laws of hospitality required should be welcomed (although not always carried out the principle was firm). He must not be downgraded and made to feel a failure. He must be given opportunities to work and to earn a living.
25.36-37 “Take no interest of him or increase, but fear your God; that your brother may live with you. You shall not give him your money on interest, nor give him your victuals for increase.”
If money was lent to him, as it should be if he needed it (Deuteronomy 15.8), then interest must not be charged. The loan must not be reduced in any way. And in fact at the end of the seven years relief period described in Deuteronomy 15.1-2, the loan was to be written off (Deuteronomy 15.2). If victuals were given to him no profit must be made out of them. No additional charge must be made. They must fear their God, the great Deliverer Who stooped to deliver them all from hardship in Egypt when they were all failing financially, and give the fellow-Israelite every opportunity for a recovery.
The fact that the seventh year of release resulted in loans being written off was not, however, to prevent lending. They were to lend out of compassion. Compare here Deuteronomy 7-11, ‘If there be with you a poor man, one of your brethren, within any of your gates in your land which Yahweh your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your poor brother; but you shall surely open your hand to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need of what he wants. Beware that there be not a base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother, and you give him nothing; and he cry to Yahweh against you, and it be sin to you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing Yahweh your God will bless you in all your work, and in all that you put your hand to. For the poor will never cease out of the land. Therefore I command you, saying, You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your needy, and to your poor, in your land.’
Jesus put it this way, ‘Give to him who asks of you, and from him who would borrow from you, do not turn away’ (Matthew 5.42), and again ‘let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven’ (Matthew 5.16). The point is not that we should be soft touches but that we should be concerned enough to help those in real need. Giving a drunkard or a drug addict a handout is not a kindness, taking them for a meal is.
25.38 “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.”
And this the reason why they should behave in this way was because they recognised that what they were doing they did under the eye of Yahweh their God, Who brought them out of the land of Egypt with the purpose of giving them the land of Canaan. He would not be charging them interest or gaining any profit out of them. He was revealing His love and compassion towards them. Thus they must do the same for their fellow-Israelites in accordance with His covenant. For He is their covenant God.
They Must Not Treat Fellow-Israelites As Bondservants (25.39-43).
25.39 “And if your brother be grown poor with you, and sell himself to you, you shall not make him to serve as a bondservant.”
In days when there was no state aid a man could through bad luck or illness or violence easily find that he had to sell his land, and after a time be left with little money to keep his family alive. He could reach such a stage that his only option was to sell himself as a bondservant so as to provide for his wife and children. If that happened to a fellow-Israelite he was not to be treated as a bondservant. He should simply be taken into service. Note that only he could be taken into service, not his family.
25.40 “As a hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with you. He shall serve with you to the year of yubile,”
For he should be treated in the same way as a hired-servant or a resident alien, as a free man while enjoying the security enjoyed by a bondservant, until at the year of Yubile he would receive back his land.
25.41 “Then shall he go out from you, he and his children with him, and shall return to his own family, and to the possession of his fathers shall he return.”
Once the year of Yubile came he would be free to go back to his land, once more totally free, together with his wife and children, (the wife as ever always assumed as part of himself). They were not to be put in bondservice.
The same principle applies between Christians. We should treat fellow-Christians well, whether we employ them, or are responsible for them, remembering that they are our brothers and God’s men. But they too should not take advantage of the situation. Responsibility lies on both sides.
25.42 “For they are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen.”
And the reason that fellow-Israelites should not be treated as bondservants was that they were of those whom Yahweh had delivered from bondage. He had brought them from the land of Egypt. He had declared them free, therefore they could never again be put in bondage while the covenant remained firm.
25.43 “You shall not rule over him with rigor, but shall fear your God.”
Thus their Israelite masters were not to treat them roughly or severely as they had all been treated in Egypt, but as fellow members of the covenant, because as masters they feared God.
Regulations Regarding Foreign Bondservants (25.44-46).
Foreign bondservants were necessarily in a different position for they had no hope of a future restoration of land. It may be asked why foreign bondservants were allowed at all. The answer is because of demand by the foreign bondservants. They came to Israel poor, hungry and with nothing, seeking and begging for a permanent position. They bound themselves to work for the keep of themselves and their families. They did not want to be hired servants who could be taken on and fired. They wanted permanent security, and they received that in bondservice. Had there been no provision for this they would simply have gone away empty and hungry, and starved. The Law was practical. It was for running a country as it was, not a Utopian ideal which could never work in practise because of the condition of men’s hearts.
Israel was not a bad place to do bondservice compared with some other places. They had kinds of protection under the Law which few other countries gave them. And it would not have been a kindness to ban such bondservice. For any theoretical alternative would simply have been redundant, and they would have had to go elsewhere where conditions were worse. The Israelites were not angels. Their behaviour in the wilderness revealed that. As we know they were not very faithful in keeping the covenant as it was. Thus they had to be catered for as they were. And poor aliens needed the security of bondservice. For them it was not an option, it was a necessity. It was in fact a way of life often taken by choice. They would not want it banned.
25.44 “And as for your bondmen, and your bondmaids, whom you shall have, of the nations that are round about you, of them shall you buy bondmen and bondmaids.”
So permission was given for Israelites to buy bondservants of the nations who were to be round about them. But they were to love them as they loved themselves (19.34). They were to protect their interests (19.20-22; Exodus 20.10; 21.20, 26, 32). If they were Habiru (wandering, unattached peoples) they would have the normal Habiru seven year contracts with generous provision for when they left (Exodus 21.2-6; Deuteronomy 15.12-18 - note the implication that many would want to stay longer) as also at Nuzi. But the standard of their lives would in the end not depend on the law but on the kindness or otherwise of their masters. And many of them had no other option before them. A general manumission would have done them no good. They would simply have had to seek bondservice elsewhere, usually under worse conditions.
25.45 “Moreover of the children of the strangers that sojourn among you, of them shall you buy, and of their families that are with you, which they have begotten in your land. And they shall be your possession.”
Again they could ‘buy’ bondservants of resident foreigners living among them, that is enter into a contract with them of permanent service in return for permanent shelter and keep for them and their families. And they would belong to them to be treated with all the care shown for valuable assets. We should remember that life was in fact hard for all. Survival was a struggle for all.
25.46 “And you shall make them an inheritance for your children after you, to hold for a possession; of them shall you take your bondmen for ever, but over your brethren the children of Israel you shall not rule, one over another, with rigor.”
These bondmen and bondwomen became a permanent part of the ‘household’ and would therefore continue on from father to son. They were there in perpetuity. They had nowhere else to go. But this was never to be true of ‘Israelites’ within the covenant. They were to be treated in a much more ‘brotherly fashion’, remembering that at the year of Yubile they would return to their own land.
In the nature of what human beings are necessary distance had to be kept between a master and his bondservants so that they would retain respect of him and not take advantage of what they saw as ‘softness’. There are always some who will do so. The path of a godly master is not always an easy one. But he must still have respect for those beneath him.
(We must not read back into their way of life our ideas of slavery. We should remember, for example, that in Egypt all men were slaves. Even the Grand Vizier. They were slaves to Pharaoh. Only the priests were ‘free’, but they were bound by their own rigid hierarchy. Everything Egyptians possessed they had from Pharaoh, and owed to him, and he had the power of life and death over them. There was a sense in which Israel were like that with Yahweh. They were slaves to Yahweh. So they did not see the concept of ‘slavery’ as the cruel thing that we see it as. It was a way of life for all, a matter of degrees. They would have understood no other. In the end all men were slaves, slaves to their gods, slaves to the king, slaves to their tribe, slaves to their family. There were levels of slavery but all were slaves. What mattered was how it was handled. ‘Freedom’ was limited to the very few and was a concept that would take thousands of years to grow into. They could not in fact have coped with ‘freedom’. We can only enjoy freedom because of the framework that has taken hundreds of years to put in place. The concepts in this chapter were a genuine beginning to freedom).
An Israelite Member of the Covenant Must Always Be Able to Buy His Freedom At Any Time (25.47-55).
25.47-49 “And if a stranger or sojourner with you be grown rich, and your brother be grown poor beside him, and sell himself to the stranger or sojourner with you, or to the stock of the stranger’s family; after he is sold he may be redeemed: one of his brothers may redeem him; or his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or any who is of near kin to him of his family may redeem him; or if he is grown rich, he may redeem himself.”
There was here a recognition that foreigners and resident aliens and their families in Israel might grow rich. They might even grow so rich that they took poor Israelites as bondmen. But it was always open for the bonds of those bondmen to be redeemed at any time. It could be by a relative, a near kinsman, or even by themselves. Even a bondman could grow rich. But whatever happened he became free in the year of Yubile.
25.50 “And he shall reckon with him who bought him from the year that he sold himself to him to the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall be according unto the number of years; according to the time of a hired servant shall he be with him.”
Thus the price to be paid for his freedom took into account the number of years to yubile, just as the price he had received had taken it into account. For in the end he was with him as a hired servant, not as a permanent bondman, and must be treated as such.
25.51-52 “If there be yet many years, according to them he shall give back the price of his redemption out of the money that he was bought for. And if there remain but few years to the year of jubilee, then he shall reckon with him; according to his years shall he give back the price of his redemption.”
Thus prices of sale and redemption of bonds could be high or low depending on the number of years to yubile. If the bond was for many years’ service the price could be high, if only for a few the price could be low.
25.53 “As a servant hired year by year shall he be with him: he shall not rule with rigor over him in your sight.”
But in any case the Israelite must be treated like a servant hired year by year, not as a bondman. He was not to be treated harshly.
25.54 “And if he be not redeemed by these means, then he shall go out in the year of yubile, he, and his children with him.”
And whatever happened he and his family went free in the year of Yubile.
25.55 “For to me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.”
And the basis behind all this was that the people of His covenant, ‘the children of Israel’, were His servants. He was their Master. Thus all other relationships were subject to that. And He, as Yahweh their God, had delivered them from the land of Egypt. He was the One Who was there with them and held the future in His hands.
We are reminded in all this that we too have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6.19) by One Who is our brother and Redeemer. He has paid a great price, for ‘you were not redeemed with corruptible things such as silver and gold -- but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot’ (1 Peter 1.18-19). He gave Himself a redemption price on behalf of many (Mark 10.45). And through Him we are in bondage no longer.
Chapter 26 Final Recognition of His Authority, Blessings and Cursings.
The Book now virtually closes with the recognition that Israel were bound to Him, and only Him, by the covenant. Yahweh reaffirms His authority over them and then confirms the blessings and cursings attaching to the whole. If they walk with Him faithfully, blessing, but if they turn away there can only be disaster.
The Overlordship Of Yahweh To Be Honoured (26.1-2).
26.1 “You shall make you no idols, neither shall you rear you up a graven image, or a pillar, neither shall you place any figured stone in your land, to bow down to it: for I am Yahweh your God.
Firstly they must recognise that Yahweh, the invisible One, the One Who is there with them, is their God. Thus in lieu of this they were to make no idols (elilim - ‘nothings’ - compare 19.4), nor were they to raise up a graven image (representations of deities as found in many sites in Canaan) or a pillar (pillars of stone indicated the presence of deities such as Baal and El) or any figure of stone (carved representations of a deity), for the purpose of bowing down to them. The whole paraphernalia of idolatrous worship was to be avoided. Compare Numbers 33.52.
26.2 “You shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am Yahweh.”
Rather are they to keep His sabbaths and reverence His Sanctuary (compare 19.3, 30), thus indicating their submission to the signs of His overlordship and presence. What we believe is indicated by the preferences we choose, and this is especially true of worship. If our worship becomes debased, so also will our view of God.
The Blessings (26.3-13).
Here follow all the blessings that would be theirs if only they would walk in His statutes and keep His commandments in their hearts and do them.
26.3-5 “If you walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them, then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach to the vintage, and the vintage shall reach to the sowing time; and you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.”
The first promise in response to their loving obedience is that He would send the rain at the right times, when they were due, and would make the land and the trees fruitful. Their agricultural way of life would prosper. They would be continually busy because they would have so much grain to thresh that by the time they had completed the task the vintage harvest would be ready. Then there would be so much vintage that by the time that they had gathered in the vintage it would be time for sowing. They would be full of all manner of food. And they would dwell securely.
26.6 “And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land.”
Furthermore the land would know peace. They would be able to rest content with a total sense of security. They would not be troubled either by plagues of evil beasts or by the swords of evil men. Yahweh would keep their land free of both.
26.7-8 “And you shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword, and five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand; and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.”
Indeed when faced with an enemy they would always be victorious. When they chased them they would fall before them. To deal with a hundred (a larger unit) they would only require five men (their smallest fighting unit). And their own medium unit of ‘a hundred’ would be sufficient to deal with ten large units of ‘a thousand’ each (ten thousand). For their enemy would be unable to resist them.
26.9 “And I will have respect to you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and will establish my covenant with you.”
And Yahweh would watch over them, and take notice of them and watch out for them, and cause their numbers to multiply. He would make His covenant with them firm and strong, fulfilling its potential.
26.10 “And you shall eat old store long kept, and you shall bring forth the old because of the new.”
Such would be their harvests that they would find that they always had good stocks of wheat and barley continually dating back a long time. They would never find themselves without. And because they would have such abundance they would have to bring the old out in order to make way for the new.
26.11 “And I will set my tabernacle among you, and I myself (my soul) shall not abhor you.”
And His tabernacle would be set among them. He would be there with them. And there would be nothing about them that He could hate, because their hearts were truly set towards Him. They would be able to be confident that His love was set on them and that there was no barrier between Him and them. See Exodus 29.45.
26.12 “And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”
And He Himself would walk among them and be their God, and they would be His people (compare Deuteronomy 23.14). It would be like the Garden of Eden restored (compare Genesis 3.8).
‘And will be your God, and you shall be my people.” As promised in Exodus 6.7. This was a theme of Jeremiah. See Jeremiah 7.23; 11.4; 24.7; 30.22; 32.38. In His mercy He is ever ready to respond to His people. See also Ezekiel 11.20; 36.28; 37.23, 27; Zechariah 8.8. It was God’s purpose that He might be their God, recognised, acknowledged, worshipped and obeyed. Then would they in turn be His people, watched over, protected, honoured, prosperous and secure.
26.13 “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bars of your yoke, and made you go upright.”
For it was for this that He in His mighty power and presence as Yahweh had brought them forth safely from the land of Egypt so that they would not be bondmen but free. That was why He had broken the bar of their yoke so that they could go upright. The bar of the yoke went across the neck of the beast of burden bowing them down with the yoke of what they bore. But it would not be so for His people. They would be able to stand upright with no yoke to bow them down.
All this then would be so if only they were responsive and obedient to His will as revealed in His covenant.
The same equally applies to Christians. If we would enjoy overflowing spiritual blessing it can only result from obedience. But without responsive obedience there will be no genuine blessing. It is those who hear the Master’s voice and walk in the Master’s way (John 10.27-28), and only they, who will enjoy the fullness of what He wants to give. Only fullness of obedience will bring fullness of blessing.
Jesus constantly stressed that there were only two ways, one was the narrow way of obedience, the afflicted way, the hemmed in way, the way that leads to life, where men do not do their own will but His will. The other was the broad and easy road and it leads to destruction for all. There is no middle way (Matthew 7.13-14). The one way was to build on the solid foundation, the rock, of hearing His words and doing them, the other way was to build on sand, hearing His words but not doing them (Matthew 7.24-27). Note that both hear His words. It is the way that they then take that reveals them for what they are. Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, only those who do the will of His Father Who is in Heaven (Matthew 7.21). We dilute His words at our peril.
The Cursings (26.14-38).
In the ancient second millennium covenants the cursings were regularly more than the blessings, and so it is here. The devastating consequence of disobedience and unfaithfulness is now laid out in all its detail. We have here a foretaste of the history of Israel, for Moses was a prophet. But this was not just prophecy, they were the words of someone who was aware of the troubles and problems that could come on an unprotected nation, and who recognised what God could bring on them from the lessons of history. Moses was well aware of those. He would have both seen and heard about such things during his upbringing. It was enlightened awareness, not the trickery of an oracle which could claim to be right whatever happened.
26.14-15 “But if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all these commandments; and if you shall reject my statutes, and if your soul abhor my ordinances, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant;”
Here is the picture of the one who will be cursed. He does not obey God. He does not love His word. It is not that he does not believe. Like the devils he believes and trembles. It is that he does not have responsive faith. He does not hear God’s voice and respond to it, he does not do what God requires in His commands. He chooses to reject God’s statutes and live his own life. He does not like what God demands, thus he turns from it and breaks the covenant. He does not live as God requires.
26.16 “I also will do this to you: I will appoint terror over you, even consumption and fever, that shall consume the eyes, and make the soul to pine away; and you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.”
To such a person God will react with the very opposite of His blessings. Note that God says that He will be directly active in it. It may not seem like that, but that will be how it will be. He will be against them. He will put them through hard and difficult times, He will make them afraid with wasting disease and fever, their eyes will suffer, their inner hearts will be full of grief. When they sow their seed it will be in vain. It is the enemy who will eat of it. In every way times will be hard.
Sometimes such things happen to us as a test, to see whether we will be faithful or not, and to chasten us and purify us so that our love and response to Him becomes stronger (Hebrews 12.5-11). But we need to be aware that if we claim to be His people, then disobedience to his will can result in what goes beyond chastening to a harshness of judgment that will bring us to deep repentance. As we discover at the end of the chapter this would be His purpose for Israel. But the way would first be very hard.
26.17 “And I will set my face against you, and you shall be smitten before your enemies: they that hate you shall rule over you; and you shall flee when no one pursues you.”
For He will set His face against them, and when their enemies come they will be unable to combat them. They will be smitten before them. They will come under the rulership of tyrants who do not seek their good. And things will be so bad that they will even run away when there is nothing really to be afraid of. Their nerve will have gone. They will be without faith.
This picture is not of the outside world but of the supposed people of God. We need to be afraid when we do not look to God in obedience, for then we face a long track downwards. God is not mocked. The lampstand can be taken out of its place. Many of the lands which first flourished under the Gospel are now trodden down under Islam. They did not believe it could happen, but it did, for they had lost their true faith.
26.18 “And if you will not yet for these things hearken to me, then I will chastise you seven times more for your sins.”
And if they still do not listen to Him then their chastisement will increase sevenfold. Instead of sevenfold divine blessing there will be sevenfold divine chastisement.
26.19-20 “And I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as bronze, and your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.”
He will break the pride of their power. They would be so sure of their power and ability to withstand. They would be so sure of their leaders, so confident in themselves. But God will break that in which they trust, that of which they are so proud (compare Isaiah 22.8-12).
And the heavens would be like iron. There would be no rain from them, no response. And the earth would be like bronze, hard and unyielding. All their efforts to produce grain and fruit would be in vain. The land would not yield its increase. The trees would not yield their fruit.
As the history tells us this would take a long time. But it would happen again and again over hundreds of years until every particle was fulfilled. The mills of God may only grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small. And the sad thing was that they did not always realise that it had happened or would happen until it was too late. They thought that things would be fine.
There is no man or blessed nation which is not vulnerable to God’s judgment in the light of continual disobedience and apathy.
26.21-22 “And if you walk contrary to me, and will not hearken to me, I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins, and I will send the beast of the field among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your ways shall become desolate.”
And if they still disobeyed Him and would not listen, the plagues and troubles that came on them would increase seven times because their sins had increased seven times. And he would send among them lions, and leopards, and bears who would seize their children, destroy their cattle, and even attack them so that their numbers decreased (compare 2 Kings 17.25-26). Their ways would be desolate.
26.23-24 “And if by these things you will not be reformed to me, but will walk contrary unto me; then will I also walk contrary unto you; and I will smite you, even I, seven times for your sins.”
And if they still would not listen and be reformed, but continued to walk in the opposite direction to His will, then He would walk in the opposition to them and smite them another seven times for their sins. With the previous warning this made seven times seven. The number seven of blessing was being turned against them and becoming the number seven of doom.
26.25 “And I will bring a sword on you, which will execute the vengeance of the covenant; and you shall be gathered together within your cities: and I will send the pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.”
And if they still would not listen a powerful enemy would come against them, one who would smite with the sword and execute against them the vengeance of the covenant. Note the phrase ‘vengeance of the covenant’. This covenant which was intended to be such a blessing to them would become the instrument of their judgment. God’s goodness spurned becomes a terrible weapon against men.
26.26 “When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver your bread again by weight: and you shall eat, and not be satisfied.”
Not only would the sword slay, but also famine. Their staff of bread, that food that they relied on and leaned on, would be broken. There would be so little that one small oven would be sufficient for ten women to bake in. Indeed the food would be rationed and handed out by weighing it, as in a siege, and there would never be enough. They would eat and not be satisfied.
26.27-28 “ And if you will not for all this hearken to me, but walk contrary to me; then I will walk contrary to you in wrath; and I also will chastise you seven times for your sins.”
And if they still would not listen but continued to walk contrary to Him, His anger would be roused and He would walk even more contrary to them. They would be chastised seven times for their sins. Divine retribution would come on them.
26.29 “And you shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall you eat.”
For they would come to such a state that they would eat their own children because their hunger had become so desperate. This may refer to the final stages of a long siege when men are desperate enough even for cannibalism (compare Jeremiah 19.9), or it may be referring to their offering their children in sacrifice to Molech. For to ‘eat flesh’ regularly means to kill someone (Psalm 27.2; Micah 3.3; compare (Psalm 14.4; 53.4). This latter would tie in with the next verse.
26.30 “And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your sun-images, and cast your dead bodies on the bodies of your idols; and my soul shall abhor you.”
We see here examples of their disobedience. They would be offering incense at high places where altars had been built, and worshipping before sun-images. So God would destroy their high places and would cut down their sun-images and then toss their own bodies on to the bodies of their idols. And because of their idolatry God would have an aversion against them. Compare Ezekiel 6.6-7. As a priest Ezekiel would know Leviticus by heart.
26.31-32 “And I will make your cities a waste, and will bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours. And I will bring the land into desolation; and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it.”
The land would be invaded, their cities laid waste, their holy place become a desolation, and God would not regard their offerings. The land will be so desolated that even their enemies will be astonished at it.
26.33 “And you will I scatter among the nations, and I will draw out the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.”
Just as Israel were to scatter the Canaanites among the nations, so would be done to Israel. They in their turn would be scattered among the nations, and their land would be desolated, and their cities laid waste. Compare Deuteronomy 4.27; 28.64.
26.34 “Then shall the land enjoy its sabbaths, as long as it lies desolate, and you are in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy its sabbaths.”
For one way or another God would ensure that His land enjoyed its sabbaths, and if Israel would not ensure it voluntarily, then He would bring it about compulsorily. If Israel failed to observe God’s sabbatical years, then God Himself would require them of them. For every year in which they had failed to give the land its rest, and more, God would give the land its rest. It would be deserted, and what would grow would grow of itself. There would be no sowing, no reaping, only continual desolation. (Compare 2 Chronicles 36.21). Later Jeremiah would declare that the time would be ‘seventy years’ (Jeremiah 25.11, 12; 29.10). Not the recurrence of seven intensified. Daniel would speak of seventy sevens (Daniel 9).
26.35 “As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, even the rest which it had not in your sabbaths, when you dwelt on it.”
What they sowed in sin, they would reap in judgment. The desolated land would have the rest that they had failed to give it. If they refused to obey God he would bring His purpose about in His own way. Man’s disobedience cannot thwart God, it can only bring problems on himself.
26.36-37 “And as for those who are left of you, I will send a faintness into their heart in the lands of their enemies: and the sound of a driven leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as one flees from the sword; and they shall fall when none pursues. And they shall stumble one on another, as it were before the sword, when none pursues: and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies.”
And the judgment will still continue to follow the remnant who survive. They will be faint in heart. Even the sound of a leaf driven by the wind will alarm them. Their state will be such that they will imagine fears even when there are none. They will run even when there is no enemy, pursued by their own fears. They will fall over one another in their desperation to escape from their illusions. They will be without the strength to stand up to their enemies. They will be possessed with imaginary terrors.
26.38 “And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.”
For they will perish among the nations, and the land to which they have gone will eat them up. This was the fate that was to come on the expelled Canaanites (Exodus 23.28; 33.2; 34.11; Numbers 33.52; Deuteronomy 4.38; 9.3-5; 11.23; 18.12), and if they behaved like the Canaanites it would come on them too. Compare also Numbers 13.32. What they had feared will actually happen.
But Repentance Will Bring Mercy. God’s Mercy Is Unfailing (26.39-46).
Compare here Deuteronomy 30.1-6. God’s judgments are in the earth that men might learn righteousness (Isaiah 26.9) His mercy is always thus open to those who repent (compare especially Jonah 3.1-10).
26.39-41a “And those who are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them. And they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, in their trespass which they trespassed against me, and also that, because they walked contrary unto me, I also walked contrary unto them, and brought them into the land of their enemies.”
Once the shock of the destruction of their country and exile has taken hold of them, they will come to their senses and recognise what they have done. They will pine away because of their sin and the sin of their fathers. They will admit their sin and their guilt, and the ways in which they have disobeyed His laws, and have walked in the opposite way to that in which He wanted them to go. For they will recognise that this is what has made God walk contrary to them, which has resulted in their being in the land of their enemies. See for example Psalm 137 and the book of Lamentations.
26.41b-42 “If then their uncircumcised heart be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity, then will I remember my covenant with Jacob; and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.”
Then everything will depend on their response. The uncircumcised heart is one that has not responded to the act of circumcision by genuine covenant obedience. Being outwardly circumcised, God is saying, is of no use unless the heart is circumcised as well. For circumcision to mean anything it must be revealed in the direction which their hearts take. A circumcised heart is one that loves God and His covenant, and reveals it by obedience. Compare Deuteronomy 10.16; 30.6; Jeremiah 4.4; 9.26; Ezekiel 44.7, 9; Acts 7.51). Just as a circumcised ear is one that hears and obeys (Jeremiah 6.10).
In the New Testament this is where the emphasis is laid. He is a true man of God who is circumcised in the heart (Romans 2.26-29), for the true Christian has been circumcised with the circumcision made without hands by the putting off of the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11). By partaking with Him in His death we partake in all that He is and in the significance of His circumcision. What matters in Christ is not circumcision, or uncircumcision, but a new creature (Galatians 6.15),a revealing of faith that works by love (Galatians 5.6). Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, what matters is the response of the heart, keeping of the commandments of God (1 Corinthians 7.19).
So if in their need the circumcised of Israel recognise that in God’s eyes they are really uncircumcised, because their circumcision has not reached their hearts, and will circumcise the foreskins of their hearts and not those of their flesh (Deuteronomy 10.16; Jeremiah 4.4) by true repentance and faith, then God will remember His covenant, the covenant He made with Jacob, and the one He made with Isaac and Abraham. Then He will remember the land. God’s response is limited to those whose hearts are genuine, and who reveal it by love and obedience. In returning and in rest they will be saved. In quietness and confidence will be their strength (Isaiah 30.15). And one evidence of this will be their patient waiting in the land to which God has sent them until their time of chastening is over.
For we need to recognise the important lesson that while God forgives immediately, very often the consequences of our sins go on. We cannot call back what we have done.
26.43 “The land also shall be left by them, and shall enjoy its sabbaths, while it lies desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity; because, even because they rejected my ordinances, and their soul abhorred my statutes.”
So they would have to wait until the land had enjoyed the period of rest laid down by God. They would have to patiently accept the punishment of their iniquity, while their land remained in desolation. And this would be because they had rejected His ordinances and hated His requirements as expressed in His statutes.
26.44 “And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them; for I am Yahweh their God;”
But of one thing they could be certain. He would not forget them for ever. While they had broken the covenant, He would not. He therefore would not totally reject them, or hate them, or destroy them utterly. He would not break His covenant with them. And this was because of Who He Is. He is Yahweh, the One Who will be what He wants to be, Who does what He wants to do, Who brings into being what He wants to bring into being.
26.45 “But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am Yahweh.”
And so for their sakes He will remember the covenant He had made with their ancestors when He brought them forth from the land of Egypt in the sight of all the nations, revealing Himself as their God, as Yahweh. For His own name’s sake He will deliver them and restore them that all the world might know that He had the power to do so, and that He was faithful and true.
And it is important to recognise that He did do so. He brought them back to the land and established them there. The opportunity was there for them once more to be His people. And He brought their Messiah and called on them to respond to Him, and those who responded became the true Israel, and as His ‘congregation’ the Church await His return. This promise is therefore already fulfilled. In His church all Israel is saved (Romans 11.26).
26.46 “These are the statutes and ordinances and laws, which Yahweh made between him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by Moses.”
This further record is now closed with a colophon stating what is in the record, the occasion of its writing, and the responsible author, Moses. It is a record of the statutes, ordinances and laws which Yahweh made between Himself and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by Moses, as spoken directly to Moses as brought together and recorded by the writer. It probably covers 17.1-26.46, although it may cover the whole of Leviticus. Compare 7.37-38; 11.46-47; 14.54-57; 15.32-33; 16.34.
Chapter 27 Concerning Vows.
Little is actually said about the actual necessity for making of vows in the Bible. It was not a requirement of the Law. But many sincere and dedicated people made them out of love for, or gratitude towards, God, or because they desired something deeply and thought that God might be the more ready to hear if they made a vow. It was therefore necessary for them to be controlled and for the consequences of them to be quite clear.
The writer in Ecclesiastes said, “Do not be rash with your mouth, and do not let your heart be hasty to utter anything before God, for God is in Heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few -- when you vow a vow to God, do not defer paying it, for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed, it is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay’ (Ecclesiastes 5.2-5).
One vow that was often made was a vow of dedication to tabernacle service either of the person themselves or of someone over whom they had authority. This might be temporary or permanent. We have an example of such in the baby Samuel (1 Samuel 1.11) who was devoted by his mother to the service of the tabernacle all the days of his life and became a great judge of Israel.
The description that follows appears to refer to the price that the person must pay to be released from their vow once they were considered to have completed it. For being under a vow they were holy to Yahweh and they had to be redeemed. In some cases the reference appears to be to a vow made from which a person wishes to be released (e.g. for an animal or a house). The point that is being made is the seriousness of making such a vow. It could not easily or cheaply be rescinded.
Or the idea may be that the vow is made deliberately as an indication of the amount the person wishes to give to Yahweh, which he then does in terms of the value of the particular object.
This chapter is the icing on the cake of all that has gone before. The offerings of sacrificial animals, reference to the clean and the unclean, to houses and lands, all refer to what men possessed or came in contact with, and were expected under the covenant to deal with in a certain way. But this refers to going that one step further and vowing something to Yahweh. And this would result in a sacrifice on that person’s behalf for the glory of God and the financial benefit of the Sanctuary.
This Is The Word Of Yahweh (27.1). .
27.1 ‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
It is once more stressed that we have here a word from Yahweh through Moses.
The Price of Redemption from a Vow (27.2-8).
27.2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When a man shall accomplish a vow, the persons shall be for Yahweh by your estimation.”
When anyone comes to the end of their vow a price must be paid for their release. They have been dedicated to the service of Yahweh. They cannot therefore just withdraw. The purpose of this was in order that people might recognise the seriousness of such a vow. It involved a physical cost. This redemption price must be estimated by the priests in accordance with the following rules. Thus when any person made such a vow they were declaring their readiness to meet that cost. They were making a sacrificial gift to Yahweh. But because of that it was necessary for them to know exactly how much it was going to cost.
We make our vows to God so easily, for we feel that we can forget them at any time. But this section warns us that God does not forget and a price has to be paid, although we may be unaware of it at the time.
27.3 “And your estimation shall be of the male from twenty years old even to sixty years old, even your estimation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary.”
The redemption price of a male between twenty and sixty was fifty shekels of silver. That was a considerable price, much higher than that for a slave at this time, which was about twenty shekels. Only the relatively wealthy could so dedicate themselves or their offspring to Yahweh. But they would feel the cost was worth it for the special position it had put them in before him.
27.4 “And if it be a female, then your estimation shall be thirty shekels.”
For a female between these ages the redemption price was considerably lower. Women performed services at the door of the tent of meeting (Exodus 38.8; 1 Samuel 2.22), but they could not fulfil the heavy work which the men would do. Nevertheless they too delighted in seeking to serve Yahweh, and fulfilling a voluntary time of service for Him, from which they could be released with a sense of joy in having served so close to His presence and having contributed to His worship.
27.5 “And if it be from five years old even to twenty years old, then your estimation shall be of the male twenty shekels, and for the female ten shekels.”
Others would dedicate their children to that service for a time. However to redeem someone between five years old and twenty years old the price was twenty shekels for a male and ten shekels for a female. The service from which they were being redeemed was considerably less than that for an adult person. But they had known the joy of Yahweh’s service.
27.6 “And if it be from a month old even to five years old, then your estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female your estimation shall be three shekels of silver.”
For those between a month old and five years old the redemption prices was five shekels for a male and three for a female. The service that they could perform was minimal, but parents clearly thought that it would benefit their children in knowing God more closely.
27.7 “And if it be from sixty years old and upward; if it be a male, then your estimation shall be fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels.”
But in the case of someone over sixty the redemption price was fifteen shekels for a male and ten for a female. Their ability to serve was limited. But they too would rejoice in having been able to be so close to God.
27.8 “But if he be poorer than your estimation, then he shall be set before the priest, and the priest shall value him; according to the ability of him that vowed shall the priest value him.”
However, God did not want men to miss blessing because they were too poor. If the man, or the person who vowed him, was too poor to pay these redemption prices then the priest could value him at a lower figure in accordance with their ability to pay. Thus no one was to be kept from making a vow because he could not afford it, and no one had to continue a vow unwillingly, for a price was payable for release.
The Price For Redemption of a Beast (27.9-13).
27.9-10 “And if it be a beast, of which men offer an oblation to Yahweh, all that any man gives of such to Yahweh shall be holy. He shall not alter it, nor change it, a good for a bad, or a bad for a good: and if he shall at all change beast for beast, then both it and that for which it is changed shall be holy.”
Any clean and sacrificial beast vowed to Yahweh was holy. Once offered it could not be changed, whether for better of for worse. If one was replaced then both became holy to Yahweh. This being the case we would assume that the purpose of replacing it was in order to offer something more worthy of Yahweh. Yahweh will receive two offerings instead of one. But neither can be redeemed. One example of such would be a whole burnt offering.
27.11-13 “And if it be any unclean beast, of which they do not offer an oblation to Yahweh, then he shall set the beast before the priest; and the priest shall value it, whether it be good or bad: as you the priest value it, so shall it be. But if he will indeed redeem it, then he shall add the fifth part of it to your estimation.”
Where the beast that is vowed to Yahweh is an unclean beast, possibly an ass or a camel, it can be redeemed at a price put on it by the priest. And he must add one fifth of the valuation as recompense. He has offered to Yahweh in his vow something which was of great importance to him. He wanted to give something that he treasured. Now he gladly pays a higher price to the Sanctuary in order to receive it back and in order to demonstrate his love for God. This is a somewhat similar case to the first born of an ass which must be redeemed, or its neck broken as a gift to Yahweh (Exodus 13.2, 13) although there the price of redemption was a lamb and it was always required.
The Price For Redemption of a House (27.14-15).
27.14-15 “And when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy to Yahweh, then the priest shall estimate it, whether it be good or bad. As the priest shall estimate it, so shall it stand. And if he who sanctified it will redeem his house, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of your estimation to it, and it shall be his.”
This is the case where a man vows a house to Yahweh, setting it apart to be holy to Yahweh. He wants Yahweh’s special blessing on his house. He wants to be able to say, this house has been dedicated to Yahweh. Then its value will be assessed by the priest. And if the man wishes it back he must pay that price plus one fifth. Then it will be his again with the joy of knowing that it has been dedicated to Yahweh. But the vow is real. If he does not pay the cost the house goes to the priests for them to sell.
The Price For The Redemption of a Field Of His Possession Dedicated To Yahweh (27.16-21).
A field of his possession refers to one the possession of which is given to him when the first share out is made in Canaan, a field which if sold would normally come back to him at the year of Yubile. To vow such a field was to seek to enter into something of the blessing of the Levite whose possession was Yahweh Himself (Joshua 13.33).
27.16 “And if a man shall sanctify to Yahweh part of the field of his possession, then your estimation shall be according to its sowing, the sowing of a homer of barley shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver.”
If the vow affects part of the field of his possession then the cost of redemption is assessed by how much grain or fruit that part of the field would produce. The assumption will be that a homer of barley would be worth fifty shekels of silver. Thus the quantity of homers of barley it might produce must be estimated in order to value the field.
27.17 “If he sanctify his field from the year of jubilee, according to your estimation it shall stand.”
If the vow is made at the beginning of the forty nine year period to the next yubile, then the assessment is made on that basis, depending on what barley could be produced in that time.
27.18 “But if he sanctify his field after the yubile, then the priest shall reckon to him the money according to the years that remain to the year of yubile; and an abatement shall be made from your estimation.”
However if the assessment is made after the year of Yubile then the proportion of time remaining is the amount which has to be taken into account.
27.19 “And if he who sanctified the field will indeed redeem it, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of your estimation to it, and it shall be assured to him.”
In the end the price that must be paid for its redemption so that it again belongs to the man whose inheritance it first was is the estimated price plus one fifth redemption offering. If that is paid then the field is again his. But now in his sight it is a blessed field, for it has belonged to Yahweh.
27.20-21 “And if he will not redeem the field, or if he has sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed any more, but the field, when it goes out in the jubilee, shall be holy to Yahweh, as a field devoted. The possession of it shall be the priest’s.”
But if a man has vowed the field and will not redeem it, or if he has vowed it and sold it to someone else (and therefore cannot redeem it), then at the year of Yubile it will be holy to Yahweh and will not be able to be redeemed. From then on it is the possession of the priests.
This would seem to be the only way by which the family fields could permanently be lost. In this case they had been given back to Yahweh and were therefore irrecoverable. The man had to consider the full consequences of his vow.
The Redemption Price Of Other Fields (27.22-25).
27.22-24 “And if he sanctify to Yahweh a field which he has bought, which is not of the field of his possession, then the priest shall reckon to him the worth of your estimation to the year of jubilee, and he shall give your estimation in that day, as a holy thing to Yahweh. In the year of jubilee the field shall return to him from whom it was bought, even to him to whom the possession of the land belongs.”
But if a man vows and sets apart as holy for Yahweh a field which is not of the land of his possession, at the year of Yubile it returns to the man whose possession it is. Meanwhile the man who vowed it must pay a redemption price equal to its value to the year of Yubile plus one fifth so that he may again use the field.
27.25 “And all your estimations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall be the shekel.”
The shekel used in these estimations is to be the shekel of the sanctuary as quoted.
27.26 “Only the firstling among beasts, which is made a firstling to Yahweh, no man shall sanctify it; whether it be ox or sheep, it is Yahweh’s.”
A firstling cannot be set apart as holy to Yahweh. It is already Yahweh’s. See Exodus 13.2. Such a vow would be meaningless.
27.27 “And if it be of an unclean beast, then he shall ransom it according to your estimation, and shall add to it the fifth part of it: or if it be not redeemed, then it shall be sold according to your estimation.”
Where, however, the firstling is an unclean beast it can be redeemed at its estimated value plus one fifth. This presumably does not apply to an ass which has to be redeemed at the price of a lamb because an ass was especially valuable (Exodus 13.13).
Devoted Things (27.28-29).
Up to this point if something was not redeemed it could be either used by or sold by the priests. But ‘devoted’ things would seem to indicate things irrevocably devoted to Yahweh. This was seemingly the most serious of vows and the devoted thing became most holy to Yahweh and could neither be sold nor redeemed. Either it was kept permanently within the tabernacle or it was burned. Normally such things would be such as for some special reason were to be seen as sacred, possibly with the hope of making the vow more effective.
27.28 “Notwithstanding, no devoted thing, that a man shall devote to Yahweh of all that he has, whether of man or beast, or of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed: every devoted thing is most holy to Yahweh.”
If a man ‘devotes’ something to Yahweh in this way, then whatever it is, whether man, beast, or field of permanent possession, it is most holy to Yahweh and unredeemable.
27.29 “No one devoted, that shall be devoted from among men, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.”
In the case of a man such a person devoted to Yahweh must be put to death. They are ‘most holy’ to Yahweh. This would apply to those who were seen as deserving of the death penalty such as murderers, adulterers, idolaters, blasphemers and so on. They were devoted to Yahweh. They could not then be redeemed. They must be put to death. Compare Achan in Joshua 7.
The Law Concerning Tithes (27.30-34).
27.30 “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is Yahweh’s. It is holy to Yahweh.”
That part of the produce of the land which is a tithe is holy to Yahweh. The tithe was one tenth which had originally, while it was relatively sparse in the wilderness, to be set aside for the Levites and priests (see Numbers 18.21, 24). It was their inheritance from Yahweh. Later, in view of the abundance that the land would produce, while still sanctified to Yahweh, the tithe could both be used for a celebratory feast by the producing family as well as in order to provide for the Levites (Deuteronomy 14.22-27; 15.19-20). Every third year, in ‘the year of tithing’, the poor were also to receive a share (Deuteronomy 14.28). A one tenth share of all the produce in the land would amply provide for all three, with the Levites receiving the major part left over after the feasting
27.31 “And if a man will redeem aught of his tithe, he shall add to it the fifth part of it.”
But if for some reason a man wished to retain part of what he would normally give as a tithe he must redeem it by paying its value plus one fifth.
27.32 “And all the tithe of the herd or the flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth shall be holy to Yahweh.”
This does not, however, apply to the tithe of the herd or the flock. The Levites would be present to ensure that proper tithes were being paid, and in the case of herd and flock would pass them under a rod, taking aside every tenth one. That was then holy to Yahweh.
27.33 “He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and that for which it is changed shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.”
Once this was done a man could not change any of these animals for another. He cannot check whether the ones set aside for celebratory feasts or for the Levites are better or worse than the others. The choice was irrevocable. If in fact he does seek to change one then both the one being changed, and the one changed for it are both holy to Yahweh, and so he loses out financially. This may for example have been done in order to ensure that at the family feast at the Central Sanctuary the best was available for them to eat.
27.34 “These are the commandments, which Yahweh commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai.”
This colophon sums up all the commandments which Yahweh commanded Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sinai. The content - the commandments listed. The author - Moses from Yahweh. The place - in Mount Sinai. It possibly sums up the whole book. It may, however, just refer to this last chapter.
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