Leviticus 24 – The Law Put into Action
A. Care for the tabernacle.
1. (1-4) Care of the tabernacle lamps.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Command the children of Israel that they bring to you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to make the lamps burn continually. Outside the veil of the Testimony, in the tabernacle of meeting, Aaron shall be in charge of it from evening until morning before the LORD continually; it shall be a statute forever in your generations. He shall be in charge of the lamps on the pure gold lampstand before the LORD continually.
a. Pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to make the lamps burn continually: The lamps in the tabernacle – standing on the solid gold lampstand (Exodus 25:31-40) – were the only source of light for the tabernacle. These lamps had to be constantly cared for, supplied with pure olive oil and their wicks trimmed. This care made the lamps burn continually.
i. Outside the veil of the Testimony: “The ‘testimony’ was a technical term for the Ten Commandments placed in the Ark (Exodus 25:16; 40:20; Deuteronomy 10:2; 1 Kings 8:9; Hebrews 9:4).” (Rooker)
ii. Shall be in charge of it: “The verb has been understood in slightly different ways: Today’s English Version ‘keep them burning’; New International Version ‘tend the lamps’; New Jewish Version ‘set them up’; New English Bible ‘keep in trim.’ But the basic idea is doing all that is necessary to assure that the lamps are burning at the proper time.” (Peter-Contesse)
iii. The pure gold lampstand became one of the enduring images representing Israel and the Jewish people. The lampstand in the temple in the time of Jesus was captured by Roman soldiers under the command of Titus when Jerusalem was destroyed in a. D. 70. An image of that lampstand was carved in the arch in the city of Rome made to celebrate that victory. The image of the lampstand is also found in other ancient carvings and coins.
b. From evening until morning before the LORD continually: It was important that the light from the oil lamps shined continually. God did not want His tabernacle to be left in darkness.
i. The continual light of the tabernacle pointed to the coming Messiah. Jesus never stopped being the light of the world (John 8:12).
ii. There is also a sense in which the continually shining light points to the people of God. In a sense, we also are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). “As the candle in the hand of the housewife, who sweeps her house diligently; as a lamp in the hand of the virgin expecting the bridegroom; or as a lighthouse on a rocky coast.” (Meyer)
2. (5-9) Care of the tabernacle bread.
“And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it. Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. You shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before the LORD. And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the LORD. Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. 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 from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute.”
a. You shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it: The twelve cakes of bread were arranged in an orderly way on the table of showbread (Exodus 25:23-30), which stood opposite the golden lampstand in the tabernacle (Exodus 26:35). They were equally divided into two rows, representing the twelve tribes of Israel in the presence of the LORD, in His tabernacle.
i. “Two rows: the term used here is a general one for ‘arrangements’ and may be understood as rows (as in most versions), or some other kind of arrangement such as ‘piles.’” (Peter-Contesse)
ii. This bread is called showbread in Exodus 25:30, which literally means “bread of the face.” This was bread associated with the presence of God. Eating bread together was a mark of friendship and fellowship. The twelve cakes of bread spoke of the relationship and fellowship the people of God had with their God.
b. Set in order before the LORD continually: The two aspects of this were a symbol of God’s desired relationship with His people. God wants a proper, ordered relationship with His people (set in order). God also wants a continual, unbroken relationship with His people (continually).
i. Ultimately, this was made possible by the person and work of Jesus the Messiah, who proclaimed Himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 6:48).
ii. God’s people today are to have some of the nature of these twelve cakes. “The two rows of six cakes foreshadow the unity and order of the Church; the fine flour, its holy, equitable character; the pure frankincense, the fragrance of Christian love.” (Meyer)
c. They shall eat it in a holy place: The bread was not only for display in a ritual. God wanted the people of God to actually receive, enjoy, and be nourished by the bread – which symbolized their relationship and fellowship with Him.
i. Significantly, God wanted the fellowship fresh. The bread was to be replaced every Sabbath. He didn’t want a stale communion with His people, but a continually fresh relationship.
B. The case of the Egyptian blasphemer.
1. (10-12) The crime of the Egyptian blasphemer.
Now the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and this Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought each other in the camp. And the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the name of the LORD and cursed; and so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.) Then they put him in custody, that the mind of the LORD might be shown to them.
a. Now the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel: This man, half Egyptian and half Hebrew, was part of the mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38) that went with Israel out of Egypt.
i. “Here also we have a fragment of history…. It may be that it was inserted here because of its occurrence during the period of the promulgation of the laws.” (Morgan)
ii. Adam Clarke wrote of Jewish legends regarding this man. “The rabbis, it is true, supply in their way this deficiency; they say he was the son of the Egyptian whom Moses slew, and that attempting to pitch his tent among those of the tribe of Dan, to which he belonged by his mother’s side, ver. 11, he was prevented by a person of that tribe as having no right to a station among them who were true Israelites both by father and mother. In consequence of this they say he blasphemed the name of the Lord.”
b. The Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the name of the LORD and cursed: The man committed the crime of blasphemy, which is to attack someone – especially God – with your words. It is somewhat like the modern idea of verbal abuse, but especially directed against God. The command against blaspheming God was given in Exodus 22:28.
i. “In the Near East the name of a person was bound up intimately with his character, so that in the case of God, blasphemy was in effect an act of repudiation.” (Harrison)
ii. It seems that it was common for Egyptians to curse their many gods. The root of this man’s sin was that he considered the God of Israel to be the same as the petty Egyptian gods.
c. Then they put him in custody, that the mind of the LORD might be shown to them: The people of Israel were wise in leaving this to the proper workings of justice and the mind of the LORD. This was not a mob working outside the process of law.
i. The issue was unclear because the man was a foreigner. The laws of Israel were not necessarily applied to foreigners as well as Israelites. The question was, “Does the law against blasphemy apply the same way against a foreigner in our midst?” The Law of Moses protected the foreigner (Exodus 23:9), but they needed guidance to understand to what extent the laws of Israel applied to foreigners among them.
2. (13-14) The penalty upon the Egyptian blasphemer.
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him.
a. Then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head: This was done in accord with a principle later specifically stated in Deuteronomy 17:6-7. Two or three of the witnesses publicly laid hands on the accused, as a sure testimony to his guilt. This also meant that the guilty man knew his accusers and could not be condemned by secret accusers.
i. The accusation had to be established as true. Deuteronomy 19:16-19 says that a false witness was to suffer the same punishment that would be given to the one against whom he made the accusation.
ii. “By laying their hands upon his head they gave public testimony that they heard this person speak such words, and did in their own and in all the people’s names desire and demand justice to be executed upon him.” (Poole)
b. And let all the congregation stone him: God commanded execution by stoning for several reasons. First, stones were plentiful. More importantly, it was so that the community could participate in the execution. This was both a strong warning and a way of saying, “This man has not only sinned against God, he has also sinned against the community.”
i. Therefore, the law applied to a foreigner. “It was a principle of justice and of mercy. Its first emphasis is upon the fact that those who enter the Kingdom of God, and enjoy its privileges, must be governed by its laws…. To enter that Kingdom is to renounce all other lordships, and to accept its laws.” (Morgan)
3. (15-16) The principle for Israel to learn from the death of the blasphemer.
“Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. And whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the LORD, he shall be put to death.
a. Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin: This was a way to say, “the person who publicly curses God bears responsibility for the judgment against them.”
b. Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death: As the example of the Egyptian blasphemer proved, this was a severe judgment for what was considered a serious crime.
i. Adam Clarke on blasphemy in Matthew 9:3: “Whenever it is used in reference to GOD, it simply signifies, to speak impiously of his nature, or attributes, or works. Injurious speaking is its proper translation when referred to man.”
ii. “If God required a foreigner to be executed for this offense, he would certainly not tolerate its violation among the Israelites, who were his people and hence were identified with his name.” (Rooker)
iii. Taking great care to not blaspheme the name of the LORD, some Jewish people created traditions that took great care to avoid saying or writing the name of God. The thought was that if one never said (or wrote) the name of God, then one could never blaspheme God’s name.
iv. By some accounts, only the Jewish high priest was allowed to pronounce the holy name of God (Yahweh). He was allowed to say it only once a year – on the Day of Atonement. Some say that the proper pronunciation of the name would be passed on from the high priest to his successor, with the former’s last breath. This is why there was confusion for many years about the exact pronunciation of the four letters that state the name of the covenant God of Israel (YHWH). The letters have been pronounced differently over the years. For some time, the letters YHWH were mistakenly pronounced as “Jehovah” instead of “Yahweh” (Yah-veh). Adam Clarke wrote in his day (1830): “The Jews never pronounce this name, and so long has it been disused among them that the true pronunciation is now totally lost.”
v. Many religiously observant Jewish people also would not write the name of God, because if that paper were destroyed, it might be considered blasphemy or taking the name of the LORD in vain. So, they would write Adonai (“Lord”) instead of Yahweh. Instead of “God,” they would write “G-d.” They would refer to God with names like “the Name” instead of saying “God.”
4. (17-18) The punishment for murder and unlawful killing of animals.
‘Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal.
a. Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death: In the context of giving the penalty for the Egyptian blasphemer, God stated a fundamental principle of His justice – crimes must be punished, but in proportion appropriate to the crime.
b. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good: When the animal of anther was killed without permission, restitution was required. This showed the value and dignity of animal life. Yet, the person who wrongly killed an animal was not a murderer and did not have to die for their wrong – only make it good with money or another animal. This showed the difference between human life and animal life.
5. (19-22) The right measure of judgment.
‘If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him; fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death. You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the LORD your God.’”
a. As he has done, so shall it be done to him: This is the fundamental principle of punishment according to measure. This principle was the same law for the stranger and for the one from your own country. God did not give the Israelite an unfair advantage over a foreigner in terms of the law.
b. Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: Many people have taken eye for eye, tooth for tooth as a command; instead, God intended it as a limit – so no man or judge would set judgment merely as they pleased.
i. This law did not mean that the eye of an offender would be literally gouged out of his head if he took the eye of another man. The Law of Moses had a system of financial restitution in such cases. “For example, if a slave loses an eye, an eye of the one responsible is not to be plucked out but rather the slave is to be given his freedom as compensation for the eye (Exodus 21:26).” (Rooker)
ii. Human nature is often either much too lenient or far too severe. Here, God both required that crime be punished, and He set appropriate limit to the punishment.
iii. Jesus rightly condemned the taking of this command regarding law and order in the community and applying it to personal relationships, where love, forgiveness, and going the extra mile are to be the rule, and not equal retribution (Matthew 5:38-42).
6. (23) The execution of the Egyptian blasphemer.
Then Moses spoke to the children of Israel; and they took outside the camp him who had cursed, and stoned him with stones. So the children of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses.
a. Then Moses spoke to the children of Israel: We are not told how Moses felt about this. His job was to be the messenger of God’s commands, apart from his own personal feelings and opinions.
b. They took outside the camp him who had cursed, and stoned him with stones: This verse is important. It demonstrates to us that the law of God was not given to Israel for interesting facts or mere guidelines; God expected them to obey it. Here, they obeyed even when it was difficult.
i. “The Jews themselves tell us that their manner of stoning was this: they brought the condemned person without the camp, because his crime had rendered him unclean, and whatever was unclean must be put without the camp. When they came within four cubits of the place of execution, they stripped the criminal, if a man, leaving him nothing but a cloth about the waist. The place on which he was to be executed was elevated, and the witnesses went up with him to it, and laid their hands upon him, for the purposes mentioned ver. 14. Then one of the witnesses struck him with a stone upon the loins; if he was not killed with that blow, then the witnesses took up a great stone, as much as two men could lift, and threw it upon his breast. This was the coup de grace, and finished the tragedy.” (Clarke)