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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Leviticus 24

Verse 5

We now come to the third part of the external service of God, which will bring us to the end of our exposition of the Second Commandment. We have, then, now to treat of the sacred oblations, the first place amongst which I have thought it best to give to the loaves, which had their peculiar table opposite the candlestick on the north side, as we saw in the construction of the Tabernacle; for although the mention of them will recur elsewhere, yet, since they were offered separately, and placed before the Ark of the Covenant, as it were in God’s sight, they must not be treated of apart from the sacrifices. I have already explained that this was no ordinary symbol of God’s favor, when He descended familiarly to them, as if He were their messmate. They were called “the bread of faces,” (227) because they were placed before the eyes of God; and thus He made known His special favor, as if coming to banquet with them. Nor can it be doubted but that He commanded them to be twelve in number, with reference to the twelve tribes, as if He would admit to His table the food offered by each of them. The “two tenths” make the fifth part of the epah. And it is plaia indeed that this rite was thus accurately prescribed by God, lest diversity in so serious a matter might gradually give birth to many corruptions. In the word “tenths,” He seems to allude to the tax which He had imposed on the people, that thus the holiness of the loaves might be enhanced. But why He required two “tenths” rather than one I know not, nor do I think it any use more curiously to inquire. I refer to the frankincense the words, “that it may be on the bread for a memorial:” as if it were said that the bread, seasoned by the smell of the incense, would renew the memory of the children of Israel, so that they should be of sweet savor before God. Others translate it “a monument” instead of “for a memorial,” but with the same meaning. But although some think that the bread itself is called a memorial, it is more applicable to the frankincense; for it is afterwards added, that the incense should be at the same time a burnt sacrifice, viz., because in it the bread was, as it were, offered in burnt sacrifice.

Verse 10

10.And the son of an Israelitish woman. In what year, and in what station in the desert this occurred, is uncertain. I have, therefore, thought it advisable to couple together two cases, which are not dissimilar. It is probable that between this instance of punishment, and that which will immediately follow, there was an interval of some time: but the connection of two similar occurrences seemed best to preserve the order of the history; one of the persons referred to having been stoned for profaning God’s sacred name by wicked blasphemy, and the other for despising and violating the Sabbath. It is to be observed that the crime of the former of these gave occasion to the promulgation of a law, which we have expounded elsewhere: (81) in accordance with the common proverb, Good laws spring from bad habits: for, after punishment had been inflicted on this blasphemer, Moses ordained that none should insult the name of God with impunity.

It was providentially ordered by God that the earliest manifestation of this severity should affect the son of an Egyptian: for, inasmuch as God thus harshly avenged the insult of His name upon the offspring of a foreigner and a heathen, far less excusable was impiety in Israelites, whom God had, as it were, taken up from their mothers’ womb, and had brought them up in His own bosom. It is true, indeed, that on his mother’s side he had sprung from the chosen people, but, being begotten by an Egyptian father, he could not be properly accounted an Israelite. If, then, there had been any room for the exercise of pardon, a specious reason might have been alleged why forgiveness should be more readily extended to a man of an alien and impure origin. The majesty of God’s name, however, was ratified by his death. Hence it follows that it is by no means to be permitted that God’s name should be exposed with impunity to blasphemies among the sons of the Church.

We may learn from this passage that during their tyrannical oppression many young women married into the Egyptian nation, in order that their affinity might protect their relatives from injuries. It might, however, have been the case that love for his wife attracted the father of this blasphemer into voluntary exile, unless, perhaps, his mother might have been a widow before the departure of the people, so as to be at liberty to take her son with her.

To proceed, he is said to have “gone out,” not outside the camp, but in public, so that he might be convicted by witnesses; for he would not have been brought to trial if his crime had been secretly committed within the walls of his own house. This circumstance is also worthy of remark, that, although the blasphemy had escaped him in a quarrel, punishment was still inflicted upon him; and assuredly it is a frivolous subterfuge to require that blasphemies should be pardoned on the ground that they have been uttered in anger; for nothing is more intolerable than that our wrath should vent itself upon God, when we are angry with one of our fellow-creatures. Still it is usual, when a person is accused of blasphemy, to lay the blame on the ebullition of passion, as if God were to endure the penalty whenever we are provoked.

The verb נקב, nakab, which some render to express, is here rather used for to curse, or to transfix; and the metaphor is an appropriate one, that God’s name should be said to be transfixed, when it is insultingly abused. (82)

Verse 13

13.And the Lord spoke unto Moses. It must be remembered, then, that this punishment was not inflicted upon the blasphemer by man’s caprice, or the headstrong zeal of the people, but that Moses was instructed by Divine revelation what sentence was to be pronounced. It has been elsewhere stated (83) why God would have malefactors slain by the hands of the witnesses. Another ceremony is here added, viz., that they should lay their hands upon his head, as if to throw the whole blame upon him.

Verse 15

15.And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Hence it now more clearly appears that the object of the Third Commandment was that God’s holy name should be honored with the respect and veneration which it deserves, since the insult whereby it is violated is condemned to capital punishment. By the expression “cursing,” Moses designates all profane and impure words which tend to brand it with dishonor; as if any one should accuse God either of injustice or cruelty; or should assail Him with blasphemies; or designedly detract from His glory either in anger or wantonness, since many, when exasperated, launch forth horrible blasphemies, whilst others make a parade of their audacity by scoffing at Him. The second verb, which is twice repeated in the next verse, נקב, nakab, (328) means in Hebrew to hollow out or perforate, and metaphorically to unfold, thus the Latins say that what is thoroughly brought out is “enucleated.” The source of the metaphor as applied to contumely is not very dissimilar. The translation “he who shall have expressed,” which some give, is lame; to me the word “transfix” seems to be very suitable in the present passage, nor are the Latin phrases proscindere or lacerate very different. As to the meaning there is tolerable agreement, i.e., that God would not have His holy name disrespectfully traduced; and assuredly it is insupportably impious when the tongue of mortal man, which was created to celebrate the praises of God, is employed in insulting Him. The kind of death is also appointed, when He commands the offender to be stoned by the whole people, so that all may learn from the sight that such a monster should be annihilated as contaminating the earth. God also would prove the zeal of His people, by calling them all forth in defense of His glory, and arming them for vengeance. Moreover, He did not subject to this punishment the Jews only, who professed to be His worshippers, but also strangers who were dwelling in the land in the exercise of their business; viz., that they might more severely punish the crime in His own servants who were less excusable.

Verse 17

17.And he that killeth any man. We now proceed to the confirmation of the Sixth Commandment afforded by the Judicial Law; and first, the punishment of death is awarded to murderers. To “smite the life” (26) is equivalent to wounding mortally, so that death ensues, as Moses more clearly explains himself in Exodus. But although he speaks briefly, like a legislator, there is no doubt but that he would have those whom he adjudges to die put to death by the sentence of the judges; the manner of executing the punishment we shall see in its proper place. Now although God did not carry out to absolute perfection the laws which He enacted, yet in their principle He desired that a clear and unreserved approval of His Commandments should appear. And this was the reason why I commenced with this passage, because it directly corresponds with the Sixth Commandment. (27)

Verse 18

God here prescribes, that whosoever has inflicted a loss upon another shall make satisfaction for it, although he may not have turned it to his own profit; for in respect to a theft, its profit is not to be considered, but the intention to injure, or other cause of guilt; for it might happen that he who has killed another’s ox should not deliberately desire to do him an injury, but in a fit of passion, or from unpremeditated impulse, should nevertheless have inflicted loss upon him. In whatever way, therefore, a man should have committed an offense, whereby another is made poorer, he is commanded to make good the loss. Whence it is clear, that whosoever do not so restrain themselves as to care for a neighbor’s advantage as much as for their own, are accounted guilty of theft before God. The object, however, of the law is, that no one should suffer loss by us, which will be the case if we have regard to the good of our brethren.

Verse 19

19.And if man cause a blemish in his neighbor, he now also subjects to punishment those who shall have mutilated the body of their neighbor by blows; and this was necessary, because otherwise every very great villain, who might be accomplished in the art of inflicting injury, would have broken his brother’s leg or arm, and then would not only have laughed at the poor man himself, but also at God and His Law. If, therefore, a person had injured a member of another, the law of retaliation is enacted, which has also been in use among other nations. (28) But God thus distinctly prescribes when and how the injury was to be retaliated, that the law might not be open at all to the foolish cavils with which Favorinus attacks the law of the Twelve Tables in Gellius. And certainly the words of the Decemvirs were too obscure, “Si membrum fregeris meum, ex pacto talio est. ” (If you have broken my limb; without agreement made, there must be retaliation.) But God does not command an eye to be plucked out for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth, till He has set forth that this was only to be the case if any one had knowingly and willfully inflicted the injury; thus, He does not bring to justice accidental blows, but only a premeditated crime. It is vain to object that the members of different persons can hardly be broken with exact. equality, for the intention of God was none other than that, being alarmed by the severity of the punishment, men should abstain from injuring others; and therefore these two things were connected together, If one killeth a man, let him die, and if one hath taken away a part of life, let him suffer a similar privation. And the same is the tendency of the distinction, that the loss of an animal may be repaid, but that if a man be killed, there could be no just compensation made by money.

The enactment of the Twelve Tables to this effect appears from Festus to have been the following: “Si merebrum rupsit, (ruperit,) ni cum eo pacit, (paciscetur,) talio est;” presenting a singular coincidence with the Mosaic provision. See Aul. Gell., lib. 20 c. 1, where the words are given somewhat differently, as in C. ’s text. The objection of Favorinus is that it was impossible to be kept; for if the like were inflicted for the like, as one wound for another, they must take care that the like wound in every respect should be made, neither longer nor deeper; if it were, then a new retaliation must arise, and so ad infinitum.

Verse 22

22.Ye shall have one manner of law. That the people of Israel, with their usual arrogance, might not suppose the race of Abraham only to be privileged, the Law is extended also to foreigners; and thus God shows that the whole body of the human race are under His care, so that He would not have those that are farthest off exposed to the licentious violence of the ungodly. In other points tie provided special privileges for His elect people; but here, because He created all men without exception after His own image, He takes them under His care and protection, so that none might injure them with impunity.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 24". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.