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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 24

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-9

D. The preparation of the holy lamps and showbread 24:1-9

The connection of these instructions with what precedes is this. The Israelites were not only to offer themselves to Yahweh on special days of the year, but they were to worship and serve Him every day of the year. The daily refueling and burning of the lamps and the uninterrupted presentation of the showbread to Yahweh represented the daily sanctification of the people to their God. [Note: For other explanations of the placement of chapter 24 in Leviticus, see John R. Master, "The Place of Chapter 24 in the Structure of the Book of Leviticus," Bibliotheca Sacra 159:636 (October-December 2002):415-24.]

The Israelites donated the oil for the lamps (Leviticus 24:1-4). It symbolized them ". . . as a congregation which caused its light to shine in the darkness of this world . . ." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:451.] These lamps burned through the night, and the priests refilled them daily (cf. 1 Samuel 3:3; 2 Kings 25:30). In this offering Israel offered its life to God daily for consumption in His service of bringing light to the nations (cf. Zechariah 4; Isaiah 42:6).

The flour for the twelve loaves of showbread, one for each of the tribes of Israel, was likewise a gift of the people that represented their sanctification to God (Leviticus 24:5-9). The flour represented the fruit of the Israelites’ labors, their good works. It lay before God’s presence continually in the holy place. The addition of incense to the bread (Leviticus 24:7) represented the spirit of prayer (dependence) that accompanied the Israelites’ sacrifice of work. The priests placed fresh loaves on the table of showbread each Sabbath day. Josephus wrote that there were two piles of six loaves each. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 3:6:6. See also Bill Mitchell, "Leviticus 24:6: The bread of the Presence-rows or piles?" The Bible Translator 33:4 (October 1982):447-48; and Schultz, p. 116.]

"The devoted service (i.e., faithfully and rightly bringing offerings) of God’s people (i.e., people with their offerings, leaders with their actions) ensures that the way to God is illuminated and that provisions from him will continue." [Note: Ross, p. 442.]

Verses 10-23

E. The punishment of a blasphemer 24:10-23

This is another narrative section of Leviticus (cf. chs. 8-10). Its position in the book must mean that it took place after God had given Moses the instructions about the holy lamps and showbread (Leviticus 24:1-9). This fact underlines that Leviticus is essentially a narrative work. God gave the legal information at specific times and places to meet particular situations in Israel’s life. [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., pp. 308-9.] This is how case law developed in Israel.

God evidently preserved the record of this significant incident in Scripture not just because it took place at the time God was revealing these standards of sanctification. It illustrates how God regarded those who despised the very standards He was giving. This event was a warning to the people concerning the seriousness of sanctification just as the death of Nadab and Abihu (ch. 10) was a similar warning to the priests.

The "Name" referred to (Leviticus 24:11; Leviticus 24:16) was Yahweh, the name by which God manifested His nature to His people. The man’s blasphemy consisted of his cursing Yahweh (Leviticus 24:11), cursing Yahweh in the name of Yahweh, [Note: Dennis Livingston, "The crime of Leviticus XXIV 11," Vetus Testamentum 36:3 (July 1986):352-53.] or using Yahweh’s name in a curse. [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 311.] Maybe since his father was an Egyptian (Leviticus 24:10) he did not have the proper respect for Yahweh and did not sanctify Him in thought and speech as God required.

The Jews interpreted this blasphemy as a flippant use of the name Yahweh. The desire to avoid using the name of Yahweh in vain led them to omit the name "Yahweh" from their vocabulary completely. They substituted "the Name" in its place in conversation and in composition. [Note: See Keil and Delitzsch, 2:453.]

When the witnesses placed their hands on the head of the offender (Leviticus 24:14) they symbolized the transference of the blasphemer’s curse, which had entered their ears, back onto the blasphemer’s head.

"The emphasis of the narrative is that the ’whole congregation’ was responsible for stoning the blasphemer (Leviticus 24:14). This may be the reason why there is a reminder of the penalty for murder (lex talionis) just at this point in the narrative. The narrative thus sets up a contrast between the whole congregation’s acting to take the life of a blasphemer and a single individual’s (acting as an individual) taking ’the life of a human being’ (Leviticus 24:17). Thus the writer has made an important distinction between capital punishment and murder. Capital punishment was an act of the whole community, whereas murder was an individual act." [Note: Sailhamer, pp. 360-61.]

The legal principle of limiting retaliation to retribution in kind (an eye for an eye, Leviticus 24:19-21, the lex talionis, or law of retaliation, Lat. law of the talon, claw) is another evidence of God’s grace. In contemporary ancient Near Eastern culture, people commonly took excessive revenge (e.g., Genesis 4:23). A person who took another person’s eye, for example, usually suffered death. In the Mosaic Law, God limited the amount of retaliation that His people could take.

"The ’eye for an eye’ legal policy . . . is paralleled in the Code of Hammurabi [an eighteenth century B.C. king of Babylon], but there it operated only in the same social class. For a slave to put out a noble’s eye meant death. For a noble to put out a slave’s eye involved [only] a fine. In Israel its basic purpose was to uphold equal justice for all and a punishment that would fit the crime. The so-called law of retaliation was intended to curb excessive revenge due to passion and to serve as a block against terror tactics." [Note: G. Herbert Livingston, pp. 176-77.]

"In the code of Hammurabi, property was often considered more important than person; property offenses such as theft were capital crimes. In Israelite law, sins against the family and religion were most serious." [Note: Schultz, p. 118.]

"Retribution is a principal goal of the penal system in the Bible.

"It seems likely that this phrase eye for eye, etc. was just a formula. In most cases in Israel it was not applied literally. It meant that compensation appropriate to the loss incurred must be paid out." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 312.]

Christians should not live on a tit-for-tat basis. Rather totally selfless love should mark our interpersonal relationships (cf. Matthew 5:38-42). However in public life punishment should match the crime (cf. Acts 25:11; Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:14; 1 Peter 2:20). This is how God will judge humankind (Luke 12:47-48; 1 Corinthians 3:8).

"The Bible doesn’t present capital punishment as ’cure-all’ for crime. It presents it as a form of punishment that shows respect for law, for life, and for humans made in the image of God." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Holy, p. 121.]

"God’s people must sanctify the name of the LORD (i.e., ensure that the LORD’s holy and sovereign character is preserved in the world) because the LORD’s righteousness demands that the blasphemer be judged." [Note: Ross, p. 448.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Leviticus 24". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/leviticus-24.html. 2012.
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