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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 24

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-4


Leviticus 24:1-4

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee 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 order it from evening to morning before the Lord continually: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the Lord continually."

First (Leviticus 24:1-4) is given the direction for the ordering of the daily light, which was to burn from evening until morning in the holy place continually. The people themselves are to furnish the oil for the seven-branched candlestick out of the product of their olive yards. The oil is to be "pure," carefully cleansed from leaves and all impurities; and "beaten," that is, not extracted by heat and pressure, as are inferior grades, but simply by beating and macerating the olives with water, -a process which gives the very best. The point in these specifications is evidently this, that for this, as always, they are to give to God’s service the very best, -an eternal principle which rules in all acceptable service to God. The oil is to come from the people in general, so that the illuminating of the Holy Place, although specially tended by the high priest, is yet constituted a service in which all the children of Israel have some part. The oil was to be used to supply the seven lamps upon the golden candlestick which was placed on the south side of the Holy Place, without the veil of the testimony, in the tent of meeting. This Aaron was to "order from evening to morning before the Lord continually." According to Exodus 25:31-40, this candlestick-or, more properly, lampstand-was made of a single shaft, with three branches on either side, each with a cup at the end like an almond blossom; so that, with that on the top of the central shaft, it was a stand of seven lamps, in a conventional imitation of an almond tree.

The significance of the symbol is brought clearly before us in Zechariah 4:1-14, where the seven-branched candlestick symbolises Israel as the congregation of God, the giver of the light of life to the world. And yet a lamp can burn only as it is supplied with oil and trimmed and cared for. And so in the symbol of Zechariah the prophet sees the golden candlestick supplied with oil conveyed through two golden pipes into which flowed the golden oil, mysteriously self-distilled from two olive trees on either side the candlestick. And the explanation given is this: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit," saith the Lord. Thus we learn that the golden seven-branched lampstand denotes Israel, more precious than gold in God’s sight, appointed of Him to be the giver of light to the world. And yet by this requisition of oil for the golden candlestick the nation was reminded that their power to give light was dependent upon the supply of the heavenly grace of God’s Spirit, and the continual ministrations of the priest in the Holy Place, And how this ordering of the light might be a symbolic act of worship, we can at once see, when we recall the word of Jesus: {; Matthew 5:14; Matthew 5:16} "Ye are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

How pertinent for instruction still in "all its deepest teaching is this ordinance of the lamp continually burning in the presence of the Lord, is vividly brought before us in the Apocalypse," {Revelation 1:12-13} where we read that seven candlesticks appeared in vision to the Apostle John; and Christ, in His glory, robed in high priestly vesture, was seen walking up and down, after the manner of Aaron, in the midst of the seven candlesticks, in care and watch of the manner of their burning. And as to the significance of this vision, the Apostle was expressly told (Revelation 1:20) that the seven candlesticks were the seven Churches of Asia, -types of the collective Church in all the centuries. Thus, as in the language of this Levitical symbol, we are taught that in the highest sense it is the office of the Church to give light in darkness; but that she can only do this as the heavenly oil is supplied, and each lamp is cared for, by the high priestly ministrations of her risen Lord.

Verses 1-23


Leviticus 24:1-23

IT is not easy to determine with confidence the association of thought which occasioned the interposition of this chapter, with its somewhat disconnected contents, between chapter 23, on the set times of holy convocation, and chapter 25, on the sabbatic and jubilee years, which latter would seem most naturally to have followed the former immediately, as relating to the same subject of sacred times. Perhaps the best explanation of the connection with the previous chapter is that which finds it in the reference to the olive oil for the lamps and the meal for the shew bread. The feast of tabernacles, directions for which had just been given, celebrated the completed ingathering of the harvest of the year, both of grain and of fruit; and here Israel is told what is to be done with a certain portion of each.

Verses 5-9


Leviticus 24:5-9

"And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes thereof: two tenth parts of an ephah shall be in one cake. And thou shalt set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before the Lord. And thou shalt put pure frankincense upon each row, that it may be to the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto the Lord. Every sabbath day he shall set it in order before the Lord continually; it is on the behalf of the children of Israel, 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 unto him of the offerings of the Lord made by fire by a perpetual statute."

Next follows the ordinance for the preparation and presentation of the "shew bread," lit., " bread of the Face," or "Presence," of God. This was to consist of twelve cakes, each to be made of two tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour, which was to be placed in two rows or piles, "upon the pure table" of gold that stood before the Lord, in the Holy Place, opposite to the golden candlestick. On each pile was to be placed (Leviticus 24:7) "pure frankincense,"-doubtless, as tradition says, placed in the golden spoons, or little cups. {; Exodus 37:16} Every sabbath (Leviticus 24:8-9) fresh bread was to be so placed, when the old became the food of Aaron and his sons only, as belonging to the order of things "most holy"; the frankincense which had been its "memorial" having been first burned, "an offering made by fire unto the Lord" (Leviticus 24:7). Tradition adds that the bread was always unleavened; a few have called this in question, but this has been only on theoretic grounds, and without evidence; and when we remember how stringent was the prohibition of leaven even in any offerings made by fire upon the altar of the outer court, much less is it likely that it could have been tolerated here in the Holy Place immediately before the veil.

This bread of the Presence must be regarded as in its essential nature a perpetual meal offering, -the meal offering of the Holy Place, as the others were of the outer court. The material was the same, cakes of fine flour; to this frankincense must be added as a "memorial," as in the meal offerings of the outer court. Such part of the offering as was not burned, as in the case of the others, was to be eaten by the priests only, as a thing "most holy." It differed from those in that there were always the twelve cakes, one for each tribe; and in that while they were repeatedly offered, this lay before the Lord continually. The altar of burnt offering might sometimes be empty of the meal offering, but the table of shew bread, "the table of the Presence," never.

In general, therefore, the meaning of the offering of the shew bread must be the same as. that of the meal offerings; like them it symbolised the consecration unto the Lord of the product of the labour of the hands, and especially of the daily food as prepared for use. But in this, by the twelve cakes for the twelve tribes it was emphasised that God requires, not only such consecration of service and acknowledgment of Him from individuals, as in the law of chapter 2, but from the nation in its collective and organised capacity; and that not merely on such occasions as pious impulse might direct, but continuously.

In these days, when the tendency among us is to an extreme individualism, and therewith to an ignoring or denial of any claim of God upon nations and communities as such, it is of great need to insist upon this thought thus symbolised. It was not enough in God’s sight that individual Israelites should now and then offer their meal offerings; the Lord required a meal offering "on behalf of the children of Israel" as a whole, and of each particular tribe of the twelve, each in its corporate capacity. There is no reason to think that in the Divine government the principle which took this symbolic expression is obsolete. It is not enough that individuals among us consecrate the fruit of their labours to the Lord. The Lord requires such consecration of every nation collectively; and of each of the subdivisions in that nation, such as cities, towns, states, provinces, and so on. Yet where in the wide world can we see one such consecrated nation? Can we find one such consecrated province or state, or even such a city or town? Where then, from this biblical and spiritual point of view, is the ground for the religious boasting of the Christian progress of our day which one sometimes hears? Must we not say, "It is excluded"?

Typically, the shew bread, like the other meal offerings with their frankincense, must foreshadow the work of the Messiah in holy consecration; and, in particular, as the One in whom the ideal of Israel was perfectly realised, and who thus represented in His person the whole Israel of God. But the bread of the Presence represents His holy obedience in self-consecration, not merely, as in the other meal offerings, presented in the outer court, in the sight of men, as in His earthly life; but here, rather, as continually presented before the "Face of God," in the Holy Place, where Christ appears in the presence of God for us. And in this symbolism, which has been already justified, we may recognise the element of truth that there is in the view held by Bahr, apparently, as by others, that the shew bread typified Christ Himself regarded as the bread of life to His people. Not indeed, precisely, that Christ Himself is brought before us here, but rather His holy obedience, continually offered unto God in the heavenly places, in behalf of the true Israel, and as sealing and confirming the everlasting covenant; -this is what this symbol brings before us. And it is as we by faith appropriate Him, as thus ever presenting His holy life to God for us, that He becomes for us the Bread of Life.

Verses 10-23


Leviticus 24:10-23

"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 unto Moses. And his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. And they put him in ward, that it might be declared unto them at the mouth of the Lord. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as the homehorn, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord. shall be put to death. And he that smiteth any man mortally shall surely be put to death; and he that smiteth a beast mortally shall make it good: life for life. And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be rendered unto him. And he that killeth a beast shall make it good: and he that killeth a man shall be put to death. Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for the homeborn: for I am the Lord your God. And Moses spake to the children of Israel, and they brought forth him that had cursed out of the camp, and stoned him with stones. And the children of Israel did all the Lord commanded Moses."

The connection of this section with the preceding context is now impossible to determine. Very possibly its insertion here may be due to the occurrence here described having taken place at the time of the delivery of the preceding laws concerning the oil for the golden lampstand and the shew bread. However, the purport and intention of the narrative is very plain, namely, to record the law delivered by the Lord for the punishment of blasphemy; and therewith also His command that the penalty of broken law, both in this case and in others specified, should be exacted both from native Israelites and from foreigners alike.

The incident which was the occasion of the promulgation of these laws was as follows. The son of an Israelitish woman by an Egyptian husband fell into a quarrel in the camp. As often happens in such cases, the one sin led on to another and yet graver sin; the half-caste man "blasphemed the Name, and cursed"; whereupon he was arrested and put into confinement until the will of the Lord might be ascertained in his case. "The Name" is of course the name of God; the meaning is that he used the holy name profanely in cursing. The passage, together with Leviticus 24:16, is of special and curious interest, as upon these two the Jews have based their well-known belief that it is unlawful to utter the Name which we commonly vocalise as Jehovah; whence it has followed that wherever in the Hebrew text the Name occurs it is written with the vowels of Adonay "Lord," to indicate to the reader that this word was to be substituted for the proper name, -a usage which is represented in the Septuagint by the appearance of the Greek word Kurios, " Lord," in all places where the Hebrew has Jehovah (or Yahveh); and which, in both the authorised and revised versions, is still maintained in the retention of "Lord" in all such cases, -a relic of Jewish superstition which one could greatly wish that the Revisers had banished from the English version, especially as in many passages it totally obscures to the English reader the exact sense of the text, wherever it turns upon the choice of this name. It is indeed true that the word rendered "blaspheme" has the meaning "to pronounce," as the Targumists and other Hebrew writers render it; but that it also means simply to "revile," and in many places cannot possibly be rendered "to pronounce," is perforce admitted even by Jewish scholars. To give it the other meaning here were so plainly foreign to the spirit of the Old Testament, debasing reverence to superstition, that no argument against it will be required with any but a Jew.

And this young man, in the heat of his passion, "reviled the Name." The words "of the Lord" are not in the Hebrew; the name "Jehovah" is thus brought before us expressively as THE NAME, par excellence, of God, as revealing Himself in covenant for man’s redemption. Horrified at the man’s wickedness, "they brought him unto Moses"; and "they put him inward" (Leviticus 24:12), "that it might be declared unto them at the mouth of the Lord" what should be done unto him. This was necessary because the case involved two points upon which no revelation had been made: first, as to what should be the punishment of blasphemy; and secondly, whether the law in such cases applied to a foreigner as well as to the native Israelite. The answer of God decided these points. As to the first (Leviticus 24:15), "Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin," i.e., he shall be held subject to punishment; and (Leviticus 24:16), "He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him." And as to the second point, it is added, "as well the stranger, as the homeborn, when he blasphemeth the Name, shall be put to death."

Then follows (Leviticus 24:17-21) a declaration of penalties for murder, for killing a neighbour’s beast, and for inflicting a bodily injury on one’s neighbour. These were to be settled on the principle of the lex talionis, life for life, "breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth"; in the case of the beast killed, its value was to be made good to the owner. All these laws had been previously given; {; Exodus 21:12; Exodus 21:23-36} but are repeated here plainly for the purpose of expressly ordering that these laws, like that now declared for blasphemy, were to be applied alike to the home born and the stranger (Leviticus 24:22).

Much cavil have these laws occasioned, the more so that Christ Himself is cited as having condemned them in the Sermon on the Mount. {Matthew 5:38-42} But how little difficulty really exists here will appear from the following considerations. The Jews from of old have maintained that the law of "an eye for eye," as here given, was not intended to authorise private and irresponsible retaliation in kind, but only after due trial and by legal process. Moreover, even in such cases, they have justly remarked that the law here given was not meant to be applied always with the most exact literality; but that it was evidently intended to permit the commutation of the penalty by such a fine as the judges might determine.

They justly argue from the explicit prohibition of the acceptance of any such satisfaction in commutation in the case of a murderer {Numbers 35:31-32} that this implies the permission of it in the instances here mentioned; -a conclusion the more necessary when it is observed that the literal application of the law in all cases would often result in defeating the very ends of exact justice which it was evidently intended to secure. For instance, the loss by a one-eyed man of his only eye, under such an interpretation, would be much more than an equivalent for the loss of an eye which he had inflicted upon a neighbour who had both eyes. Hence, Jewish history contains no record of the literal application of the law in such cases; the principle is applied as often among ourselves, in the exaction from an offender of a pecuniary satisfaction proportioned to the degree of the disability he has inflicted upon his neighbour. Finally, as regards the words of our Saviour, that He did not intend His words to be taken in their utmost stretch of literality in all cases, is plain from His own conduct when smitten by the order of the high priest, {; John 18:23} and from the statement that the magistrate is endowed with the sword, as a servant of God, to be a terror to evil-doers; {Romans 13:4} from which it is plain that Christ did not mean to prohibit the resort to judicial process under all circumstances, but rather the spirit of retaliation and litigation which sought to justify itself by a perverse appeal to this law of "an eye for eye";-a law which, in point of fact, was given, as Augustine has truly observed, not "as an incitement to, but for the mitigation of wrath."

The narrative then ends with the statement (Leviticus 24:23) that Moses delivered this law to the children of Israel, who then, according to the commandment of the Lord, took the blasphemer out of the camp, when all that heard him blaspheme laid their hands upon his head, in token that they thus devolved on him the responsibility for his own death; and then the congregation stoned the criminal with stones that he died (Leviticus 24:23).

The chief lesson to be learned from this incident and from the law here given is very plain. It is the high criminality in God’s sight of all irreverent use of His holy name. To a great extent in earlier days this was recognised by Christian governments; and in the Middle Ages the penalty of blasphemy in many states of Christendom, as in the Mosaic code and in many others, although not death, was yet exceedingly severe. The present century, however, has seen a great relaxation of law, and still more of public sentiment, in regard to this crime, -a change which, from a Christian point of view, is a matter for anything but gratulation. Reverence for God lies at the very foundation of even common morality. Our modern atheism and agnosticism may indeed deny this, and yet, from the days of the French Revolution to the present, modern history has been presenting, in one land and another, illustrations of the fact which are pregnant with most solemn warning. And while no one could wish that the crime of blasphemy should be punished with torture and cruelty, as in some instances in the Middle Ages, yet the more deeply one thinks on this subject in the light of the Scripture and of history, the more. if we mistake not, will it appear that it might be far better for us, and might argue a far more hopeful and wholesome condition of the public sentiment than that which now exists, if still, as in Mosaic days and sometimes in the Middle Ages, death were made the punishment for this crime; -a crime which not only argues the extreme of depravity in the criminal, but which, if overlooked by the State, or expiated with any light penalty, cannot but operate most fatally by breaking down in the public conscience that profound reverence toward God which is the most essential condition of the maintenance of all private and public morality.

In this point of view, not to speak of other considerations, it is not surprising that the theocratic law here provides that blasphemy shall be punished with death in the case of the foreigner as well as the native Israelite. This sin, like those of murder and violence with which it is here conjoined, is of such a kind that to every conscience which is not hopelessly hardened, its wickedness must be manifest even from the very light of nature. Nature itself is sufficient to teach anyone that abuse and calumny of the Supreme God, the Maker and Ruler of the world, -a Being who, if He exist at all, must be infinitely good, -must be a sin involving quite peculiar and exceptional guilt. Hence, absolute equity, no less. than governmental wisdom, demanded that the law regarding blasphemy, as that with respect to the other crimes here mentioned, should be impartially enforced upon both the native Israelite and the foreigner.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Leviticus 24". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/leviticus-24.html.
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