As we turn our attention to Leviticus 24 the very first consideration you should have is a simple one… Why is this chapter here? I’m serious! When you read this chapter at first glance the subject matter seems to be oddly out of place. Let me explain what I mean…
In chapter 23 (what we’ve studied the last two weeks) God institutes seven yearly feasts designed to be times of celebration and rejoicing for the Hebrew people. Then in chapter 25 God expounds on the Sabbath concept which centered on rest, relaxation, and refreshing.
Not only were the people to cease from their work every seventh day, but they were to take off the seventh year in addition to the 50th — this would become known as the Year of Jubilee. My point is that thematically chapters 23 and 25 align making it strange that God would break up the flow by now inserting the subjects covered in Leviticus 24.
If you’re a notetaker every scholar breaks this chapter down into three categories: The first four verses deal with the holy oil of the lampstand located in the Tabernacle, verses 5-9 address the holy bread and it’s positioning on the Table of Showbread, the remainder of the chapter then centers on a narrative dealing with the protection of God’s holy name. For our purposes you can write down three words: Power, Provision, and Purity.
So back to the original question… Why would God wedge these subjects in between two chapters dealing with festival celebrations and days of rest? I believe the answer is found in Deuteronomy 16:16-17. We read, “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread (which included Passover as well as the Feast of Firstfruits), at the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), and at the Feast of Tabernacles (the last of the Fall festivals); and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.”
Don’t miss this interesting detail? Not only were these three mandatory feasts aimed at commemoration, celebration, and anticipation, but there timing — coinciding with the barely harvest in the spring, wheat harvest before summer, and the olive and grape harvests in the fall — intended to provide ample supplies for the Tabernacle and the Levites.
God told His people every “male shall appear before the LORD” during these three feasts, but he should “not appear empty-handed.” This Hebrew word “empty” can be translated as vainly or without gift. You see in their celebration of God’s faithful provisions (“the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given”) there was to be a practical response “according to God’s blessing every man was to give as he was able.”
As we’re going to see this morning, sandwiched between two chapters that celebrated God’s past, present, and future work during these parties and His continued blessings in the observance of the Sabbaths, we have chapter 24 which focuses on what should result when we respond to His grace — our gift to God in response to all He’s given us!
Christian, when you’re moved by God’s grace and give back to Him according to the abundance of His blessings three incredible things result in a church: there is oil for illumination (power for the ministry), bread for continuation (provisions for the ministry), and ultimately an obedience for conservation (purity in the ministry).
Leviticus 24:1-4, “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.”
Regarding the olive oil which fueled the “golden lampstand” inside the Tabernacle God reiterates three responsibilities first mentioned in Exodus 27. First, it was specifically the job of “the children of Israel” or the congregation to “bring” to the tent of meeting “pure oil of pressed olives for the light” so that “the lamps burn continually.” Logically, the oil would be brought during the Feast of Tabernacles since it followed the olive harvest in the fall.
Because of its sanctified purpose God deliberately stipulated “pure oil of pressed olives.” While olive oil served all different kinds of functions in the ancient world, “pure oil” or what we’d call virgin oil was typically used for culinary purposes with the dirtier variety designated to be fuel. When God commands “they bring” to the priests “pure oil of pressed olives” to sustain the flames of the lamps He’s wanting their best not their leftovers!
In the structure of how God ordered things it was incumbent upon the congregation to provide the oil as a response to God’s blessings so that the lampstand might burn brightly and continually. Without oil there would be no fuel and without fuel there would be no light.
Pertaining to the role of the priests we can assume it was their job to steward such a large supply of oil so that it lasted the entire year until the next harvest. Beyond that it was then the sole responsibility of the High Priest to use the oil to maintain the “lampstand.” In our text God was clear “Aaron shall be in charge of the lamps on the pure golden lampstand from evening until morning before the Lord continually.”
Located directly “outside the veil of Testimony in the Tabernacle” you had what was known as the golden Menorah. According to Exodus 25 the Menorah was actually one large “lampstand” that possessed seven individual “lamps.” As the only source of light in the Tabernacle all day every day it was the sole responsibility of the High Priest to tend to the Menorah so that its light shown brightly and the priests could do their jobs. To accomplish this he maintained the wicks and insured there was always an adequate supply of fuel.
Aside from being the only source of light inside the Tabernacle, the other interesting detail about the Menorah was that the people never saw it. You see it was the job of the congregation to provide the oil as a response to God’s grace trusting the priest would steward the resource appropriately and the High Priest would use that oil accordingly.
Biblically there are all kinds of typological elements woven into these four verses… “Oil” is symbolic of the Holy Spirit and can represent the Nation of Israel. Jesus claimed to be the “Light of the World” and we’re commissioned to be vessels of that “Light!” Jesus’ affliction began in a place known as Gethsemane — the garden of the olive press. In the Scriptures the Word of God is referred to as “a lamp unto our feet” and a “light unto our path.”
In an Old Testament context the seven branches of the “lampstand” were believed to reflect the seven days of creation with the center light representing the Sabbath Day. In John’s vision recorded in Revelation 1 these seven churches located in Asia Minor are literally described as being “seven golden lampstands” tended to by Jesus our High Priest.
Broadly speaking, as a church Calvary316 is called to be a lamp in which the light of God’s revelation shines brightly into a darkened world. That said… To accomplish this incredible task a partnership is required. The congregation provides “pure oil” as a response to the blessings of God — you provide the fuel or power for illumination, the pastors role is to then steward that resource appropriately, knowing in the end it is Jesus the High Priest who is responsible to tend to the lampstand itself. You provide. The pastors preside. While Jesus ultimately preforms a work.
It’s worth noting that there was no natural light in the Tabernacle — only a light fueled by the Holy Spirit manifesting from the congregations response to God’s goodness. This should remind us something the modern church has forgotten… The Spirit never flows into this world through natural methods, innovations, or strategies, but only through the men and women in whom He indwells! In the picture we have presented it is the congregation filled with the oil of the Spirit that fuels and powers the work of God.
It’s simply a truth the illuminance of a church (how effectively that lampstand shines into the world) directly depends on the exuberance of the congregation. You see your energy and excitement for the things of God, enthusiasm and zeal for His Word, compassion and heart for the lost, dedication and commitment to pray and tell others about Jesus — all manifesting as a reciprocation of God’s grace infused by His Spirit — fuels our church.
Understand, there is a big difference between church activities and church action. Sadly, one ends up being a crutch to compensate for the other. There are churches that have lots of motion with little to no movement. At C316 we’re intentionally less focused on church activities designed to fill your social calendar and more about promoting, equipping, and sending out an active church into the world to shine the Light we’ve been given.
In fact, the only way our church will grow numerically is when the congregation is so excited about what God is doing here their enthusiasm bubbles over to infect those around them. Years ago famed preacher Charles Spurgeon once said concerning his church, “Great preachers don’t make great congregations. Great congregations make great preachers.”
If the holy oil signifies the power for illumination which results when you respond to God’s grace, the holy bread illustrates the provision that enables the work to continue… Leviticus 24:5-9, “And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it (this represents the 12 Tribes of Israel). Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. You shall set them in two rows, six in a row (double stacked), on the pure gold table before the Lord. (Exodus 25:23-30 records the detailed instructions for the construction of the Table of Showbread.)
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 (on the Sabbath the priests would replace the bread with twelve fresh loaves), 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.”
Notice back in verse 8 the “fine flour” that would be used to make “twelve cakes” to be displayed within the Tabernacle upon the Table of Showbread were to be “taken from the children of Israel.” Like the “pure oil” it was incumbent upon the congregation of Israel when they came to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost to bring “fine flour.”
Once given it was then the job of the priest to take the flour, bake cakes, and place them accordingly. The priests were charged with using the resources provided. Not only was their generosity essential concerning the Showbread, but it provided food for the priests!
The entire concept for how this was to work was rather straightforward… In order to enable the priests the necessary time and energy to effectively tend to the tent of meeting as well as practically serve the people in their ordained capacity, God structured things so that their practical needs were met through the provisions provided by the larger congregation.
What is powerful about this picture is that the “fine flour” provided by the people as an offering to bless God (a gift they brought to the Lord in response to His blessings) God intentionally shared with the priests. “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.”
Let me carry out this concept with a practical example… You do not give of your financial resources (which is what the firstfruits was in this ancient context) in order to support your pastor and his family. That’s not the motivation. You give to the Lord as you are able in response to His continued blessings. It’s an offering made to — the — Lord.
And yet, the reason a pastor is then allowed to live off of your financial gift is because God decided to share with him what He’d been given! God structured things so that the minister could live off your offering to Him. “Well, I don’t like that” you might say. If that’s your position your problem is with God. While true God’s structure didn’t intend to enrich the priesthood, it was designed to provide for the needs of the priests.
In order for Calvary316 to be a ministry Jesus can use in our world two things are needed from you the congregation… Power yielded from the holy oil for illumination and the provision of holy bread for continuation. Jesus does the work and the pastor stewards the materials, but it is the congregation’s role is to provide the energy and resources.
One of the sad realities of Jewish history is how they actually failed to faithfully obey the Sabbath, didn’t celebrate the feasts consistently, and following their return from Babylonian exile neglected to give provisions to support the priests and the work of God. Let me read from you two passages that come from this time-period articulating God’s reaction…
Haggai 1:3-11, “The word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins? Consider your ways! You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.
Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified. You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.’”
Malachi 3:8-10, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this… If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.’”
Christian, when you respond to God’s grace three things result in a church: there is oil for illumination (power for the ministry), bread for continuation (provisions for the ministry), and lastly we see an obedience for conservation (purity in the ministry).
Leviticus 24:10-12, “Now the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel (the man was half Jew half Egyptian); and this Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought each other in the camp.
And the Israelite woman’s son (in the process of this fight) blasphemed the name of the Lord and cursed (in the Hebrew the word “blasphemed” means to pierce or strike through and the word translated “cursed” implies his actions brought dishonor and contempt to the “the name of the Lord”); 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 (a place of confinement), that the mind of the Lord might be shown to them.”
In the Scriptures names were very important and the name of God was no exception. More than a way to identify someone, names spoke of a person’s character and person. To “blaspheme” or “curse” the “name of the Lord” was a serious offense because that person was undermining and challenging the very nature and personhood of God.
Right from the jump everyone understood what this man had done during this fight was grave. The Nation of Israel had only existed for a few months and nothing like this had ever happened before. Even Moses was unsure what to do simply because God hadn’t provided instructions or established the consequence for blasphemy. Wisely they place the man under guard while Moses waited for the Lord to weigh in on the situation.
Leviticus 24:13-16, “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. 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.”
God’s ruling… Blasphemy was to be a capital crime in Israel equally applied to the citizen and the stranger alike. In the formation of their culture God established a zero tolerance policy to such an act. In the land of God and as His people the attitude that would drive a person to blaspheme “the name” had no place and would not be allowed.
As a result of this man’s actions he was “taken outside the camp” and everyone “who heard him” curse and blaspheme the name of the Lord “laid their hands on his head” affirming the legitimacy of their testimony against him. At this point the rest of the congregation of Israel proceeded to execute the man by stoning according to God’s instructions.
What I find particularly interesting about this passage is the serious lengths the people were to go to insure the name of God was exalted. I mean to blaspheme “the name” was a death sentence. Consider then Psalms 138:2 when we’re told the Lord has “magnified His Word above His name!” My friend, because your Bible contains the words of eternal life, to dishonor it or seek to strike through it will only result in your certain death.
Immediately following this particular ruling about blasphemy God proceeds to do something really curious… He says, Leviticus 24:17, “Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death.” (This punishment for murder was not new. In fact, God first established this concept in His instructions to Noah recorded in Genesis 9:5-6, “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.” The fundamental purpose for capital punishment is to persevere the sacred nature of life itself.)
Leviticus 24:18-23, “Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal. (Equal restitution for the loss of property.) 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.’ 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.”
Let me make a few broad points about these verses before getting to the main point… First and foremost, the idea behind an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” was to insure equal justice and prohibit unchecked revenge. Since humans rarely react in proportion to an offense these instructions were designed to restrain vengeance and uphold a fair adjudication.
Gandhi famously said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” While this sounds nice, the problem with this perspective is it doesn’t take into account the depravity of our sin nature. Without equitable justice under the law providing fairness and upholding a sense of societal order to deter criminality you’ll eventually end up with only the good guys blind. Aside from determent, such an even-handed approach to justice also insured no sentence would be to lenient (an undercarriage of justice) or disproportional (a miscarriage of justice).
In this chapter that addresses congregational responsibilities we find another appropriate response to the goodness and blessings of God… When God’s Word condemns the actions of someone in the camp it was the congregations job to deal with it. Whether it was blaspheme, murder, causing another person harm, or destroying property God’s Word established a verdict leaving the enforcement up to the people.
Our willingness to obey God’s Word conserves the integrity of the congregation. As a response to God’s grace obedience maintains a purity in the ministry itself. Like Moses, in a church the pastor’s main responsibility is to clearly articulate what God’s Word has to say. At that point it’s left to the congregation as to what follows. Understand, when a people hold fast and obey His Word a purity manifests that exalts His holy name.
Christian, when you respond to God’s grace three things result in a church: there is oil for illumination (power for the ministry), bread for continuation (provisions for the ministry), and an obedience for conservation (purity in the ministry). Ironically, when one, two, or all three of these things are missing it’s a good indication grace is as well.
In closing I want to add one additional wrinkle to this third part of an odd chapter because I think God is doing something really cosmic in these verses. During His Sermon on the Mount where He discusses the Kingdom Jesus famously said in Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
In his commentary on this section of Matthew 5 David Guzik writes, “When a person insults us (slaps you on the right cheek), we want to give them back what they gave to us, plus more. Jesus said we should patiently bear such insults and offenses, and not resist an evil person who insults us this way. Instead, we trust God to defend us.” Interesting!
As I mulled over this passage dealing with the death penalty of stoning tied directly to blasphemy something dawned on me… The only other example we have in the entire Bible of this Law being put into practice is found in Acts 7:54-60. For a little context a man named Stephen has just preached an amazing sermon proclaiming Jesus to a group of angry Jews.
“When these Jews heard these things that Stephen was saying about Jesus they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But Stephen, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him.
As they were doing this the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then Stephen knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
In my studies on this Leviticus 24 passage I really couldn’t find anyone that presented a rational explanation as to why immediately following God’s verdict for the congregation to stone the blasphemer He transitions in verse 17 to a repeating of a Law already on the books that “whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death.”
Again, going back to Guzik’s observation that Jesus’ exhortation to “turn the other cheek” centered on the fact we’re to trust that God will ultimately defend us, something incredible occurred to me. Could it be that placing this stipulation about murdering the innocent man into the Law following these procedures for stoning the blasphemer was done to condemn the very men who unjustly stoned Stephen? Furthermore, could it be that when Stephen cries out, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” he’s considering Leviticus 24:17?
Could it be this “young man named Saul” who instigated Stephen’s stoning later realized the very condemnation he was under when he encountered Jesus for himself on the road to Damascus? While Saul took pride in the reality he’d never transgressed the Law, when he became Paul he knew Leviticus 24 said otherwise? What a moment he experienced when Jesus didn’t stone him to death on that Damascus Road according to this Law, but instead turned the other cheek, showed him grace, and saved him from the wages of his sin!
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