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Leviticus 24-25    Listen Podcast


Eating week-old bread (Leviticus 24:1-9)

1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
2 “Command the children of Israel that they bring to you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to make the lamps burn continually.
3 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.
4 He shall be in charge of the lamps on the pure gold lampstand before the LORD continually.
5 ¶ “And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it. Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake.
6 You shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before the LORD.
7 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.
8 Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant.
9 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.”

There in the Holy Place were three sacred objects, the Altar of Incense, the Lamp and The Table of Shewbread. The priests had responsibilities to keep the Lamp burning by renewing the supply of olive oil. The specifications for the oil for the lampstand are first seen in Exodus 27:20–21 (see notes). The Table had to be restocked with bread once each week - twelve loaves. What do we do with the week-old bread? Answer: they eat it right there in the Holy Place before they leave. The bread goes in, but the bread doesn't come out. Good news for the priests though - the text doesn't strictly say that they had to wait until the week was over before they ate the bread. It may be that they ate it a little at a time after the sabbath was past. The Table of Shewbread was specified in Exodus 25:23-30 (see notes).

Incidentally, this is the table from which David and his men feasted in I Samuel 21 (see notes) with the permission of the High Priest, Ahimelech.

Death for cursing! (Leviticus 24:10-23)

10 ¶ 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.
11 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.)
12 Then they put him in custody, that the mind of the LORD might be shown to them.
13 ¶ And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
14 “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.
15 ¶ “Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin.
16 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.
17 ¶ “Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death.
18 Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal.
19 ¶ “If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him—
20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him.
21 And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death.
22 You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the LORD your God.’ ”
23 ¶ 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.

Here we see a man with a Hebrew mother and Egyptian father who "blasphemed the name of the LORD, and cursed." Okay, but that's just words, right? How severe can a punishment be for just uttering words? Well, they did what God told them to do in verse 14 - death by stoning. It's notable in this chapter that we are given a narrative (unusual for Leviticus) which includes names and circumstances. While the name of the offender is not given, his Jewish mother's name (Shelomith) is given along with her father's name (Dibri) and tribe affiliation (Dan).

Why so much detail when the names of these individuals have no context outside of this passage? Well...the detail gives the decree clout. We are not told that the man's Egyptian father was still living at the time. We are left with the impression that the half-Egyptian son may not have been proud to be among the Hebrews. However, the precedent was clearly set at this point in time: Whether you love Jehovah or not as a foreigner among the Jews, you MAY NOT blaspheme the name of the God of the Hebrews. Those four Hebrew letters for Jehovah (aka YHWH), commonly referred to by Jews as the Tetragrammaton, must not be spoken except with the utmost reverence. As a result, observant Jews through the ages and even today will not even utter the Tetragrammaton except in prayer. When speaking of Jehovah/YHWH, they commonly refer to him with the substitute Hebrew word, "adonai." In our English Bibles, "YHWH" is translated in all capitals (LORD), while "adonai" is translated "Lord" with only the "L" capitalized. In conversation, observant Jews substitute "adonai" for "YHWH." Because observant Jews for hundreds of years have refrained from speaking the name "YHWH," the exact pronunciation of God's name was lost. That is the reason some say "Jehovah" and some say "Yahweh." Since vowels were not part of Hebrew spelling, either pronunciation could have been the way it was spoken.

We aren't told exactly what the half Egyptian said, but in light of this death sentence, you can see how that from this point forward it just seemed best not to say the "name of the LORD" at all. Incidentally, you will notice that today in English writings, observant Jews refrain from writing the word "God" when referring to "YHWH," substituting it with "G-d" instead.

We also find in this chapter some laws concerning payback. These laws are restated here as a principle that all of those who abide with the Hebrews, Jewish or not, are bound by Mosaic Law. Abide with the Jews - keep their laws...including the following:

Verse 22 says that the Hebrew and stranger will be treated alike, based upon the same laws unless otherwise specified (see Leviticus 25:1-7, below, for such an exception). This chapter concludes in verse 23 with the execution of the half-Egyptian blasphemer.

The Sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:1-7)

1 And the LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying,
2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD.
3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit;
4 but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.
5 What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land.
6 And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you,
7 for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food.

Every seventh year the land of Israel had to remain uncultivated (also Exodus 23:10-12, see notes). We see in Leviticus 26:34-35 (see notes) that God regarded this rest of the land to be quite important. Whatever grew of itself during that year was not for the owner of the land, but for the poor, the stranger and the roaming animals. And then some great news for Hebrew debtors: All debts, except those of foreigners, were to be forgiven (see also Deuteronomy 15:1-11). However, there does not seem to be the regular observance of this year in Biblical history. It appears to have been much neglected. As a matter of fact, in II Chronicles 36:20-21 (see notes) we see the judgment of God in the Babylonian exile linked to this neglect. Those verses tie the neglect of the sabbatical year to the first Babylonian exile in 605 B.C.; that's the one that included Daniel. Jeremiah prophesies 70 years of exile to make up for the missed sabbatical years (7 x 70 = 490 years), first in Jeremiah 25:11-12 (see notes) and confirmed again in Jeremiah 29:10 (see notes). Therefore, it would appear that Israel was being held accountable for missing 490 years of not observing the sabbatical year after they arrived in Canaan. However, based upon the math in Jeremiah's prophecy, one might deduct that they did keep the sabbath years for 300 or so years somewhere between the time they moved into Canaan (1400 B.C. or so) and their first deportation in 605 B.C.

And then...twice a century - JUBILEE YEAR (Leviticus 25:8-55)

8 ¶ “And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years.
9 Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land.
10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.
11 That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine.
12 For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field.
13 ¶ “In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession.
14 And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another.
15 According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops he shall sell to you.
16 According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops.
17 Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God.
18 ¶ “So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety.
19 Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety.
20 ¶ “And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce?”
21 Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years.
22 And you shall sow in the eighth year, and eat old produce until the ninth year; until its produce comes in, you shall eat of the old harvest.
23 ¶ “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me.
24 And in all the land of your possession you shall grant redemption of the land.
25 ¶ “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold.
26 Or if the man has no one to redeem it, but he himself becomes able to redeem it,
27 then let him count the years since its sale, and restore the remainder to the man to whom he sold it, that he may return to his possession.
28 But if he is not able to have it restored to himself, then what was sold shall remain in the hand of him who bought it until the Year of Jubilee; and in the Jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his possession.
29 ¶ “If a man sells a house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year he may redeem it.
30 But if it is not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to him who bought it, throughout his generations. It shall not be released in the Jubilee.
31 However the houses of villages which have no wall around them shall be counted as the fields of the country. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the Jubilee.
32 Nevertheless the cities of the Levites, and the houses in the cities of their possession, the Levites may redeem at any time.
33 And if a man purchases a house from the Levites, then the house that was sold in the city of his possession shall be released in the Jubilee; for the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel.
34 But the field of the common-land of their cities may not be sold, for it is their perpetual possession.
35 ¶ “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.
36 Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you.
37 You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit.
38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
39 ¶ “And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave.
40 As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee.
41 And then he shall depart from you—he and his children with him—and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers.
42 For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.
43 You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God.
44 And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have—from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves.
45 Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property.
46 And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your permanent slaves. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor.
47 ¶ “Now if a sojourner or stranger close to you becomes rich, and one of your brethren who dwells by him becomes poor, and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner close to you, or to a member of the stranger’s family,
48 after he is sold he may be redeemed again. One of his brothers may redeem him;
49 or his uncle or his uncle’s son may redeem him; or anyone who is near of kin to him in his family may redeem him; or if he is able he may redeem himself.
50 Thus he shall reckon with him who bought him: The price of his release shall be according to the number of years, from the year that he was sold to him until the Year of Jubilee; it shall be according to the time of a hired servant for him.
51 If there are still many years remaining, according to them he shall repay the price of his redemption from the money with which he was bought.
52 And if there remain but a few years until the Year of Jubilee, then he shall reckon with him, and according to his years he shall repay him the price of his redemption.
53 He shall be with him as a yearly hired servant, and he shall not rule with rigor over him in your sight.
54 And if he is not redeemed in these years, then he shall be released in the Year of Jubilee—he and his children with him.
55 For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

This was the name of the great semi-centennial festival of the Hebrews. It lasted for an entire year like the Sabbatical year with the same observance with regard to cultivating the land. But there was one more wrinkle to be noted for this Jubilee year; all land property during that year reverted to its original owner (verses 13-34; Leviticus 27:16-24, see notes). Moreover, all who were slaves were set free (25:39-54), and all debts were forgiven. Money lending was not a very lucrative occupation in Israel. According to verse 37, you could not even charge interest on money loaned to fellow Hebrews. Add to that the forgiveness of debt, and what's the point?

An interesting implication of the Jubilee year is the value of property leading up to those years. The closer you got, the less it was worth. Why? It reverted back to the original owners of the Canaan occupation. So, in reality, in God's economy you never really bought the property itself - just the use of that property until the 50th year...a lease of the property in reality. We see in verse 30 that this provision did not apply to property within a walled city. That property in the Year of Jubilee remained with the purchaser after the first year of purchase (verse 29). We also see an exemption from the exemption for city property owned by the Levites. The Levites were given property within certain cities in Canaan in Joshua 21 (see notes). Regardless of whether or not it was a walled city, the Levite families got their property returned to them in the Jubilee Year.

The return of the Jubilee year was to be proclaimed by a blast of trumpets which sounded throughout the land. There is no record in Scripture of the actual observance of this Jubilee, but the command here is clear. Since the fiftieth year always follows year 49, a sabbatical year, a two–year cessation of agricultural activity is intended, as seen in verses 20-21. As a matter of fact, those verses tell us that the seed sown in the sixth year will give them a yield for three years.

Consider the results of this Jubilee year:

  1. It would prevent the accumulation of land on the part of a few.
  2. It would render it impossible for any one to be born to absolute poverty, since every one had his hereditary land.
  3. It would do away with Hebrew slavery with the Hebrew slave restored to the land his forefathers inherited. In the interim, Hebrews purchased as slaves were to be treated as a "hired servant" (verse 40) rather than as a slave.
  4. Poor Israelites got a fresh start.
  5. No farming for a whole year (What did they do with their time?).

Non Hebrews did not get their freedom back (as slaves) in the Year of Jubilee (verses 45-46). However, Hebrews sold into the servitude of non Hebrews could be redeemed at any time and did automatically get their freedom at the Year of Jubilee. We see in these verses that the Year of Jubilee was to be considered in the purchase of a slave, being fully aware that Hebrew slaves would be released in the Year of Jubilee. Laws regarding slaves are found in Exodus 21:2-11 (see notes). Incidentally, there you will find that only non-Hebrew slaves could ever become bond slaves (aka bondservants). Moreover, note the stipulation in verse 44 that these non-Hebrew slaves were comprised of non Canaanites when it says "from the nations that are around you." God's intentions were that the Canaanites would be driven from the land, not enslaved.

One more point of interest regarding these Levitical laws. Prior to the Year of Jubilee, a near kinsman could buy back property that had been sold by a poor Hebrew according to verses 25-28. This is the law which underlies the whole story of Ruth and Boaz. As it turns out, Boaz was the near kinsman of Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law. Click here to see the summary on Ruth.