A prayer for your use before reading by Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) was an early church father from Alexandria.
Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts. Amen.
V. Leviticus 17:1-26:46 The Holiness Code
25:1-55 Holiness in Land Ownership: This chapter can be divided into three sections, v1-22 a Sabbath jubilee for the land, v23-38 the redemption of property in the jubilee and v 39-55 the redemption of a slave in the jubilee. Scholars think that a “Sabbath of the land” took place before the exile. There is evidence that it was observed right before the common ear. First Maccabees 6:49,53 tells of a city which had to surrender to Syria because it could not endure a siege which happened during a sabbatical year. Josephus, the Jewish historian reports other examples in his Antiquities of the Jews. Jeremiah is critical of a practice of releasing slaves during the sabbatical and then taking them back into slavery (Jer 34:14).
What sort of understanding of our relationship to the land is evidenced here? And what does this chapter say about the personhood of Israelites? Old Testament ideas about personhood can be difficult for modern persons to understand. We think of ourselves as children of God. But in the ancient world, Israel thought of God as their Lord and of themselves as servants of the Lord.
26:1-46 Blessing or Curse: The idea of blessings and curses can be difficult for us to understand. Looking at the larger structure of the chapter can help us gain some understanding. The first two verses summarize the first four of the Ten Commandments and succinctly describe a person’s responsibility to God. Then v 3-13 describe six blessings for obedience. Verses 14-39 give six threatened curses for disobedience. Verses 40-45 tell of the promise of restoration and verse 46 is a summary. Notice also the repetition of “I am the Lord your God”
Blessings and curses were part of a common ancient pattern. The Code of Hammurabi and the Sumerian Code both contain blessings and curses. Additionally treaties between powerful rulers and vassal kings also used blessing and curse language.
The curses increase in intensity as punishment for disobedience. Disobedience, here, is not about breaking rules but rather is about turning away from God. These laws and rules are God’s laws and rules, not the rules of humans or of Israel. The curses are indented to cause repentance.
But after the terrible description of curses come verses 40-46 God will not completely abandon Israel. God is their God.Remembering, in the Bible, is more than just thinking about something. Remembering is also doing. So when God remembers Israel when they were in Egypt, God acts. When God remembers Hannah (1 Sam 1:19) she becomes pregnant, and so on.
VI. Leviticus 27:1-34 Epilogue: Entire Dedication to the Lord. This chapter seems, in some ways, anticlimactic after the previous two chapters but scholars think that this chapter is placed here because is concerns “optional” activities. Chapters 1-26 outline the obligations of Israel, but the vows in chapter 27 are not required of anyone. Though not required, people do tend to make vows to God and this chapter sets out the guidelines for how vows are to be done. Verses 2-13 talk about dedication of people. Persons dedicated to the Lord worked in the Temple. Recall Samuel (1 Sam 1-2). There is an “equivalent value” stated because normally there were enough Levites to perform the duties in the temple. Animals can be vowed as can buildings and land. Verse 28-29 things “devoted to destruction” are difficult for us. But just as something could be consecrated in a positive way, something could be set apart for destruction. This was not something to be done lightly. Historically in the Bible, God only marked something for destruction after a long period of trying to “woo” them back to faithfulness.
Now after reading Leviticus, what do you think about it? Was there something that was surprising to you? Has your understanding of ancient Israel and even Jesus’ time changed? What might modern persons take way from the reading of Leviticus?
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of the Torah.
Anderson, Bernhard W. “Leviticus” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Bamberger, Bernard J. “Leviticus” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.
Gorman, Frank H. Jr. “Leviticus” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Hallo, William W. “Leviticus and Ancient Near Eastern Literature” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.
Kaiser, Walter C., Jr, “The Book of Leviticus” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.