Sunday, June 15
Leviticus 1: Because the English noun "sacrifice" is commonly employed to translate several quite different Hebrew words, readers of the Bible in English may not suspect how varied and complex is the Bible’s treatment of this subject.
For instance, the sacrifice treated here in the first chapter is quite distinct. One would not suspect just how distinct from the common English translation (King James, for example), "burnt sacrifice." Since just about all sacrifices in the Bible, with the obvious exception of libations, were burned, the expression does not tell us very much. The Hebrew word employed for the sacrifices in this chapter is ‘olah, a participle meaning "ascending." This term may originally have been connected with the ascending smoke released by the fire that consumed the victim. In the ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint), this term was rendered holokavtoma, which indicated that the whole victim, not just part of it, was consumed in the fire. This Greek word became the Latin holocaustum, whence is derived our English "holocaust." Because it consumed the entire victim, the holocaust, which is the sacrifice envisaged in this opening chapter of Leviticus, was the most complete form of sacrifice.
The six steps involved in such a sacrifice are described in verses 3-9, which treat of a bovine sacrifice. Nearly identical steps were followed for the holocaust of sheep (verses 1-13) and birds (verses 14-17).
It is clear that a holocaust always involves the sacrifice of a living animal, not a grain or any other form. Those other sacrifices are treated in the next chapter.
Monday, June 16
Leviticus 2: The sacrifice treated in this chapter is the minhah, or grain offering. In this sacrifice, only part of the grain was burned, the remainder being reserved for the household of the priest (verse 2). In addition, the grain could be baked into bread (verses 4-13).
In these latter cases it was important not to use yeast in the baking process, probably because yeast produces fermentation, which is a form of corruption. There was the perceived need to remove all suggestion of corruption from the sacrifice offered to God. Salt, on the other hand, because it is a preservative, was a normal part of this form of sacrifice. Indeed, this aspect of salt rendered it an excellent symbol of the permanence and incorruptibility of God’s covenant with Israel. It was, in truth, a "covenant of salt" (Numbers 18:19). Holy Scripture contains a number of references to this symbolic value of salt (cf. Ezechiel 16:4; 2 Kings 2:20-22; Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:49; Colossians 4:6).
Tuesday, June 17
Leviticus 3: What most English translations of the Bible call the "peace offering" is in the Hebrew text known as the zebah shelamim, a term indicating an oblation which harmonizes or makes perfect. It is an offering in which there is some sort of communion through the shared eating of part of the victim. Hence, unlike the holocaust, the entire victim in this kind of sacrifice is not destroyed by fire; parts of its are eaten by the priests who offer it and those individuals for whom it is offered.
The sacrificial victims offered in this sort of oblation were the ox, the sheep, and the goat; animals of both sexes were acceptable. The sacrifice of the ox is described in verses 1-5, in which special attention is given to the animal’s blood. Because blood especially symbolizes life, it could not be ingested. It had to be sprinkled on the altar, as a sign that all life belongs to God. Similarly, those internal organs more especially associated with the processes of life, such as the intestines, the liver, and the kidneys, were burned in the sacrificial fire. Much the same procedure was followed for the offering of the sheep (verses 6-11) and the goat (verses 12-17).
For reasons that are not clear, the fat of these sacrifices could not be eaten, though there are no prescriptions against eating fat outside of the sacrificial context.
Wednesday, June 18
Leviticus 4: The "sin offering" of this chapter is an expiatory sacrifice that could be made for the priest (verses 1-12), the whole congregation (verses 13-21), the leader (verses 22-26), or any individual who might need it (verse 27 to 5:23).
The Hebrew name for this sacrifice, ’attata’t, literally means "sin," but the meaning is extended to include the consequences of sin and, hence, the sacrifice offered to expiate sin, and thus even the victim offered in that sacrifice. With the term understood in this broad way, we can see that when the Apostle Paul said that Jesus came to "be sin for us" (2 Corinthians 5:21), he meant that Jesus became the victim of that expiatory sacrifice by which atonement was made for our sins. Jesus Himself became the ’attata’t, fulfilling the prophetic dimension of the sacrifices with which this chapter deals.
It should be further noted that these particular sacrifices, although expiatory, are not substitutionary (unlike the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, which was substitutionary but not expiatory). The Bible invariably distinguishes between substitutionary and expiatory sacrifices. It is a fact that the Old Testament system of sacrifice prescribed no substitutionary mactation of a sacrificial victim to atone for a sin that deserved death. That is to say, in the sacrificial system of the Bible, no animal is ever sacrificial to atone for the sin of someone who, because of that sin, deserved to die.
With respect to the death of Jesus on the Cross, we say that He died to atone our sins. In this regard His death was an expiatory sacrifice. When we speak of His death, however, as a substitutionary sacrifice, we indicate that He acted as the true Paschal Lamb, of which those earlier lambs were but symbols and types. Thus, the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was both expiatory and substitutionary; He fulfilled both of these sacrificial types, each in way proper to itself. The death of this "Lamb of God" did what the substitutionary sacrifice of the ancient Paschal lambs was never intended to do — namely, take away the sins of the world.
Thus, Jesus fulfilled all of these ancient sacrifices of the Old Testament. The ‘olah, or holocaust (Chapter 1), by being a complete sacrifice. The minhah, or grain sacrifice (Chapter 2), by granting us, in the breaking of the Bread, to "proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). The zebah shelamim, or "peace offering" (Chapter 3), by sharing with us His own communion with God. The ’attata’t, or sin offering (the present chapter), by taking away the barrier that human sins created between God and the human race.
Thursday, June 19
1 Corinthians 16:13-24: We come now to the closing of First Corinthians, much of which, as usual toward the end of Paul’s letters, consists of the sending of greetings. He speaks of a mission sent to Ephesus, consisting of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (verse 17). He refers to the household of Stephanas as "the first fruits of Achaia" (verse 15), meaning the first household he had baptized in Greece, when he had come there some six years earlier. Evidently Paul’s memory has improved a good deal since he began this epistle, because back in 1:14-16 he had momentarily forgotten that he had even baptized the household of Stephanas!
Paul also sends greetings from Aquila and Prisca (verse 19), who are currently living at Ephesus (Acts 18:18). This couple is very well known at Corinth, of course (Acts 18:1-3). Paul has been dictating this epistle to Sosthenes (1 Corinthians 1:1), who is likewise well known back in Corinth (Acts 18:17), but he takes the pen himself in verse 21. Paul normally does this toward the end of each epistle (Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18; Philemon 9). He began this custom when writing Second Thessalonians, in order to authenticate each epistle as his own (2 Thessalonians 3:17), after he learned of a forgery being circulated in his name (2:2).
Friday, June 20
Acts 3:1-10: Peter and John go up to the temple "at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour." This was late afternoon, the time of the daily evening sacrifice for devout Jews and proselytes (cf. 10:3). As we see in Tertullian and Hippolytus at the beginning of the third century, this hour of prayer was also maintained by Christians, as is the canonical rule unto the present day. In the Christian practice, of course, the "evening sacrifice" is the death of Jesus on the Cross, which also took place at this very hour (cf. Mark 15:34-37). Peter heals the lame man in the powerful name of Jesus (cf. 2:21,38-39; 3:16; 4:7-10), of which we will soon be told that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (4:12). The healed man immediately enters the temple with the two apostles, making quite a scene by his enthusiastic worship. The fairly secular word "amazement" in verse 10 is actually "ecstasy" in Greek, which is a term descriptive of religious experience. The "porch" of Solomon in verse 11 is stoa in Greek, from which was derived the name of philosophers called "Stoics" (cf. 17:18), so named because they studied under Zeno at the Poecile, a colonnaded porch in Athens. As the Fathers of the Church observed in this connection, Luke is thus contrasting the Solomonic wisdom of the Bible with the pagan wisdom of the Hellenic philosophers. Peter will now preach wisdom from that "porch of Solomon."
Saturday, June 21
Acts 3:11-26: The philosophy imagery continues. The "walk" in verse 12 is literally "walk around," in Greek peripatein, the root of "Peripatetic," meaning the philosophy of Aristotle, who "walked around" the Lyceum at Athens discussing thorny questions with his students. Thus, Luke presents us with a Peripatetic on the Stoa! Now Peter, like a good philosopher, sets himself to clear up a misunderstanding (verse 12). Relating his remarks immediately to the theme of his Pentecost sermon, the glorification of Jesus, Peter summarizes the Lord’s trial (verses 13-15) in a way that reflects Luke’s narrative of that trial (cf. Luke 23:4,14,16,20,22). In Acts 3:22, where Peter quotes Deuteronomy, the context provides a subtle word-play in "the Lord God will raise up (anastesei) for you a Prophet." This "raising up" of Jesus (cf. verse 26 too) is, of course, the unifying theme of these first two sermons of Peter. After his citation from Moses, he goes on to announce that "all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow," had borne witness to the very message that he was preaching. This note again fits Luke’s motif of biblical fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. Luke 24:27,45), a motif that had so dominated Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. He finishes by quoting Genesis 22:18, clearly understanding the "seed" (sperma) of Abraham as referring to Jesus (as does Paul in Galatians 3:16).