Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.
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Sunday, June 19
Leviticus 16: We come now to a detailed instruction respecting the Day of Atonement, an instruction broken into two unequal parts. The first (verses 1-28) prescribes the elaborate ritual for the feast, the second treats of related concerns, particularly the associated fasting and the prescribed rest (verses 29-34). These instructions are given to Moses, who is to convey them to his priestly brother Aaron.
The first prescription is a prohibition against the priest's entering into the Holy of Holies except after follow the rest of the ritual prescribed (verse 2). This prohibition refers to the “propitiatory” (kapporet), the golden cover of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:17-22). It is here that God's luminous glory is revealed (Exodus 40:34; Numbers 7:89).
The rite preparatory to Aaron's entrance into the Holy Place includes a sin offering (hatt't) and a burnt offering ('olah), a ritual washing, and a prescribed vesting (verses 2-3). More extensive sacrifices are then prescribed for the priests and the congregation (verses 4-7; cf. Hebrews 7:27-28; 9:7).
One goat is offered in sacrifice. The other, chosen by lot, is not sacrificed but becomes the scapegoat (literally, “the goat that escapes”) that is sent out into the desert, ritually bearing the sins of the people to carry them away (verses 8-10,20-22).
The sacrificial blood of the slain victims was sprinkled on the propitiatory in order to expiate the sins of both the priests and the congregation (verses 11-15; cf. Hebrews 5:1; 9:7,13,25).
One purpose of this latter ritual was to expiate and consecrate the Holy Place itself (verse 16; cf. Hebrews 9:23). From this text it appears that little or no distinction was made between expiation and consecration with respect to the Holy Place. Expiation was a consecratory act, whereby the Holy Place was consecrated through the blood sacrificially offered to God (verses 18-20).
Those animal parts that remained after the sacrifice were to be burned outside the camp (verse 27; Hebrews 13:11).
The Day of Atonement, observed like the Sabbath as a day of rest (verse 31; cf. the theme of rest in Hebrews 3-4) was to be observed annually (verse 34; Hebrews 9:7; 10:3) in the autumn. To accompany this feast the people were to “afflict themselves”; that is, to observe a fast (cf. Isaiah 58:3-5). Because this was the only fasting day prescribed in the Torah, it became known simply as “the Fast” (cf. Acts 27:9).
The imagery of this chapter of Leviticus provides the necessary background and imagery for the large central section of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which interprets the ascension of Jesus into the heavenly sanctuary as the fulfillment of the promise inherent in the ancient ritual and institution of the Day of Atonement.
Monday, June 20
Leviticus 17: The following ten chapters, referred to frequently as the Holiness Code, is a very early collection of precepts, a collection with its own literary integrity. Its underlying theme, which serves as a motive for the precepts themselves, is the holiness of the Lord, a holiness to be recognized and honored in every aspect of Israel's life. This application of respect for the Lord's holiness pertains not only to the precision of the prescribed ritual but also to the entire moral life.
This pertinence of the principle of holiness to the entire human life remains an important element of true holiness for all times, including our own. The Book of Leviticus remains in the Bible so that no one can ever imagine that holiness pertains only to sacral situations. Biblical holiness pertains, rather, to every dimension of our lives. That is to say, God interested, not only in the authenticity of my worship, but also in the sanctity of my entire life.
The present chapter is concerned with the sacred nature of blood, because of which all shedding of blood has about it something akin to sacrifice. The life, or soul, was in the blood (cf. Revelation 6:9-10).
Thus, the shedding of blood was the pouring out of life and represented the handing back of that life to God (verses 3-4). The shed blood, representing the life offered to God, was to be sprinkled on the area of worship, to dedicate and purify the place for worship (verse 6; Hebrews 9:18-22).
Certainly such sacrifices must not be offered to demons-literally, satyrs ( se'irim-verse 7). Indeed, the text prescribes that this practice should not be done “any more” ('od), indicating that the Israelites had engaged in it hitherto. Such an abomination was radically at odds with the holiness to which Israel was called (cf. 2 Kings 23:8).
Verses 8-12 repeat the prescriptions of verses 3-7, adding thee particular applications. First, these rules apply also to non-Israelites sojourning among God's People (verses 8,10,12). Second, these rules apply to all sacrifices, including the holocaust ('olah). Third, all consumption of blood is proscribed, because of its sacral nature as the bearer of life (verse 10). All of this is to say that nephesh habbashir badam, “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (verse 11.
Tuesday, June 21
Leviticus 18: The consideration of blood, which is the symbol and bearer of life, is appropriately followed by regulations concerning sex, the sole means appointed by God for the transmission of life. The biblical laws governing sex are mainly negative and apodictic (as in “Thou shalt not . .”)
The core material embracing the twin concerns in this chapter (listed below) is contained by an introduction (verses 1-5) and a conclusion (verses 24-30). Since the introduction and conclusion lay the foundation for the chapter's core material, we will discuss these first.
The introduction (verses 1-5) establishes the serious tone of the chapter. It is stated, as a first principle, that Israel's sexual behavior is to resemble neither that of Egypt nor that of Canaan, the place that Israel was leaving and the place where Israel was going. The Lord's “judgments and ordinances,” it should be noted here, do not mean that Israel is suddenly faced with “rules” about sex, whereas Egypt and Canaan had no such rules. On the contrary, both Egypt and Canaan had their own sexual ordinances. No nation or culture is without rules and ordinances governing sex, in the sense of social expectations. The important thing, however, is that such expectations be correct and proper, and this is the tone in which Israel is to receive the ordinances of God on this subject. (Our own modern American culture certainly has its rules, or social expectations, on the matter of sex. Alas, they are almost all wrong!)
The conclusion of the chapter takes up once again the theme established in the introduction-namely, Israel's separation from the sexual deviations of the Canaanites, among whom the Israelites will soon be living (verses 24-26). Just as those Canaanites were dispossessed of the Holy Land by reason of committing these abominations, so Israel runs the identical threat (verses 27-28). The teaching of this passage is the same as that of Israel's prophets, who later traced Israel's exile back Israel's copying the behavior of the Canaanites.
Thus framed, the central core of the chapter contains the specific laws governing sex for God's Holy People. These laws do address concrete social questions of two kinds.
First, in a culture where normally all the members belong to the same tribe, it is not surprising to find prohibitions of marriage within identified degrees of consanguinity and affinity (verses 6-18). Questions concerning these matters were bound to arise, and it was imperative to have clear, non-negotiable norms by which to address them.
The various prohibitions regarding consanguinity and affinity govern the household and family, where members of both sexes live in greater proximity than with other people. They are also bound by affections that are not shared outside of the family. Hence, the relationships established within the household are to be regulated with intentional severity, and on this severe code depends the stability of the whole society. A society that does not abhor incest has no future (verses 6-18). If relationships within the family are not closely and strictly governed, society collapses in one generation.
Second, because the experience of sex is so closely related to the imagination, it is inevitable that a society must eventually cope with more “imaginative” expressions of the sexual experience. Hence, there are rules to govern the proper judgment of such matters (verses 19-23). The Sacred Text is understandably severe about sex outside the family, such as adultery (verse 20), homosexuality (verse 22), and bestiality (verse 23).
It is instructive that in the midst of these references there is a prohibition of child sacrifice (verse 21). We gain some sense that sexual offenses and child sacrifice go together, a sense confirming our suspicions that a society that encourages promiscuity will be permissive with respect to the murder of children.
Wednesday, June 22
Leviticus 19: This chapter, like the previous, has its own literary unity, with both an introduction (verses 1-2) and a conclusion (verses 36-37).
Although the ordinances in chapter 18 were concerned specifically with sexual offenses, that chapter did lay down the more general principle that Israel was not to copy the behavior of the Canaanites. The present chapter spells out more implications of that principle. These implications include laws on chastity, a theme that ties this chapter to the previous one, but it also includes rules concerning worship, justice, and the care of one's neighbor.
The chapter's introduction bases the ensuing rules in a deep regard for the holiness of the Lord; because God is holy, God's people must be holy. Israel itself must partake of the “otherness” of God and not conform to the standards of other peoples. That is to say, the idea of the Holy is inseparable from the notion of the Chosen People, and Christian reader recognizes that this theme is every bit as prominent in the New Testament as in the Old. Indeed, the notion of the Chosen People, called to holiness, is not abolished; it is extended.
Taking up concerns contained in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:2-6,8,12; Deuteronomy 5:6-10,12-16), this list of the holiness laws addresses (in reverse order from the Decalogue) the honoring of parents, the keeping of the Sabbath, and the avoidance of idolatry (verses 3-4)>
There follows a set of prescriptions respecting peace offerings (verses 5-8), prescriptions complementary to those we studied in 7:15-19.
One of the duties of holiness is the exercise of compassion for the poor (cf. James 1:27). This compassion forbids the farmer to be thorough in the harvesting of his fields, vines, and trees. He must leave some of his harvest to be gleaned by the poor (verse 9-10; cf. Deuteronomy 24:19-22). The Moabite exile Ruth, an ancestor of Jesus, would in due course be a beneficiary of this provision.
In the following verses (11-18) this social concern is extended to many concomitant duties of charity, justice, and truth. These include the duty of fostering an internal attitude of love for one's neighbor (verses 17-18;; Matthew 22:37-39). This is the context for the prohibition against sexual exploitation (verses 20-22).
Such social concern has even an ecological dimension, which forbids the exploitation of trees that have not yet reached their maturity (verses 23-25).
The prohibitions in verses 26-29 are significant in the context of pagan practices among the Canaanites, who will soon be Israel's neighbors. God's Holy People must not even look like God's enemies. Although these regulations at first may seem insignificant, modern secular customs with respect to clothing and adornment render them pertinent to our own times. Particularly to be noted here are prohibitions against tattoos and bodily piercings, customs especially offensive to those who regard their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. It is still the case that God's people are not to be conformed to the standards of this world.
Thursday, June 23
Leviticus 20: The present chapter prescribes the sanctions (verses 10-21) attached to some of the sexual offenses discussed in chapter 18. Thus there is a close relationship between these two chapters. Nonetheless, the reader detects a literary unity and integrity in the present chapter; it can stand on its own.
A notable feature of Phoenician and Canaanite religion was child sacrifice, which was offered to the god Baal Moloch. The modern reader recognizes in contemporary abortions our own equivalent to that ancient atrocity. We observe here (verses 1-5) that this crime of child-killing, or even a passive complicity in this crime, merits the most severe punishment.
Israel's vocation to holiness also requires respect and honor, not only for God-given posterity, but also for God-given ancestry (verse 9).
Following the general affinities between the present chapter and chapter 18, we observe the parallel between verses 22-26 and 18:24-30. Both texts, which serve as conclusions to their respective chapters, appeal to the general principle that God's people are not to follow the ways of God's enemies.
This spirit of holiness, which requires Israel to accept an either/or with respect to the Lord, took root very deeply in the prophetic movement of the ninth century, chiefly the preaching of Elijah. The tone of the Holiness Code in Leviticus permeates Elijah's message, and it is easy to discern: “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him"(1 Kings 18:21). Likewise, the references to being “cut off from the people” are amply illustrated by Elijah's treatment of the baby-killing prophets of Baal Moloch: “And Elijah said to them, 'Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let one of them escape!' So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Brook Kishon and executed them there” (18:40). In short, there are no compromises with the God of the Bible.
Friday, June 24
Leviticus 21: The next two chapters treat of the special holiness of the priesthood and the sacrifices. The present chapter deals first with all the priests (verses 1-9), then the high priest (verses 10-15), and finally the impediments to the exercise of the priesthood (verses 16-23).
Contact with the dead, which always carries a temporary ritual defilement (Numbers 19:11-19; 31:19,24), is permitted to a priest only when the deceased person is an immediate relative (verses 1-4).
Similarly the priest is restricted with respect to the choice of a wife. He may marry only a virgin (verse 7) or the widow of another priest (Ezekiel 44:22). The daughter of a priest, should she become sexually immoral, is more severely punished than other sinners committing the same crime, for she carries in herself the blood of the priestly family (verse 9).
As for the high priest, he is held to a higher standard in every respect. For instance, he may never render himself ritually impure by handling a dead body, no matter who the dead person may be (verse 11). In addition, in order to avoid all possible contamination, the high priest may never leave the compound of the sanctuary (verse 12). Unlike other priests, he may not marry the widow of another priest (verse 14). Likewise, depending on the meaning “of his people,” it appears that the wife of the high priest must also be of the priestly family (cf. Luke 1:5).
The integrity required of the priest was incompatible with any serious physical blemish or defect (verses 17-24). It would be unseemly and incongruous for unblemished sacrificial animals (1:3,10; 22:22-25) to be offered by a blemished priest. Such a one, however, was not to be deprived of his living; he might continue to partake of the sacrificial meals shared by the priestly family (verse 22).
Saturday, June 25
Leviticus 22: The present chapter, which is devoted to the regulations of sacrifice, may be divided into three parts. The first of these determines the privilege of participation in the sacrificial food (verses 2-16). The second part provides the rules for acceptable sacrificial victims (verses 17-30), and the third is a general conclusion regarding sacrifice (verses 31-33).
With respect to the first part, the text begins by noting that not everyone was qualified to share in those sections of the sacrificial meals reserved to priests (verses 2-3). Those animal parts reserved for the priest's family (6:19-23; 7:7-10,28-34) were not permitted to family members ritually unclean (verses 4-9), nor to the guests or hired servants of priests (verse 10). Permission was given, however, for adopted servants (verse 11), because they were truly members of the priestly household.
Inadvertent violations of these rules were easily remedied (verse 14), but priests wee still to take care to prevent them (verses 15-16).
With respect to the second part, the requirement for unblemished victims pertained only to the sacrifices officially prescribed (verses 17-22). A certain latitude was permitted for sacrifices of supererogation (verses 23).
What was not fit for human consumption was not fit for sacrifice. Thus, a newborn animal could not e sacrificed until it was at least eight days old (verse 27). Similarly, a certain tenderness of sentiment was respected by the prohibition against sacrificing both a parent animal and its offspring on the same day (verse 28).
The more solemn and general conclusion (verses 31-33) suggests a sense that a new subject will be introduced in the next chapter.
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