May 26 – June 2, 2023

Friday, May 26

Leviticus 8: Here begin three chapters (8-10) of stories describing especially the institution of Israel’s priesthood and the inauguration of its priestly worship. This narrative section thus describes various divine commands received by Moses in Exodus 29 and 40. Central to this whole section is the theophany in 9:23-24.

This long account proceeds in three steps, each developed in an individual chapter. Thus, chapter 8 tells of the consecration of Israel’s priests, chapter 9 describes the inauguration of the priestly worship, and chapter 10 narrates the sacrilege and death of two priests that failed in their responsibilities. This last story prompts the pronouncement of further rules to prevent the repetition of such a tragedy.

Chapter 8, which describes the priestly ordination of Aaron and his sons, refers to the Tabernacle (moshken–verse 10; cf. 15:31; 17:4; 26:11). This portable shrine had two parts: the outer part, which is to be identified with the “tent of meeting,” and the inner part, commonly called the “holy of holies” (Hebrews 9:2-3).

Moses was not a priest, but in this chapter we see him, as mediator of the Covenant, ordaining the priests. All priestly ordinations in the Israelite religion go back to what Moses did in this chapter.

We observe that the ordination lasted, like Creation, a whole week (verses 33,35; 12:2; 13:4,5,21,26,31,33,50,54; 14:8,38; 15:13,19,24,28). The number seven, the standard biblical number symbolizing perfection, is important to this chapter. Thus, for instance, some version of the formula “as the Lord commanded” is found here seven times (verses 4,9,13,17,21,29,36). That is to say, the rite of ordination required seven acts of obedience. In fact, this ordination rite follows exactly—to the letter—what was prescribed for ordinations in Exodus 29.

The vestments of the priesthood were sacramental, inasmuch as they not only symbolized the office and authority of the priests, but also were the means through which that office and authority were conferred. The investiture of the priests was part of the consecratory act itself (verses 7-9; Ezekiel 44:19-20).

Also essential to the ordination was the oil with which the priests, the altar, and its instruments were consecrated (verses 10-12). This oil, mixed with the sacrificial blood (verse 30), also consecrated the priestly vestments. The mixing of oil and blood is not found in the Bible except in the rite of ordination.

There seems to be a detailed symbolism in the smearing of the sacrificial blood on the right earlobes, thumbs, and big toes of the priests. These latter were to be consecrated in their obedient hearing of God’s Word, their executing of the ministries through their hands, and their walking into the holy place.

The priestly ordination is called a “fulfillment” (milu’im), evidently indicating that all the prescriptions of the ritual were carried out to perfection (and thus were “valid”). The Septuagint translated this word literally as teleiosis, “perfection” (verses 22,28,31,33; cf. 7:37; Exodus 29:22,26,27,31,34), and the normal Greek verb meaning “to ordain” as teleio, “to perfect” (verse 33; 16:32; 21:10; Exodus 29:9,29,33,35; Numbers 3:3).

It is theologically significant that this same verb is used in the Epistle to the Hebrews to designate the priesthood of Christ (2:10; 5:9; 7:28). It is also the verb used of Christians, who by baptism share in the priesthood of Christ (9:9; 10:14; cf 7:11,19). Consecrated by Jesus’ own sacrificial blood (9:13; 10:22; cf 1 Peter 1:2), they can “approach” or “draw near” to the true sanctuary of which He is the High Priest (4:16; 7:19,25; 10:1,22).

Saturday, May 27

John 17.1-10: It is nearly impossible not to notice for whom Jesus prays this prayer He prays for the Church, that small, beleaguered body of people who clung to him and put all their hope in him. On the morrow these people were to be severely tried, as Jesus himself went to his trials before the Sanhedrin and the Roman governor, and then to his prompt execution as an undesirable agitator.

Jesus prays fervently for this tiny Church gathered around him, a church composed of those who heard his word and declared themselves to be his disciples:

I have manifested Thy Name to the men whom Thou gavest me out of the world; Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to me, and they have kept Thy word. Now they know that everything that Thou hast given me is from Thee; for I have given them the words which Thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from Thee; and they have believed that Thou didst send me.

At the time of Jesus’ prayer, this Church had no body of Sacred Literature except the Hebrew Bible. This Church had no canonical regulations. It possessed no buildings or real estate, and believers were meeting in a rented room upstairs.

This new Church had neither an approved constitution nor a checking account. In fact, while this prayer of Jesus was in progress, the treasurer was in the process of selling the Church’s founder for 30 pieces of silver.

Indeed, this little Church possessed almost nothing that it could even prove it was a religion. If the Apostles had applied for a tax-exempt status, their application would certainly have been investigated by the IRS.

What did this Church have? Well, one of its most precious possession was a set of scrolls, composed in the Hebrew tongue: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. These first Christians were persuaded that this Jewish Bible contained everything they needed to know in order to understand Jesus and to live the life of divine grace. The hearts and minds of those people in the upper room were full of the Hebrew Scriptures. This Bible—with its accounts on Creation, Salvation History, Prophecy, and Covenant—formed the world-view and psychology of those for whom Christ prayed.

Above all, this early Church had a shared experience of faith in Jesus of Nazareth, whom they believed to be God’s very Son and the promised Messiah. They were bound by this common experience in faith.

Pentecost Sunday, May 28

Acts 2.1-21: In this first apostolic sermon, Peter interprets what the crowd in Jerusalem sees and hears. These people have misunderstood everything! It is not surprising that they would ascribe the Pentecostal grace to drunkenness. More seriously, they had misunderstood Jesus. Him they put to death as a criminal, whereas he was actually the Lord’s promised Messiah: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus both Lord and Messiah, whom you crucified.”

Peter elaborates his theme through the interpretation of three OT prophecies—one from Joel and two from the Psalter. We should observe here a line of continuity between the end of Luke’s Gospel and this beginning of Acts. It is the exegetical line. Jesus, as he was about to send the apostles forth to evangelize the world, first opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. Everything must be “as it is written.” Indeed, we know that the day of Resurrection itself was partly devoted to this task (cf. Luke 24:25–27, 44, 45).

It is hardly surprising, then, that the chief apostolic spokesman, even before the arrival of the Holy Spirit, had consulted the Psalter to learn what to do about finding a replacement for Judas. This is a very important theme in the Lukan narrative.

As Luke sees it, the Church’s proper interpretation of Holy Scripture is rooted in what the Lord Himself taught her during those forty days spoken of in Acts 1:3. The correct understanding of the Bible is based on what the Church learned directly from the risen Christ. Her interpretation of Holy Scripture is inseparable from the hearing of the living Lord’s voice (John 20:16), the handling of His flesh (Luke 24:39, 40; 1 John 1:1), the touching of His wounds (John 20:27). The Church’s experience of the risen Christ is the source of all correct understanding of Holy Scripture.

These considerations, moreover, bear a special relevance to the interpretation of the Book of Psalms, for this section of the Bible, which became the Church’s official prayer book for all times, was singled out for specific consideration (Luke 24:44). On the Sunday of the Resurrection, when the Lamb came forward and “took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (Rev. 5:7) and began forthwith to open its seals (6:1), the Church commenced likewise her understanding of the psalms. From that day forward, the prayer of the Church would be rooted in the vision that the Lord gave her in His opening of the Psalter.

Peter’s sermon bears instant fruit. Now when they heard,” wrote Luke, “they were smitten in heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

Church history begins when men are smitten in heart at hearing the proclamation of Jesus as risen Lord and Messiah. The Gospel is directed to the heart and is intended to smite and stun the heart. Repentance and faith are a cardiac experience.

Monday, May 29

John 17.11-19: Jesus, in his prayer for the Church, was clearly concerned about its relationship to what he called “the world.” He prayed,

I have manifested Thy Name to the men whom Thou gavest me out of the world. . . . I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom Thou hast given me, for they are Thine And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy Name. . . . While I was with them, I kept them in Thy Name, which Thou have given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost . . . .

This particular concern was clearly uppermost in the mind of Christ when he made this prayer for the Church. He speaks of “guarding, keeping, and protecting the Church” from the world.

In the Gospel of John this “world” is understood to be the forces of unbelief and darkness, the deep darkness of Egypt, the blindness of Sodom, which enveloped this upper room where the Church was assemble. When its treasurer left that assembly, John tells us, he walked out into the darkness, “and it was night.”

The prayer of Jesus draws a sharp line between the Church and the world. Just as he came into the world, as a light into darkness, so his disciples were to be in the world. And this presence in the world he perceived to be the source of great but unavoidable danger. So he prayed his Father to “keep” them safe from the world. He besought his Father not to permit the world to contaminate them. Instructed by the recent treachery of a thief in their midst, a man who would sell out any one of them for personal gain, he prayed that these disciples would be preserved from danger. He besought the Father not to permit any one of them—like Esau—to abandon his blessing and forfeit his birthright for a pot of soup.

On the contrary, they were not to be of the world in the same way that Jesus himself was not of the world. Christian unworldliness was to be modeled on the unworldliness of Jesus himself.

During this season, we read the Acts of the Apostles, the first volume on the history of the Church. This rather complex story goes from Pentecost to sometime around the year 62. In this account we are presented with the first fruits of the prayer in John 17, the story of the body of believers, chosen out of the world and called to live unworldly lives.

Tuesday, May 30

Acts 2.36-47: The summary of the response to Peter’s first sermon includes (in verse 42) the three constitutive components of the Church’s liturgical life: First, the authoritative proclamation of the Word of God (“the apostles’ doctrine”); second, the serving of the Sacraments (“the Communion, the breaking of the Bread”); third, common worship (“prayers”). It is in these three things that the “baptized” (verse 41) are to “continue steadfastly.”

Their practice of “holding all things in common” should not be interpreted in a legal sense of ownership (cf. 5:4) but with respect to their operative attitude toward their possessions. It is significant that this attitude is mentioned in the immediate context of the Church’s liturgical life. It was from the beginning that the Church made “collections” of material resources at the common worship, particularly the Eucharist.

All the components of the liturgical worship mentioned here are also found in our earliest extant description of the Eucharistic Liturgy by Justin Martyr (Apologia Prima 67) in the mid-second century. That first generation of Christians maintained their worship in the temple (Luke 24:53) as well as the Eucharistic communion in their homes (Acts 2:46). Like Jesus (Luke 2:27,49; 19:45; 22:53), they used the temple as a missionary forum (Acts 3:11; 4:2; 5:20-21,42).

Leviticus 9: We come now to this book’s first reference to the “eighth day” (verse 1), a symbolic time that will become a virtual theme in Leviticus (12:3;14:1023;14:14,29; 22:27; 23:36,39). Because seven days represents the work (and rest) associated with Creation, the eighth day signifies the beginning of history, the work of man that follows the work of God. It is the new day of the new week. Hence it represents renewal.

For this reason, it is the day that separates the Israelite from the rest of the human race. As all men were created during the first week, so the sons of the Covenant are created on the first day of the second week. Hence, circumcision takes place on the eighth day.

If this eighth day was so important for the Jew, how much more for the Christian! The eighth day, after all, is Sunday, the day of light. One likewise recalls that the traditional baptismal fonts of the Church are commonly octagonal, in accordance with the number eight associated with Baptism, the beginning of the new life (cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21).

The whole congregation “approaches” (qarab) and “takes its stand” (‘amad) before God (verse 5).

To “approach” or “draw nigh” suggests the intimacy of worship (cf. Hebrews 10:22), whereas “standing” indicates the respect due to the majesty of God. The latter word, for example, is used with respect to throne rooms (cf. 1 Kings 1:28). The priest always stands before God (Deut 10:8; 2 Chronicles 29:11; Hebrews 10:11).

This chapter twice refers to “the glory of the Lord” (verses 6,23), the divine radiance that prompts the respect and reverence indicated by the “standing” of verse 5.

Israel has beheld this divine glory in the desert (Exodus 16:7,10), on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:18,22), and at the consecration of the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35), which will become the regular place of its appearance (Numbers 14:10; 16:19,42; 20:6).

Wednesday, May 31

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.”

Leviticus 10: The prohibition against drinking alcohol prior to divine services (verse 8) immediately follows the tragic account of Nadab and Abihu (verses 1-7), a fact suggesting that these two priests may have been intoxicated when they undertook the unauthorized liturgical rite that cost them their lives.

In any case this latter incident discloses the danger inherent in divine worship. This probably needs to be emphasized, because some of those who drive off to church each Sunday morning seem not to be aware that they are placing their very souls in peril. (Otherwise they would be dressed with modesty and dignity, arrive on time, stay until the service is over, and avoid distraction and gossip while they are in church.)

Worship, after all, is encounter with God, and God is anything but safe. Throughout Holy Scripture, therefore, we find the theme of danger with respect to the things of God, particularly the rites and appointments associated with the divine worship. Nowhere in Holy Scripture is worship portrayed as completely safe.

Thursday, June 1

Leviticus 11: We come now to five chapters specifying many rules concerning ritual purity and impurity. These rules form a logical sequence after the story of Nadab and Abihu, who perished from their thoughtlessness about the holiness required in God’s true worship. They also prepare the reader for the section on Yom Kippur (chapter 16), which provides a general rite of purification. These five chapters, then, join Yom Kippur back to the tragedy of Nadab and Abihu.

This section, which interrupts the narrative of Leviticus, is sometimes called the Manual of Purity. Its structure consists of six divine revelations: four to Moses and Aaron (11:1; 13:1; 14:33; 15:1), and two to Moses alone (12:1; 14:1). In these three instances, when the subject matter of the revelation is intended for the general instruction of the Israelites as God’s holy people, Moses is instructed to hand the material on to them (11:2; 12:2; 15:2). Each of these revelations concludes with a summation of the material contained (11:46-47; 12:7; 13:59; 14:32,54-57; 15:32-33). The final revelation ends with a general summary (15:31).

This first chapter deals with the difference between “clean” and “unclean” meats, both adjectives being understood in a ritual and cultic sense. The distinguishing characteristics of these two classifications were probably more obvious at the time than they are to us, but this consideration is not important to the theology of the chapter. In principle, the Israelites are to be governed, even in their diet, by distinctions that do not govern the rest of mankind. This restricted diet was a sign of the holiness of God’s people. Why God chose to make one animal “clean” and “another” unclean is, after all, a matter that can safely be left to God.

That principle established, it is worth reflecting on the Bible’s general classification of the animal world into wild, tame, and swarming (Genesis 1:26). Only the tame animals, the domesticated animals, properly share in man’s daily life. Some of these could be used for food (sheep, cattle), others for labor (horses, oxen). No animal could be used for both.

Among wild animals, preference is shown for animals that feed on grass, not those that feed on flesh. Those animals that feed on carrion (vultures, bottom-feeder fish) are unclean.

For two reasons these rules do not govern the diets of Christians (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:9-16):

First, Gospel purity is of a more spiritual nature. This is why the determining factor for dietary purity in the Christian Church is related to demon worship (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:21).

Second, the distinction between Israelite and Gentile, a distinction expressed in these ancient dietary laws, is destroyed by the common source of holiness, which is the sanctifying blood of Christ.

Friday, June 2

Acts 4.1-12: We now come to the first arrest of Christians and their first trial before the Sanhedrin. There was surely reason for concern on the part of the Sanhedrin, because the number of Christian converts, as a result of Peter’s brief sermon, had grown dramatically (verse 4). There will ensue a mounting local persecution, leading to the dispersal of the believers at the beginning of Chapter 8.

The Sadducees, direct successors of those “sons of Zadok” that we read about in Ezekiel, are the first to be offended (verses 2,3,5,6; cf. also 5:17). Unlike the Pharisees, they did not believe in a doctrine of resurrection, so when the apostles are brought to trial, the Sadducees were careful not to mention why they had been arrested! The whole affair having begun, as we saw, in late afternoon, it is now too late for court business, so the apostles are thrown in jail for the night (verse3).

The chief leaders of the Sadducees, the priests Annas and Caiphas, had been the instigators of the trial of Jesus, and now two of His apostles will appear before the same group. As on Pentecost day, Peter is “full of the Holy Spirit” (verse 8), and his brief testimony, which includes the exegesis of a Psalm verse (cf. Luke 20:17 as well), summarizes his Pentecost sermon. It was also a Psalm verse, by the way, to which Peter would return several years later (cf. 1 Peter 2:7).

Leviticus 12: Among all the purification rules in Leviticus, those contained in this shortest chapter of the book are probably the most offensive to modern sensibilities. It is very difficult for us today to think of childbirth as “defiling.”

If we look a bit more deeply into the subject, however, the meaning of these prescriptions will become clearer. The defilement involved here has to do with the shedding of blood, which is normal in childbirth. It is the impurity of the bloodshed that must be purified.

This point will perhaps be clearer if we remember how we speak of “purifying” the chalice after everyone has received Holy Communion. We use this expression even though what must be “purified” from the Eucharistic chalice is the blood of Christ! That is to say, the word “purification,” used in a ritual context, does not necessarily mean that something is dirty. The woman is no more “defiled” by childbirth than the chalice is defiled by the Blessed Sacrament. In matters of ritual, the word “purify” means something different.

We recall that the last of the Queen Mothers of Judah was subject to the prescriptions contained in this chapter (Luke 2:22-24). The Holy Family being poor, the redemption in this case was effected by two small birds, not by the customary lamb (verse 8; Exodus 13:2,12; Nehemiah 10:36).

With respect to the abysmal (but apparently widespread) custom of requiring Christian women nowadays to observe forty days of seclusion and absence from the worship of the Church following childbirth, one hardly knows whether to weep or just to feel embarrassed. Like the other prescriptions in Leviticus, such rules were for those living under the old law, not the Gospel. The continued value of such prescriptions lies entirely in their prophetic quality, not in their practical application to Christians.