Podcast Episode

The Law of the Blasphemer

Blasphemy, principles of restitution, jubilee, exile, and the mercy and justice of God—it’s all there in the final lines of the scroll of Leviticus. Join Tim and Jon as they talk about the great gift and responsibility of carrying Yahweh’s name and discuss the wisdom and surprising hope of the Law that’s finally fulfilled in Jesus.

Episode 9
1hr 9m
Jul 25, 2022
Play Episode
Show Notes


The priests have to pay attention to how they take care of the tent and the tabernacle. But the Israelites, what do they care for? The tent isn’t their responsibility—that’s for the priests. So what we are going to see in this section is a motif that: what Israelites care for, the holy thing that they possess in their midst, is the name of Yahweh.


  • If the priests’ special duty was to care for the holiness of the tabernacle, the responsibility of the nation of Israel was to preserve the holiness of Yahweh’s name.
  • Yahweh’s name represents the way God and humanity meet together, so to defile his name is to strain the entire relationship between God and humanity.
  • The scroll of Leviticus concludes with Yahweh’s promise of mercy, to preserve a remnant of his people and bring them back from exile if they fail to keep his law and incur judgment. This principle is finally fulfilled in Jesus.
  • God’s laws were never bad––humanity just failed to keep them. So Jesus became a curse for us, taking the punishment for breaking the law upon himself so that we can share in Yahweh’s holiness and presence.

Israel’s Priestly Responsibility

In part one (00:00-18:22), Tim and Jon jump into our final conversation about the scroll of Leviticus by reviewing the book’s structure and its significance to the Torah. Located in the middle of the Torah, Leviticus is both literally and figuratively at its heart, its message reflecting the themes of each scroll within the Torah.

From the opening of the story of the Bible, God’s mission has been to dwell with humanity, but humans keep making that impossible. When Leviticus opens, Israel has agreed to the terms of a covenant with Yahweh, and the scroll is all about how God moves into the tabernacle in Israel’s camp. Yahweh’s presence is both good and dangerous, and keeping the laws of Leviticus is the way Israel can preserve their unity with Yahweh without jeopardizing their lives.

These laws transform Israel into people who are holy like their God so that they can stand out among the nations. In this final movement of Leviticus, we’ve been examining how the laws governing Israel’s time (i.e. Sabbaths, feasts, etc.) are one of the primary means by which Israel declares loyalty to Yahweh and is transformed as a nation.

In this final section of Leviticus, we turn our attention to a repeated phrase: “the name of Yahweh.” If the priests’ special duty was to care for the holiness of the tabernacle, the responsibility of the nation of Israel was to preserve the holiness of Yahweh’s name. There are a number of ways Israel could defile God’s name—taking something that belongs uniquely to Yahweh and treating it like they could do anything they wanted with it. Defiling Yahweh’s name might look like child sacrifice, invoking Yahweh’s name for a false promise, or simply taking Yahweh’s name and presence lightly.

The Blasphemer

In part two (18:22-31:17), Tim and Jon explore a strange little story about a man who profanes Yahweh’s name in Leviticus 24. In this story, a man of Israelite-Egyptian descent gets into a fight with another Israelite and qalels the name of Yahweh. When the author of Leviticus talks about profaning Yahweh’s name, he usually uses the word khalel, which means “to make common.” Qalel means “to dishonor,” so it’s likely that this man did something like use Yahweh’s name as a curse word.

Leviticus 24:13-16 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the one who has cursed outside the camp, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then let all the congregation stone him. … The one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the name, shall be put to death.”

The name of Yahweh is a holy, sacred object that the people of Israel carry together. What the name is to your average Israelite is what the tabernacle is to the priests. Dishonoring Yahweh’s name then is akin to the sin of Nadab and Abihu when they inappropriately entered Yahweh’s holy space and profaned it.

The Name of the God Who Is Fire

In part three (31:17-44:54), Tim and Jon explore the rest of Leviticus 24. Following the death sentence Yahweh pronounces upon the blasphemer, is the famous “eye for an eye” principle.

Leviticus 24:17-20 If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. The one who takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life. If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.

While this law may seem harsh, and like a license for revenge, it’s actually the opposite. This law places limits on retribution—justice can be done in equal measure and no more.

Notice too that the punishment for blaspheming Yahweh’s name is the same as the punishment for committing murder—the guilty person loses his life. This means Yahweh’s name has greater value than we might initially think. Yahweh’s name represents the way God and humanity meet together, so to defile his name is to strain the entire relationship between God and humanity. Carrying the name of Yahweh is a gift, as well as a great and dangerous responsibility when you’re dealing with this God.

The Year of Jubilee

In part four (44:54-1:08:33), Tim and Jon discuss the significance of the law of the blasphemer. This strange little story is sandwiched between further instructions about the Sabbath. The rest of Leviticus is about the year of Jubilee and the anti-Jubilee, exile.

Leviticus 25 contains instructions for the Year of Jubilee. Every seventh year, Israel was to let their land take a Sabbath (rest without any agricultural development) for an entire year. Every 49th (seven-times-seven) year, Israel was to give the land an additional year of rest during the 50th year. That year was called the Year of Jubilee. Amazing things happened during this year. Families that had been forced to sell their land to pay debts would get their land back, debts were forgiven, slaves were freed. The Year of Jubilee was a time of liberation for all people.

Leviticus 25:23 The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with me.

Jubilee reminded Israel that Yahweh was the real owner of their land. In the final chapters of Leviticus, Yahweh promises to bless Israel and make their land like Eden if they obey his commands. However, he also promises to punish them seven times more than his blessing if they continue in sin.

This part of the story of the Bible can feel really intense (and maybe even harsh). It’s important to remember that the Hebrew Bible is an unfolding mosaic in which each story gives us different pieces of Yahweh’s character. In this part of the story, we see how Yahweh relates to his covenant partners––if they turn on him, they are more culpable than all the other nations. God’s principle of Sabbath abundance for his people will invert into a curse.

Israel eventually fails to keep Yahweh’s laws,getting to the point where they regularly commit national idolatry and worship other gods. However, the scroll of Leviticus concludes with Yahweh’s promise to always preserve a remnant of his people and to bring them back to their land. Yahweh’s final word to his people is merciful, the greatest example of which is the final fulfillment of the law in Jesus. God’s laws were never bad—humanity just failed to keep them. So Jesus became a curse for us, taking the punishment for breaking the law upon himself so that we can share in Yahweh’s holiness and presence.

Referenced Resources

  • S. Tamar Kamionkowski
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience the literary themes and movements we’re tracing on the podcast in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • "Sails" by Strehlow & Aylior
  • "Wonderful" by Beautiful Eulogy
  • "A Bridge Between" by Beautiful Eulogy

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel, Tyler Bailey, and Frank Garza. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by MacKenzie Buxman.

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Scripture References
Daniel 9
Romans 7-8
Matthew 5:38-48
Leviticus 16
Leviticus 25:23
Leviticus 25
Leviticus 10
Genesis 4
Genesis 8:1
Leviticus 21:1-5
Leviticus 21:10-12
Leviticus 22:31-32
Leviticus 24:10-16
Leviticus 19:12
Matthew 12:31
Exodus 7:5
Leviticus 24:17-23
2 Samuel 6:1-11
Jeremiah 33:6-8
Leviticus 26:1-13
Leviticus 26:32-35
Leviticus 26:36-45
Galatians 3:10-14
Deuteronomy 27:26
Deuteronomy 21:3
Luke 24:46-48
1 Corinthians 5:1-13

The Law of the Blasphemer

Series: Leviticus Scroll E9

Speakers in the audio file: Jon Collins, Tim Mackie

Jon: This is our last conversation in the scroll of Leviticus, the Israelites are in the wilderness, they've made a covenant with God who has now settled in their midst in a sacred tense called the tabernacle. And God wants Israel to come near to him and so he provides Israel a sacrificial system which is administered by the priests. It's a sacred task being a priest, going into [00:00:30] the hot spots of God's presence on behalf of Israel.

Tim: The priests have to pay attention to how they take care of the tabernacle. The Israelites, what do they care for? Like the tent isn't their responsibility, that's for the priests. So we're gonna see in the section is that developing motif that what Israelite's care for, the holy thing that they possess in their midst is the name of Yahweh, whose name they carry. And so, there's this repeated phrase, one of the most repeated phrases through Leviticus 17:27 about defiling Yahweh's name.

Jon: [00:01:00] Don't defile Yahweh's name. To defile something is to take something that is holy and treat it like it's common and we find out defiling Yahweh's name is a big deal.

Tim: Because you're taking something that's Yahweh's, uniquely Yahweh's, and you're treating it like it's yours, like you can do what you want with it.

Jon: If you remember back in Exodus, Israel gets the Ten Commandments and the third commandment is don't take the Lord's name in vain, better translated, don't carry [00:01:30] the Lord's name in vain. In other words, take this seriously, you are making a covenant with the creator God, the source of all life.

Tim: It's Yahweh's name and holiness that is keeping you all alive out here in the desert.

Jon: And so don't defile the name. 

Tim: People who dishonor the sacred gift of Yahweh's person and presence and name in their midst. It's like you're sawing off the branch that you're sitting on.

Jon: So, we'll look at the ways that Israel [00:02:00] can defile God's name. And at the center of it is a confusing little story. It's short and cryptic and a little disturbing.

Tim: It's a little narrative parable that is commenting on the larger themes of this section that this is the people set apart for life and to bear Yahweh's name.

Jon: I'm Jon Collins, this is BibleProject podcast. Today, Tim Mackie and I explore the law of the blasphemer. Thanks for joining us, here we go. [00:02:30] Hey, Tim.

Tim: Hey, John.

Jon: This is it; this is our last stop.

Tim: In Leviticus. 

Jon: In Leviticus. 

Tim: Yeah, we'll have logged nine conversations in Leviticus, and I feel like we just scratched the surface of all the goodies that are in here. But we've taken a good dive into the book into its main themes and design. 

Jon: This has been really rewarding for me. I don't spend much time at all on [00:03:00] this book. I mean, really, ever. 

Tim: (laughs) Yeah. 

Jon: Except for every once in a while, someone like points out an obscure law from it or something and you're like, "Oh, yeah, that's in there."

Tim: So maybe one more time, I'll just do a quick overview of the book. So Leviticus, it's the center scroll of the five scrolls of the Torah. But even within the shape of that five scrolls, you have Genesis and Deuteronomy as the outer bookend so to speak. And inside of that is three scrolls that really link together in an important sequence. Exodus, Leviticus, [00:03:30] Numbers, and Leviticus is the heart of that central set of stories. So God is on a mission to find a human partner to rule Heaven and Earth with so that God's image and character can be displayed to the nations of the earth through a human partner. 

And so, at this point in the story, God has chosen the nation of Israel, entered into a covenant partnership with them at Mount Sinai. And then once the people said, "Yes, double [00:04:00] thumbs up. We wanna partner with Yahweh." I think God says, "Great, let's move in." And so he has a special sacred tent constructed, and he comes to live among his people and that's how the book of Leviticus begins, with the crisis of God coming to live among his people. He thought it was great, and it is great, but it is also dangerous, which is why Moses can't go in at the end of Exodus. So God, in the first movement of Leviticus, [00:04:30] provided a way for his people to come near through sacrifices and offerings, that's chapters 1 through 7. 

And then once his people do come near, the second movement of Leviticus chapters 8 through 16, God appoints and ordains Israel's priests, a subset within Israel, come near on behalf of the nation. And on the first day on the job, two of the priests just blow it big time and they do what Yahweh has not commanded them to do. So [00:05:00] they die, those two priests die on the spot on day one, bummer. And that creates another crisis, that there's death, dead bodies, introduced into the very hotspot of the source of life. And so God tells Aaron and the remaining sons to stop drinking before they come into the tent so that they have a sober mind of wisdom to teach Israel the difference between holy and common, between purity and impurity. Then [00:05:30] purity and impurity sets the tone for the rest of chapters 11 through 16 leading up to the Day of Atonement when Israel's impurities are dealt with once a year. 

Jon: And their sins— 

Tim: Are sent off into exile. That's right, and so that leaves for this last part of the book, now that the way of Yahweh has been opened back up again to live among his people, even though they're impure and morally compromised, he wants to live in their midst, the Day of Atonement [00:06:00] and all the offerings make that possible. So now that Yahweh comes to live among his people, what's the goal? The goal is that the tent facilitates a meeting between Yahweh and his people so that they can become more and more holy and set apart and more faithful images of God's character in the world. And so we looked at the laws given for the holiness of the people and we also looked at the way Sabbath and the structures [00:06:30] of time in the liturgy of time in Israel was all designed to make them people whose whole lives are oriented around the way of the Lord. And that's the section of the book that we're in near the end here. How was that?

Jon: That's great, that's good summary. And here at the end we talked about the Sabbath as his weekly time ritual. And then seven we might call festivals.

Jon: Mo’ed, mo’ed. 

Tim: A mo’ed is one of those meeting times. And then [00:07:00] the mo’edim—

Jon: The mo’edim. 

Tim: Is the meeting times.

Jon: The meeting time. 

Tim: Yeah, yeah. 

Jon: And so, there's seven of them. He walks through those … And they're all shaping you to live in this rhythm through the practice of time and place.

Tim: Yep, and also the daily lights of the seven-lamp menorah that are tended to every morning and evening and then the Sabbath bread that's replaced. And so all of that the seven meeting times, the daily lights shining [00:07:30] on the Sabbath bread that's renewed every seventh day. It's all an image, it's an ideal symbolic ritual image of the way Israel is re-created as it basks in the glory of Yahweh’s light and experiences rest and Eden throughout the meeting times of the year. And you're like, "Hooray, I mean, we're not back in Eden but we've got a little Eden outpost among the people If they live this way.” Uh, this is great. What could go wrong? 

Jon: (laughs).

Tim: And [00:08:00] it is sort of like Pavlov's dogs, you know, the famous—Was it a bell ringing?

Jon: Yeah, ringing a bell. 

Tim: And they would start to salivate.

Jon: Yeah, because the bell is associated with getting food. 

Tim: Okay. So yeah, they would ring a bell, give dogs food so many times, then they could just ring a bell and the dogs would salivate. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: That's Pavlov's dogs. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: All right, so right around the time that you're hearing the bells (laughing) of the seventh-day rest and food and feasting—

Jon: We're ready for the fall. 

Tim: And you're like, [00:08:30] “This is great," you're just, by this point in the Hebrew Bible you know something's about to go terribly, terribly wrong and something is gonna go wrong. But before we get there, I want us to follow up some tracks that have been laid to get us to this place up to this point. So in this final movement of the book, there is a particular phrase that's repeated over and over and over and over again about Yahweh his name. So here's what's interesting, even though the tent is in the middle of the camp of Israel, the [00:09:00] tabernacle is. And it's bounded by a courtyard screen fence. And so the Israelites, if they're pure, they can go into that courtyard—

Jon: To do their sacrifices there in the courtyard. 

Tim: Yup, that's right. But it's not like kids are going there to play soccer you know.

Jon: Right, yeah, it's a dedicated holy space. 

Tim: Yeah, so it's a fairly limited access. 

Jon: And it's not that big. 

Tim: Sure, that's right, that's right. But even so, the fact that it's bounded by that screen means it's not, an Israelite can go in [00:09:30] there but if you're there to do business with Yahweh through the priest. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: But for the most part, it's the priest's space. If something goes wrong in there, it's the priest's fault, because they didn't do the liturgy right. But here in this section of the book, there's this emphasis, it's the first time that God speaks to all the Israelites in the book of Leviticus. And the laws that we looked at— 

Jon: The holiness laws. 

Tim: The holiness laws are for all the people. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: And remember, these are a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, one of the Ten Commandments is " [00:10:00] Don't carry the name of Yahweh in vain." In a way that frustrates the purpose for which God called you to be his representatives. And so, the priests have to pay attention to how they take care of the tent and the tabernacle. For the Israelites, what do they care for? Like the tent isn't their responsibility that's for the priests. So we're gonna see in the section is a developing motif that what the Israelites' care for the holy thing that they [00:10:30] possess in their midst is the name of Yahweh, whose name they carry. And so there's this repeated phrase all through, it's one of the most repeated phrases through Leviticus 17:27 about defiling Yahweh's name, it's the verb of the word “common” or “profane.” 

Jon: Okay. 

Tim: So there's that binary, there's holy, set apart, yeah, for Yahweh and then there's what's common.

Jon: And common is not bad. 

Tim: No, no. 

Jon: And it's a starting [00:11:00] place that's neutral but making something that is holy and treating it as common is bad.

Tim: Yeah, because you're taking something that's Yahweh's, uniquely Yahweh's, and you're treating it like it's yours. Like, you can do what you want with it. So this would be like the priest, you know, somebody's bringing a sacrifice and the priest just like nabs it and is like, "Ooh that's a really nice goat that Mosha just brought in here. You know what I'm gonna before anybody, Mosha," [00:11:30] you know just, you know grabs it and takes it to his house, that'd be defiling something that belongs to Yahweh. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: So in this section of the book—

Jon: Defiling means making something common that was holy.

Tim: Yeah, something that is set apart for the presence, the purpose of Yahweh and treating it—

Jon: As just normal everyday wear and tear.

Tim: Yeah, and that can be degrading it. That can be treating it like it's normal and not special, treating it like it's mine instead of recognizing [00:12:00] it belongs, there's lots of ways. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: So I just want to do a quick survey, here are different ways that Israelites can defile the name of Yahweh in this section of the book. So, here's the command, "You Israelites shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Moloch," who's a like underworld deity of the dead. And so, "Don't profane the name of your God, I am Yahweh." So sacrificing your children to another god [00:12:30] is taking the reputation of Yahweh and degrading it, defiling it.

Jon: I can see why that makes the list (laughing).

Tim: So, here is one, "When you offer a sacrifice, a peace offering to the Lord," so this is one of the offerings where you take an animal and it slaughtered, it's blood, its life is offered over, surrendered over, to Yahweh, but you get a bunch of meat back. 

Jon: Yup. 

Tim: So make sure you eat it on the same day, [00:13:00] you have two days to have a party with the meat. But if you eat it on the third day or any day after, no good, you are profaning that holy thing of the Lord. So, you're taking that thing that Yahweh gave back to you and you're trying to milk it for, it's kind of like use it as a gift have a big party. And if you have some leftover, I guess it means you haven't shared enough (laughs).

Jon: Is it also this is a sanitation thing [00:13:30] maybe too? 

Tim: It could be, but what's interesting is if you keep this offering for too long—

Jon: Yeah, you're defiling, you're making common … 

Tim: You're making common this— 

Jon: The thing that's—

Tim: The thing that actually belongs to Yahweh.

Jon: It's set apart for a purpose. 

Tim: Yeah, Yahweh loaned the animal back to you to have a party. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: To share and celebrate, isn't that interesting?

Jon: It is, but you're not profaning the name, you're not defiling the name? 

Tim: Yeah, you're profaning that holy thing. "Don't swear a false oath by my name and so [00:14:00] profane the name of Yahweh.”

Jon: False oath … 

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: … defiles his name. 

Tim: “I swear by the name of Yahweh I'll pay you back for that meal next week.” 

Jon: (laughs).

Tim: And then next week comes around you're like, "Oh, well, sorry, I just, uh, next week, maybe?" You know, so you use—

Jon: You use Yahweh's name for a promise, an oath.

Tim: Yeah, to bolster your credibility which you knew was, it was fake. You're just abusing Yahweh's credibility, isn't that interesting? That's [00:14:30] the one way to do it. 

The priests, if someone dies in the priest's family, the priest cannot go and bury, touch the dead body of a relative unless it's his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, or his brother or sister. Anybody else, he will profane himself. Then speaking of burying people, a priest is not to shave their head, shave off their beard or make any cuts in the flesh. We're talking here about mourning [00:15:00] rituals, like grieving rituals.

Jon: Oh, okay, those are all grieving rituals? 

Tim: Yeah, shaving—

Jon: Shaving your head. 

Tim: Yup, shaving your head, cutting yourself, these are things that Job does. 

Jon: Oh, yeah. 

Tim: Yeah, the priests are to be holy to Yahweh their God and not profane the name of Yahweh. So, priests can profane the name of Yahweh by taking on physical likenesses of death as they grieve for the dead. 

Jon: Because they're supposed to represent the ideal human [00:15:30] going into God's presence and so, it's like making themselves common, which is going to make the whole thing … 

Tim: Totally. 

Jon: … common.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. Let's see the ooh, the high priest cannot touch any dead body of any member of his family. He is not to leave the sanctuary; he will profane it if he does. So, the high priest is like he belongs to Yahweh, he doesn't really get to have a life. It's kind of an intense job. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: So [00:16:00] you get a conclusion here in chapter 22. So "You all shall keep my commandments and do them, I am Yahweh. Do not profane my holy name, but rather I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel.” 

Jon: Sanctified. 

Tim: Yeah, this is God's saying this. 

Jon: Is sanctify something as to purify it? Is that right?

Tim: Yeah, or to treat it as holy. 

Jon: To sanctify something is to treat as holy, okay. 

Tim: To become holy, to transfer into the realm of the holy.

Jon: Ah, from common to holy, that's [00:16:30] the sanctification process, that's right. 

Tim: Yeah, so "Don't treat my holy name as something common." 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: "Rather, I will be treated as holy, by the sons of Israel. I am Yahweh who makes you holy." So, I'm the one who makes you holy. If you treat me as if I'm not holy, you're only damaging your own ecosystem here of holiness. Uh, this is an interesting line, Leviticus 22, verse 32, "Don't treat my holy name [00:17:00] as if it's not holy, I will be treated as holy among you. I'm the one who makes you holy in the first place." So it's sort of like if you treat me as if I'm something other than I really am, like, trust me, you don't want to go down that road, it will not end well for you. 

So notice how prominent this phrase appears 16 times in this section right here of Chapters 17 through 22. This idea of appears one more time in the book and it's in this [00:17:30] odd little story that we're looking at right here. And it's sandwiched right in between the list of the meeting places of Yahweh and his people and then the story about the Jubilee year, and the story goes something like this.

[00:18:00] “Now, there was a son of an Israelite woman whose father was an Egyptian.” And [00:18:30] so that son who's half Israelite, half Egyptian, so an Egyptian would be— 

Jon: Do you think the father is with them? Do you think the father came?

Tim: Yeah, it doesn't say, it doesn't say. So, it could be that the father is an immigrant. Or it could be that the father was an Egyptian like back when they were in Egypt, because they've only been gone— 

Jon: Yeah, less than a year. 

Tim: Yeah, less than a year, it doesn't say. Nonetheless, he's half Israelite, half Egyptian and he “went out among the sons of Israel” and the Israelite [00:19:00] woman's son and then a man who was a full Israelite, well they got into a fight with each other in the camp. And the son of the Israelite woman pierced the name and treated as cursed. 

Jon: Treated the name as cursed? 

Tim: Yeah, there's no object of the verb to treat as cursed, it's awkward in Hebrew. The son of the Israelite woman pierced the name and treated it as cursed. Presumably treated [00:19:30] the name as cursed. 

Jon: Right. 

Tim: Yeah, so they brought this guy in front of Moses. Oh, and you should know, his mother's name was Payback, Shlomiyth. 

Jon: Okay. 

Tim: From the word “shalom,” which means to befall. 

Jon: Okay, complete. 

Tim: Yeah, to be either repaid in full, or shalom is wholeness. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: Yeah, his mom's name was Payback, Shlomiyth, the daughter of My Word, Dibri, from the tribe of Judgment, Dan. [00:20:00] (laughs) and so, they rested him in a keeping place so that the command of Yahweh might become clear to them. 

Jon: They arrested him in a keeping place? 

Tim: Yeah, yeah. 

Jon: This is really, it's really cryptic language.

Tim: It's the Hebrew Bible, what do you expect? So, to rest him means to, on the narrative level, to like set him and put him. But this is what God does to the human when he makes the human of the dirt and then puts him in— 

Jon: Oh, [00:20:30] he rests in the garden. 

Tim: In the garden and then says to the human to work the land and keep it. And here they put him in a keeping place. 

Jon: Okay.

Tim: Because remember the tent creates a little Eden in the middle of the wilderness. So they put him in a keeping place, and they need to hear what Yahweh, they don't know what to do.

Jon: So, to be clear, this guy was in a fight. 

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: He's half Israelite, half Egyptian, he's in a fight. 

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: And he pierces the name (laughing) and treats it as cursed.

Tim: Yeah, okay. So, [00:21:00] this little word “to pierce the name,” this is a fascinating little word, I love the Hebrew Bible. 

Jon: We know (laughing).

Tim: It's probably clear by this point that I really enjoy reading the Hebrew Bible. So this word has related words in Arabic and North Syrian “to drill a [00:21:30] hole” or “to pierce.” It's used in the Hebrew Bible as to bore through something, to pierce or to punch through into it. It is sometimes used, maybe to like prick off. They didn't use pen and paper like we did to make lists and so sometimes if they had a tablet, they would maybe like scratch little checkmarks. And so some people think that “to prick the name” means [00:22:00] to make a checkmark, which doesn't make a ton of sense here. But here we go, this is what this guy does. He drills into the name, pierces the name. 

Jon: Yeah, okay. I mean, it's metaphoric language.

Tim: Definitely a metaphor and we're gonna ponder.

Jon: Okay. 

Tim: Ponder what it means. So, yeah, this guy's in a fight and for one reason or another, he does something to the name, described as piercing it or poking it. And then that's explained as treating the [00:22:30] name of Yahweh as if it's, as if it's nothing. It's from the Hebrew word qalal, which means to treat as if it's light or nothing. So this word “cursed,” there's a few words for curse in Hebrew. So I can pronounce a curse on you, that's the opposite of a blessing. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: And that would be asking God to bring misfortune and sickness and death upon you and your family or something like that. So this word is when you treat [00:23:00] someone publicly as if they are cursed or have low status—

Jon: Demean, dishonor. 

Tim: Yeah, yeah, it's about public dishonor and disgrace. He treats the name as if it's nothing. 

Jon: Okay. 

Tim: It's the word “qalal,” the phrase “profane the name” is chalal. So, all those passages that we read don't profane the name, don't profane the name, it's called chalal, and then this is he qalals the name, so it rhymes.

Jon: So to make comment is to chalal— 

Tim: Chalal [00:23:30].

Jon: And to like dishonor is qalal.

Tim: Qalal, yeah. So, it pierces the name, and he treats it like it's dirt. So presumably he says the name of Yahweh as a curse word.

Jon: Yeah, uh, at the minimum. 

Tim: At the minimum, yeah. So they bring this guy in front of Moses because they're like, "You know what? We don't know what to do. This guy is not fully Israelite; he's half Israelite. What do we do here?"

Jon: Maybe [00:24:00] he can get a pass?

Tim: Maybe you can get a pass. So, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Bring that one who has cursed outside the camp. Let everybody who heard him lay their hands on his head. Then let all the congregation stone him with stones outside the camp. And you shall say to the sons of Israel, saying, if anyone treats his Elohim as cursed, [00:24:30] then he will bear the consequences of his failure. Moreover, the one who pierces the name of Yahweh will surely be put to death. The congregation will stone him the immigrant, as well as the native born, the one who pierces the name will be put to death." 

Jon: The way that that's phrase makes me think it's more than cursing the name. He says, "If you treat Elohim as cursed, then he will bear his sin." 

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: And then that's juxtaposed with [00:25:00] piercing the name—

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: Put to death. 

Tim: Put to death, yeah. 

Jon: And so it seems like piercing the name is something more intense than just cursing the name?

Tim: Yeah, so I learned a lot here by an interesting study, a Hebrew Bible scholar, Tamar Kamionkowski, who's written a lot on the section of Leviticus in her academic work, and she has this whole article on this story. So she makes the argument that in [00:25:30] this section of the book, the holy name of Yahweh, that is on the people that sets them apart among the nations is the holy sacred object that's available to any Israelite. They carry the name as a people and they can through their actions with each other defile the name or profane it by how you treat you know, your neighbor. And so it's analogous what the name is to your average Israelite is the same as what the tent is [00:26:00] to the priests. 

And so she makes this argument that this image of piercing the name and so defiling it is being set on analogy to the sons of Aaron, who inappropriately pierced through the curtains and went into the tent unauthorized. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: And violating the command of Yahweh and so died. Because what's interesting is, there's three stories linked together by the vocabulary of this. [00:26:30] So one is everybody lays their hands on this guy's head. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: And takes him outside the camp. 

Jon: The Day of Atonement. 

Tim: And that's the language used of the goat sent away to Azazel in the wilderness, where they lay the sins upon him and exile him. That was also first used of the two sons of Aaron who inappropriately barged into the tent. They were killed and then their dead bodies were taken outside the camp. So [00:27:00] you have this portrait here of people who dishonor the sacred gift of Yahweh's person and presence the name in their midst. As like you're sawing off the branch that you're sitting on as an Israelite, it's Yahweh's name and holiness that's keeping you all alive out here in the desert, and you're going to profane the name or curse the name. 

Now, the story is not done yet, this gets even more actually complicated and interesting if you wanna keep going—

Jon: Yeah, let's keep going [00:27:30] but is it a capital offense to curse God's name in ancient Israel? 

Tim: Oh, it is in this story. 

Jon: In this story it is, but I mean, other times, is it a law?

Tim: Uh, yeah, I'm trying to think, there isn't another story like this in the Hebrew Bible. 

Jon: Is there any law around? 

Tim: Yeah, in the book of Exodus there's a command about not cursing God.

Jon: Okay. Does it have a capital offense associated with it? 

Tim: Yeah, let's get Exodus 22:28 [00:28:00], "You shall not curse Elohim nor curse a ruler of your people." 

Jon: Don't do it. 

Tim: Don't do it. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: So it raises questions for us about like, "Whoa, like, how often did this happen?" And that's an interesting question but this story has been put into the scroll of Leviticus as a part of a communication pattern to help us. 

Jon: It has a purpose here. 

Tim: Has purpose, has Torah, its instruction for us. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: What the tent and the holy of holies [00:28:30] is to the priests, that they are to safeguard and protect and treat as precious and holy. So the name of Yahweh is to any and every Israelite, so much so that this Israelite bears the same consequences that the sons of Aaron did when they dishonored the tent. And this guy also bears the same fate as the goat sent out of the camp on the Day of Atonement.

Jon: It's interesting, [00:29:00] for some reason what's popping my mind is the cryptic thing around the unpardonable sin. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit. 

Tim: Oh, I see. Oh, interesting, yeah. 

Jon: Because that's like cryptic and it's also about like, making common—

Tim: No, that's a good point. No, that's, that's in the context of when the Pharisees are accusing Jesus of being in league with the powers of the evil one. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: And Jesus says, "Listen, [00:29:30] if I have power over the evil one, I can't be in league with the evil one," first of all. And then second of all, "If you blaspheme the Holy Spirit, you're actually rejecting the only one who can give you life," you're rejecting your very life. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: So by definition you can't be forgiven for rejecting the one who is trying to save your life. 

Jon: It's kind of what you're saying here, you can't [00:30:00] saw off the branch that you're sitting on.

Tim: Yeah, exactly, yeah. And I think that paradox, it's meant to be a sobering truth, but it's trying to communicate Torah to us, instruction. For an Israelite, they live and exist because of the name of Yahweh. Remember in the Exodus story, that's one of the main motifs that Yahweh is doing what he's doing so that Israel and Egypt will know that I am Yahweh. And so to take that name and reputation and to pierce [00:30:30] it, to treat it as if it's nothing is to destroy your own identity, your own self. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: Especially as an Israelite because the whole nation is a priesthood that represents the name, it carries the name. [00:31:00] So what's interesting is after this death sentence that's issued for the name curser, then there's another little legal paragraph here that set as an analogy, almost [00:31:30] like a little parable. And it goes like this, “If a human takes the life of any other human being, they will be put to death.” That's the life for life rule of retribution in ancient Israel. “The one who takes the life of an animal, he shall repay it life for life. If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it will be done to him. Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”

Jon: Oh, this is where this comes from, okay. 

Tim: [00:32:00] “Just as he injured a human, so it will be inflicted on him. The one who kills an animal will make it good and the one who kills a human will be put to death. There shall be one standard for you for the immigrant and the native born, I am Yahweh.”

Jon: So, it doesn't matter, you're Egyptian, Israelite, like, we are all accountable. 

Tim: Yeah, yeah. So notice there's legal reasoning happening here. If you take the life of another human, [00:32:30] your life becomes forfeit. If you take the life of an animal, well, an animal's life and their economy is worth less than a human life, so you have to repay it with money. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: But Life for life, you can't take somebody's life for killing your animal. In other words, the recompense that you deal to someone has to be at like fair or adequate to the level of thing that they've wronged. That's what this whole paragraph is about and it's a meditation, it's helping you meditate on what's so severe. Why [00:33:00] is such a severe punishment for the one who pierces the name? 

Jon: Yeah, before we like go back and meditate on that. These retribution laws, we've talked about this in terms of the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus quotes this. And then he says, "I say to you, don't repay evil at all." 

Tim: Yeah, that's right. 

Jon: And in this conversation, you pointed out to me that these aren't laws about like, how much you can get away with. 

Tim: They're not a license for revenge. 

Jon: This isn't a license for revenge. 

Tim: [00:33:30] Yeah, exactly. 

Jon: This is about putting brakes on retribution. 

Tim: That's right. 

Jon: It's limiting our impulse. 

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: To deal out retribution. 

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: Lavishly (laughs).

Tim: Yeah, it's putting a ceiling on so yeah, anyone who takes the life of their animal you can't take the life of their child. 

Jon: Right. 

Tim: You have to repay the monetary value of the animal.

Jon: If someone like breaks your tooth, you don't get to break their neck. 

Tim: Yeah, that's right, yeah. 

Jon: And that makes a lot of sense and then Jesus takes the wisdom behind that which is let's [00:34:00] put a limit on our impulse retribution, and he just turns that all the way up and says, "Don't repay evil." 

Tim: Yeah, exactly right. 

Jon: So that's interesting, but then you're saying if there needs to be an adequate or a measured type of retribution and then you bring that back up to what happens to this guy who pierces the name.

Tim: Yeah. If it is fair recompense for someone to lose their life because they [00:34:30] unjustly took the life of another human.

Jon: Right. 

Tim: Right? And in their legal economy that's considered fair and just. So if losing your life for taking the life of another human is, that becomes this little commentary on well how much value must the name of Yahweh have if the consequence for cursing it means death?

Jon: Is it as simple as this is a fight, [00:35:00] you know it's a fight. 

Tim: Yeah, totally. 

Jon: And it's just like, why that detail? 

Tim: Yeah (laughs). 

Jon: Did he kill this guy? 

Tim: Oh, it doesn't say that. 

Jon: It doesn't say. 

Tim: No.

Jon: But then the next paragraph is like, "Hey, you killed someone, you get killed." 

Tim: Exactly, yeah, that's right. 

Jon: It makes you kind of go back up and go, "Well, yeah, they were fighting." Like maybe piercing the name had something to do with killing an image of God.

Tim: Oh, interesting, oh, got it. Oh, I was taking it to mean something different. So in other words, this narrative is a riddle. 

Jon: [00:35:30] Yeah. 

Tim: It's hiding all kinds of little details on purpose to make you stare at this thing and figure it out. 

Jon: Well, what do you think the detail of the fight is all about? 

Tim: Oh, I think that's a Cain and Abel riff, we’re riffing on the brothers struggling. 

Jon: Brothers struggling. 

Tim: Brothers struggling.

Jon: But yeah, Cain kills Abel, that's another reason he—

Tim: Yup, totally. 

Jon: Might have killed him.

Tim: Well, my point is just the narrative says he is put to death for cursing the name, that's what it says. 

Jon: But the cursing the name is connected to piercing the name. 

Tim: [00:36:00] That's right. 

Jon: Which is different than merely cursing a name, right? Because you curse the name, yeah, you're accountable to that. You pierce the name, you die. 

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: There's something else going on here with piercing a name?

Tim: Yeah, yeah. So, okay, there's two ways this could go. One could be the narrative's hiding in a detail that you're supposed to imply that piercing the name means he did something more. 

Jon: Than merely saying … 

Tim: Than merely … 

Jon: … God's name in vain.

Tim: … using and cursing God's name, treating [00:36:30] it as if it's nothing.

Jon: And by the way, that means like, "Oh, Yahweh, you're horrible.” Like what? (laughing)

Tim: Yeah, it doesn't say. Dishonoring the name, publicly disgracing the name. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: Yeah, and then you get this other law after it that says, "Listen, capital punishment should only be reserved for the most gravest of crimes." 

Jon: No, specifically—

Tim: Taking the life of another human. 

Jon: Taking the life of another human. 

Tim: Yeah, totally. So, you could say, therefore, [00:37:00] it's implying that he killed the guy that he was fighting with. It could also be the case that it's setting these two laws, a guy who cursed God's name got put to death and dealt with like the goat on the Day of Atonement. And got dealt with like the rebellious sons of Aaron, who also defiled the name of Yahweh by their rebellion, by implication. So, you get that portrait of this guy who curses the name and he's put to death. And then you get this law that says, "Listen, [00:37:30] people are only put to death, if there's a crime worthy, really worthy of that severity of punishment." 

Jon: Namely taking life? 

Tim: In this case, yeah, in the laws of retaliation of taking a life. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: So it could be that it's saying, to curse the name of Yahweh is such a—

Jon: Just a moral equivalent— 

Tim: Is the moral equivalent of taking a human life. 

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Yup, yeah, that's at least what I think the narrative is trying to communicate.

Jon: [00:38:00] Okay, that's interesting. And you're saying, look for Israelites, being set apart as a kingdom of priests, the one thing that they have that they get to protect is the name of Yahweh.

Tim: Yeah. And it's also the thing that sets them apart, it's the thing that rescued the. The Name of Yahweh is—

Jon: As precious as life itself. 

Tim: Yes, yeah, yeah.

Jon: Now, we get the story, the story is Torah. It's hard [00:38:30] to imagine that they're killing everyone who says, you know?

Tim: (laughing) sure, no, I'm with you. And the story doesn't spell that out. In other words, we might have questions about how was this? Was this implemented all the time? Was, how many people did this? And that's an interesting question, but it's a different question than saying, "What's the function of this story in its literary context in Leviticus?" And it just so happens, this is the last [00:39:00] time that the issue of the name of Yahweh comes up like this, in all this thread of occurrences. I'm actually really enjoying that you're so into this story. 

Jon: (laughs)

Tim: I didn't think we would spend this much time on it, but I like that you're into it. But this is a good example of a strange story, it’s disturbing at least to me, but I'm trying to get a sympathetic hearing. I mean, you could argue that the response of the death of the two sons of Aaron was also you know, [00:39:30] a little intense. But there the narrative was also trying to help us see that. 

Jon: Yeah, there's, I think for me, I digested the death of the two sons of Aaron this way. One, they’re priests, they're more accountable. And they went rogue and so yeah, that's still, that's still pretty intense to kill them. But like, if you just live in a society where it's like the death penalty for saying a curse word, [00:40:00] that feels a little bit more unnerving and chaotic than like the guy, the people who are signed up to be the priests have to do it right. Still, that's hard but the second way that helps me with it is that it's a reflection on what it, what it's like for the image of God to go rogue, choose to take the forbidden fruit. And when Adam and Eve did that, it was death. 

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: And so this story is meditating on that and here is [00:40:30] the people who are supposed to kind of be replaying the true human on Israel's behalf.

Tim: I quoted that scholar Tamar Kamionkowski so I'll just, I'll quote her from her essay here. She says, "The name is that aspect of God that serves as a kind of portal or meeting place between divine and human. Following God's laws expands that portal and allows more holiness to enter [00:41:00] into the Israelite community, you shall be holy as I am holy. And breaking of those laws results in defilement of the name that is a contraction of the portal that minimizes the holiness of the community and God's ability to make them holy." So those contractions, the profaning of the name, it strains the divine human relationship impacting both partners because the name was a primary vehicle or access point [00:41:30] for connection between the Israelite and the divine. It's natural that the name would need to be carefully guarded, that's what she thinks the story is trying to communicate.

Jon: Do you think there's a lot of hyperbole in the story in a way of like, yes, the name needs to be protected. But the guy is like, he's sent outside the city, he's treated like the scapegoat. 

Tim: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Jon: The goat where all the sins of Israel are placed on … 

Tim: Totally.

Jon: … and is sent out to like the wilderness—

Tim: Yeah, and anybody, anybody who heard him, it's as if like—

Jon: [00:42:00] They're corrupted by hearing it. 

Tim: And so like, their ears were made impure. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: Totally, yes. 

Jon: And then he's killed. The whole thing almost feels like a little absurd on purpose maybe?

Tim: Yeah, it's a sacrifice. He's a sacrifice, as it were.

Jon: And you don't have a sense that this ever happens, this doesn't happen normally? 

Tim: No. 

Jon: And it's not told that it's a law, that you are supposed to do this to someone who curses the name.

Tim: Right.

Jon: We don't get any other stories of this ever happening. 

Tim: [00:42:30] Yeah, yeah, no, it's a little narrative parable that is commenting on the larger themes of the section that this is a people set apart for life and to bear Yahweh's name.

Jon: And the fact that he's half Egyptian is that—

Tim: Well, I mean, those how laws were really interested in that this is the same law for the immigrant or for Israel. 

Jon: Okay. 

Tim: So.

Jon: if you're gonna live in this community, whether you're by blood or not, then you need to follow the same rules. 

Tim: The same severe [00:43:00] responsibilities that were put on the priests for bearing the name of Yahweh into the tent are here through this story being placed on every Israelite because God's holiness is for all of them. So they are all in danger but also God's holiness is both good and keeps them all alive and protects them from death and gives them manna and water in the wilderness, and it's also dangerous. This is that same theme that also comes out later in the Hebrew Bible [00:43:30] in the story of David when he's bringing the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem and everybody's—he's dancing. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: Everybody's having that party. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: And then there's that guy, Uzzah, who thinks the ark of the covenant is about to slip off the cart. 

Jon: Oh, and he touches it. 

Tim: And so he sends out his hand to touch it and he's roasted on the spot and the whole party shuts down and David's frustrated. And so these narratives are exploring the paradox of being the covenant people of God [00:44:00] who are given a great responsibility, which is both a gift but also a very dangerous vocation when you're dealing with a God who is a fire.

[00:44:30] Well, this turned into mostly a conversation about this called the law of the blasphemer. So [00:45:00] here's what's interesting, this is a story, the story is the little center, it's the little—

Jon: Hinge point? 

Tim: Yeah, I was gonna, what's the meatless hamburgers, what are those called? Beyond beef or something? 

Jon: Yeah, the beyond burgers. 

Tim: Okay, so this final part of Leviticus is a little sandwich symmetry. There's chapter 23 and then the first part of 24 and that was all about the seventh-day rest and cycles of Sabbath and so on and how Israel is set apart to bask in the glory [00:45:30] of the divine presence. Then you get this story that we just meditated on for quite a while and then you get the last three chapters, they’re the other part of the bun. So the buns on both sides are all about Sabbath rest and seven— 

Jon: Because the last three are about the year of Jubilee.

Tim: The last three are about the year of Jubilee and then also the anti-Jubilee that is exile.

Jon: Yeah, you foreshadowed this in that you said that, you said something about all of Israel cursing the name?

Tim: [00:46:00] Yeah. Okay, so watch this. So Leviticus 25, we don't have time to read it but it's about how every seventh year, the land is to be given a Sabbath rest for an entire year. 

Jon: Yeah, let the land rest. 

Tim: Yeah, you let the land rest. And then every seven times seventh year after the land has been given its seventh-year rest, you give it an additional 50th year of rest and that [00:46:30] year of rest is called the Jubilee. 

Jon: And lots of other cool stuff happens. 

Tim: Amazing things happen, if in the course of the last 49 years, you went financially upside down on your land and you lost your family land that, you know, your great ancestor Reuben got back when Joshua distributed the land to the Israelites? Well, guess what? You get all that land back that got bought up by, you know, your relative down the road who is from the tribe of Manasseh, you [00:47:00] get it all back. Any debts that you have that put you in debt, maybe in debt slavery to somebody else, your debt’s forgiven, you get to go free. This is a liberation that's enacted every seventh times seven years, it's the year of Jubilee. 

And there's two key principles here for why they would do such a thing. It's Leviticus 25:23, "The land can never be sold permanently [00:47:30] because the land is actually mine," Yahweh says. You all are just immigrants and you’re campers, you're camping on my land. Now, you're doing it for a really long time but it's my land. And what I say is, every seven times seven years there's a Sabbath reset, and we go back to the Eden like setup for when Joshua distributed the land. Powerful principle.

Jon: And I think I've heard that there's no evidence that's ever actually been [00:48:00] done?

Tim: Well, not outside the Hebrew Bible, there's reference in Jeremiah and Ezra to some attempts to do something like it to forgive debts. But yeah, our most substantial evidence for it is just the fact that it's in the book of Leviticus. And it definitely reflects a time early in Israel's history because by the time they're under the shadow of Assyria and Babylon, like—

Jon: They wouldn't be able to do this. 

Tim: Yeah, [00:48:30] and in Jesus' time, you know, Romans own more land than Israelites do. So this definitely reflects a practice from early, early in their tribal history. Yup, so that's one thing. So, we've actually, we could reference back to the archive, we have a whole conversation on this chapter where we take a deep dive—

Jon: In the Sabbath series. 

Tim: Yeah, that's right, the Seventh-Day Rest series. So the land is to be freed every seven times seven years, but also Israelite, any Israelite [00:49:00] who was enslaved because of debt slavery. So let's say they had to, they went into debt, they had to sell their daughter or their son or themselves into debt service to another Israelite, their debts are forgiven, and they go out. The most common term for freedom from that kind of debt service in this chapter is to go out, which is the same word used as the exodus, to go out from Egypt. But you go out—

Jon: Liberation. 

Tim: Yeah, okay. So, [00:49:30] you're thinking great.

Jon: Yeah, good setup. Sounds really, really generous and it has its own kind of fairness.

Tim: Yeah, totally. Next chapter, chapter 26, "Don't make for yourselves any idols. Don't make any images, I'm Yahweh." 

Jon: We've heard this before. 

Tim: "Keep my Sabbaths."

Jon: Okay, we were recycling some of the greatest hits here. 

Tim: That's right. "If you walk in my statutes and keep my commandments and carry them out," guess what? "I will give you rains in their season, [00:50:00] the land will give you its fruit, the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Your threshing harvest will last you until the grape harvest and then your grape harvest will last you until you so see it again. Man, you will eat food until you are saba. It's the same letters as the number seven, filled up and you will live with security on the land. I'm going to give you shalom in the land, there's going to be no evil beasts [00:50:30] of snakes, wild animals. Your enemies won't chase you, you'll chase your enemies. Five of you will chase a hundred, a hundred will chase ten thousand. I will turn to you I will make you fruitful and multiply and establish my covenant with you." 

Awesome, "Moreover, I will make my dwelling among you." 

Jon: That's what this has all been about. 

Tim: Yeah, "I will walk about in the middle of you." 

Jon: It's a Genesis 2 reference? 

Tim: Yes, [00:51:00] yeah, this is what God is doing, exactly the same verb, it's a unique verb. I will walk about with you in the middle of you. It's the phrase used of the voice of Yahweh walking about in the middle of the garden in the wind of the day. Eden, if you guys do what I say, I'll turn you into a new Eden. 

Jon: Yeah, this is sounding like Eden.

Tim: Totally, and it's just very clearly the case. "I am Yahweh, [00:51:30] but if you don't obey me and don't carry out all my commands, if you reject my statutes, don't care about my commandments. If you break my covenant, here's what I'll do to you." And this chapter is intense and it's really long, so I'll just show you a picture. This is Leviticus 26 right here, there's three big parts. And this begins the middle part and there are five long paragraphs, each one begins, "If you don't listen to me," [00:52:00] and then it's going to invert all of the blessings that you just read and turn them into curses. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: So there'll be a paragraph where God says, "If you don't do what I say, here's what I'll do to you. Terror, fever, plague, you'll be terrified, I'll set my face against you, you'll be beaten by your enemies. If after all these things you don't obey me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins." And then another paragraph of anti-blessings.

Jon: [00:52:30] That's severe, seven times more.

Tim: "And if you don't listen to me, I'll strike you seven times more." So, you get the seven times more four times, you get a total of five paragraphs.

Jon: This is not eye for eye, tooth for tooth.

Tim: Uh, interesting. Tell me, tell me why?

Jon: Well, I mean, he's gonna ramp it up by times seven.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. No words, it's taking the Sabbath principle. "If you obey me, the land will give you even more abundance in return than you put into [00:53:00] it."

Jon: Okay, so that's like a seven-fold. 

Tim: Yeah, yeah. 

Jon: Okay. 

Tim: Because you're keeping the Sabbath—

Jon: What’s the inverse?

Tim: If you keep the Sabbath, if you honor the principles of seven, in the structure of your lives, you will get Eden, which is abundance over and beyond what you put in. 

Jon: Okay. 

Tim: And then this is, we're just flipping it, inverting it on its head.

Jon: So the same way that it compounded … 

Tim: Yeah, there you go. 

Jon: … it's gonna compound the other direction too?

Tim: Totally, yeah, now, let's just say, even though I can explain [00:53:30] the logic of this intensity in terms of the rhetoric and the poetic design of the chapter, it's really intense. But it's as intense as the sons of Aaron dying, as the blasphemer being put to death. 

Jon: This is the kind of stuff that makes people be like, "Yeah, the God of the Old Testament was just an angry God."

Tim: Sure, that's right. And all I can say is, it's taken me a long time to sit with a portrait—the way the biblical authors are painting the portrait of God. They [00:54:00] don't portray all of God's characteristics all at once, different literary units focus in on different aspects. And so this is an aspect where this is how God relates to his unique elect covenant partners who have been liberated, who have been given Eden in the wilderness. And if they turn on him, then out of all of the nations there, they are more culpable than any other nation. The Sabbath principle of abundance will invert into a Sabbath [00:54:30] principle of curse. We just have to sit with that as the message of this section of the book. 

I'm not sure what to say, this, it makes me uncomfortable too, but at the same time, this is a part of the Hebrew Bible’s portrait that's trying to say even when God selected one nation out of the many and did so much for them and if even, they turn on Yahweh, how much more so are they accountable for severe consequences? 

Jon: [00:55:00] Yeah. 

Tim: That’s at least the way the rhetoric of the narrative work.

Jon: Stakes are high here. 

Tim: The stakes are really high. Like the priests, so the people, yeah. Now, that's not how it ends, verse 34. So the fourth repetition of seven times over, "I will pay you back," verse 33, no, verse 32. "So, I will make the land desolate," verse 33, "And you I will scatter among the nations," exile, "And your land will become desolate [00:55:30] and your cities waste. Then the land will finally enjoy all the Sabbath's all the days of the desolation that you're in your enemy's land, the land will get rest and enjoy the Sabbath because you did not observe the rest or the Sabbath when you were living on it.” So, the land is like angry.

Jon: Yeah. It deserves a little break from your corruption.

Tim: Yeah, the land here is depicted as [00:56:00] the oppressed. And the Israelites are depicted as Pharaoh, enslaving the land without honoring its dignity and giving it rest, isn't this fascinating? 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: So, this is why I call it the anti-Jubilee. The exiled becomes all of the Sabbath years and the cycles of Jubilee that you didn't, remember because the land doesn't belong to you, Yahweh said, it's mine. But you, you are going to live on it and treat it like it all belongs to you? [00:56:30] So the land will finally get all of the Sabbath. And, you know, there might be some of you who are leftover as a remnant, it's in verse 36. Let's say there's a remnant leftover after the flood of God's justice and wiping clear the land. And they are living in the land of their enemies, and they're terrified, and they're afraid, but verse 40, "If they confess their wrongdoing, if they confess the sins [00:57:00] of their ancestors, their unfaithfulness that they committed against me and the hostility that they acted against me. If they humble their uncircumcised hearts and make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, my covenant with Isaac, my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. The land will be abandoned by them, it'll make up for those Sabbaths, and in spite of this, when they're in the land of their [00:57:30] enemies, I will not reject them, but I'll remember my covenant." 

That's how this chapter ends. So it ends with a little ski jump it's not a full promise of restoration. What it is, is that if they humbled themselves or even just a remnant is out there floating on the sea of exile in their little ark, calling out to me humbling themselves, then I will remember them. That's the same phrase of what God [00:58:00] does to Noah, when he sees him floating in the boat, God remembered Noah and then brought about a new creation for him to inhabit. And that's how this chapter ends too. So notice how the themes of Sabbath, the name of Yahweh, honoring the name, the cycles of seven, they're all brought together here. And this is the scroll of Leviticus. I don't know if you and to try to summarize all of these.

Jon: Well, I [00:58:30] mean one way to make sense of this is that all of this took its final shape in and around the time where Israel is in exile. 

Tim: Totally, oh, totally that's right. 

Jon: So, it's kind of on the nose, right? It's like, "Hey, dear reader, your ancestors were given this opportunity, the reason why you're experiencing all of this is because they blew it." 

Tim: Yeah, that's right. 

Jon: "They didn't keep the Sabbath, they treated the name of Yahweh as if it was common, and now here [00:59:00] you are." And then it's like, almost kind of begging you, like humble yourself, confess the sins of the nation and your own and like, let's get this going again.

Tim: Totally, yeah. In fact, the ideal reader of this chapter is someone like Daniel, sitting in Babylon and it's certain that he, in fact, had this chapter on his mind when, in Daniel chapter 9, he confesses for the sins of Israel throughout their whole history. Asking for God to remember [00:59:30] his covenant. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: I mean, he has this chapter on his mind. So Daniel, yeah, it represents kind of the ideal responder to this passage right here, someone sitting in exile. But what's interesting is that narratively, the Israelites are also outside the land right now. 

Jon: Sure. 

Tim: They just have yet to go into it. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: In fact, this generation is in the next book of the Torah going to experience a pre-exile from the land.

Jon: Yeah, their own, that's interesting, a pre-exile, because they're gonna [01:00:00] wonder the wilderness and they're not going to be allowed in the land. 

Tim: Exactly. 

Jon: Because of their … 

Tim: That's right. 

Jon: … disobedience. 

Tim: Yeah, so the generation that dies in the wilderness is at pre-exile, exile from the land that becomes the mirror image of the generation of exile on the other side of 2 Kings. And that's all intentional because the final shape of the Torah like the rest of the TaNaK has a post-exile stamp on it or shape. It's for people who [01:00:30] are still awaiting the arrival of the ultimate Jubilee.

Jon: So this ending of Leviticus makes a lot of sense for someone sitting in exile wondering why am I here? But then also, there's, in the logic of the scroll itself, it's just this foreshadowing for the people who are giving the initial covenant, like this is all being established.

Tim: Yeah, just like the blasphemer of the name, they are going to be exiled outside of the camp.

Jon: Yeah. And that becomes a meditation on what's going to happen … 

Tim: That's right.

Jon: … to all of Israel. 

Tim: [01:01:00] That's right, and just they will die in their sins outside the land, just as the blasphemer died for his sin outside the camp, yeah.

Jon: Now for a follower of Jesus, an apostle, when they then reflect on this as Torah … 

Tim: Ooh, yeah, yeah, we know exactly how they would do it. 

Jon: Yeah, tell me. 

Tim: Yeah (laughs). We know how Paul would do it. Paul would say, becoming [01:01:30] a part of the covenant family of Abraham is based on not your adherence to the laws of the Torah but by your sheer radical trust that the God of Abraham can create life out of death, even inside of you. And so, in Galatians Chapter 3, he says, "Listen, as many," this is Galatians 3:10, "As many Israelites as lived under the works of the Torah, they were under a curse, [01:02:00] just as it was written, cursed is everyone who doesn't live by all the things written in this book of the Torah, to do them," quoting Deuteronomy.

Jon: That's quoting Deuteronomy but that's essentially the theme of what we just read.

Tim: Exactly right. 

Jon: In Leviticus. 

Tim: Yeah, that's right. And so, what it goes on to say, is to say that no one in the Torah was ever able to prove themselves right before God by obeying the laws of the Torah. And it's not that the laws of Torah were bad, [01:02:30] it's that humans prove themselves unable to live by the will in the word of God. And so, what he talks about is how the Messiah redeemed us, redeemed Israel from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. The way Paul sees it is that all of the covenant curses that were for Israel were like focused in like through a magnifying glass in on Israel's Messiah on the cross. [01:03:00] And so Jesus suffered, he sees the suffering and death of Jesus as the culminating final act and exhausting the power of the covenant curses of Torah, that they no longer have a hold over those who are in the Messiah. 

So and you can read Romans 7 and 8 and he articulates the same point of view. So I think that's how Jesus and the apostles would read this is that Jesus finished, exhausted, the powers of the covenant curse so [01:03:30] that the blessing can be released for the nations or as Jesus says, that in a Messiah an anointed representative would go into suffering and death and be exalted to glory on the other side so that forgiveness could be announced in his name to all the nations beginning in Jerusalem. Which is essentially an outline of what I mean, it’s what he says the Hebrew Bible is all about, and Leviticus plays a key role in that. So yeah, I don't think I should be afraid of being cursed by God [01:04:00] if I'm a follower of Jesus, like Jesus shouldered that on my behalf, that's what he did for me. So I read this as wisdom, though, because it becomes a case study in human nature and I'm a human.

Jon: There's another type of wisdom Paul is like talking about the disobedience of Israel and he's like—

Tim: Oh, yeah, yeah, totally.

Jon: He's like, look, don't. 

Tim: Yeah, totally you can ruin your life. 

Jon: Yeah, you could screw this up still. 

Tim: Yeah, you can ruin your life and just like the guy in Corinth who's sleeping with his mother-in-law. [01:04:30] And he's like, listen, that guy belongs to Jesus, and so like, he can ruin his life and you can put him outside the camp over to the realm of the evil one. Now, he might even die and his spirit belongs to God and so will be delivered from death in the day of Yahweh, but you can ruin your life as a follower of Jesus. 

Jon: Yeah. 

Tim: But if you've given your life and allegiance to Jesus and you belong to him, I think in Paul's mind, you belong to him, but and then—

Jon: And when he talks about that he brings up the—

Tim: The wilderness generation, it [01:05:00] dies, yup, it dies outside the land. And so, this is a genuine tension, old school tension that we're not going to solve here. 

Jon: Right. 

Tim: But yeah, there's two ways that the covenant curses can be used. They can be as warning and wisdom for followers of the Messiah to not—

Jon: Yeah, you can still saw off the branch you're sitting on. 

Tim: Totally, yeah. 

Jon: But you can still work against the grain of the God of the universe. 

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: And you're gonna get some gnarly splinters. 

Tim: That's right, yup, and then alongside [01:05:30] that you have other parts where the same apostle Paul will talk about a guy who's really, really blowing it and doing something inappropriate and he still believes that guy belongs to the Messiah, even in his sin. Yeah, those are deep matters to ponder that Leviticus does not solve for us, but it does raise the stakes. There you go, I don't know how to tie a bow on everything we just did.

Jon: No, that was a lot, but we do need to tie a bow on Leviticus because it's over. 

Tim: Yeah. 

Jon: [01:06:00] We'll do a Q and R, but then we'll be moving into the scroll of Numbers.

Tim: Yes, or in Hebrew, bemidbar, in the wilderness. 

Jon: In the wilderness. 

Tim: Yeah, so much more exciting. 

Jon: That is a better name. A journey into the wilderness is a much better name than like a spreadsheet.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, totally. But we have come out of the center of the center of the Torah, and we are moving into the fourth scroll of the Torah that is in the wilderness.

Jon: Thanks [01:06:30] for listening to this episode of BibleProject podcast. Next week, we begin a new scroll, the scroll of Numbers, or in Hebrew, into the wilderness.

Tim: And the selection of one tribe out of the many swapped out for the firstborn. What that means is that this tribe is now the extra special tribe that's in the slot of the Passover lamb, the firstborn of Israel was substituted [01:07:00] for the Passover lamb.

Jon: Today's show is produced by Cooper Peltz, edited by Dan Gamal and Tyler Bailey, and Lindsey Ponder with the show notes. Ashland Heise and MacKenzie Buxman provided the annotations for our annotated podcast in our app. BibleProject is a crowdfunded non-profit and we exist to experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus. Everything that we make is free because of the generous support of thousands of people just like you. So thank you for being a part of this with us. 

Joseph: Hi, this [01:07:30] is Joseph and I'm from DeKalb, Illinois.

Keith: Hi, this is Keith and I'm from London, Ontario in Canada. I first heard about BibleProject a few years back when my church was going through the book of Romans.

Joseph: I first heard about BibleProject from Cru, my campus's Christian ministry group. I use BibleProject for helping my personal studies in the Bible.

Keith: I use BibleProject for the first time that I read the Bible front to back. My favorite thing about BibleProject is all the videos of themes and the things that run throughout the Bible.

Joseph: The beautiful [01:08:00] visuals that helped describe what is being discussed or the large variety of topics that get discussed to help understanding. We believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.

Keith: We're a crowdfunded project by people like me. 

Joseph: Find free videos, study notes.

Keith: Podcasts, classes. 

Joseph: And more at bibleproject.com.

Play Episode

10 Episodes

Episode 10
What Does Leviticus Teach Us About Jesus?
How do you clean a tabernacle? What does “laying of hands” represent? Is the scapegoat a hyperlink to Cain and Abel? How was it even possible for Israelites to follow the law? In this episode, Tim and Jon respond to your questions about the Leviticus scroll. Thanks to our audience for your insightful questions!
59m • Oct 12, 2022
Episode 9
The Law of the Blasphemer
Blasphemy, principles of restitution, jubilee, exile, and the mercy and justice of God—it’s all there in the final lines of the scroll of Leviticus. Join Tim and Jon as they talk about the great gift and responsibility of carrying Yahweh’s name and discuss the wisdom and surprising hope of the Law that’s finally fulfilled in Jesus.
1hr 9m • Jul 25, 2022
Episode 8
What Israel's Feasts Teach Us
Are there specific times humans can meet with God in special ways? For ancient Israel, the answer was yes. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they explore the final movement of Leviticus, talk about the Sabbaths and festivals ancient Israelites celebrated every year, and discuss the significance of rituals and liturgies that allow us to see our time as a significant part of God’s story.
1hr 1m • Jul 18, 2022
Episode 7
Why Is the Sabbath So Important?
Throughout the Leviticus scroll, Yahweh instructs Israel, “Be holy as I am holy.” But what does that actually mean? As we enter into the third and final movement of Leviticus, we’ll find that living holy lives had everything to do with how Israel treated others and utilized their time, a theme reinforced by the continual command to honor the Sabbath. Join Jon and Tim as they explore the wisdom we can find in these ancient laws.
1hr 9m • Jul 11, 2022
Episode 6
What Is the Day of Atonement?
At the center of the center of the Torah is the Day of Atonement. What is the significance of this day the biblical authors have placed at the heart of the Torah? What does this day accomplish? And what’s with the sacrificial goat and the scapegoat? In this episode, Tim and Jon explore the Day of Atonement and the ultimate atonement accomplished by Jesus on the cross.
1hr 9m • Jul 4, 2022
Episode 5
Purity and Impurity in Leviticus
Childbirth, non-kosher food, sex, death, disease—they’re all considered impure in the book of Leviticus. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they discuss the levitical laws of purity and impurity and how they create a way for humanity to share in God’s own life and form a surprisingly beautiful backdrop for Jesus’ miraculous healings.
1hr 6m • Jun 27, 2022
Episode 4
The Dangerous Gift of God’s Presence
In the second movement of Leviticus, Aaron and his sons agree to the terms of their covenant with Yahweh, signing up to be the gatekeepers of Heaven and Earth. But then Aaron’s sons offer unholy fire before Yahweh—and then they die. What’s going on here? A seven-day ceremony of consecration and celebration ends with everything going terribly wrong. Join Tim and Jon as they kick off the second movement of Leviticus, discussing the theme of holiness and a very difficult part of the story.
1hr 4m • Jun 20, 2022
Episode 3
What Did the Burnt Offerings Really Mean?
What is the significance of the offerings described in Leviticus? In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they walk through the five offerings ancient Israelites made to Yahweh and see how the purpose of these practices sound a lot like the teachings of Jesus. Even here in Leviticus, Yahweh’s hope for his people is the same: love God and love your neighbor.
53m • Jun 13, 2022
Episode 2
What Is Atonement?
A God who wants nothing more than to dwell with humanity, a way forward to a repaired relationship between Heaven and Earth, atoning sacrifices meant to communicate grace (not punishment)—you’ll find all of this in Leviticus. While the laws governing Israel’s sacrificial system can be some of the most challenging parts of the Bible to read, they’re an integral part of the unfolding story of the Bible. In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss the surprising beauty of sacrifice and atonement in the opening movement of Leviticus.
1hr 14m • Jun 6, 2022
Episode 1
How God Reveals Himself in Leviticus
"Holiness" is a word we frequently associate with the Bible, but what does it mean? As we pick up the story from where we left off in Exodus, we find even Moses unable to enter God’s presence—and a whole bunch of laws about situations many of us have never considered. What is going on in the scroll of Leviticus? And why is it important? In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they dive into the first movement of the Leviticus scroll, where we’ll trace the theme of sacrifice.
1hr 5m • May 30, 2022
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