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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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