Study Guide

Leviticus Chapter 24

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Chapter 24

Bread and Blasphemy

  • At first glance, chapter 24 seems like a few random parts thrown together. It starts with a description of the menorah and bread arrangements in the Tabernacle, moves to the stoning of a man for blaspheming the name of God, and ends with a review of the famous formula, "an eye for an eye."
  • Linking them all together, though, is one common theme: God's sacred covenant with his people.
  • Recall the basic set-up of the Tabernacle, which, years after the time depicted in Leviticus, becomes the layout of the temple in Jerusalem: the altar area in front of the entrance; a thick veil entrance; a sacred interior room; another veil entrance; and the Holy of Holies containing the Ark of the Covenant.
  • Pictures of a replica in Israel might help.
  • Chapter 24 goes over the set-up of the sacred interior room the priests get to before the Holiest of Holies, which is reserved for the Ark and the High Priest.
  • Centuries before Hanukkah, the Tabernacle gets a menorah. No dreidels, however, even though Leviticus does love a good roll of the dice.
  • Then the author moves to what has been called the showbread: twelve specially made loaves representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • There with the bread? Frankincense, which in chapter 16 is burned to smoke up the joint the way joints now smoke up the Hollywood Bowl.
  • Amidst all the talk of interior decorating comes the tell, verse 8: "Every Sabbath day he (the high priest) shall set in order before the Lord continually; it is from the children of Israel, an everlasting covenant."

Story Time!

  • What follows is a shift to another dramatic narrative—only the second in the entire book—that practically illustrates how the covenant unites Israel in its new land.
  • The story involves the nameless son of a nameless Egyptian man and an Israelite woman named Shelomith, daughter of Dibri, from the tribe of Dan.
  • Romeo and Juliet this intermarried couple ain't. The mixed marriage evokes the mix of cultures in God's promised land, with one always evocative of what the people of Israel are supposed to have abandoned.
  • The Israelite woman's name has three puns in quick succession. As anthropologist Mary Douglas notes in Leviticus as Literature:
  • (1) Shelomith can be translated as "retribution,"
  • (2) Dibri evokes dibrah, or legal action, and
  • (3) Dan is synonymous with judgment (Genesis 49:16).
  • Trouble comes when the nameless son blasphemes the divine name, the name that binds all Israel together as one and gives them life in abundance.
  • The people of Israel ask Moses what they do with the guy. God instructs Moses to have the nameless guy taken outside the camp, where the people will lay their hands on his head.
  • The ancient Israelite reader immediately makes a couple connections.
  • First, it's a callback to the ordination of Nadab and Abihu, who blaspheme by taking God's holy ritual lightly. This time, though, the people are standing in for God as the administration of justice.
  • The scene also evokes the image of a bizarro goat from the Day of Atonement that purifies the Tabernacle after the corpses of Nadab and Abihu pollute it.
  • The nameless blasphemer is removed from the camp like the Azazel goat was taken to the wilderness and the bodies were removed from the Tabernacle. Moreover, the Israelites lay hands not to hand off sin but to pass collective judgment.
  • God delivers the coup de grâce in with the story's killer fourth play on words. In verse 16, God states that the person who strikes a hole in his name shall be struck to death with stones.

Let's Talk Lex Talionis

  • Next is an image of how God connects the traditional "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" of the Lex Talionis to covenantal justice.
  • One twist comes in the call back to the blemishes—injuries or defects—that make a person or animal ritually unclean. The person who makes someone else defective will proportionally mirror that defect himself.
  • The key to how this works in practice appears in the references to payback, compensation, and making the victim whole. In Hebrew the word is sh-l-m, the exact same root word used for the peace offering.
  • In a nutshell, this ties a bow on the theme of covenantal recompense that has been popping up throughout the whole book. When God gives you abundance, you acknowledge the covenantal relationship by giving some back. Conversely, if you make someone or something imperfect, you pay the appropriate price.

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