Leviticus 24-25

Good morning! Leviticus 24 and 25 are almost the end of this book. They show us how Levitical theology informs criminal punishment and property practices.

Chapter 24 opens with some quick instructions for furnishings in the tabernacle (giving greater detail to that which we’ve read before), then uses a story of a blaspheming half-Israelite to open up a broader description of God’s judgment on wrongdoing. The details of this blasphemer’s family history are intriguing. We have the name and lineage of his mother, but neither he nor his Egyptian father is named. In a culture of such strong patriarchy, the absence of more information about the men leads me to speculation. Was the blasphemer perhaps the child of rape before they left Egypt? There’s no sense that the father is with the Hebrew people now. There must be non-biblical stories about Shelomith the mother, and what happened with her blaspheming son before his punishment, but what matters to the writer here is the consequence for blasphemy. Misusing God’s name, profaning “the Name”, was such a grievous sin that it was punishable by death. Note that capital punishment like stoning involves an action of all the people, a communal affirmation (by negation) of divine sovereignty. Other punishments are laid out here, including the “eye for an eye” that is well known. (I’d be curious to see a comparison of these verses with “Sharia law” in Islam.) These rules give no preferential treatment for citizens over non-Hebrews. Out of reverence for God, they maintain the same strict and uncompromising “formula” for all, as we’ve come to expect.

Leviticus 25 commands an ultimate trust in divine provision (and corresponding stewardship of the earth) by the practices of sabbatical years and Jubilee. Every seventh year, the Hebrews were not to cultivate the land but simply subsist on what grew naturally. There is an unmentioned but intentional resonance here with eating the manna and quail from God in the wilderness. The underlying theological assertion is that God provides all we need, including extra provision in the day/year before times of greater scarcity. Extending sabbatical years further, the Year of Jubilee comes after seven times seven years. The middle part of the chapter lays out an impressive set of commands that emanated from theologies of freedom and trust. In the Jubilee year, all Hebrews would regain their liberty from servanthood (as in the first Exodus) and would regain their ancestral property. Underlying this notion is the sense that all provision comes from God, and the people are to be faithful caretakers of the land—not for themselves but for God. Practices around property and servants are implicated: One doesn’t really sell land, but the “harvest rights” between now and Jubilee. Note that houses in walled cities are exempt from jubilee—this would create an incentive for new property owners in cities to build walls! The provision for Levites to always get their dwelling places back in specific cities foreshadows what will be specially designated as Levitical cities later. We have little knowledge of whether Jubilee was ever actually practiced, but it’s an enduring positive example of what might be possible for the poor and the earth if theology were more often used to shape public policy. That said, the care extended to Hebrews (not enslaving poor relatives, for instance) does not apply to all. The servitude of Hebrews is temporary, but other nations or resident aliens could be enslaved permanently.

These chapters give a good sense of the mixed blessing of Leviticus. While there is much that we might lament and insist should never be practiced today, there are also portions of Leviticus that point further in caring for the poor and the earth than anything modern human civilization has yet achieved. Happy reading!

Read Leviticus 24-25.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Leviticus 26-27. Thanks for reading!

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