His Light, My Darkness (Leviticus 24)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: Leviticus 24:1–23
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His Light, My Darkness
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
May 20th, 2018
I. What Can You Count On?
On a daily basis, what can you really count on in your life?
The love and support of a spouse? Job security? A reliable vehicle? Good health? Your investments? A faithful friend? Good weather? The help of a parent?
Some of you, though you may have felt pretty sure in the past about several of these things, you know from personal experience that things can change; and sometimes things can change in the blink of any eye, or just a matter of days. Painfully, some of you know the very thing you could once count on, became the very thing that let you down.
This morning, as we return to the book of Leviticus, let's consider that this chapter tells us about the things we can really count on in this life. Turn over to Levitcus 24.
A quick reminder: Leviticus is a book about living as unholy people in the presence of a holy God. If God is good and just, and we are sinful and unjust, how can we be together. Well, Leviticus is all about how God made that possible for the Israelites. God dealt with our sin by 1) making provision through sacrifice, so we could be forgiven, 2) appointing priests, so we could have an advocate, and 3) detailing a path away from sin, so just as God is set-apart, we too might live a set-apart kind of life.
II. The Passage: "A Light...Kept Burning" (24:1-23)
This morning we are continuing to think about the set-apart kind of life, that path of holiness God has been describing since chapter 18. As we saw last time in chapter 23, living a set-apart kind of life means having a consecrated calendar. For the Israelites, this means honoring a weekly day of rest, the Sabbath, and several times throughout the year, gathering for feasts to praise God and remember everything he had done for them.
1. Regular Light (vs. 1-4)
Let's see where we go from here by digging into chapter 24. Look with me at verses 1-4...
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil from beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly.  Outside the veil of the testimony, in the tent of meeting, Aaron shall arrange it from evening to morning before the LORD regularly. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.  He shall arrange the lamps on the lampstand of pure gold before the LORD regularly.
If we were to jump ahead to chapter 25, we would discover that God is continuing to describe the consecrated calendar he's designed for his people. But in chapter 25, God has moved beyond the weekly and semi-monthly obligations into observances that span years. But before He does that, look again at verse 1-4 of chapter 24.
Before He moves too far away from discussing the Sabbath, as he did at the beginning of chapter 23, God wants to specifically address the priest. This is the same order as chapters 18-20, and chapters 21 and 22. There were commands given to all the people, and then to the priests specifically. In the same way, in verses 1-9, God wants to make sure the priests understand some of their regular obligations, beyond keeping the Sabbath and the festivals.
And specifically in verses 1-4 the obligation being explained has to do with the lampstand (in Hebrew, the menorah) that God instructed Moses to build in Exodus 25. This large, gold menorah or candelabra was one of three sacred pieces of furniture in the first room of the Tent of meeting. As we see from these verses, every evening it was the priests responsibility to light these lamps and ensure they would burn throughout the night.
Think for a minute about what that would mean. It would mean that in God's temple, in this Tent of Meeting, there was never to be any darkness. This is confirmed by the fact that the word “regularly” (in Hebrew, “continually”) is used three times in three verses, 2, 3, and 4.
2. Regular Bread (vs. 5-9)
But if we move down to verses 5-9, we find a second obligation. This one was a weekly duty. Through Moses, God instructs the priest in verse 1...
“You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf.  And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the LORD.  And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the LORD.  Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the LORD regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever.  And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the LORD's food offerings, a perpetual due.”
Leviticus chapter 2 describe how grain offerings were brought to the priests, and a portion of that was theirs to keep. So it was probably from those grain offerings that these twelve loaves or cakes were made. Since they were set out for a whole week, and were eaten by the priests, and eaten after the next Sabbath day, they were most likely unleavened loaves, like Jewish matzah bread or crackers. Matszah is actually the Hebrew terms for unleavened bread, used throughout Leviticus. But these loaves in verse 5-9 are called challah, like the braided challah bread eaten even today by Jews on special occasions.
Both the golden table on which they were laid, and the bread itself, were first described, like the menorah, in Exodus 25. In verse 30 of that chapter, these loaves are called “The bread of the Presence” (referred to in this way six other times in the OT). Since God was said to dwell in the most holy part of the Tent, this bread was “before his face” or in his presence. And since there were (v.5) “twelve loaves”, this bread most likely represented the twelve tribes of Israel and the fact they had (v. 8) a “forever” or “everlasting” covenant with God.
3. Irregular Words (vs. 10-16)
Now notice what we find when we come to verse 10. We find a very unusual sight. This section, verses 10-16 (and verse 23) are narrative writing. Why is that unusual? Because the only other time we've encountered a narrative in Leviticus is in chapters 8-10 when the writer described how Moses ordained Aaron and his sons, and subsequently, how two of Aaron's sons were struck down for bringing careless offerings to God.
Because narrative material is so rare in this book of laws, the inclusion of this story at this point most likely means the incident happened at this point in God's revelation of the material we find in this book. There really seems to be no other explanation for why it's located here. But what does this story tell us? Well, look at verse 10...
Now an Israelite woman's son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman's son and a man of Israel fought in the camp,  and the Israelite woman's son blasphemed the Name, and cursed. Then they brought him to Moses. His mother's name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.  And they put him in custody, till the will of the LORD should be clear to them.  Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him.  And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin.  Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.
Now, neither the text or the context give us any specifics about what this man said. We simply know he cursed the name of Yahweh, a clear violation of the third commandment, to “not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7).
But there were two things about this case that made it uncertain as to how to proceed. First, Yahweh had not revealed a punishment for those who violated the third commandment. He had simply said, “the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain”. Second, this man was half Hebrew, half Egyptian. Did that mean the case should be handled differently?
But God's penalty in 24:14-16 is clear, for both the native Israelite and the resident alien: (v. 16) Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death.
4. Regular Justice (vs. 17-23)
Now, if you take a quick look at the last verse of this chapter, verse 23, you will find a conclusion to this story. It simply tells us that the people carried out God's sentence: the one who cursed God was killed.
But if that's the conclusion of the story, what about verses 17-22? Let's look at those...
“Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.  Whoever takes an animal's life shall make it good, life for life.  If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him,  fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth;...>>>
whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.  Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death.  You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the LORD your God.”  So Moses spoke to the people of Israel, and they brought out of the camp the one who had cursed and stoned him with stones. Thus the people of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses.
What's both interesting and confusing about these verses is that they don't have anything to do with blasphemy. Instead, they seem to be parenthetical statement based on the phrase “shall be put to death” at the end verse 16. God seems to be saying, “Speaking of the death penalty, let me tell what else merits the death penalty”. Then in verse 18, God moves on to talk about the punishment for killing an animal. Other parts of the the OT law seem to indicate that “make it good” means make financial restitution for the dead animal.
But notice how the killing of an animal and the killing of a person are mentioned again in verse 21. Those concepts seem to be brackets around verses 19 and 20. Now, what we find in 19 and 20 is not justification for judges to maim convicted criminals (“You did what to her eye? Well, guess what? Say goodbye to your own eye!”). No. The language here is probably what we call idiomatic. It simply means that “eye for eye; tooth for tooth” is a way to say, “let the punishment fit the crime”. The sentence had to be commensurate; proportionate.
So again, why this digression about proportional justice? In the context, it may be included to affirm that in this case of blasphemy, the punishment did fit the crime. When we curse the Giver of life, we deserve death. When we heap contempt on a God who is far bigger than we understand, our punishment will be far bigger than we understand.
So even though there is nothing explicitly connecting the passages, these two parts of Leviticus 24 present both light and darkness; they speak about honoring God (in the Tent) and dishonoring God (with our words). In fact, they are reminders of both grace and justice. And it is that juxtaposition, that contrast in context, that points us to the New Testament.
III. Three Paths to Jesus
With this chapter still in mind, let me share with you three New Testament passages to which I believe Leviticus 24 points us. Are you ready? We;ll work backward in terms of the order of themes in Leviticus 24. So first, look with me at Matthew 5:38–45...
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Next, look with me at Matthew 12:1–8. We read there that...
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”  He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him:  how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?  Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?  I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.  And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
In two instances in which Jesus makes a direct connection to Leviticus 24, He points us to grace. Did you see that? Proportional justice is important for a court of law. But when it comes to personal discomfort, God calls you to affirm his grace rather than assert your rights. In the same way, grace helps us to value the people God created over the technicalities of applying God's law. Without grace, it is very easy to fixate on just the precepts, and lose sight of the purpose of God's commands.
But how do we tie all this together? Well, remember my opening question: “On a daily basis, what can you really count on in your life?” Doesn't Leviticus 24 remind us that sin will always interrupt the flow of our lives, just as it interrupted the flow of Moses receiving this book? Like that man who blasphemed, every day, in so many ways, we can treat God lightly. In our selfish desires, in our conflicts, we often reject His rule; we often ignore His invitations to love.
You may not be able to fully count on your car or the climate today, but you can count on the fact that, until your dying breath, your sin will interrupt the flow of your everyday life. Bank on it. Even the fact that we tend to think of ourselves in a more idealized way is evidence of sin. Like that man, each of us deserves death for our spiritual disregard, disrespect, and defiance. But how can anyone get through the day genuinely acknowledging the truth about who they are and what they deserve?
Well that drives us to the other thing you can really count on in your life. Doesn't Leviticus 24 also remind us that God's light is always shining, and that for His people, his table is never empty. That first room in the Tent of Meeting was a reminder that God's light and God's bread are always available. Didn't Jesus say, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12)? Didn't Jesus say, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35)? Through His death and resurrection, you can find freedom from the darkness and the hunger of sin.
The only way you can, every day, fully accept the truth about your sin, is by, every day, fully accepting the truth about your Savior (2x).
There is an ancient relief sculpture that drives home this idea of God's light and our darkness in a fascinating way. In the city of Rome, you can still find a monumental arch, one erected in 81 AD to commemorate the victories of the Roman general Titus. One of the sculptured panels on the inside of the arch depicts Roman soldiers carrying away the spoils after the victory of Titus in Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Many Jews died and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. The darkness of human sin was deep. But in that sculpture we find reminders, for two of the spoils of war being carried away were the Temple's menorah and the golden table on which the bread was put out.
That's history. But think about your own history. As I mentioned, the only way you can, every day, fully accept the truth about your sin, is by, every day, fully accepting the truth about your Savior. But we must look, not only to the past, but also to the future. One of the ways we daily accept these truths is through hope; hope of what He will give, in light of what he has already given. I mentioned three NT passages to which Leviticus 24 points us. Let's finish with that third passage...
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,  and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life. (Revelation 21:22-27)
More in Living Leviticus
July 22, 2018Spiritual Vows and a Voluntary Spirit (Leviticus 27:1-34)
July 15, 2018Just Justice? (Leviticus 26)
July 8, 2018Belonging and Belongings (Leviticus 25)