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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 24

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary




Two important elements of the tabernacle ritual remain to be described the oil for light and the showbread. Then follows a bit of sad history, like the bit found in chapter 10 a detail of a flagrant act of sin and its dreadful punishment. A brief recapitulation of the lex talionis closes the chapter.


Is the divine requirement of life for life still in force? Jesus Christ did not repeal the law of Moses, or any part of it, as a civil regulation, while he condemned the prevalent perversion of its principles to the purposes of private selfishness, licentiousness, malice, and revenge. He rebuked the bad morality of the Pharisees, which they saw fit to propound in the words of Moses, but contrary to his spirit. It is important to observe that in this law of like for like, containing under a mutable form the changeless principles of even-handed justice, the specification of “life for life,” as it stands in Mosaism, always stands first. See Leviticus 24:17-20; Exodus 21:23-25; Deuteronomy 19:21. Why, then, if our Lord meant to abrogate the law, did he not begin with its principal and leading title? Because it could hardly be perverted to the purposes of private revenge, hedged in as it was by all the cautious limitations of the Mosaic code. Jesus declares that he who shall say to his brother “Thou fool!” shall be in dagger of the fire of gehenna, that is, of being burnt in the valley of Hinnom the most awful punishment which a Jew could imagine.

St. Paul did not understand that the law of capital punishment was repealed when he declared that the magistrate held not the sword in vain, but was a terror to evil-doers. What Christ, the legislator greater than Moses, has not repealed, modern sentimentalism will never permanently overthrow; though it is unquestionable that there is a strong tendency at present towards an indiscriminate philanthropy, and a religion divested of those stern features which the representations of the New Testament imply as certainly as do the more express declarations of the Old. The fact that the opposition to the death penalty for murder universally allies itself with the rejection of the eternal punishment of all who obey not Christ, is an argument of no small weight in favour of its present binding force, since errors, like truths, grow in clusters.

Verse 2


2. Pure oil The best oil is made from olive berries gathered in November and December, when they have begun to change colour, but before they have become black. The berry in the more advanced state yields more oil, but of an inferior quality.

Beaten The beating was done in a mortar. The other modes of preparing the olive berries for the press were by grinding in a mill, and by treading. The oil was kept in jars carefully cleansed, and for use was drawn out in horns or other small vessels. Olive oil was largely exported from Palestine.

Continually That is, every night from twilight till sunrise. Some say that “the evening lamp,” the central one of the seven, burned perpetually, the others being extinguished during the day. Bahr says that the lights were “never all extinguished together, and that they were the perpetual symbol of all derived gifts of wisdom and holiness in man, reaching their mystical perfection when they shine in God’s sanctuary to his glory.” But of this there is no proof. Aaron is said to have trimmed the lamps every morning and lighted them every evening. The oil required for each lamp was half a log, about two wine glasses, nearly three pints for the seven.

Verses 3-4

3, 4. Without the vail The outer sanctuary was one degree less awful in its holiness than the inner. With no opening to admit the light of day, it was illumined only by the golden lamp with its seven lights, one taller than the others, as the Sabbath is more sacred than the other days of the week. The vail typifies the humanity of Christ, at once concealing and manifesting the eternal glory. The candlestick was placed on the south side of the first apartment, opposite the table of show-bread, which it was intended to illumine. The inner apartment, or most holy place, was never illumined save by the outflashing of the shechinah. This beautifully symbolizes the fact, that under the dispensation of the Spirit he certifies his own presence in the believer’s consciousness, needing no other light. 1 John 2:27.

A statute forever So long as that dispensation continued. When the Holy Ghost descended to light up the temple of the Christian heart, the burning lamp was no longer needed in the Jewish temple.

He shall order the lamps This duty consisted in placing the lamps upon the candlestick in the evening and lighting them, and cleaning and filling them in the morning.

Verse 5

5. Twelve cakes The number of the tribes of Israel.

Two tenth deals See Leviticus 23:13. According to the lowest estimate, that of the rabbins, there would be ten and a half gallons required for the twelve loaves.

Verses 5-9


This had already been offered at the dedication of the tabernacle, and placed by Moses upon the table. Exodus 39:36; Exodus 40:23. The quantity of the material and the number of the loaves are here specified, also their arrangement on the table and the period of their renewal.

Verse 6

6. Pure table It was overlaid with pure gold; the term “pure” may mean more than this, and bear something of the force which it has in Malachi 1:11. For its structure, see Exodus 37:10-16.

Before the Lord Not in the holy of holies, but in the first tabernacle. Exodus 40:24; Hebrews 9:2. This throws much light upon the significance of the showbread, or “bread of the face or faces.” The term “faces” denotes the presence not of the people, who were not admitted into the first tabernacle or court of the priests, but the presence of God. This view Bahr has elaborated with singular force and beauty. It is said in Exodus 23:21, that God’s name is in the angel of his presence, (face or faces.) The presence and the name may therefore be taken as equivalent. Both, in reference to their context, indicate the manifestation of God to his creatures. As the name stands for God himself, so the face, wherein a man’s individual personality is seen, stands for the person of God. To see the face is to see the person. The bread of the face is therefore that bread through which God is seen, that is, with the participation of which the seeing of God is bound up. Whence it follows that we have not to think of bread merely as such, as the means of nourishing bodily life, but as spiritual food, as a means of appropriating and retaining that life which consists in seeing the face of God. The bread of the face on the table in the tabernacle, the symbolic heaven, is an emblem of the heavenly bread. This points to none other than Jesus Christ. “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” After this synopsis of Bahr’s Symbolik we cannot forbear to add one beautiful and instructive emblem in reference to the position of the showbread, which was opposite the candlestick, (Exodus 40:24,) that its full light might fall upon it, prefiguring the precious truth that the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them to the believer.

Verse 7

7. Frankincense See Leviticus 2:1, note. The frankincense used by the Jews in the temple service must not be confounded with the common frankincense of commerce, which is a product of the Abies excelsa. The true frankincense is a product of the Boswellia thurifera. It is the symbol of intercession, (Revelation 8:3,) and it doubtless was to be burnt on the appointed altar.

A memorial See Leviticus 2:2, note.

Made by fire The incense was properly a fire-made offering, but the show-bread was improperly so called, since it was only fire-baked.

Verse 8

8. Every sabbath The show-bread never waxed old; it was always fresh. Through eternity Jesus will be a theme ever new, and inspiring fresh interest “a lamb as it had been slain.”

Verse 10

10. Son of an Israelitish woman The repetition of the statement that the blasphemer was the son of an Egyptian father and a Hebrew mother shows clearly the design of the author to direct attention to the dangers incident to such mixed marriages, and to raise a warning voice against them. This view is confirmed by the fact that the Bible only mentions three intermarriages with Egyptians, all of which result in evil. The second is the intermarriage of Solomon, and his consequent implication in idolatry. 1 Kings 3:1-4; 1 Kings 11:4. The third is to be found in 1 Chronicles 2:34-35, from which tradition traces the descent of Ishmael, the murderer of Gedaliah. Jeremiah 41:1-2.

Verses 10-23

THE BLASPHEMER STONED, Leviticus 24:10-23.

In the midst of the Sinaitic legislation we find an account of the arrest and punishment of a blasphemer. This unnatural and unexpected mingling of statutes and snatches of history, so different from the studied artifices of the forger, is a striking evidence of the authenticity of the book as a whole. See Numbers, Introduction, (1.)

Verse 11

11. Blasphemed The Seventy and Rashi erroneously render the original accurately pronounced, this being looked upon before God as a reviling of him. From this passage the rabbins, by an untenable exposition, derived their prohibition even to utter the name of Jehovah, called “the sacred tetragrammaton.” The provocation to this vilification of Jehovah is not given. It is probable that the adversary of the half Israelite had taunted him on account of his Egyptian descent as a disgrace, and adding that he had no part in the God of Israel and in his covenant, and that in the heat of passion the half-breed spoke contemptuously of Jehovah, and possibly contrasted him with the gods of his father.

The name We admit, with the rationalistic critics, that the designation of Jehovah by “the name,” is a practice of a later age. But this practice must have had a beginning, and that beginning may have been in the age of the Pentateuch. This is confirmed by the fact that in Leviticus 24:16 we have the full expression, “the name of Jehovah,” as evidently explanatory of the recently invented designation, “the name.” Hence no satisfactory proof that this piece of history is the interpolation of a later age can be derived from this phrase. From this passage we see that the Jews of this early period may have pronounced “the name” by substituting the consonants of Adonai for those of Jehovah, so that this practice cannot be regarded as a superstition originating with Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem. “This dread,” says Oehler, “sprang from the efforts of later Judaism to thrust back divinity to an unapproachable distance, and everywhere to put something between divinity and man.” The translation of Jehovah, by Κυριος , Lord, 250 years before Christ, confirms this statement. It is a strong incidental proof of the supreme godhead of Christ that he is called “the Name.” See R.V., Act 5:41 ; 3 John 1:7.

Shelomith A sad misnomer, for it signifies peacefulness. It is quite a common name in the Old Testament. Nothing more is known of this woman, who stands pilloried in history as the mother of a blasphemer.

Verse 12

12. In ward In prison, or under guard.

The mind of the Lord Literally, as the R.V., “To declare distinctly unto them according to the mouth of the Lord.” It would seem that this was the first violation of the third commandment.

Verse 14

14. Lay their hands upon his head For the significance of this ceremony, in the case of a victim for the altar, see chap. Leviticus 1:4, note. In this particular case, the witnesses who heard the blasphemy were required to cast off the guilt which they had involuntarily contracted by transferring it to the head of the sinner. By laying their hands upon his head they gave back the infection which they had received. In later ages it was a Jewish practice, when a person heard blasphemy, to lay his hand on the offender’s head to symbolize his sole responsibility for the guilt, and to rise up and tear his robe, which might never again be mended. See Matthew 26:65, note.

Let all the congregation stone him Says Baumgarten: “According to the sentence of Jehovah, the whole congregation was to be regarded as participating in the crime of the individual, because every one was a living member of the whole. For this reason the punishment was committed to the whole congregation, who gave back to the criminal its share of the guilt by leading him out of the camp and putting him to death. Thus they wiped off sin from Israel.” By this requirement of “all the congregation,” we are taught that for the efficient execution of laws against immoralities there must be strong public sentiment in favour of such law behind the officers of justice. The divine method, which puts a stone into every man’s hand to cast at the criminal, also effectually protects the witnesses. When any community has a righteous abhorrence of drunkenness, licentiousness, profanity, and other vices, sufficient to move a large majority of the citizens personally to assist in their suppression, these foul blots will be almost entirely wiped away from that community. The practice of stoning for blasphemy was continued till the martyrdom of Stephen.

Verse 15

15. Shall bear his sin See Leviticus 10:17; Numbers 9:13, notes.

Verse 17

THE LAW OF RETALIATION, Leviticus 24:17-23.

17. Killeth any man Smiteth the life of a man, whether bond or free. It is obvious that murder by any other means, as by poison, is included under the phrase “smiteth the life.”

Put to death The reason for regarding murder as a capital offence is because it is an act of the highest sacrilege, an outrage on the likeness of God in man. Human life is incomparably the most sacred thing on earth. Hence its destruction demands, as its penalty, the life of the murderer. To suffer a murder to go unavenged was regarded by both Jews and Greeks as a pollution of the land. Numbers 35:31; OEdipus Tyrannus, 100. No punishment is mentioned for attempted suicide; no guilt attached to one who killed a burglar at night in the act, (Exodus 22:2-3,) or a slave who died of rigorous treatment a few days after his punishment. Exodus 21:20-21. The execution of this sentence is expressly committed to the goel, the avenger of blood, after the verdict of guilt had been rendered by the proper tribunal, with at least two agreeing witnesses. Numbers 35:19-30. In regal times the sovereign assumed the execution of justice on the murderer as well as the right of pardon. 2 Samuel 13:39.

Verse 18

18. Beast for beast Rather, life for life. This is even-handed justice.

Verse 20

20. Breach for breach Broken limb for broken limb. This punishment is included in that of life for life, as a part is included in the whole. In those primitive times it was a stronger restraint from crime than the modern penalty of a term of imprisonment with good food and healthful labour.

The law of retaliation is for the guidance of the judge, and not a provision for the injured person to practice private revenge. It was this perversion of the law which Christ condemns, and not legal punishments enjoined by a magistrate. See Matthew 5:37-39, notes. Society is conserved by law, and law by penalties. There is mercy in this code, inasmuch as it protects the criminal against too severe punishment through the heat of popular indignation or the malice of a hostile party, as that of the priests and scribes against Jesus Christ. There may be injustice done by fixed penalties, but we are convinced that without them there is a liability of doing greater wrong.

Verse 22

22. One manner of law The Hebrew is more definite and concise one mishpat, verdict or judgment. Thus the amenability of foreigners to all the penalties of the Hebrew criminal law is emphasized with the utmost distinctness.

The stranger Since many strangers were slaves, it follows from Leviticus 24:17 that the wilful murder of a slave entailed the same punishment as in the case of a freeman.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 24". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/leviticus-24.html. 1874-1909.
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