The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD said to Moses, 2“Tell the Israelites they must bring pure oil of crushed olives for the lamp to keep it burning. 3Tell Aaron to set it up in the meeting tent outside the curtain to burn nightly from sunset to sunrise, generation to generation. 4Set the lamps up on the golden stand regularly.
5“Bake twelve loaves of bread from fresh flour, a gallon of flour for each loaf. 6Set them in two rows of six loaves on the golden table, 7and put pure frankincense with each row to represent an offering by fire. 8Tell Aaron to do this every Sabbath as a permanent rule. 9Aaron and his descendants shall eat the bread in a sacred place because the bread is sacred and is the portion for the priests’ families from the offerings by fire to the LORD.”
10A man who was the son of an Israelite mother and Egyptian father came into the camp and began fighting with an Israelite man, 11and cursed the holy name. They brought him to Moses (the man’s mother was Shelomith, daughter of Dibri, a Danite). 12He was arrested and placed in custody until the will of the LORD could be discerned.
13The LORD said to Moses, 14“Take him outside the camp. Tell those who heard his curse to lay their hands on his head and let all the people stone him. 15Tell the Israelites that whoever curses God will be held accountable, 16and must be put to death by stoning. All the people must stone such a one regardless of whether they are native or foreign. If they curse the holy name, they must be executed.
17“Furthermore, anyone who murders another must be put to death. 18Anyone who kills another person’s animal must repay in kind, life for life. 19Anyone who injures another must suffer the same injury in return: 20bone for bone, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Whatever injury was given must be suffered in return. 21Anyone who kills an animal must repay with an animal, but anyone who kills a person must be executed. 22The same rule applies to all, native or foreigner; I am the LORD.”
23So, Moses spoke to the people and they took the blasphemer outside the camp and stoned him to death as the LORD had commanded Moses.
1-4: The people are told to bring oil for the lamp that is inside the tabernacle, just outside the curtain that encloses the most holy place where the ark of the covenant is kept. The lamp is to burn continually, replenished by the priest who enters every morning and evening. The eternal flame becomes in later prophecy (Isaiah 49:6), a symbol of Israel as a “light to the nations.” According to the description of the making of the lamp stand which we read several weeks back, it is the menorah, with seven branches. In the book of Revelation, the seven lamps are used as a symbol of the seven churches in Asia.
5-9: The bread of presence is the daily consecration to God of the labor and work of the people.
10-16: Beginning at verse 10 we are given an account of what happens when someone blasphemes the name of the LORD. There are several interesting aspects to the case: 1) the Israelite who blasphemes the name of God has an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father, which reminds us that we have only just recently left slavery behind in Egypt. 2) It also indicates that, although the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, there must have been a great deal of cross-culturalization. 3) God simply will not tolerate any rebellion on the part of the people — disrespecting God is a capital crime, punishable by stoning to death.
17-23: The story of the blasphemer segues into a list of criminal acts which merit various penalties, from death to restitution. Verse 20 is the famous “eye for an eye” saying. These verses seem pretty brutal to us but represent a breakthrough for human rights in ancient society. You aren’t allowed to kill somebody for breaking your arm or knocking out your tooth; injuries could only be avenged in kind.
Our relationship to God is serious business, isn’t it? It is, in fact, life-sustaining and therefore to trash it is life-threatening. Of course, we don’t put to death people who curse the LORD these days, nor should we — “vengeance is mine, says the LORD.” But it is important to understand that disrespecting God is life-threatening, eternal life-threatening.