Here in Leviticus we find a command that is given that embodies the ideals of justice, restoration, and redemption. Ideals that are at the heart of the Torah. And yet if we continue in scripture we find that these instructions were never once carried out by Israel. In fact, we read later in the Hebrew Scriptures that it was Israel’s failure to keep this command that was the reason for 70 years of captivity in Babylon. But this command, these ideals are at the heart of the Torah, and they are at the heart of Yeshua’s ministry.
When we read through Leviticus 24 from a Western perspective, the chapter seems disjointed and out of place. What exactly is this chapter doing at this spot? It is an inconclusive answer to this question that leads some to make up various answers. However, if we stop and consider every part of this chapter in the context of all that surrounds it, we might just find that there is an important topic being addressed just under the surface. An important aspect of community that up to this point has not been addressed in Leviticus.
The fourth movement of the book of Leviticus, the last part of the book that is all about communal worship, begins with the primary events that bind people together. Celebration. Holidays and remembrances. When we first encounter the holiday cycle of Leviticus we recognize that there are seven festivals, but what are these festivals and what can they teach us about our God and His Messiah?
It is easy for a modern audience to look to the text of the Torah and point out how simple or backward it is according to our modern and enlightened view of the world. This passage in Leviticus is a minefield of gotchas for this type of criticism. However, when we understand what topics it is that the Bible is addressing, rather than pushing our own agenda onto the text, we might find that what is being described is, in fact, quite profound as it teaches us about God and those who are to come into His presence.
At the beginning of chapter 19 we read a phrase that is repeated all throughout Leviticus, and in the New Testament. We read that we are to be holy because God is holy. Usually we take this phrase and we steep it in the form of a command. We are to accomplish holiness. But perhaps that is not how we should understand that phrase. Perhaps there is something more and something deeper being revealed.