Introduction to Part 4 pages 353-354
North begins his two-page introduction of Leviticus chapters 23 and 24 with two quotes - one from 23:1-2, the other from 24:15-16 - and notes (page 353 - my italics) that
‘Leviticus 23 and the first section of Leviticus 24 are concerned with corporate religious feasts. The second half of Leviticus 24 deals with blasphemy’
This, therefore, divides the two chapters into the divisions 23:1-24:9 and 24:10-23 something that there doesn’t, at first, appear to be evidence for within the text. But North justifies his position by seeing the inclusion of 24:1-9 being relevant because they deal with ‘corporate religious feasts’.
Even a cursory glance over the verses in question, however, reveal to us that these verses have very little - if anything - to do with the annual and weekly festivals that God laid upon the Israelites, making mention, as they do, of the continual burning light that was to shine in the Holy Place (v.1-4) and the bread of the presence which was to be laid out continually before the presence of the Lord, again in the Holy Place (v.5-9). And these acts weren’t performed corporately but by the established High Priest.
Therefore, the two chapters would be best to have been divided into three - the middle division (24:1-9) standing alone as instructions to High Priest and his sons. To include it within the framework of the festivals obscures its interpretation and, besides, the often repeated formula
‘YHWH said to Moses’
appears in 24:1 being indicative of a new passage. In this manner, 24:1-9 would be more likely to be joined in interpretation with what follows it, rather than with what precedes. Even so, there appears to be little or no similarity between these two passages so it seems best to take the two passages as three sections.
North’s third sentence is no more accurate. He writes (page 353) that
‘The judicial link between these passages is point four of the biblical covenant: sanctions’
He tries to go on and prove the tenuous link by speaking of his first division as demonstrating ‘covenant-renewal’ and the second as ‘covenant-breaking’ but such labels could equally well be applied to most of the contents of the book of Leviticus and so could his inclusive label ‘sanctions’ which heads his explanation of the two chapter passage.
North has previously summarised ‘point four of the biblical covenant’ (page xli) as
and commented on the book of Numbers which, to North, is totally indicative of this fourth covenant characteristic (page xlvii) that it indicates
‘God’s response to oath-keeping [that is, the blessing] or oath-breaking [the curse]’
but these descriptions can’t equally be applied to the passage in question. Though it’s true that 24:10-23 outlines ‘sanctions’ and ‘judgment’ directed towards an individual who’s blasphemed/cursed, the vast majority of the Scriptures in question have nothing to do either with an intended ‘blessing’ or ‘curse’.
Again, there are better passages throughout Leviticus which deal with the blessing and the curse, the reaction of God towards both covenant-keeping and covenant-breaking, and here we see the Scriptures pressured into yielding a result that they don’t naturally bear.
As I’ve previously noted, whatever good can be said about the fivefold covenant structure outlined in his introductory notes, it’s being applied to the Scripture and made to be in harmony with it, rather than to allow the Scripture to speak for itself and yield what’s obviously there.
Concluding, the fourth point of the ‘biblical covenant’ model isn’t an accurate label to be put on Leviticus chapters 23 and 24 – it’s only when we begin 24:10 that we encounter either a positive blessing or curse directed towards the people.
Although North notes (page 353) that
‘Leviticus 23 lists the three national covenant-renewal celebrations: Passover...Firstfruits...and Tabernacles...’
he may have missed the point of the passage. The chapter deals with all the ‘holy days’ and festivals that had, up to that point, been commanded upon Israel beginning with the weekly Sabbath and then proceeding through the annual festivals in chronological order. His statement rather obscures the intention of the passage even though his statement isn’t denying the full content.
As one who’s extensively studied Leviticus chapter 23 (presumably in greater depth than North) it’s going to be too easy to me to criticise him for incomplete developments of themes and this is something that I shall endeavour to avoid. North’s intentions in dealing with this passage is to view it in an economic context rather than, as I have, with regard to the Person and Work of Christ. Having intentions that differ, it shouldn’t be taken that we stand opposed simply because we come to the passage with different targets but solely on the basis of what Scripture is expounded to yield.
North’s statement (page 353) that
‘Verse 22 is seemingly a textual anomaly...’
is quite correct (as noted in my teaching on the festivals) and this verse will form the basis of his teaching contained within chapter 22 which follows. His chapter 23 will deal exclusively with the second section of his division (24:10-23).
North also states (page 354) that
‘Covenant is an inescapable concept. A man must affirm a covenant of some kind...Covenantal affirmations in the modern world are usually implicit rather than explicit...Marriage is today regarded as a contract rather than an oath-bound institution under God’s sanctions in history’
The problem is that the five point Biblical covenant as experienced and performed by ordinary men and women in the Old Testament (see my notes on this subject) and in contrast to the suzerainty covenant that North proposes, demands a sacrifice to a god who’s called to witness between the two covenanted parties.
Quite obviously, this form of ‘cutting the covenant’ is seldom - if ever - practiced in today’s society and it’s for this reason that a covenant is seldom made between parties that’s in accordance with the Biblical model.
Neither is the swearing of the oath performed nor the witness given for each of the two parties. Because we use such language as ‘oath’ it shouldn’t blind us to the facts of the matter - very rarely do two parties take the name of their God upon themselves to watch over the covenant that’s being made - and neither is there a witness that reminds both parties of the agreement that they’ve made between themselves.
It’s quite true that certain aspects of the Biblical covenant remain part of human society, but the complete fivefold structure is largely missing.
North’s statement concerning today’s society (page 354) that
‘People make and break covenants without knowing what they’re doing’
is fanciful. Covenants, as defined in the Bible, were never made by parties who were blind to the importance of what they were doing and the deeds that they were obligating themselves to perform. Certainly, people may say all kinds of things in a moment and forget they said them just as quickly but they don’t constitute a Biblical covenant and shouldn’t be considered as such.
North concludes the Introduction by briefly looking at the second division of the two chapter passage. It would be expecting too much to think that he’ll deal with these verses in any great depth, but the reader is left hanging when North accepts the death penalty laid upon the transgressor as binding without stating a reason for it.
He notes (page 354)
‘This is the ultimate reparations payment to God in history: a forcible crossing of the ultimate boundary in history, death’
But a reparation offering paid back the value of the offence committed plus a penalty of a certain proportion and it doesn’t, at first glance, appear a righteous penalty to be laid upon a person. For instance, how has God suffered damage and how does the death of the transgressor make payment for that loss (for this is the intention of the reparation offering)?
It’s only to be hoped that North will develop this theme in chapter 23 for a proof concerning blasphemy being a reparation transgression hasn’t yet been proven.
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