Torah Portion Shemini

Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47

2 Samuel 6:1 - 7:17

This year we will be going through the Torah portion cycle with short teachings under 30 minutes each. Included in this post are the Haftarah portion and the Echoes Through Scriptures from previous years.

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Shalom! This is the twenty-fifth portion of the Haftarah cycle. This week we discuss two important stories; first the improper moving of the Ark of the Covenant by David, and second, David's desire to honor YHWH by building a Temple for Him.  This year we will be spending approximately one hour on each of the Haftarah portions and investigating them from their historical setting and their ancient Near Eastern context as well as making connections back to the Torah Portion.  I pray that you will enjoy these teachings!

In Sh'mini, Rico and I discuss Mark 7 and Acts 10 to determine if the laws of Leviticus 11 actually were abrogated, as is often claimed. We also discuss the role of the priests in the application of the blood of the sacrifices.

Parashah Shemini
The Eighth Day...Hanukkah!

Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47

After a seven-day long rites of passage to initiate Aaron and his sons into the priesthood, it is now the 8th day; the 8th of Nissan/Aviv[1]. Again our text presents us with an elaborate ritual which seems foreign to the modern reader, filled with multiple offerings and resulting in fire shooting forth from the Tabernacle tent to consume the offerings. While many may wonder why it is necessary to go into such detail about each offering again, the reason would have been apparent to the ancient audience. The level of detail informs the reader of the importance of the ritual and, more significantly, the importance of the outcome of the ritual. Modern people often give the same level of attention to detail for important events as well. On an average day, a couple may take a few pictures of themselves, but on important days the number of pictures as well as the level of planning for that day will increase significantly. Think of the level of planning and the number of pictures that are taken at a wedding, a day of extreme ritual importance in a couple’s life. What was it that was happening on that 8th day so long ago that was of such extreme importance to ancient Israel? The text informs us that Moses, through Aaron, informed the sons of Israel it is “because today YHWH will appear to you[2].” Thus, in order to prepare for the initiation of public worship in the Mishkan of their covenant King, an elaborate ritual must be performed.

The offerings presented at the ceremony were a purification offering and burnt offering for Aaron, a purification offering and burnt offering for the congregation of Israel, and a well-being offering. As we discussed before, the purification offering (often mistranslated “sin offering”) served to ritually cleanse the altar from the shameful impurity caused by Israel’s sins and prolonged impurities. The necessity for such an offering at this point seems strange since the altar was just purified the day before during the rites of passage ceremony, but it should not surprise us since we understand that YHWH is about to appear to the people and so there is a need for an extra level of purity and sanctification. This is much like how mothers often have their children do one last cleaning of the house just prior to the arrival of an important guest. The burnt offering served the function of inviting the presence of YHWH to earth. Some scholars have misunderstood this offering and claimed it functioned as an offering for sin, but we do not have any example of such usage in the Scriptures[3]. Instead we find examples such as Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Ba’al where there was a contest to see “which God will answer with fire” and Noah’s offerings after exiting the ark to see that the burnt offering functioned to attract God’s presence; either for sanctification (such as the daily burnt offerings), or so that the offerer may petition God. This function of the burnt offering was also well attested in the ancient Near East and thus there would have been no need to explain it to Israel. For example, in the 11th tablet of the standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh (a story of the flood), the hero Gilgamesh survives the seven-day flood which had even frightened the gods. After the waters receded, Gilgamesh offers a sacrifice and “the gods smelled the savor, the gods smelled the sweet savor, the gods crowded like flies about the sacrificer[4].” Gilgamesh’s offering served to attract his gods back to earth after they were driven away by the flood waters. Lastly in the Leviticus 9 ritual, a well-being offering is offered which serves as a covenantal meal with YHWH, the expensive ox and ram serving as a fitting reception for Israel’s covenant King.

This initiation ritual has its parallels in other ancient Near Eastern nations as well, but with significant differences. In the Sumerian Gudea cylinder B (Lagash, ~2050 BCE) there is described an initiation festival of a temple for the god Ningirsu and his consort Baba where their idols are carried into their new temple, accompanied by purification procedures, divination procedures, housewarming gifts, animal sacrifices, and a banquet for Ningirsu[5]. While there are many parallels between this account and the Leviticus 9 account, it is the differences that are most striking and truly where we can discern the significance of this event. In the Gudea account and other pagan initiation festival accounts, the ceremony reaches its climax when the god and/or goddess are enthroned in the temple, but in Israel the Ark (the earthly representation of the throne of YHWH) is already in the Tabernacle before this initiation ceremony even begins! In Exodus 40:20-21 we learned that it was the first of the sanctified objects brought in and later in 40:34-35 the Glory theophany of YHWH was already present in the Mishkan prior to the account of Leviticus 9. Thus, rather than witnessing the idols of their deity entering the temple as happened in Mesopotamia, Israel witnesses YHWH as He emerges from the Tabernacle in the form of fire[6]. The difference is quite stunning! No Israelite could possibly think that humans had moved YHWH in, He clearly entered of His own desire and the implication is that He could also leave if Israel’s sins and impurities became to great[7]. The message was quite clear; Israel’s covenant King had chosen to dwell with His people. But this dwelling of the Presence also brought grave danger, for if the priests did not follow the proper protocols in His house, death could result as in the case of Nadab and Abihu.

Why did all of this have to occur on the 8th day? Shouldn’t Israel have initiated the Tabernacle immediately upon God’s presence entering? It turns out that eight was a significant number for initiation. It is upon the 8th day of life that the Israelite son is to be initiated into the covenant through circumcision, the healed leper is re-initiated into public worship on the 8th day (Lev. 14:10-20), the man with the seminal discharge is also re-initiated on the 8th day (Lev. 15:14-15), the initiation of the new annual Torah reading cycle begins on the 8th day of Sukkot, Shavuot is determined by counting seven weeks and then adding one day (7 x 7 + 1 day), and  the Jubilee cycle also has a 7 x 7 + 1 pattern, but with years (Lev 25:8-10). The technical name for this initiation in Hebrew is hanukkah, a word that many of us are familiar with today. In Numbers 7:10, where Tabernacle initiation event is recounted, we read that the that the leaders of the congregation offered offerings for the hanukkat ha’mizbeach, ‘the initiation of the altar’. The fact that the focus is upon the initiation of the altar is evident in Leviticus 9 by the description of the sacrifices which focuses entirely upon every rite that involves the altar and excludes those that do not, such as the hand-leaning ritual[8]. Certainly those rituals were also performed, but the narrative does not include them in order to shift the focus entirely upon the initiation of the altar. This concept of an eight-day initiation of the altar is also the basis for the rededication, or better translated, the re-initiation of the altar after it was defiled by Antiochus Epiphanies IV. This event was later memorialized by the celebration of the festival of Hanukkah, an eight day celebraion. The concept of 8th day initiation was not limited to the altar in the ancient Israelite culture. In addition to the other Scriptural occurrences mentioned above, we also find it in the apocryphal work of 4 Esdras 7:30-35 where there is recorded the belief that the world would be turned to primeval silence for seven days and on the 8th day it would be revived (re-initiated) and there would be a resurrection of the dead. 2 Enoch 33:1-2 also hints that the world would follow a 7,000-year cycle followed by an 8th which would occur outside of time; eternity. Interestingly, the early believers in Yeshua picked up on this theme and considered Yeshua’s resurrection to have occurred on the 8th day (between sundown on Saturday and sunrise on Sunday). The Romans did not have the modern concept of a five-day work week; slaves worked every day. Because many of the early believers were slaves and were not given the Shabbat off from work, it became custom to meet that evening after work and remain in fellowship until morning the next day[9]. This meeting became labeled as the eighth-day celebration, commemorating the Yeshua’s resurrection on that same day of the week. Sadly, when the mass conversion of Gentiles occurred in the mid-2nd century AD and anti-Semitism became rampant, this began the shift to Sunday worship and the rejection of the Shabbat[10]. But regardless of the later misapplication, we can see the cultural significance of the 8th day, the initiation or hanukkah. As believers in Yeshua, not only can we appreciate the initiation of the altar when YHWH appeared before His people, but we can also rejoice in the 8th day when Yeshua was resurrected, an act which showed the righteousness of God to the entire world and initiated the hope of our salvation and future resurrection in our Messiah, Yeshua.

 

Footnotes:

[1] For the specific day of the month, compare to Exodus 40:17 that states the Tabernacle was completed on the first day of the first month. Note that the Hebrew word for ‘eighth’ is shemeni, which is the name of this Torah portion.

[2] Leviticus 9:4.

[3] The often cited example is Job 1:5 where Job would offer burnt offerings for his children after their night of debauchery “in the case that my children have sinned and cursed God”. Yet this does not hold up to examination, offering a sacrifice for another person’s sins is never allowed in the Torah. The burnt offerings in Job serve the function of accompanying his petition; they are offered as a gift to YHWH in hopes that He will grant Job’s petition.

[4] Pritchard, ANET, 94-95.

[5] Walton, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 298–299.

[6] Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 574-575.

[7] Cf. Ezekiel 9-11.

[8] Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 571.

[9] Cf. Acts 20:7-12. Note that the “first day of the week” in Jewish understanding begins at sunset on Saturday evening.

[10] For more information on this, please consider Samuele Bacchiochi’s From Sabbath to Sunday, available in PDF for free at: http://www.churchathome.org/pdf/From%20Sabbath%20to%20Sunday-samuele%20bacchiocchi.pdf

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2018-04-05T19:41:28+00:00

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