Notes (NET Translation)
1 The LORD spoke to Moses:
2 “Command the Israelites to bring to you pure oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually.
“Pure” refers to the purity of the ingredients. Verse 3 makes it explicit that the lamp burned from evening until morning. The lamp did not burn “continually” in the sense of forever or always, rather it burned regularly each night.
3 Outside the veil-canopy of the congregation in the Meeting Tent Aaron must arrange it from evening until morning before the LORD continually. This is a perpetual statute throughout your generations.
4 On the ceremonially pure lampstand he must arrange the lamps before the LORD continually.
5 “You must take choice wheat flour and bake twelve loaves; there must be two tenths of an ephah of flour in each loaf, 6 and you must set them in two rows, six in a row, on the ceremonially pure table before the LORD.
The table with the twelve loaves of bread on it represented the twelve tribes in fellowship with God. That is, God served as the host, having a meal prepared for the twelve tribes at his place of residence. This meal was eaten weekly by the priests as representatives of the people inside the holy chamber in the presence of God.1
Since the surface of the table is roughly 3 feet by 1.5 feet or 90 by 45 centimeters and since it also had to have room for other utensils (Exod 25:29), it is hard to imagine how all of the bread could have fit on the table. Were the loaves laid out in two rows, or were they stacked in two columns of six loaves each? Given the size of these loaves, some scholars have suggested that the bread may have been in two piles rather than two rows. That the way of handling these loaves varied is supported by the fact that later sources refer to more than one table. The Chronicler mentions tables for the bread of the Presence (1 Chr 28:16); the Solomonic Temple had ten tables according to 2 Chr 4:8, 19. Conversely, 1 Kgs 7:48 mentions only one table.2
Josephus says the loaves were piled up (Ant. 3.6.6).
7 You must put pure frankincense on each row, and it will become a memorial portion for the bread, a gift to the LORD.
8 Each Sabbath day Aaron must arrange it before the LORD continually; this portion is from the Israelites as a perpetual covenant.
9 It will belong to Aaron and his sons, and they must eat it in a holy place because it is most holy to him, a perpetual allotted portion from the gifts of the LORD.”
10 Now an Israelite woman’s son whose father was an Egyptian went out among the Israelites, and the Israelite woman’s son and an Israelite man had a fight in the camp.
Recall that non-Israelites were among those who came out of Egypt (Ex 12:38). The man’s ancestry raises two questions: (1) is a half-Israelite subject to the law against blaspheming God (Ex 20:7; 22:28; Deut 5:11)? and (2) what is the proper punishment for a half-Israelite who violates this law?
11 The Israelite woman’s son misused the Name and cursed, so they brought him to Moses. (Now his mother’s name was Shelomith daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.)
One act of misuse or cursing is in view, not two separate acts. We don’t know exactly what the man said but “the Name” refers to God’s name, Yahweh. J. E. Hartley notes that the ancient Israelites avoided writing exactly what was said in such cases so as not to commit an act of blasphemy themselves. G. J. Wenham states that it was using God’s name in a curse that merited the death penalty. J. Milgrom believes it is cursing God, not another human, that is punishable by death.
12 So they placed him in custody until they were able to make a clear legal decision for themselves based on words from the mouth of the LORD.
This is a rare instance of incarceration in the Bible (cf. Num 15:34).
The use of prisons in the ancient Middle East was minimal. In a small country or among a tribal group they were virtually nonexistent.3
Penal incarceration as the actual punishment for a crime was seldom the norm in the ancient Near East. There were, however, debtors’ prisons and those where slaves were held, often on the estates of large landowners and kings. These guarded facilities served as living quarters from which escape was difficult.4
The fact that Moses had no prescribed legal precedent to deal with the case illustrates a theme noted earlier that the Old Testament law was not exhaustive nor comprehensive but often only offered principles for direction.5
13 Then the LORD spoke to Moses:
14 “Bring the one who cursed outside the camp, and all who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the whole congregation is to stone him to death.
Capital sentences were executed outside the area of settlement. This was due, at least in part, to the impurity attached to a corpse. It was also because the taking of a human life, even though by judicial process and required by law, was regarded as a horrendous act. In the laws of Deuteronomy (17:5), one convicted of a capital offense was to be taken to the gates of the city to be executed.6
15 Moreover, you are to tell the Israelites, ‘If any man curses his God he will bear responsibility for his sin, 16 and one who misuses the name of the LORD must surely be put to death. The whole congregation must surely stone him, whether he is a foreigner or a native citizen; when he misuses the Name he must be put to death.
17 “‘If a man beats any person to death, he must be put to death.
18 One who beats an animal to death must make restitution for it, life for life.
The phrase “life for life” indicates that the animal could be replaced by an animal of equal value.
19 If a man inflicts an injury on his fellow citizen, just as he has done it must be done to him — 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth — just as he inflicts an injury on another person that same injury must be inflicted on him.
Permanent injury or disfigurement is in view (fractures often did not heal as well as they do with modern medicine). The principle of lex talionis is that the punishment should be commensurate with the crime. It did not need to be carried out literally (Ex 21:26; Num 35:31).
21 One who beats an animal to death must make restitution for it, but one who beats a person to death must be put to death.
One who beats an animal to death can also pay the owner of the animal to make restitution. Monetary compensation was not permissible in the case of murder. Wealthy citizens could not buy their way out of execution.
22 There will be one regulation for you, whether a foreigner or a native citizen, for I am the LORD your God.'”
23 Then Moses spoke to the Israelites and they brought the one who cursed outside the camp and stoned him with stones. So the Israelites did just as the LORD had commanded Moses.
Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.
Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 17-22. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.
Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.