An Outstanding Study on Leviticus

Michael Morales, professor on Biblical Studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Taylors, South Carolina wrote a impressive study on the book of Leviticus. This book of the Pentateuch is of utmost importance to understand not only the Pentateuch but finally the whole Bible.  Morales explains that the fundamental question of Old Testament cult is how sinful men can become members of the household of God. That is the reason that he gave his study on Leviticus the apt title based on Psalm 24:3 Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? This entrance liturgy is at the heart of the book Leviticus- and I would add – it makes also clear how the cult actually functioned in the religious practice and faith of the people of Israel under the Old Testament

The last decennia Old Testament scholars have begun to realize that the Jewish Medieval expositors of the Old Testament rightly saw a connection between the creation narrative and the narrative of the building of the tabernacle. The tabernacle is a repre-sentation of the cosmos and the paradise and God meant the cosmos and the paradise as a sanctuary. Morales points to the fact that the seven-day structure of the creation account is mirrored by the tabernacle instructions in Exodus 25-31. Both the end of the first creation account and the instructions of the building of the tabernacle conclude with the Sabbath (Gen. 2:3; Ex. 31:12-18). Man’s chief end is to serve God and to find rest in God.

Morales thinks that the paradise can be compared to the holy of holies of the sanctuary. I would prefer to compare the paradise to holy of the sanctuary among other because we can see a parallel between the tree of life and the golden candlestick. The land of Eden which I distinguish from the paradise, can be compared in my view with the court of the tabernacle and the earth outside land of Eden with the era outside the sanctuary.

I think that the holy of holies is the heaven as the dwelling place of God. The new paradise transcends the old one that the whole new reality according to the book of Revelation can be compared with the holy of holies (Rev. 21:16). I realize the tentative nature on my proposal, because of the limited nature of the evidence, but that is also true for the other view. In the way he shows the relationship not only between the service of tabernacle and the expulsion from the paradise of our first parents Adam and Eve, Morales surpasses in what has already been written by other authors about the relationship between the cult and the first chapters of Genesis. Morales argues that the cult is God’s remedy to undo the Fall.

The cult is the reversal of the expulsion from Eden. Eden’s eastward orientation corresponds to the east­ward entrance of the tabernacle. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the paradise they went in eastward direction. Cherubs made it impossible for them to re-enter the paradise. By the cult the way to communion with God is re-opened for fallen men. In the cult can be seen as a returning to Eden. Certainly worshippers under the Old Testament dispensation experienced that sanctuary as a kind of restored paradise.

Quite often it has been stated that the Fall of man is not very important for the Old Testament believers, because with perhaps Hos. 6:7 as an exception the Fall is never mentioned apart from Genesis 3. The study of Morales teaches us that the Fall and the resulting alienation between God and man is the rationale for the Old Testament cult. The sanctuary and the cult are the centre the heart of the covenant of God with Israel.

Adam was a kind of priest in the paradise. Already directly after the expulsion of the paradise is re-installed as priest. In the Pentateuch both for the vestments Adam received after the Fall and the vestments of priests the verb ‘to clothe’ (lābaš) and the noun ‘tunics’ (kuttōneth) are used. I would add that in the service of the sanctuary with the just the reserve direction compared with the expulsion from the paradise. Now the direction is not from the west to the east but from the east to the west. On the Day of Atonement the direction goes most to the west when the high priest enters the holy of holies. Communion with God disrupted by the Fall is only possible through the service of the tabernacle.

And as Morales of course notices: the Day of Atonement is the climax of this service. Leviticus 16 being the centre not only of the book Leviticus but of the whole Pentateuch. Morales detects a chiastic structure in Leviticus with Lev. 16:16-20a – the verses in which the actual rite of atonement is described –as the centre.

Morales rightly defends that the leaning of the hand of the worshipper on the head of the animal of sacrifice signifies that the animal is a vicarious substitute. I am not so sure whether only in the case of the scapegoat, on whom the high priest lays both hands, we can speak of a transfer of sin. The argument of Morales is that the scapegoat was send away from God’s presence, while the flesh of the sacrificial animal is considered most holy and the one, who incinerates the carcass in a clean place, requires no further purification.

I think that it was regarded that by the sprinkling in front of the veil and putting it on the horns on the altar of incense or burnt offering, the sin transfer to the animal was transferred to the altars and broader the sanctuary. In my opinion that was the reason that the flesh of the animal whose blood was put on the horns of the burnt offering altar was considered most holy. We can add that by eating the most holy the priests also had a part in purifying the people of sin.

On the Day of the Atonement by means of the sprinkling of the blood first in the holy of holies and the in the holy and on the burnt offering altar and by the putting of the blood on the altars of incense and burnt offering was removed from the sanctuary and now ritually transferred to the carcasses. That was the reason that the one who incinerates the carcasses on the Day of Atonement in a clean place, requires after that purification. I think that on the Day of Atonement the sins ritually transferred to the priests by eating the most holy

Morales underscores that living holy before God as demanded in the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26) is only possible because of the service of the tabernacle described in Leviticus 1-16 including the learning of the distinction between clean and unclean (Leviticus 11-15). The climax of this first part of the book of Leviticus is the description of the ritual of the Day of Atonement. That God’s people is a holy people living for Him and walking in his ways is the final aim of the service of sanctuary.

In the final chapter Morales explains that the Levitical cult of the tabernacle and later temple, it priesthood and rituals is all fulfilled in the incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming down from heaven of the New Jerusalem, as the holy of holies with the Lamb as its temple, is the final fulfillment. I agree fully with the endorsement of Donald A. Carson that this volume will spawn some excellent sermons on Leviticus. Research of the Bible in this way shows that academic study of the Bible stands in the service of the devotion of God.

Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A biblical theology of the book Leviticus, New Studies in Biblical Theology 37 (Nottingham/Downers Grove: Apollos/IVP-USA, 2015), paperback 347 pp., £16,99 (ISBN 9781783593682)

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