Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,XXIV.
(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—The regulations about the annual festivals and the ritual connected with them are now followed by directions with regard to the daily service and its ritual.
Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually.(2) Command the children of Israel.—This is the only other occasion in Leviticus on which God orders Moses to “command,” instead of imparting or communicating His will. (See Leviticus 6:1 in Hebrew, and 6:9 in English.) This command, however, occurs almost literally in Exodus 27:20-21.
Without the vail of the testimony, in the tabernacle of the congregation, shall Aaron order it from the evening unto the morning before the LORD continually: it shall be a statute for ever in your generations.(3) Without the vail of the testimony.—That is, the second vail, which divided the holy from the most holy. (See Exodus 27:21.)
In the tabernacle of the congregation.—Better, in the tent of meeting.
A statute for ever in your generations.—Better, a statute for ever throughout your generations, as this phrase is rendered in the Authorised Version in Leviticus 23:14; Leviticus 23:31, &c. (See Leviticus 3:17.)
He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the LORD continually.(4) The lamps upon the pure candlestick.—Though it would appear from Exodus 25:31 that the candlestick was called pure because it was made entirely of pure gold, yet, according to the authorities during the second Temple, the order here is that “he shall arrange the lamps after having purified and made clean the candlestick, and removed all the cinders.”
And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes thereof: two tenth deals shall be in one cake.(5) And bake twelve cakes.—The next order is about the preparation of the shewbread, and the use to be made of it. It was made in the following manner. Twenty-four seahs of wheat, which were brought as a meat offering, were beaten and ground, and after passing through twelve different sieves each finer than the other, twenty-four tenth-deals of the finest flour were obtained. The dough was kneaded outside the court, and after it was put into a golden mould of a definite size and form to impart the prescribed size and shape to each cake, was brought into the court. Here it was taken out of the first golden mould, and put into a second of the same material and form, and baked in it. As soon as it was taken out of the oven the cake was put into a third mould of the like description, and when it was turned out of it the cake was ten handbreadths long, five broad, one finger thick, and square at each end. Each cake, therefore, was made of two omers of wheat, or, as it is here said, of two tenth-parts of anephah, which is the same thing. (See Leviticus 14:10.) As an omer is the quantity which, according to the Divine ordinance (Exodus 16:16-19), supplies the daily wants of a human being, each of these cakes represents the food of a man and his neighbour, whilst the twelve cakes answered to the twelve tribes of Israel. Hence the ancient Ohaldee version has, after the words “twelve cakes,” “according to the twelve tribes.” The baking of these cakes took place every Friday afternoon, or Thursday if a feast which required Sabbatical rest fell on Friday. According to the testimony of those who were eyewitnesses to the baking, these cakes were unleavened.
And thou shalt set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before the LORD.(6) In two rows, six on a row.—Better, in two piles, six on a pile. The table on which the cakes are here ordered to be put stood along the northern or most sacred side of the holy place. Like all the sacred furniture, except the Ark of the Covenant, it was ranged lengthways of the sanctuary. It was one cubit and a half, or nine handbreadths high; the surface board or plate was two cubits, or twelve handbreadths long, and one cubit or six handbreadths broad. These twelve cakes were placed one upon another in two piles lengthwise on the breadth of the table. As the cakes were ten handbreadths long, and the table was only six handbreadths wide, the cakes projected two hand breadths at each side of the table.
Upon the pure table.—According to the interpretation which obtained during the second Temple, this denotes that the cakes are to be put upon the table itself, and not upon the hollow golden rods which were on the table to allow the air to pass through to prevent the shewbread becoming mouldy during the week. These hollow tubes are to be placed between the cakes, whilst the cakes themselves are to be put on the table itself and not on the tubes, so as to be raised above the table.
Before the Lord.—That is, the table which stood before the Lord, for it was placed in the sanctuary. The cakes, therefore, which were thus ranged upon it were constantly before God. Hence, not only is the table called “the table of His Presence” (Numbers 4:7), but the cakes are called “the bread of His Presence” (Exodus 25:30; Exodus 35:13; Exodus 39:36). The rendering of the Authorised Version, “table of shewbread,” and “shewbread,” is taken from Luther, and does not express the import of the names. The names, “the bread set in order,” “the sets of bread,” and the “table set in order,” which were given to the cakes (1Chronicles 9:32; 1Chronicles 23:29; 2Chronicles 13:11; Nehemiah 10:33) and to the table (2Chronicles 29:18) in later times, and which are unjustifiably obliterated in the Authorised Version, are derived from this verse where the cakes are ordered to be ranged in two “sets.”
And thou shalt put pure frankincense upon each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, even an offering made by fire unto the LORD.(7) Shalt put pure frankincense upon each row.—Better, shalt place pure frankincense by each pile. As the two piles of six cakes each measured together ten handbreadths in width, and as the length of the table was twelve handbreadths, there was a vacant space of two handbreadths left on the table for the two bowls with frankincense. The vacant place in question may, therefore, (1) have been divided between the two ends of the table, and a bowl with incense been put at each end on either side of the two piles; or (2) the disposable vacant space may have been left at one end of the table only, and the bowls put together on this end by one side of the two piles; or (3) each of the two piles of the cakes may have been put more or less closely to the other end of the table, thus leaving a vacant space between the two piles, into which the two bowls with the frankincense were placed. The last was the practice during the second Temple.
That it may be on the bread for a memorial.—Better, that it may be for the bread as a memorial, that is, that the frankincense may be offered up upon the altar, as God’s portion, instead of the bread which was given to the priests. By this means the prayers of the children of Israel will be brought into grateful remembrance before the Lord. (See Leviticus 2:2.)
Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant.(8) Every sabbath he shall set it in order.—That is, Aaron is to carry out these instructions in the first instance, as we are told in Leviticus 24:3, and after him, or together with him, the priests are sacredly to attend to this duty every sabbath throughout the year. Of the manner in which the shewbread, or the “bread of His Presence,” was renewed every Sabbath during the second Temple, we have a minute account. “Four priests entered the holy place, two of them carried in their hands the two piles of the cakes, and two carried in their hands the two incense cups, four priests having gone in before them, two to take off the two old piles, and two to take off the two incense cups. Those who brought in the new stood at the north side with their faces to the south, and those who took away the old stood at the south side with their faces to the north. As soon as the one party lifted up the old, the others put down the new, so that their hands were exactly over against each other, because it is written, before my Presence continually” (Exodus 25:30). The authorities during the second Temple took the expression “continually” to denote that the cakes were not to be absent for one moment. Hence the simultaneous action of the two sets of priests, one lifting up the old, and the other at once putting down the new shewbread.
Being taken from the children of Israel.—Like the daily sacrifices, the offerings for the congregation, the salt for the sacrifices, the wood for the altar, the incense, the omer (see Leviticus 23:10-11), the two wave-loaves (Leviticus 23:17), the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:5, &c.), the red heifer (Numbers 19:1-22), &c., the shewbread, or the “bread of His Presence,” according to the canon that obtained during the second Temple, were purchased with the people’s half-shekels, which every Israelite had to contribute annually toward the maintenance of the service in the sanctuary. (See Exodus 30:11-16.)
And it shall be Aaron's and his sons'; and they shall eat it in the holy place: for it is most holy unto him of the offerings of the LORD made by fire by a perpetual statute.(9) And it shall be Aaron’s and his sons’.—In accordance with this statute, the twelve cakes were divided during the second Temple between the high priest and the officiating priests, the former had six, and the latter had six, among them.
They shall eat it in the holy place.—Of the many things connected with the national service which became the perquisites of the priests, there were eight only which had to be consumed within the precincts of the sanctuary, and the shewbread is one of the eight, viz., (1) the remnant of the meat offering (Leviticus 2:3; Leviticus 2:10); (2) the flesh of the sin offering (Leviticus 6:26); (3) of the trespass offering (Leviticus 7:6); (4) the leper’s log of oil (Leviticus 14:10); (5) the remainder of the omer (Leviticus 23:10-11); (6) the peace offering of the congregation; (7) the two loaves (Leviticus 13:19-20); and (8) the shewbread.
Of the offerings of the Lord made by fire.—That is, the former part of the offering, as the frankincense, which was the other part, was burnt as an offering to God.
And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel: and this son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp;(10) The son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian.—The name of the Israelitish woman, whose son is the subject of the narrative before us, we are afterwards told was Shelomith. She had married an Egyptian whilst she and her people were still in Egypt. Though the father’s nationality is here expressly given, yet from the fact that he does not personally come before us in this incident, it is evident that he remained in Egypt, whilst the son was of the “mixed multitude” who followed the Israelites in their exodus (Exodus 12:38). This incident, therefore, which is so difficult satisfactorily to connect with the preceding legislation, brings before us a picture of the camp-life of the Israelites in the wilderness. According to tradition, the father of this blasphemer was the taskmaster under whom Shelomith’s husband worked in Egypt, that he had injured Shelomith and then smote her husband, that this was the Egyptian whom Moses slew (Exodus 2:11) for the injuries he had thus inflicted both upon the Hebrew and his wife, and that the culprit before us is the issue of the outraged Shelomith by the slain Egyptian. This will explain the rendering here of the ancient Chaldee version, “A wicked man, a rebel against the God of heaven, had come out of Egypt, the son of the Egyptian who slew an Israelite in Egypt, and outraged his wife, who conceived, and brought forth this son among the children of Israel.”
Went out among the children of Israel.—Better, he went out into the midst, &c. This shows that he lived outside the camp and came where he had no right to be.
This son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together.—The cause and the manner of their quarrel or contention are not given. But. according to tradition, the “man of Israel” was a Danite, and, as we are told in the next verse, his mother was of the tribe of Dan, this semi-Egyptian contended with this Danite that he had a right from the side of his mother to encamp among the children of Dan, whilst the Danite disputed this, maintaining that a son could only pitch his tent by the standard of his father’s name (Numbers 2:2). This contention, moreover, took place before the rulers who tried the case (Exodus 19:21-22). Hence the ancient Chaldee version translates it, “And while the Israelites were dwelling in the wilderness, he sought to pitch his tent in the midst of the tribe of the children of Dan; but they would not let him, because, according to the order of Israel, every man, according to his order, dwelt with his family by the ensign of his father’s house. And they strove together in the camp. Whereupon the son of the Israelitish woman and the man of Israel who was of the tribe of Dan went into the house of judgment.”
And the Israelitish woman's son blasphemed the name of the LORD, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses: (and his mother's name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan:)(11) Blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed.—Better, cursed the Name and reviled. In accordance with the above interpretation, this happened after sentence was given against him, and when they had left the court. Being vexed with the Divine enactments which excluded him from encamping in the tribe of his mother, he both cursed God who gave such law, and reviled the judges who pronounced judgment against him. The expression, “the Name,” which in after times was commonly used instead of the Ineffable Jehovah, has been substituted here for the Tetragrammaton by a transcriber who out of reverence would not combine cursing with it. The same shyness on the part of copyists has been the cause of inserting the word Lord (Adonaī) and God (Elohīm) for Jehovah in sundry passages of the Old Testament. During the second Temple, however, this passage was rendered, “he pronounced the Name and cursed.” Hence it was enacted that the simple pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton was criminal. In accordance with the ancient interpretation, the Chaldee version translates this part of the verse, “And when they came out of the house of judgment, having been condemned, the son of the Israelitish woman pronounced and reviled the great and glorious name of manifestation which had been heard on Sinai, and he was defiant and annoying.”
And they brought him unto Moses.—The contention about his right to pitch his tent among the tribe to which his mother belonged being a minor point, came within the jurisdiction of the rulers, according to the advice of Jethro (Exodus 18:22); whilst blaspheming God was considered too serious an offence, and hence the criminal was brought to Moses.
And his mother’s name was Shelomith.—Whether we accept the traditional explanation, that Shelomith was no consenting party to her union with the Egyptian, or whether we regard her as having voluntarily married him, the fact that both her personal and tribal names are here so distinctly specified, indicates that the record of this incident is designed to point out the ungodly issue of so unholy an alliance, and to guard the Hebrew women against intermarriage with heathen.
And they put him in ward, that the mind of the LORD might be shewed them.(12) And they put him in ward.—That is, to keep him in safe custody till he had been tried. In the Mosaic legislation confinement in a prison for a certain period as a punishment for an offence is nowhere enacted.
That the mind of the Lord might be shewed them.—Better, that he might direct them according to the command of the Lord, as the Authorised Version renders this phrase in Exodus 17:1, Numbers 4:37; Numbers 4:41; Numbers 4:49, &c. Though this was a transgression of the third commandment, and though it was ordained that he who cursed his earthly parent should be put to death (see Leviticus 20:9), yet no law existed as to the exact punishment which was to be inflicted upon him who cursed his heavenly Father (see Exodus 22:28); nor was it known whether such an offender should be left to God Himself to execute the sentence. For this reason the criminal was detained till Moses had appealed to the Lord for instruction, in order that he might direct the people accordingly. Similar instances of Moses appealing direct to the Lord for guidance in matters of law and judgment we have in Numbers 15:34; Numbers 28:1-5.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,(13) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—In none of these instances, however, is it stated how and where Moses made this appeal to God, whether he inquired by means of the Urim and Thummim, or otherwise. As God promised to reveal His will to Moses from the mercy-seat between the cherubim (Exodus 25:22), it is probable that the lawgiver received the Divine directions in the sanctuary.
Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.(14) Bring forth him that hath cursed.—The sentence which God now passes upon the blasphemer is that he should be conducted from prison outside the camp, where all unclean persons had to abide (Numbers 5:2-3), and where malefactors were executed (Hebrews 13:12-13).
Let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head.—That is, the witnesses who heard him blaspheme, and upon whose evidence he was convicted, and the judges who found him guilty, are to lay their hands upon the criminal’s head. Hence the Chaldee version translates it, “Let the witnesses who heard his blasphemy and the judges lay their hands upon his head.” This imposition of hands upon a criminal was peculiar to the blasphemer who was sentenced to death, and according to the Jewish canonists, the witnesses and the judges thereby declared that the testimony and the sentence were faithful and righteous, and at the same time uttered the solemn words, “Let thy blood be upon thine own head; thou hast brought this upon thyself.”
Let all the congregation stone him.—The witnesses, who are the representatives of the people, cast the first stone, and then all the people who stood by covered the convict with stones. (See Leviticus 20:2.)
And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin.(15) Whosoever curseth his God.—As Moses had to appeal to God for direction, the Lord has not only declared what should be done with this particular offender, but lays down a general law for the punishment of blasphemers. As the criminal who is the immediate occasion of this enactment is an Egyptian, directions are given, in the first place, about the treatment of Gentiles who temporarily sojourn among the Hebrews, and who have not as yet renounced their faith in their own God. If such a Gentile curses his own God in whom he still professes to believe, he shall bear his sin; he must suffer the punishment for his sin from the hands of his co-religionists, whose feelings he has outraged. The Israelites are not to interfere to save him from the consequence of his guilt; for a heathen who reviles the god in whom he believes is not to be trusted in other respects, and sets a bad example to others, who might be led to imitate his conduct.
And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.(16) And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord.—Better, And he that curseth the name of the Lord. The case is, however, different when it is the God of Israel. It is henceforth to be the law that whosoever curses Jehovah is to suffer death by lapidation, which is to be inflicted upon the criminal by the Jewish community.
As well the stranger as he that is born in the land.—This law is applicable alike to the proselyte and to the Gentile, who does not even profess to believe in Jehovah.
When he blasphemeth the name of the Lord.—Better, when he curseth the Name. Here again the expression “Name” has, out of reverence, been substituted for Jehovah. (See Leviticus 24:11.)
And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.(17) And he that killeth a man.—The enactment that in case of blaspheming no difference is to be made between a non-Israelite and Israelite, is now followed by other laws respecting murder and personal injury which have been given before (Exodus 21:12, &c.), but which are here repeated in order to show that, like blasphemy, they apply alike to Gentile and Jew. It may also be that the repetition here of the law of murder is designed to draw a distinction between the judicial sentence of death carried out by the community, and the illegal taking away of life by individuals.
And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast.(18) And he that killeth a beast.—The law about killing a human being is now followed by the enaetments with regard to killing a beast. He who kills an animal has to make it good by giving another animal for it. The case is not the same as that legislated for in Exodus 21:33-34.
And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him;(19, 20) And if a man cause a blemish.—See Exodus 21:24-25.
And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.(21) And he that killeth a beast.—This verse contains a repetition of the laws enacted in Leviticus 24:17-18.
Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God.(22) Ye shall have one manner of law.—Not in the case of blasphemy (see Leviticus 24:16), but in all the instances just adduced, the same penal statutes apply to the non-Israelite and stranger.
And Moses spake to the children of Israel, that they should bring forth him that had cursed out of the camp, and stone him with stones. And the children of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses.(23) And Moses spake to the children of Israel.—Having recited the laws which were promulgated in consequence of the appeal made to God, Moses now calls upon the people to execute the sentence which the Lord pronounced against the blasphemer.