Lecture 6: Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 6: Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy

Course: Old Testament Survey

Lecture: The Law: Numerical Parallelisms


I. Numerical Parallelisms

Sometimes when people read the statements in the middle of the Ten Commandments about, “I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation,” and so on, they say, “Wow! How can that be? That is totally unfair. This doesn’t make any sense. God would punish the great grandchildren for what the parents did? That is unreasonable.” I just want to show you how sometimes knowing a phenomenon that can be observed in Scripture, if you know how to look for it, can solve a question. This is just an attempt to show you a perfectly sensible, and once you see it, I think even an obvious conclusion, not original with me but I am just relaying it to you. First of all to appreciate how this works, a scholar named Gervitz at the University of Chicago, a number of years ago, published a book in which he described how the numerical parallelisms work. (Stanley Gervitz, Patterns in the Early Poetry of Israel [University of Chicago Press, 1963]). Now, we will learn more about parallelism when we study Hebrew poetry.

A. When they want to have a synonym for the number one, the closest they can come is the number two; that is what they do. (Job 33:14; Ps 62:11)

B. When they want to have a synonym for three they parallel it by four. It is a style of parallel. I am not going to give you time to copy all these down but you can generate these with a computer any time in a concordance program. (Prov. 30:15, 18, 21, 29; Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11)

C. When you want to parallel six you use seven. (Prov. 6:16; Job 5:19)

D. When you want to parallel seven you use eight. Give a portion to seven or even to eight. Seven shepherds, eight princes. There is a story in one of the Ugaritic epics. King Keret wife gave birth to seven children, yes, eight were born to her. You might say, “Which was it?” They would not have any problems with that at all in the ancient world; they knew what that meant. It meant, basically, she had a whole bunch of children. That is the way the parallelism works in some of the numbers. You get N, N + 1 parallelism. (Eccl. 11:2; Micah 5:5)

E. Here is a special case of N, 10N. One thousand to ten thousand. There are several examples of that. (Deut. 32:30; Micah 6:7; 1 Sam. 18:8; Ps. 91:7)

F. A special exception N, 11N in the boast of Lamech, “If Cain is avenged seven fold, Lamech seventy-seven,” (Gen. 4:24). Then there is an N, 70N. This is really big. Jesus says, “Not just seven times but seventy times seven,” (Matt. 18:22). That is N to 70N. That really breaks the pattern. That is a dramatic extension of the usual “numerical parallelism”.

G. But there is an even greater exception and that is the one we are looking at. Three or four to thousands. That is big. That is our passage. “Yes,” says God, “not that I punish the fourth generation for what the first generation did.” That is not the point at all. It is rather, “If generations keep sinning against me and breaking my law, I will keep punishing them. If the first generation does it, I will punish it. If the generation after that does it, I will punish them too. I’ll have to do that on to maybe the third or fourth generation, but what I want to do is to bless thousands of generations who love me.” So the parallelism demonstrates that God’s purpose is to show love, his loyalty, his hesed in the Hebrew, “to thousands of those who love me.” The contrast is between what he will do, “If the generations keep doing it, I’ll have to keep punishing, but what I want to do, which is essentially forever, to be a blessing to my people generation after generation, if only they will remain faithful.” The meaning is, “I will, if I have to, punish successive generations but not for long. I really don’t want to do this for long.” It may go on for awhile but that is why it is limited to three or four, it makes the suggestion that this is not forever. “But what I would like to do is bless my people forever if only they will keep my covenant.” What it really shows is what you might think it shows. It shows the desire of God and the invitation of God for his people to be obedient to him and enjoy his blessing. It is not really a statement about how he unfairly judges at all. If we had time I could show you how the Hebrew is applied in other passages and it really does not mean punishing X for Y, it means applying the same punishment that you applied to X also to Y. That is really what it means in terms of translation. That is a little thing, I just thought I would show it to you because it often comes up and people wonder about it and puzzle it out and try to understand its significance and it is useful, I think, to be aware of that.

II. The Meaning of the Term “Love”

A. There is another kind of thing that I would also like to show you because it helps us define terminology. William Moran back in 1963 wrote a very nice article that many scholars have referred to called “The Ancient Near Eastern Background for the Love of God in Deuteronomy,” published it in a journal called Catholic Biblical Quarterly (24). What Moran demonstrated was this—when we read the commandments “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind,” and “Love your Neighbor as yourself,” we are not reading about attitude at all. We are reading about action. To love is to do acts of love, to show love. It is not a feeling. So you do not just say, “I just love God. Oh! Oh! Oh! Yes! I love ya!” “Well, there’s that commandment fulfilled.” “I just love my neighbor. You are a sweetheart. I love ya!” “There is another one.” No, it is what I do for her that is obedience to that commandment to love her as my neighbor, as myself, and it is what I do for God that demonstrates it. Moran just showed this by showing from many ancient documents from all over the time period of the Bible, Old Testament time period, how this terminology of love really functions. Here is one king writing to another, “I’m the king’s servant and the one who loves you. Various kings, my lord, just as I love the king my lord,” he is writing to a Pharaoh in Egypt, “so do these other kings. They are all servants of my lord.” That is what it means. “Who will love if I die?” Here is Rib-Addi writing about a revolt, “Half the city loves the sons of Abdi-Ashirta; half of it loves my lord,” meaning the Pharaoh. “If you send me no answer, I’ll leave the city and go away with the people who love me.” Are these a bunch of gay people? No, that is not it; that is not what is going on. Look at this one, “You will love Ashurbanipal as yourselves,” says one vassal king about his son. “The king of Assyria, we will love.” Here is reference to David and Hiram, “Hiram had been a lover of David all his life,” (1 Kings 5:1), meaning, they were allies, they did things for each other, they were in league, they functioned as allies function. That is the usage.

B. What you really find is this, in the ancient world in referring to things like loyalty, faithfulness, decency, doing things for one another, being allies, being closely supportive, in international diplomacy they use the terminology of love, and by the way, also hate. I could show you a whole bunch of passages relating to hate. So and so hates this. So and so hates that. When you read in Malachi, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” Ancient people did not understand that to mean, “I just love my people and just hate those Edomites.” It rather, “I have made an alliance with my people, they are in my covenant. I don’t have a covenant with the Edomites.” That is the point. The language of love and hate is the language of international diplomacy and also of personal favor and service and so on.

C. You love your master or you hate your master. Jesus says, “You can’t serve both God and mammon and you’ll either love the one and hate the other.” He is not talking about some vicious attitude of hate as apposed to some warm attitude of love. He is talking about you will favor one and not favor the other. So, even Jesus uses typical love-hate language. The point is, when we are told to love the Lord our God, it is something we do. You do it regardless of how you may feel. You love your neighbor whether or not your neighbor is much fun to be around. You do not have to worry about saying, “I just don’t feel love, I don’t mind doing things for my neighbor but I just don’t feel this deep, pure love that I should.” That is not really part of the command at all. Your feelings are a separate issue. It is what you do that really is important. If we can learn that, I think it is very good.

D. By the way, do not also get trapped into the old flaw of saying, “Oh, it says love your neighbor as yourself, therefore, I must first love myself.” In the New Testament we have Paul describing, for example, all of the wickedness that will come in the last days and he says, “People will be lovers of self,” as wickedness. So that commandment is not saying, “Love people as you love yourself,” it is saying, “Love people as you want the reciprocation to occur, as you would like to be love, that is, treated.” Treat people as you would like to be treated. Jesus sums it up by saying in other language that makes it perfectly clear, “Do to others as you would have others do to you.” That is what it means. It does not mean you have a right to self-love. That is prohibited in Scripture.

The Law: Leviticus

I. Orienting Data for Leviticus (Starts at 11:38)

A. A special emphasis of Leviticus is the achievement of holiness. That is a wonderful thing. If you approach it that way, if you teach, preach on it, and so on, and say, "Look, we are going to study this because it has as its goal the achievement of holiness." There is a lot of good that will come out of that. It is not just holiness, maybe in ritual or something, it is holiness in all areas of life including worship but also including daily life.

B. Moses is the author again.

C. We are at Mount Sinai, so that is when this is happening.

D. All of Leviticus is received by the Israelites at Mount Sinai. They are still camped right there and they get part of Exodus and the remainder of Leviticus.

E. What are the emphases?

1. It starts with five types of sacrifice. You can read about them in the first five chapters. If you wanted a sixth type it would be the Day of Atonement sacrifice, just in case you are puzzled over why it might say "What are six types of sacrifices?" Because that is a special category; the atonement sacrifice on Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement. There is a desire that people properly worship because worship is the first thing you owe to the god you believe in. Naturally, when people say, "Yeah, I’m a Christian, I just don’t go to church." They are something really weird. It is like saying, "I’m a great athlete. Yeah, I weigh 516 pounds but I really am a great athlete. I’m in shape. I don’t exercise. Why would I exercise?" It is just nonsense, it is not true. If a person says, "I follow Christ but don’t worship Him," they are saying something that does not connect. How could it be? People need to appreciate that, it is important. Leviticus is partly pushing in that direction.

2. You also have the priesthood. God wants to connect to those people, the priests help make that happen. Of course, if it can happen by God dwelling in us, wow! What a connection, eliminating the need for human priesthood at all. The new covenant, indwelling of Christ through his Spirit, really is a dramatic elimination process with regard to things like the priesthood, the tabernacle, the sacrifices, and so on.

3. [God's insistence on worship according to his standards.]

4. How uncleanliness can happen and how to correct it is a very big thing. You constantly get in Leviticus advice about how to be pure and how to be clean. There is a lot of clean, pure stuff going on. This makes you unclean, this makes you clean. Much of it simply teaches the principle that you need to be clean. In the New Covenant the cleansing takes place in other ways from what it does in the Old. There are mechanisms for cleansing in terms of forgiveness and trusting in Christ. In the Book of Acts, several times the disciples say, "Our hearts are made pure." They really do talk about, "We’re ritually clean. We are as clean as the high priests could get in the Old Covenant before God, worthy to be in his presence, not because we’re good but just because Christ has accomplished so much." That is a big theme. As you teach Leviticus and preach it, you can help people see how important it is for them to be pure and holy before God. It really does, it almost whets your appetite for the New Covenant when it can be done for you by God’s grace rather than the Old Covenant when you have to struggle to try to accomplish it. It is very powerful material that way.

5. [Atonement (including the Day of Atonement)]

6. There are also laws about proper eating and about sex and other things and whether or not these are specifically to be renewed or not in the New Covenant, and I would say no, they are not specifically renewed, they do tell you God cares very much about your sex life. He wants it to be pure and holy. That gets defined for us in the New Covenant with the statement, for example, in Hebrews, "Let the marriage bed be undefiled." It is a real, clear thing how you have sexual purity. But you can see how important it is in Leviticus, Leviticus 18, for example.

7. So it is with the food laws. Then you might say, "God cares what I eat, really?" The answer is yes, because he cares that you should be one of his people who is disciplined enough that you eat properly and try to live in a manner that is healthy. It is the top priority of all these? No. It is not the top priority in the Old Covenant, it is not the top priority in the New but it is an issue. If you think that somehow what you eat or how often you eat or whether you eat or whether you eat well is of no relevance to you as a child of God, a book like Leviticus can help really correct that. It is very useful in that way.

8. [Blessings and curses accompanying the covenant]

9. [Vows]

The Law: Numbers

I. Orienting Data for Numbers (Starts at 16:57)

A. What is especially interesting about Numbers is this—at the beginning of Numbers they leave Mount Sinai, so now they have received the covenant. They have really received what we call the Sinai Covenant. What is the Sinai Covenant? From Exodus 20 to the end of Leviticus, that is the Sinai Covenant. It is a great big thing. It is a book and a half of what we call books of the Bible. With Numbers, however, the reception of the law does not cease, rather, the Israelites now set out for the promised land and we get a mixture of stories about their travels on the way to the Promised Land which take thirty-nine years, it is rounded off to forty, but technically take thirty-nine years, along with a mixture of laws on issues that come up as they travel. So what God, in his mercy did, was to give them a covenant, get them all settled enough to leave Sinai. “Okay, you’re a people. That is your basic constitution.” Then very mercifully and graciously gives them some further laws in Numbers as the occasion requires. As they raise questions, as they encounter problems, as things happen, he pronounces those laws. He has given them a pretty heavy bunch in the first place and so giving them a little time to assimilate those and get new ones is useful. If you want a rough analogy, it certainly did not come about the same way, you can think of the United States Constitution. You have the constitution but then you have the long list of amendments. Those amendments became part of the constitution, they are very important, they are relied on all the time, they are just as if they had been written there in the first place. As the years went by, and the need was seen for those amendments, they were added. God did something like that for the Israelites. Showing that, not so much that he had forgotten to include stuff in the first place, there is no hint of that, no need to even think that way, but rather, it is the way he works with us now. It is the way that he has always worked. He gives you enough information to get started and he keeps teaching you and you keep learning and you keep growing in grace and so that is exemplified for us in the way that God continues to teach his people as they wander in the wilderness and partly because of their sins.

B. Again, Moses [is the author.]

C. Date of Composition: basic same time except that it goes over a period of time.

D. The coverage is that forty-year period between getting to Sinai and getting to the Promised Land.

E. Emphases

1. Preparation for military conquest. In Numbers you will notice the Israelites are described as moving “by divisions”. That is a military term. They camped by divisions. They are starting to think of themselves as an army. This is a new thing to them. They were not in the army in Egypt. They could not fight, God had to fight fort them as they left Egypt but now they are beginning to think that way.

2. Constant leadership and care. When you preach Numbers that is a great theme to preach and teach.

3. The people’s tendency to doubt God. So they have a lack of confidence. Again and again they demonstrate that.

4. They demonstrate it so severely when they have a chance to enter the promised land and will not because they are afraid, they are afraid of the Canaanites, that God says, “Okay, you don’t want to go into the promised land? I’ll let another group go in.” And He says, “You adults will die off, it will be your children that go into the promised land.” That is the forty year time period to let most of the adults die off and let the younger people and little children grow up and enter the promised land as the new generation. That new generation, by the way, is going to need a whole new statement of the law to them and that is what Deuteronomy is. They are going to need that.

5. [Reception of additional laws as conditions described in the narrative lead to the need for those laws]

6. [Alternation of law and narrative]

7. The blessing of Israel through a pagan prophet. That is the story of Balaam. Fascinating how God, if he needs to, can use some pagan, use an idol-worshiping pagan. Can God do that? Sure, if he wants to he will do it.

8. Israel’s committing cultic immortality. That is informative. Sadly, even in Numbers 25 you have examples of the way the Israelites get into full-blown, cultic prostitution and all the miseries that it brings about. The Israelites got suckered into a lot of bad stuff.

9. Major preparation for the new conquest.

10. Finally, actual, initial, what you might call token, conquest of the promised land because they do, by the end of the book of Numbers, get into what we call the Transjordan, the area to the east of the Jordan River, not the heartland of Israel yet but certainly the area to the east of the Jordan.

I know that came fast but these materials are also available to you in a lot of places. This is not some mysterious thing. Most study Bibles will have many of these same bits and pieces of data. Certainly, any Bible dictionary, you just look up Numbers and one way or another it is going to give you these themes.

The Law: Deuteronomy

I. Orienting Data for Deuteronomy (Starts at 22:44)

II. Covenant Structure in Deuteronomy

Here I have done something different. I have not said what is the overview and what are the main themes and so on because I wanted to have you see the structure, especially how carefully a book like Deuteronomy is structured relative to the six elements of the covenant—the preamble, prologue, stipulations, document clause, witnesses, and sanctions. They are all there, they are very visible in Deuteronomy and it is a very overt structuring as a covenant because this is a new people, and they need to realize they too are part of God’s covenant. They are getting a covenant relationship. This is not Mount Sinai, this is forty years later. They are now in northern Moab ready to go into the Promised Land, but they need to know they are God’s covenant people. All the essentials of the covenant that was originally given in Exodus and Leviticus, the Sinai Covenant, and all the amendments, as it were, added on during the days of the Numbers, wandering in the wilderness are now reorganized, reformatted, in some cases summarized, in some cases expanded, and put together as a restatement of the covenant. But many people then think, "Well, that means Deuteronomy is kind of throw-away stuff. Who needs to learn Deuteronomy?"

On the contrary, it is like something that is the final draft as opposed to the first draft. I do not mean it is really that way with God and he says, "Gee, I can write a lot better that than if I thought long enough; I just need more time, a little more sleep, I’ll be fine." No, that is not so. Deuteronomy really is a kind of a culmination law and some people have said it is the most important book in the Bible for understanding the big picture and overview. There are many people who will say you need to know Deuteronomy far more than you need to know the other four books of the Pentateuch. Let me commend to you the importance of the things that are said, the themes, the topics, how crucial they are to appreciating the rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament as well. We will talk about how the prophets relate to Deuteronomy, how the historical books relate to it. Deuteronomy, once it is stated, really kind of gets a little bit pride-of-place even over Exodus and Leviticus. So do not underestimate the significance of this book just because it has kind of a dull name like "second law." It is really pretty important.

A. You have got a very long prologue this time, long summations of what it is God did for His people. (1:1-5:5)

B. You have got a brief mention of witnesses, in this case heaven and earth. (4:26)

C. You have got a solid preamble. (5:6)

D. Lots of stipulations. (5:7-26:19)

E. Extensive document clause. (27:1-8)

F. Extensive sanctions. (27:9-30:20)

G. Again, a mention of witnesses, heaven and earth. (30:19-20)

H. More document clause. (31:1-29)

I. Then both the Word of God and a poem are witnesses. This is very interesting. Now by this time the Bible is beginning to be formed, Moses has written Genesis and so on and he is writing Deuteronomy for them. Now there is a Bible. So it, the Word of God, functions as a witness to keep you on track. So you begin to get the concept of a scripture and how it works in connection with God’s covenant. What does the Bible do for you? Does it help you get Sunday School pins? Does it help you answer questions in Bible trivia quizzes or something? Well, yes, but that is pretty unimportant compared to the fact it is there to help you know how to be God’s people, how to belong to him and how to serve him and how to fulfill his covenant. Part of that Bible, the Song of Moses itself, which is a poem in chapter 32, function as witnesses. It is very nice, it is a very important and useful phenomenon. (31:19-26)

J. More sanctions in musical poetic form. (32:1-33:29)

K. Then finally an epilogue, a brief twelve-verse epilogue of transition. How do you get from Moses, the great leader, the first leader of the people, what is going to happen after he dies? The answer is God has a way of bringing about successors. God has a plan for his people on into the future and that is the position that Joshua occupies. So he gets introduced at the end of the book of Deuteronomy in order to prepare us for what will now come in the history of the people including the conquest of the Promised Land. I have said the things that I wanted to get across in this lecture. As you can tell by now, it is obviously sampling. There are certain things I want to be sure you hear that I hope are helpful. I am trusting that you are doing the reading and thus getting the balanced picture because I do not give a balanced picture in these lectures. Some people would say I am unbalanced. That's alright. (34:1-12)

Let us close in prayer.

Thank you Father for the time we have had together tonight. Our greatest joy would be that we take your word and really use it, first upon ourselves so that it guides us but also that we take what we have learned and always pass it on to others because we believe that everybody who is converted is hungry for the Word of God and we know that everybody needs the Word of God converted or not. So we pray to be good stewards of whatever information we learn about your truth. In Jesus' name, Amen.