Meditating on the Judgements of God:
4.5 Casual Blasphemy
Lev 24:13,14 Then the LORD said to Moses: “Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him.
From our ‘superior’ position in the twenty-first century (as we so often see it) the laws of Moses requiring the death penalty seem particularly harsh, especially as we have done away with the death penalty, but here we have this instance in Leviticus where specific lawbreaking resulted in death by stoning. Let’s look at the details.
In the Ten Commandments we find, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Ex 20:7) As we read through the Pentateuch one thing you notice is that there is a focus on God’s name, e.g. “Sacrifice as the Passover to the LORD your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his Name….. You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the LORD your God gives you except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name.” (Deut 16:2,5,5)
THE name of course, which is what the capital letters spelling LORD in your Old Testament refer to, comes from Exodus 3:14 “God said to Moses I AM WHO I AM” or “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE” but then carries on “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.’ “ and you will find a note saying, “The Hebrew for LORD sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14.”
This name of God who has simply described Himself as, “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Ex 3:6) is “the I AM”. Wherever He appears in time-space history He is “I AM” or, to put it another way, ‘the Eternal One’. He is always ‘I AM’ and in that He is unique, there is no other like Him. Now remember what we have said a number of times about Israel’s role in revealing the Lord, especially in that study on The Glory of God, and therefore any descriptions of God and, even more, any names given to Him, are vitally important.
Again and again in the laws, the big issue is the name of the Lord, a name which must be represented accurately, a name that must not be associated in any way with the gods or idols of the world, hence, “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” (Lev 18:21). Indeed His name is the vital link to all the laws of Moses; they mean nothing without being linked to who He is. For instance the Ten Commandments start with, “I am the LORD (the I AM) your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Ex 20:2) They have encountered Him in this most incredible of experiences and all His instructions to them (the laws) are to be seen in that context. He, the lawgiver, is the one who has delivered them from slavery and shown Himself to be the all-powerful Lord. Likewise later on we find this same thing reiterated: “Keep my commands and follow them. I am the LORD. Do not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the LORD, who makes you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD.” (Lev 22:31-33)
Thus when the priesthood ministers they are to be representatives of this holy One who is unique: “Priests must not shave their heads or shave off the edges of their beards or cut their bodies. They must be holy to their God and must not profane the name of their God. Because they present the offerings made to the LORD by fire, the food of their God, they are to be holy.” (Lev 21:5,6) No wonder, as we saw in the previous study that Aaron’s two sons ended up dying. Thus likewise we find, “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” (Lev 19:12)
Which finally brings us to this historical incident where, in the heat of a fight and argument, one of the combatants we might say, ‘looses his cool’ or ‘blows his top’ and in so doing abuses the name of God. Now in the twenty first century we have so much blasphemy or negative use of God’s name on films and on TV that, sadly, we have almost grown accustomed to it, but that merely says something about how low we have fallen. The period of time we are considering is Israel in embryonic stage and therefore it is vital that they do not cross any wrong boundaries and portray God exactly as He is, the unique One, the holy One, the One who is like no other and against whom no other can be compared, the Creator of all things who is perfect. In conveying this, ‘the Name’ was all important.
Now this was not a judgment of God sovereignly but was an execution to be carried out by the people in the most gruesome of manners. Each person was to take a pile of stones and throw them at the man who will appear first bloody, then tottering, then falling but still moving until those closest aim for his head and there is no doubt left, he is dead. The one thing I know about that is that many of you are going to have bad dreams for a long time. There will be an awful sense of quietness around the community: “We have decimated this man’s body; we have taken his life.” But there’s also something else I know about it, and that is that every one involved in it will go away saying to themselves, “I will never do that again, we must never let that happen again, we must ensure these laws are never again broken,” and they will become the most law-abiding people on earth, holding firmly to these rules that we have described as God’s laws to comply with how He has designed us to work best.
We have so blurred the boundaries today between what is right and what is wrong that these things no doubt shock us, but they were so effective that it was only the passing of time blurring memories or another generation coming along for whom it was no longer vivid, that permitted any breakdown. This was a community that had entered into a covenant with God – obedience will bring blessing, disobedience will bring curse – and who thus should have been portraying the wonderful possibilities of a glorious relationship with Him to the world. Failure to uphold these things at this stage would have undermined the whole basis of the Law of Moses and Israel would have slipped (even faster) into becoming the same of as pagan nations with their terrible practices. Each of these incidents acts as a brake on that happening and allows more time for Israel to reveal the glory of the Lord to the world. Terrible certainly, but tragically necessary.