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No. 60: The Third Word

Rite Reasons, Studies in Worship, No. 60
Copyright (c) 1998 Biblical Horizons
November, 1998

In our study of the historical impact and unfolding of the Ten Words of God, we now arrive at the Third Word. The Third Word prohibits hypocrisy, and when we realize this, we can see right away that disobeying the Third Word is closely tied to the situation of Israel (the Jews) at the time of Jesus. Of course, claiming to be God’s people while breaking any of His commands involves a degree of hypocrisy, but the Third Word focuses particularly on what hypocrisy entails.

Let us begin, then, with a translation and exposition of the Third Word: You shall not carry the name of Yahweh, your Elohim, emptily, for Yahweh will not acquit the one who carries His name emptily.


You shall not carry. The verb here means to lift up, bear, or carry. It is not just the idea of taking God’s Name on our lips, and indeed, cursing and swearing are only marginally related to this commandment. If we look at how the Bible uses this verb, we get a better idea of what is involved.

To begin with, Aaron as High Priest carried Israel on his shoulders, and bore the iniquity of Israel on the golden flower on his forehead (Exodus 28:12, 18, 19). The Levites carried the furniture of the Tabernacle, which symbolized the people of Israel in their various functions as members of God’s house (Numbers 4; Exodus 25:14, 27, etc.). Carrying Yahweh is like carrying His people, because Yahweh is "in" the Tabernacle, and "in the midst" of His people.

A second relevant dimension to this carrying is that people are said to carry their sin and iniquity (Leviticus 5:1, 17; 16:22; 17:16). Similarly, to forgive sins is to "lift off" sins in Genesis 50:17 and Psalm 25:18. Thus, those who do not carry Yahweh (Jesus) are doomed to carry their own sins. If they carry God emptily, God will keep their sins on their heads, and not forgive them.

A third aspect is the lifting up of the hand, either in swearing an oath (Exodus 6:8) or in worship and praise (Psalm 134:2). Here we see that taking God’s Name in vain, carrying it emptily, is related to false oaths and to worship.

A final aspect is that Aaron wore God’s Name on the golden flower on his forehead, whose seven letters read "Holy to Yahweh." Carrying God’s Name is like wearing God’s Name, being clothed in it and crowned with it.

The Name of Yahweh. The "construct" form of Hebrew nouns usually carries a genitive idea, so that we translate "Name of Yahweh" and "Angel of Yahweh" and "Daughter of Jerusalem." This Hebrew noun form also, however, can carry the idea of apposition, and this is clearly the case in the last phrase, which should be translated "Daughter Jerusalem," because Jerusalem is the daughter of God. Similarly, it is very possible and even likely that the other phrases can better be rendered "Name Yahweh" and "Angel Yahweh," for Yahweh is the Name and Yahweh is the Angel (Messenger). Otherwise, we should be asking: "What is the Name of Yahweh? What other term is His Name?" What would be the answer to that question? Maybe Yahweh’s name is I AM, but in fact the whole rest of the Bible makes it clear that Yahweh’s name is Yahweh.

Possibly we should understand the Third Word this way: You shall not carry the Name: Yahweh, who is your Elohim . . . . This would mean that the Name, who is Yahweh, is their Supreme Power; in other words that the Second Person of the Trinity is their Elohim. It would mean that the pre-incarnate Jesus was their King. Since this was in fact the case, this translation of the Third Word seems quite likely. At the same time, the second phrase of the Word says: for Yahweh will not acquit the one who carries His Name emptily. Here Yahweh seems to be a Person other than the Name, so that this phrase means: The Father will not acquit the one who carries His Son emptily. In view of this second phrase, we might suggest the following as the most accurate translation: You shall not carry the Name (Second Person) of Yahweh (First Person), which Name is your Elohim . . . . Yet, in terms of apposition, "your Elohim" comes right after "Yahweh," not right after "Name." Thus, the traditional translation seems the most likely.

What it means is that the Father is Yahweh, and we see this in Psalm 110: "Yahweh said to my Master, `Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’" But the use of "Yahweh" as the name of Israel’s King means that Yahweh is also the name of the Son, who is the very Image of the Father. We can perhaps understand this by thinking of Yahweh as God’s family name: Father Yahweh, Son Yahweh, and by implication at least, Spirit Yahweh.

The Father bestows His name, Yahweh, on His Son, so that His Son is named Yahweh also. Since Father Yahweh is the Namer, He is not the Name. The Son is the Name. The Third Word concerns carrying the Name, the Son. In the Third Word, God is saying that His people carry Him, or more precisely His Name, wherever they go.

The Name of God is the presence of God in the Tabernacle/Temple, as we have seen. In fact, the Name of God is the Second Person of God (just as the name of the Seabeast in Revelation is the second person of the beast: the Landbeast or False Prophet). God’s people not only bear His Name as "Yahweh-worshippers" and later as "Christians," but they also take Him with them as they live and move and have their being. People are to discern who God is as they observe us, and if we live empty and false lives, then the revelation of God is distorted and compromised, and even falsified.

God had told Moses that the meaning of His Name Yahweh was not disclosed to the patriarchs. They understood the Name El Shaddai, the Almighty God, the one who is powerful and whose promises of the future can be trusted (Exodus 6:3). In Moses’ day, God revealed Himself as Yahweh, the God who keeps the covenant promises made to the fathers, and who can be trusted for this reason also. Specifically, Yahweh is the God who delivered them from Egypt, married them, and guided them to the promised land (Exodus 6:6-8).

Also, God told Moses that Yahweh was His memorial Name (Exodus 3:15). This does not mean a Name to remember God by. A memorial in the Bible is something God sets up to remind Himself — not that He needs reminding, but that He chooses to act this way for our good. The rainbow after the Flood, for instance, was a memorial for God to see (Genesis 9:12-17). Similarly, the Lord’s Supper is a memorial, something God has established for us to do as a way of reminding Him to keep the covenant. (A concordance study of the Hebrew and Greek words for "memorial" will show that God’s memorials are to remind Him, not to remind us. In worship, the Word and sermon are given to remind us, while we do the Supper to remind God.)

Exodus 3:15, where God identifies Yahweh as the God of the patriarchs, comes immediately after God’s statement that His Name is I AM THAT I AM, or simply I AM. Ultimately, this Name points to God as the only self-existent being in existence. But again, in context, God had just told Moses "I shall be with you." "I shall be" is the same Hebrew form as I AM, and thus some translate the Name as I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE. The verb "to be" also lies behind the Name Yahweh. Thus, the phrase "Yahweh will be with you" is equivalent to "I SHALL BE with you." We can expand this as follows: "The One who is self-existent will be with you."

What does it mean to be I AM, to be self-existent? It means to have life in oneself. Only God has life in Himself; our life comes from Him. Apart from Him, we are in death. Death is, as we rightly say, separation from God, the Living God. Thus, to wear God’s Name is to choose to dwell in God’s life, and to seek life nowhere else. As we shall see, it means never seeking life through blood, because the life that is in the blood is merely creaturely life.

Adam had this choice. He was invited to every tree in the garden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and this meant he was invited to the Tree of Life. Adam should have understood that he did not have life in himself, and that he needed to go to God for life. Adam, however, decided that he had life in himself, and was thus like God, and did not need to go to God for life. By making this choice, Adam entered into death.

The opposition of life and death is fundamental to the Third Word, and this is why in the symbolic-pedagogic (teaching by means of symbols) exposition of the Third Word in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, it is the opposition of death and life that comes to the forefront.

God gives this Name to Israel. He entrusts it to them. He takes a risk in giving it to them, for they may abuse it. He will be watching them, to see if they carry it righteously or falsely, and in terms of how they carry it, He will be reminded to bless or curse them.

Thus, to carry God’s Name is related to being in union with Jesus Christ. We are also anointed messiahs, having received of the same Spirit who anointed Him Messiah. We are "little christs," as it is often said. Men are to see Jesus in us, and in seeing Jesus, see the Father (John 14:9).

Leviticus 18-22 and Deuteronomy 14:1-21a provide an exposition of the Name Yahweh and what it means for the people to wear-bear that Name. We shall look more closely at Leviticus below.

Your Elohim. As we have seen, there are various elohim (powers) in God’s creation: angels, for instance, and elders. These gods are real, but they are not the God whom alone we are to worship. Of all the elohim, Yahweh is the Elohim.

But not just the Elohim: your Elohim. In the covenant marriage, God gives Himself to us. He gives us the right to carry Him and to call upon Him. He is not distant, but infinitely near.

As we have seen, it is the Name of Yahweh who is their particular Elohim-power. It is the Second Person, the pre-incarnate Jesus, who is married to them, and who gives His life to them.

Emptily. The Hebrew word translated "in vain" or "emptily" carries two related connotations. The first is of powerlessness or vanity. The man who carries God’s Name emptily is the Christian who does nothing that would mark him as a Christian. It is not so much that he does evil things, as that he does nothing at all. He is like the man who buries his talent in Jesus’ parable. He simply moves with the flow of his times, and fails to show forth the God whose Name he bears.

The second connotation of the word is falsity. The man who carries God’s Name falsely goes a step farther, so to speak. Like the Pharisees, he carries God’s Name with him, but his life and words cause men to hate God. By his life he bears false witness to who God is.

By using this term, the Third Word links the two concepts of emptiness and falsity. To carry a powerless, empty god is to show a false god.

As we have seen, God is Life. Thus, to carry God’s Name emptily means to carry it lifelessly and listlessly. God is powerful in a humble, self-sacrificing way. Each member of the Trinity delights to humble Himself to glorify the other two. Those who carry God’s Name must live in the same way. By being servants of all, not lording it over anyone, living sacrificially, we show forth the hidden but infinite power of God. This was the calling of Israel, which Jesus fulfilled in His humility, and which we are to extend in union with Him. God’s life is not a "triumphalistic" life, but a giving, self-sacrificing life.

We might say that God as One does seek His own glory; but within the Trinity, each seeks the glory of the others. The Father stays in the background and glorifies the Son. But the Son says that He does only what the Father says, and that it is good for Him to depart, because the Spirit is coming, and He is even more wonderful. But the Spirit is like oil, wind, and water — ungraspable. The Spirit never points to Himself, but always to the Son and the Father. Thus, self-glorification is not a "property" of any of the three Persons of God. Rather, humility is the property of each. Human beings, imaging God’s life, are to live with the same kind of deference toward one another and toward each of the Persons of God.

God has all glory in Himself, but He gives that glory to others. Each Person gives His glory to the other two, and they all seek to give their glory to us. In the same way, we are to give glory to one another, and to God, and never seek it for ourselves.

Accordingly, to carry God’s Name emptily means to be carry it with personal pride instead of with personal deference and humility. This, as we shall see, was the great sin of the Jews in Jesus’ day.

The feminine form of this term denotes desolation. While some Hebrew scholars separate these two terms, the fact is that they are spelled the same way, and other scholars believe they are the same word. They would have been heard as linked by those hearing the Word of God read aloud in the synagogues. And it is important that we see the connection. Those who empty the Name of God by their lives, will be themselves desolated when God completely abandons them to destruction.

For Yahweh will not acquit the one who carries His Name emptily. As we have seen above, the sinner carries his guilt unless God carries it off from him and replaces it with His Name and righteousness. The word "acquit" in the Hebrew means not only absolve from legal guilt, but also free from punishment as a consequence. Thus, the man who is not acquitted must carry not just bare legal guilt, but also punishment.


God’s people are to lift up and carry His Name in lip and in life. They lift up the Name in praise and prayer, so that God is enthroned on the praises of Israel. They swear by it in court (Deuteronomy 6:13; 10:20).

In life they wear it as garments on their shoulders. The Levites as their representatives carried the Tabernacle on their shoulders. Enshrined in the Tabernacle was the Name of God, so that in a visible way the Levites carried the Name of Yahweh. The High Priest, as the most representative man, carried God’s Name on his forehead on the golden flower.

But beyond this, the gift of the Name to Israel in particular was part of what marked them out as a special nation of priests. The God-fearing Gentiles knew God as "God Most High." To Israel God gave the special Name Yahweh. In the New Creation, the distinction between priestly and non-priestly believers is abolished, for all believers are now priests in the fullest sense. Before the coming of the gospel, however, the Name Yahweh was capable of being abused in a particular way that is important to our consideration of the societal implications of the first four Words.

God had made it clear that those who carried His Name were to serve the nations as priests. They were not to lord it over the Gentiles as if they were some kind of specially blessed people, nor were they to isolate themselves. To do these would be to carry His Name falsely or emptily. By the time of Jesus, however, this is exactly what they were doing.

As priests, they were ministers of death and life to the world. That is what the sacrifices maintained by Israel on behalf of the world were all about. The substitute animal dies and then new life is given. They had to keep themselves partially separate so that they could perform this task for the nations; it was their peculiar calling until Jesus came and performed the task perfectly.

Thus, the special rules God set forth for Israel, and also for the Aaronic priests, were designed to set them apart for this task, and not as badges of some kind of special superiority. In Covenant Sequence in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, I have shown that the laws of abomination in Leviticus 17-22, and the laws of life and food in Deuteronomy 14:1-21a, are large expositions of the Third Word. These laws have to do, symbolically, with life and death. They set forth what it means to be "holy to Yahweh." Holiness is strongly linked to the life of God Himself, and those who are holy are those who break with death and provide new life to the world. God-fearing Gentiles were not obligated to these laws, for they were not part of the circumcised nation of priests. But the symbolic pedagogy of the Levitical system, acted out as a drama by the Israelites, was to instruct the nations in the way of humility, and it has the same meaning for us today.

The perversion of life and holiness is death and desolation. Adam ignored the Tree of Life and chose death. Thus, matters of life and death are intimately bound up with what it means to carry the Name of the Living God. It is particularly in the crisis situation that a person is revealed. In the crisis, Adam did not uphold God’s covenant Name, Yahweh, which is the Name used throughout Genesis 2-3. Similarly, in the great temptation and crisis in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Jews did not uphold the Name.

The Third Word and the Restoration Era

As we have seen, the first period of Israel’s history is characterized by violations of the First Word (from Sinai to the Kingdom). The second period is characterized by violations of the Second Word (the Kingdom era). In the third period, after the Restoration, violations of the Third Word come into focus. No longer do we find that the Jews are tempted to worship other gods, or to pretend to worship Yahweh through images and icons. These matters have been settled.

Now the people are ready to boast in the Name Yahweh, a thing wonderful and proper if done rightly. But the people soon pervert what it means to carry the Name, and in fact they eventually stop saying it altogether, emptying it. We can see the beginning of this in the book of Malachi, which concerns the defection of the people from their priestly duty of upholding the Name, but it is primarily in the Gospels and in the Apostolic writings that it comes into clear focus, for the great sin in Malachi and in the Gospels is hypocrisy.

Israel was the chosen people, but chosen for what? They were chosen to serve the nations, not to be an isolated special cult. They were called to humility. Israel’s calling was always with reference to blessing the nations. That is about the first thing God said to Abram in Genesis 12, and it is reiterated repeatedly. It was the sin of Jonah, for instance, to try and hold back the blessing from the Gentiles. Over and over again the Torah commands kindness toward the alien, stranger, sojourner. The Torah says that obedience to Yahweh will be a light to guide the nations, and that they will seek Him and His ways. That is what it means to carry God’s Name in a powerful and righteous way, not in an impotent, empty way.

But the Jews of Jesus’ day were not doing this at all. If they made a convert, they made him a son of hell like themselves (Matthew 23:15). They invented the notion that Gentiles were unclean, and that contact with them should be avoided — the reverse of what the Torah commands (Acts 10:28; 11:3 – the word "unlawful" here [athemitos] does not mean "against God’s commands" but "against our traditions").

Thus, the crisis of Covenantal Idolatry, when the Israelites went whole-hog into the worship of other gods (Judges 10:6), and the crisis of Liturgical Idolatry, when the Israelites went whole-hog into the service of images (Ezekiel 8), is now followed by a crisis of Practical Idolatry as the Jews become wholly given over to hypocrisy. I call this "Practical Idolatry" because it concerns practice in the larger field of life, not the central zone of worship.

A full survey of hypocrisy in the Gospels would take us too long, and is probably unnecessary because most readers are well aware of it. Instead, it will be profitable to examine the great exposition of the Third Word, which is the book of Leviticus, and see how it relates to this stage of history in a special way.

The Name and Leviticus

As the third book of the Bible, Leviticus is particularly concerned with the Third Word throughout. Except for the "four Gentile laws" of Leviticus 17-18, repeated in Acts 15:29, the commands of Leviticus applied only to the priestly nation of Israel, marking them out. It is these laws, and their extensions in the demonic Oral Law Tradition, that are at issue in the "works of the law" advocated by the Judaizers in the apostolic age, and the Spirit settled this matter by affirming that only the laws that applied to both Jew and Gentile were still binding in the New Creation. If we are to understand the heart of the violation of the Third Word, and what it means for history and society, we must briefly examine the meaning of its exposition in Leviticus.

As a whole, Leviticus is concerned with what it means to be a nation of priests. A priest (kohen) is a palace servant, and Yahweh’s priests were his palace (Tabernacle/Temple) servants. Since God is Life, and the Living God, the duty of the priest is to keep death away from God, and to remove death from those who wish to draw near to God. The priest must display the humility-to-glory sequence, and lead the people in that sequence in the sacrifices and cleansings. It is also the duty of the priest to obey Yahweh, to celebrate Yahweh, and to submit to Yahweh’s chastisements, all in a way that is exemplary to all the other people of the world, showing forth the Name. This is what Leviticus is all about.

In Covenant Sequence I analyzed Leviticus in five sections, and for our purposes, this analysis is adequate.


Leviticus 1-7 has to do with the sacrifices and offerings. These all have do with life and death, and the memorial of life and death (ch. 2). The animal is killed as a substitute, thereby removing the sentence of death from the man who draws near. Then the animal, representing the offerer, is transfigured by God’s consuming fire and ascends into His holy presence in the column of smoke. Meanwhile, the "flesh" of the animal is reduced to ashes, falls through the grating inside the altar, and is removed from God’s presence outside the camp. The Aaronic priest does this for the people, and also for the nations of the world, enable all to draw near who wish to do so. The Aaronic priests display in a symbolic and microcosmic form the nature of Israel as a nation of priests, thereby disclosing in a pointed way what it means to be invested with God’s Name.

Life comes on the other side of death. To put it less drastically, glory comes on the other side of humility. This is how the Persons of God act in their Eternal Covenant relationship. They live by faith in each other: The Son humbles Himself to glorify the Father and the Son, confident in faith that each of them will do the same for Him. Man is called to live the same way. We can afford to humble ourselves before God and before His images (other people), confident in faith that He will glorify us on the other side of our humility.

This is how Adam was to act. By refusing to act that way, Adam was judged with death. Death is now the form humility must take. If glory-life was on the other side of humility, now it is on the other side of death. Accordingly, Jesus tells us in John 17 that He laid aside His earlier glory, given to Him by the Father and the Spirit, and humbled Himself even to death; and then He asks the Father to re-glorify Him after He has completed His humiliation.

This is the heart of the sacrificial system in Leviticus. The animal, representing the worshipper, undergoes death and then is glorified with God’s fire-glory on the altar, transfigured and ascending up the ladder of smoke to God’s throne. The sacrifices represented individuals and Israel as a nation of priests, showing them that glory comes through self-sacrifice, even death and martyrdom. The sacrifices also represented the nations of the world, especially the 70 bulls offered at the Feast of Clouds for the seventy nations of Genesis 10 (Numbers 29:12-34). In the same way as the sacrifices and as Jesus, the saints in Revelation are said to "overcome" by their faithfulness unto death and martyrdom. The same must be true of us.

As the Aaronic priests as religious leaders were to seek every means to bring the Israelites to God, so Israel as a nation of priests were to seek every means to bring the nations to God. Jesus condemns the best religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees, for keeping people from Yahweh (Matthew 23:13). The Jews had reversed what it means to be a priest. Under the Law, it was a very easy matter to draw near to God: If one was unclean, one needed merely to bathe. Only the altar and the palace house of Yahweh were restricted from the people. But the Jews reversed this. They made it hard to draw near. Their (Herod’s) Temple had a Court of Gentiles and a Court of Women, for these were not allowed to draw as near as Jewish men. They were scandalized when Jesus reached out to sinners. They objected when Peter went to the house of Cornelius (Acts 11:3). Even Jesus’ disciples often tried to keep people, especially children, from Him.


Leviticus 8-16/17 has to do with symbolic death and life. "Unclean" means symbolically dead, and "cleansing" means resurrection. The "flesh" is unclean and must be cleansed. The laws of uncleanness applied only to Israel, the nation of priests, with only one exception (Leviticus 17:14, because it deals with blood as well as flesh). It is extremely important to grasp this fact, for the sin of the Judaizers was to try and impose these laws on Gentile converts.

In Jesus’ day, the attitude of the Jews was that a real first-class convert would be circumcised and become a Jew, while the God-fearers who were not circumcised were only second-class believers. The Judaizers extended this mentality. They interpreted the Gospel as meaning that now all men should become "Fulfilled Jews." Their attitude was that to be a Jew was to be closer to God and thus a superior way of life. No longer should Gentile converts remain uncircumcised God-fearers, but now they should all become Christian Jews.

This outlook reverses what was actually the case. The Jews were not superior but "inferior" to the God-fearers. Abram recognized Melchizedek, the Gentile believer, as his superior. Moses and Aaron were led in worship by the uncircumcised Jethro (Exodus 18:12). The Jews were set up to serve and minister to the believing Gentiles. Thus, the true meaning of the Gospel was that Jesus was the Last Jew, and that Jewish Christians should now become "elevated" to be God-fearers. Circumcision was abolished. (In another sense, both Jew and God-fearer were "elevated" to a higher status in Christ.)

Leviticus 8-10 shows the restoration of a fallen Adam, his entrance back into a semi-garden to do priestly labors, the rebellion of his sons, and his restoration again:

Exodus 4:14-17 and 7:1 – the Appointment of the New Adam, Aaron Exodus 32:1-6 – the Fall of Aaron Leviticus 8 – the Restoration of Aaron, clothed in bloody skins (bloodied garments) Leviticus 9 – the Entrance of Aaron into his Adamic work Leviticus 10 – the Sin of Cain and the Restoration of Aaron again to his work.

This sequence establishes a new highly symbolic world that corresponds to the real world of society and history. This symbolic microcosm was a message to Israel, as Israel was a message to the nations.

What follows is a symbolic recapitulation of the judgments on humanity. That judgment, remember, was death. Uncleanness is death, but it afflicts only the flesh: the spirit is spared. Only if a person refused to be cleansed did this preliminary death advance to the fuller form of death: being cut off.

First come the unclean animals, and uncleanness from contact with their food or carcasses, recapping the judgment on the serpent (Genesis 3:14-15). Second comes uncleanness on the woman from childbearing, recapping the judgment on the woman (Genesis 3:16). Third comes uncleanness from "leprosy," which is better called Decay, recapping the sweat-of-the-nose judgment on the man (Genesis 3:17-21). Fourth comes uncleanness from issues of the flesh, recapping the judgment on the process of human begetting (Genesis 4:1). Fifth comes the Day of Covering (Leviticus 16), which concerns the great removal of the judgment upon the flesh.

All of these judgments come upon Israel only. They are a substitute for the nations, taking away the uncleanness of the nations, which are symbolized by the unclean animals. Uncleanness (symbolic death) is the judgment for sin, and Israel bears that judgment on behalf of Adam and Eve, on behalf of the nations that come from Adam and Eve. The annual removal of all uncleanness from Israel (Leviticus 16) should have made it clear to them that they were only acting out something that the Messiah would eventually do. The judgment for sin (death) is taken from Adam and Eve (the nations) and put on the Israelites. It is rolled from the Israelites into Aaron, and then removed from him and put on the sacrificial goats. These rituals point forward to Jesus, the True Israelite, who takes our uncleanness (death) upon Himself as our substitute.

Thus, the retain the laws of uncleanness after the death of Jesus is to completely mistake their meaning. To impose these laws on the God-fearers is to confuse their meaning. These are the things the Judaizers did.

We can also see what these ritual laws mean for us. The Israelites were to bear the judgment for the sins of the world. That is what it means to carry God’s Name, to be like Yahweh (Jesus), to act like Yahweh, to show forth Yahweh’s ways. In a secondary way, Christians are to be priests and thus serve the world. Like Israel and like Jesus, we are called to be living sacrifices. If we isolate into ourselves, we are guilty of the same hypocrisy as the Pharisees.

Flesh and Blood.

Flesh and blood are linked but separate. As Leviticus 11 begins with laws about not eating symbolically dead (unclean) animals, so Leviticus 17 concerns drinking forbidden blood. This chapter is transitional and links both with what precedes and what follows. In terms of the former, we have the following commands, both to Israel and to God-fearers:

First, sacrifices are to be offered to Yahweh alone, and only in the way Yahweh has prescribed (17:1-9). This is the "things sacrificed to idols" of Acts 15:29. This section recaps Leviticus 1-7. Bringing sacrificial animals to Yahweh means bringing people to Him, for the animals represent people. Bringing sacrifices to idols means bringing people to the idols. If we translate this out of ritual language to societal language, we can see how the Pharisees violated this teaching. They had set up a second Torah, the Oral Torah, consisting of "secret ancient traditions" that were supposedly given Moses on Mount Sinai, but that were in fact only a couple of generations old. Jesus says that Satan was the author of these traditions (Matthew 15 & Mark 7 with John 8:44, 1 Timothy 4:1, Revelation 2:9). Notice how often Jesus casts out demons in synagogues: Oral Law Judaism was demonized. The Oral Laws were eventually written down in the Mishnah and commented on in the Talmuds, and these form to this day the heart of Rabbinic Judaism. This second set of rules, set up next to Yahweh’s Torah, was an idol, and bringing people under these rules was equivalent to bringing sacrifices to idols.

Second, blood may not be consumed under any circumstances, either by Israelite or Gentile (17:10-14). This is the "blood" of Acts 17:29. The life of the "flesh" is said to be in the blood, a link to the laws of the "flesh" in Leviticus 8-16. Note that defilements of the "flesh" can be cleansed, but the deeper abominations of the blood cannot be: the sin is willful, and the person in excommunicated (cut off). Becoming unclean is not ordinarily sinful, and may even be the result of something good and commanded (marital intercourse, childbearing, burying relatives, etc.). Becoming abominable or detestable (sins of blood) are willful. This distinction correlates with, though is not the same as, the distinction between "sins of inadvertency" and "high-handed sins." When the Jews cried "We have no king but Caesar," they declared that in their heart of hearts they sought life from the creature instead of from the Creator.

Third, while it is not forbidden to eat an animal that dies by itself or is torn by beasts, both Israel and God-fearer become unclean by doing so, and must cleanse themselves or else bear guilt (17:15-16). This is the "things strangled" of Acts 15:29. This stipulation also obviously links with chapters 8-16, the laws of "flesh" and uncleanness. The reason for the law is that in these cases the blood has not been properly drained from the flesh, yet since the intention is to prevent starvation and not to drink blood as such, it is not sinful. Acts 15:29 refines the stipulation, saying that Christians are forbidden to eat the meat of strangled animals only, because in that case it is the deliberate intent to keep the blood in the flesh. We are not forbidden to eat "road kills."

(Deuteronomy 13:21, spoken by Moses nearly 40 years later, seems to change the provisions in Leviticus. Israelites are now told not to each the flesh of an animal that dies by itself, while God-fearers are permitted to do so. That seems to change Leviticus 11:39-40, which does not forbid eating such a carcass, but only prescribes same-day cleansing in case one does so. Thus, the provisions for the wilderness seem to change once Israel enters the land. But not necessarily: Perhaps the God-fearer, though free to eat such meat, was still to cleanse himself before the new day began at sunset; and perhaps Moses’ new prohibition on such meat is not to be taken as absolute, but as qualified by the Levitical legislation. In that case, the meaning of the whole Law would be that the Israelite was to avoid such carcass meat except in an emergency, while the God-fearer was free to eat it at will.)

These three laws still have to do with life and death: It is forbidden to seek life from any source other than God, whether it is the worship of other gods (cp. First Word), worshipping Him other than how He commands (cp. Second Word), or drinking the life in the blood.

False Glory.

Before moving to a consideration of the third major section of Leviticus, it is important for us to review the laws of uncleanness again with a slightly deeper focus. Uncleanness means symbolic death, and death is false glory.

Adam sought glory from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The phrase "knowledge of good and evil" has to do with maturity and an advance from childhood to eldership, from being a priest (palace servant) to being a king (vice-ruler under God). Adam knew that eventually he would be given to eat of that Tree (Genesis 1:29), but not right away. It was necessary for Adam to seek life from God at the Tree of Life, and then mature in faithfulness until he was ready to be invested with glory. (For a fuller discussion of this, see my studies Trees and Thorns, available from Biblical Horizons .)

What Adam found when he ate of the forbidden Tree was death. The glory he found, which made him in a false way "like one of Us" (Genesis 3:22) was death-glory. What was bestowed upon him was death-glory, not life-glory, for Adam had rejected the Tree of Life.

Uncleanness is death, and thus false glory. This glory must be set aside, abandoned, killed, and only then can the worshipper start over, drawing near to the Tree of Life and beginning a proper course of maturity toward the Tree of Glory. Let us now survey this dimension of the laws of uncleanness.

The clean animals are those that are humble, while the unclean animals are glorious. The glorious lion is unclean; the humble goat and deer are clean. The exotic fishes are unclean; the simple fishes are clean. Powerful birds are unclean; but simple birds like chickens and doves are clean. Israel was not to eat the glorious animals because, in terms of the symbolic pedagogy of the Law, this would entail seeking glory directly instead of seeking humility first.

Children, which flow out from a woman, are part of her glory. Yet the process of childbearing does not make the woman glorious but unclean. It provides false glory, which must be cleansed away: The woman must be cleansed and the man-child circumcised.

"Leprosy" (Decay) consists of a whitening of the skin, which is a counterfeit or false glory. In garments and on the walls of houses, it consists of false-glorious green and red splotches. We must contrast this with the true glory that shone from Moses face, and with the glorious golden and blue-red-purple-white walls of God’s house.

The wife is the glory of the husband, and vice versa. Each is to humble himself or herself to glorify the other. Yet the whole marital relationship is unclean. The "glory" that flows from the husband’s flesh, and from the wife’s, is a false glory, unclean.

Glory is social. It spreads from person to person. We share in the glory when our favored sports team wins a game. Just so, false glory also spreads. It spreads from the "fleshly" animal to the man who eats it, from the "fleshly" child to its mother, from the "flesh" outward to the skin in Decay, from the "flesh" outward in the unclean issues, and from the "fleshly" corpse to everyone in the room. And beyond this, it spreads from person to person. This symbolic pedagogy adds dimension to the fact that after Adam’s sin, death spreads to all men.

The connection of false glory with death is seen most pointedly in the fact that a human corpse spreads uncleanness (symbolic death) to others in the most powerful way — the recipient is unclean for seven days and must be cleansed twice (Numbers 19). Instead of becoming glorified when we die, we become rotten and exude an extremely powerful stench instead of a pleasing incense. (Indeed, everything that proceeds from our flesh stinks: breath, urine, feces, sweat, blood.)

It is in the "flesh" that glory is located, the true and the false. At the resurrection, we shall inherit glorious flesh; but from Adam we inherit the defiled flesh of Leviticus. That old flesh must be killed, mortified, so that we can be given new flesh in Christ.

Blood is the life of the flesh, so that blood energizes flesh. Thus, blood is more powerful than flesh. The old Adamic blood energizes the old Adamic flesh. To drink blood, thus, is to seek to energize the flesh. Symbolically, it means that instead of killing the flesh, we are seeking to make it more alive. Thus, the punishment for drinking blood is far more serious than the slight discomforts that attend becoming unclean.

We need new flesh, which is then energized by new blood. This is why the sequence in the Lord’s Supper is so important. First, we receive the new flesh of Jesus, and then we receive His blood, which energizes, quickens, the new flesh.


Leviticus 17/18-22 concern abominations of the blood. The word "abomination" (to`ebha) occurs only in chapters 18 and 20 of Leviticus. This section is the Third Word section within Leviticus, which itself is an exposition of the Third Word. In Leviticus 18-22 we find "I am Yahweh" eighteen times, "I am Yahweh your God" ten times, "I am Yahweh who sanctifies you" twice, for a total of 31 times. These three phrases, focussing on the meaning of the Name, are not found at all in Leviticus 1-17, and only five times altogether in Leviticus 23-26.

"Yahweh will not acquit the one who carries His Name emptily." Sins of the "flesh" are acquitted by cleansing, but sins of the blood are not. The person committing these sins is excommunicated, "cut off." This term "cut off" occurs twelve times in Leviticus 17-22, and only five times in the whole rest of Leviticus.

Within this Third Word section of Leviticus 17-22, we find five sub-sections:

1. Worship and blood, ch. 17

2. Sexual abominations, ch. 18

3. Society, ch. 19

4. Punishment for abominations, ch. 20

5. Priests and sacrifices, ch. 21-22

Thus, within this Third Word section, chapter 19 is the third part. Of the eighteen times "I am Yahweh" is found in Leviticus 18-22, eight of them are in chapter 19. Of the ten times "I am Yahweh your God" is found in Leviticus, seven are in chapter 19. Thus, Leviticus 19 is the most pointed exposition of the Third Word.

Leviticus 18 concerns marrying too closely within the group. It applies also to the God-fearers, and is the "fornication" of Acts 15:29. Thus, in that passage "fornication" means incest, and it continues to be a sin for Christians. A full discussion of this complex chapter is impossible here, but its general meaning is clear: Closing in on one’s own group is sinful and abominable. This is precisely what the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day. They were spiritually incestuous, and the demonic Oral Law, offered to Molech, was their incestuous offspring. God states that those who commit such crimes will be vomited out of the land, which is what happened to the Circumcision at the end of the Apostolic Age.

Leviticus 19 is a set of 70 laws, mostly dealing with societal matters. An exposition of that chapter is found in Covenant Sequence. To carry God’s Name means to deal righteously with one’s neighbor. This body of laws is addressed only to Israel, because some of the stipulations deal with matters of no concern to the God-fearers, but most of the requirements would apply to any believer and are also found elsewhere in the Torah. If we were to take up this chapter in detail we would find Jesus condemning the Pharisees for many of the things commanded here. It is important to consider that when a group becomes spiritually incestuous, closed in upon itself, it also becomes brutal within itself.

Leviticus 20 mostly goes over the same ground as Leviticus 18, but this time with an emphasis on the punishments for incest. The "cutting off" and exile of spiritually incestuous Jewry in the destruction of Jerusalem in ad 70 fulfills these requirements.

Finally, Leviticus 21-22 concern the (symbolic) requirements for the priests and sacrifices, that they be holy to Yahweh as they, in particular, bear His Name. Unfolding the societal implications of these symbols would take us too far afield from our concerns here. But to take one example: The burning of a priest’s daughter who plays the harlot is answered by the burning of Harlot Babylon (Jerusalem) at the end of the Apostolic Age. Suffice it to say that in a large and profound way, violating these rules connects to carrying God’s Name hypocritically.

Sabbaths and the Name.

The fourth section of Leviticus, beginning in chapter 23, concerns sabbaths and festivals, and links with the Fourth Word, though still within the overall Third Word concerns of Leviticus. To lift up God’s Name aright means to worship and celebrate Him, humbling ourselves before Him like the publican and not standing proudly like the Pharisee. When Jesus appears in the synagogues on the sabbaths, and when He attends the festivals, it is clear that the Jews are condemned for hypocritical worship.

To carry God’s Name means keeping the Lampstand of truth lit daily, and providing the Bread of life every sabbath; and it means not committing verbal cursing of the Name, the penalty for which is death (ch. 24). It means keeping sabbath and jubilee years (ch. 25), and it means submitting to God’s sabbatical judgments (ch. 26). All of these "sabbath" sins are closely related to the sins of the Jews in Jesus’ day. They did not keep the Light of Truth burning, and did not provide bread to the hungry; it was up to Jesus to feed the people. Instead of submitting to God’s sabbath judgments, they maintained that they had never been in bondage to any man (John 8:33). The sabbath and jubilee years meant that the land belonged to Yahweh, and had to be given back to Him from time to time; but the Jews regarded Israel as their own, as a gift from God that was theirs to possess.

Finally, and significantly, the cursing of the Name by the son of an Egyptian woman is answered by Paul’s statement in Galatians 4 that the Jews were actually (spiritually and thus ultimately) the sons of the Egyptian woman. It is very significant that, while claiming to be Yahweh’s people, the Jews refused ever even to say His Name. They substituted the title "Master" (adonai) whenever they came across the Name Yahweh in the reading of the scriptures. Thus, they dishonored (cursed) the Name, like a wife who never calls her husband by Name, denying a personal and intimate relationship with him.


The fifth section, Leviticus 27, links with the command to honor father and mother, the Fifth Word. It has to do with dedications to Yahweh. To carry God’s Name means to be dedicated to Him. But the Jews of Jesus’ day had figured out ways to pervert the rules of dedication, taking for themselves the things corban to God (Mark 7:11).

(Note: In Covenant Sequence I placed chapters 24-26 with chapter 27, but I now think they should be connected to chapter 23.)

The first five Words link to the second five, as I showed in Covenant Sequence. This linkage adds dimension to the societal implications of the symbolism in Leviticus.

The Sixth Word, "You shall do no manslaughter," is answered by the substitute killings of animals at the altar. Those who practise humility and kill their own flesh will not be persons consumed with violence. Note that the Sixth Word section of the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21:12-36) moves from man-killing to crimes committed by sacrificial animals.

The Seventh Word, "You shall not steal," is answered by the laws of uncleanness. Adam stole in the Garden, and found false glory and death, symbolized by uncleanness. Cleansing from uncleanness corresponds to restitution for stealing. Seeking false glory by eating unclean animals or by drinking blood corresponds to stealing from God. Note that the Seventh Word section of the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 22:1-15) is concerned in large part with land-pollution and the spread of such pollution, matters conceptually parallel to uncleanness and its spread.

The Eighth Word, "You shall not commit adultery," is answered by the laws of incest and of the priesthood in Leviticus 17/18-22. The punishment for adultery is death, and analogously the punishment for committing abominations is to be cut off from God’s fellowship. The husband and wife share each other’s names, and Israel shares Yahweh’s Name. Thus, spiritual adultery brings full judgment. Note that the Eighth Word section of the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 22:16-31) is very similar in content to Leviticus 18-20.

The Ninth Word, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," links with the sabbath, the time when we are to pledge ourselves to our divine Husband anew, swearing allegiance to Him. Breaking with the various aspects of the sabbath means bearing false witness before God in hypocritical worship. Compare Exodus 23 in the Book of the Covenant, which concerns the Ninth Word (bearing witness, vv. 1-9), followed by sabbaths and festivals (vv. 10-19).

Finally, the Tenth Word, "You shall not covet," is answered by Leviticus 27. The man who dedicates himself and his things to God is not going to be covetous toward his neighbor. Note again that Exodus 23:10-19, which concerns sabbaths and festivals, focuses on giving freely to one’s subordinates and to God, the opposite of covetousness.

In this way, the book of Leviticus provides us with a Third Word perspective on the entire Ten Words.

Hidden Glory

A few additional thoughts on humility and glory must now be added. We have already discussed that humility precedes glory. We must add that the glory that comes at the end is present already in humility, but is hidden. True humility entails hidden glory, and thus is joyous.

The Tabernacle was outwardly humble, a mere tent of dark goat’s hair. But inside it was glorious. That glory could not be seen by any but the palace servants, however. When David built his palace, it grieved him that the True King still dwelt in humble tents. God in His awesome humility told David that because David wanted to glorify Him, He instead would glorify David with the Messianic son (2 Samuel 7). Then, however, God moved from the humble Tabernacle to the glorious Temple in the days of Solomon, after David had cleansed the land and brought peace. Now the glory was manifest, on the outside as well as on the inside.

Similarly, it is only after the land is cleansed in Ezekiel 39 that the invisible (hidden) but glorious Temple of Ezekiel 40-48 appears. Thus, the progression is:

1. The hidden glory of the priestly age of the former days. 2. The manifest glory of the kingly age of the former days. 3. The hidden (invisible) glory of the priestly age of the latter days, culminating in the hidden glory of Jesus. 4. The manifest glory of the kingly age of the former days, in the resurrection of Jesus. 5. The hidden glory of the New Priestly Age, as the glorified Bride, New Jerusalem is hidden from view. 6. The manifest glory of the New Jerusalem and the Bride at the end of history.

With this in mind, we can see that the Tree of Life had hidden within it the true glory that Adam should have sought. Advancement to the Tree of Knowledge would be as a result of the maturation of that glory within the husk of humility. Similarly, while Matthew, Mark, and Luke show us Jesus’ humility down to the cross, and His glory afterwards, John is concerned to show us the hidden glory that was His all along.

Thus, those who seek true glory seek it in humility, and those who are truly glorious are those who are truly humble. The Church has always known this, speaking of the "glorious martyrs" and honoring those who spent their lives in humble service.

This reality provides us another important perspective on the problem of images. The Bible is full of visual imagery, but that glorious imagery is "hidden" in the text of a book. We hear it, but until the end of history, we shall not see it. The firmament, set up on the second day of the universe, is still in place so that we do not see God. Nor do we see the saints, who in their preliminary glory are hidden on the other side, so to speak, of the firmament. The attempt to pull glory into this world, to have pictures of the saints as points of contact instead of as mere reminders, repeats the sin of Adam. It is a rejection of the Tree of Life, which is the Bible, in favor of the Tree of Glory, which will be ours in the fullest way at the end.

The Jews of Jesus’ day gloried in Herod’s glorious Temple, which replaced the rude Temple of Zerubbabel, which was a mere husk for the inner glory of Ezekiel’s Temple-City. They were seizing at the glory that was to come before its time. Jesus stated that He would tear down this false-glorious Temple (that of the anti-Solomon, Herod, the new 666) and replace it with a true-glorious Temple (that of the True Solomon, Jesus). But the Jews were infatuated with this false-glory, and when the Temple was finally finished in ad 64, they became sealed in their doom. They committed the abomination of desolation, which in this instance meant massacring Christians, and God destroyed them. (On this event, see my studies in the abomination of desolation in the pages of Studies in the Revelation.)

Herod and the Jews did what David did not do: Build a glorious Temple before God authorized it. It was David’s son, Solomon, who built the glorious Temple, and it was to be David’s greater Son who would build the New Jerusalem.

The Jews’ Herodian Temple was the flesh of an unclean glorious animal. It was unclean, and Jesus’ two cleansings and then destruction of it fulfilled of the law of House Decay in Leviticus 14:33-53. By "eating" this Temple, the Jews made themselves unclean. By drinking the blood of the saints (Revelation 17:6), they quickened their false-glorious "flesh" and were "cut off."

The In-Group

Of the many ways in which the Jews emptied God’s Name of meaning, perhaps the most serious was their incestuousness. Not only did the Jews close in upon themselves, as we have seen, but in doing so they broke up into four major sects, each closed in upon itself. These were ideological groups, each claiming to hold fast to God’s Name and its doctrinal meaning, but in fact each perverting the meaning of that Name.

The Sadducees denied all of the Word of God except for the first five books. They perverted its meaning by adopting many ideas from Greek philosophy. They are like the liberals and neo-orthodox (Kantians) today.

The Essenes completely dropped out of society. They don’t even show up in the Bible, because they had completely rejected God and His plan for history, while claiming to maintain His Name. They are like the Anabaptists and the "home-everything" people of today.

The Zealots organized to bring in the Kingdom by violence. They got their idea of the Kingdom from Rome, not from Yahweh, but they paraded as Yahweh’s soldiers. Such groups have plagued Church history, and are found today, supercilious in their sense of superiority to those who don’t join their crusades.

Finally, the Pharisees started out as the faithful, who kept God’s whole Word and did good works in obedience to Him. It is important to understand this, for the Pharisees are those closest to Jesus, with whom He interacted the most. But they had fallen into the sin of hypocrisy. Like the Pharisees, the evangelicals tend to add new laws to the Bible: don’t smoke; don’t drink; never question the Westminster Confession of Faith; use only the Book of Common Prayer; you must speak in tongues; etc. Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have done the same thing, and in the modern world, they stand side by side with evangelical sects.

Jesus focussed on the Pharisees, for they were the closest to the Word of God, and thus in a sense they were the most guilty of perverting it. To whom much is given, of him much is required. The Pharisees prevented people from coming to God on the basis of requirements that the Bible does not teach. In exactly the same way, modern evangelical groups very often exclude, practically if not officially, those who don’t hold the same doctrinal convictions or whose lives don’t have the same patterns. Each evangelical sect has its own way of being superior and of looking sadly down on other believers. Points of doctrine or liturgy or practice become badges of identity instead of ways to reach out in humility. And everything I have just mentioned applies equally to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox sects as well.

Each in its own way, these groups were pursuing false glory. For the Sadducees, the glory was that of Greek philosophy and of the Temple, which they controlled. For the Essenes, the glory was that of a perfect community. For the Zealots, the glory was that of empire, of Rome. For the Pharisees, the glory was that of leadership, signified by the glorification of their garments (Matthew 23:5). Each group was seizing something that only the Messiah would bring, and only according to God’s timing. None of them were servants; each wanted glory without humility.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy has pointed out that man lives his life in terms of in-groups and out-groups, and in terms of visions of the future and of the past. The sin against the Third Word is the sin of perverting the meaning of the in-group. The result is sectarianism and incest, constant fighting in each little sect.

In terms of the out-group, the sin is against the First Word, the adulation of nature and angels (spirits) instead of the Creator.

In terms of past-orientation, the sin is against the Second Word. Other deliverers begin to take the place of Yahweh-Jesus as the only Deliverer. The sin is forgetfulness.

And in terms or future-orientation, the sin is against the Fourth Word, clinging to tradition instead of being open to the sabbath-future. We shall investigate Sabbatical Idolatry in our discussion of the Fourth Word. The book of Hebrews warns those who have forsaken the sin of hypocrisy, and stopped violating the Third Word, that they must not cling to the present but be open to the future.

At this point in our study, it becomes possible to examine Rosenstock-Huessy’s insight more fully.

Each of us relates to various in-groups, which are balanced by out-groups. Since human beings are made in the image of God, and particularly in the image of the Second Person of God, the Word, this fundamental dimension of our existence is revealed in our language. We speak of I and you, of we and they; and in some languages we have the you-familiar form used for the in-group, and the you-formal form used for the out-group.

One in-group is me, myself, with everyone else in the out-group. Equally fundamental is the group of my wife and me, with everyone else outside. Another fundamental group is the church to which I am covenanted, with all others in various out-groups, such as other churches like mine, other Christian churches, and heathens. Another in-group is my circle of friends, while another is my circle of associates at work or school. We relate inwardly, introvertedly, and subjectively to our in-groups, while we relate outwardly, extrovertedly, and objectively to our out-groups.

Also, each of us relates to the past and to the future, and we do so by creating something called the "present." In the sense of physics, the present is a razor-edge of time that has passed before we can even speak of it. But in human life, we create a span of time that we call the present, in terms of which we define the past and the future.

We exist in various different "presents." We may presently be in a lecture that lasts an hour; or we may be presently in a course of study that lasts one semester. We may think of the 20th century as the present age, or the post-Viet-Nam war period as the present era. In every case, the present is something defined by human consciousness; it does not have a "scientific" reality outside of human life.

What defines the boundaries of the present is what lies on either side of it: the past and the future, ultimately t