The Old Testament in the Heart of the Catholic Church
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In the Pentateuch, the three books that give

- a religious history of man,
- and then the religious history of the people of Israel up to the point of their entry into the Promised Land



a.   Leviticus.
b.   Numbers.
c.   Deuteronomy.


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Read Num 1:1-3. The story in Numbers begins

a.   by retelling the birth of Moses and his calling by the LORD.
b.   in the desert of Sinai just after the covenantal coming out of Egypt.
c.   in the land of Egypt before the ten plagues afflicted the land.

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Scholars think that Numbers compiles together many ancient lists, stories, and traditions into an overall account of the time in the desert. Some scholars think that the blessing preserved in Num 6:24-26 is one of the oldest pieces of poetry in all of Sacred Scripture. Read Num 6:22-27. This blessing is also preserved by the Catholic Church

a.   as one of the Solemn Blessings that the priest may give at the end of Mass.
b.   as part of the prayer of absolution in the Rite of Reconciliation.
c.   in the New Testament, where it appears in two of the epistles of St. Paul.

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Some scholars have identified a basic three-part outline to Numbers:

1-10 Preparation in the Sinai desert for the journey to the promised land.
10-22 The journey in the desert.
22-36 Preparation for life in the new land. <<

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One message scholars think is conveyed by the book of Numbers in its final form is that a lack of covenantal trust in the LORD always led to additional suffering - which was also meant as a warning to the Jews living later, for whom Numbers was put together. Moses sends scouts (spies) into the land that God wishes Israel to enter. Read Num 13 carefully. The scouts (with the exception of Caleb) come back with

a.   all bad news.
b.   all good news.
c.   good news and bad news.

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Read Num 14:1-12. What is the people's reaction to the reports of the scouts? They

a.   acclaim Moses as their leader.
b.   are obedient to God's plans.
c.   want to go back to Egypt.

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Read Num 14:5. Moses and Aaron fall on the ground

a.   because they have been severely wounded by stones thrown at them.
b.   because they submit themselves entirely to God's judgment on the matter.
c.   to show the people that they agree with their judgment in the matter.

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The ''glory of the Lord'' is the term used to speak of God actually present and evident in his majesty and power. In response to the crisis of Num 14, God appears in majesty and power, vindicates Moses, and threatens to destroy the people of God and begin again, this time with Moses's offspring only. Read Num 14:10-12. Now read Num 14:13-19. Moses

a.   asks the LORD to keep the people in the desert for forty years.
b.   never questions the judgments of the LORD, but submits in obedience.
c.   with confidence dares to intercede for the people before the LORD.

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A ''generation'' was forty years - an entire normal lifetime for most people of those days. God allows the entire generation that left Egypt to die in the desert because of their disobedience, but renews the promise to their children. However, the spies who urged the people to disobey the Lord die of plague immediately. Read Num 14:20-38.

Num 14:39-45 begins a new story - another disobedience! Now, shaken by these events, some people want to pretend that their previous disobedience had not really mattered. In their prior disobedience they had actually said that they preferred to return to Egypt and be slaves again. Now (after their decision to sin had caused them further misery) they decided that they wanted even more slavery. Now they wanted the whole world to be a world of slavery. They wanted a world in which, no matter what you do, you are "really" moving closer to the LORD. But to follow the LORD is to live in a world of true freedom, where it really does matter what you do. You really can move away from Him.

Some of the people still didn't want that world of freedom, which the LORD offers all men. It was too hard to live in a world where your choices really matter. They wanted a "take-back." They wanted to move directly into the land, as if their sin had not really happened, had not really harmed them or changed anything or moved them farther from the LORD, without Moses, without the Ark of the Covenant, without the LORD. Read Num 14:39-45. What happened to those people?

a.   They soon ran back to camp.
b.   They were slaughtered.
c.   They were victorious.

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Most scholars think that the most important message meant to be conveyed by the book of Numbers is not the people's continual refusal to walk with the LORD, nor is it Moses's continual willingness to walk with the LORD. The key to Numbers, say many scholars, is the fact that the LORD walks with his people and invites them to walk with him. He makes his tent with his people, and continues to do so, though they continually wander away from him. Scholars tell us that the Hebrew word for ''dwells'' is derived from the word ''to tent'' or ''to walk among as a tent-dweller.'' Recall that the Tent of Meeting was the Tabernacle, and read Num 1:47-54.

The cloud is a theophany: a visible sign of God's presence. Num 9:15-23 recounts a story of complete faithfulness. The people follow God wherever he leads. They allow him to rule the days of their journey in the desert. Continual conflict and disobedience to the LORD is a great theme of Numbers, but it is not the only one. Faithfulness is also recorded. Given the rest of Numbers, this is an idealized portrait, yet, after all, the people were at last faithful, and they did after all enter the land God had promised them. Read Num 9:15-23. <<

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Genesis Exodus >> Leviticus << Numbers Deuteronomy || Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings || 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah || Tobit* Judith* Esther 1 Maccabees* 2 Maccabees* Job


Proverbs Ecclesiastes Song of Songs Wisdom* Sirach* || Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Baruch* Ezekiel Daniel || Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi

The Old Testament books with a star * are not any more or less important than the others. The star indicates that the Catholic Church definitively professes and knows these books to be part of the sacred writings, the inspired Word of God [cf. CCC 120], but that they are specifically rejected by the Jewish people, and called ''apocryphal'' (of doubtful inspiration) by Protestants.

The common title of the third book of Moses is Leviticus, a word

a.   indicating that this is the third book in the Pentateuch.
b.   referring to the Levites (priests) from the tribe of Levi.
c.   which means ''and he called'' in the original Hebrew.

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Leviticus consists of

a.   a history of the chosen people as they were led by the LORD in the desert of Sinai.
b.   detailed instructions on how the worship and life of the Jewish people can be holy.
c.   the wisdom of a famous teacher from a time after the Exile as presented by his student.

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Read Lev 19:1-18. Lev 19:2 and Lev 19:18 are the passages of Leviticus that have been most often quoted by later Christian saints and writers. For instance, read 1 Peter 1:13-16, which quotes Lev 19:2. Of course, Jesus himself quotes Lev 19:18. Read Mathew, Mt 22:37-39. <<

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The bodies of two Jews disobedient to the rituals have defiled the Temple. The original ''scapegoat'' was the live goat referred to in the following passage as having the people's sins put upon it, and then being cast out into the desert. Read Lev 16:1-34.

Though no longer celebrated precisely in the form given in Leviticus, the Day of Atonement remains one of the most solemn days of the Jewish year. Scholars often remark that ''at-one-ment'' gives a good part of the meaning of ''atonement'' - the restoration of covenantal relation between God and his people, which has been injured by sin. The Jewish name for Day of Atonement is

a.   Hanukkah.
b.   Rosh Hashanah.
c.   Yom Kippur.

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Some scholars have noted that what Leviticus is truly about is holiness. Read CCC 2013-2014. Holiness is ''ever more intimate union with Christ.'' St. Jerome considered that ''the whole order of Leviticus breathes holy mysteries.''

Of course in its literal sense Leviticus does not reveal the full meaning of holiness known to the Catholic Church. It nonetheless reveals many things about holiness.

Perhaps the most important is what St. Jerome noted, that the ''whole order'' of Leviticus breathes holiness. In other words, holiness is not a mood, a feeling, or a wish, but a ''whole order''; it always involves specific, real, and practical things - the right thing, done at the right time. >>

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Leviticus defines holiness as sharing the life of God. Read Lev 18:1-5. Leviticus also reveals that holiness is made possible by obedience and purity. The Catholic Church also professes that man can increase in holiness. He can come closer to Christ, or move away from him. Furthermore, the Church is very clear that there is a ''whole order'' to this journey in holiness. By his very specific own acts, ''in what I have done, and what I have failed to do,'' [Confiteor] man can quite definitely move farther from Christ, or closer to him.

The Church professes that man can not even begin his journey in holiness by himself, but only in relation to Christ, as a gift from Christ, and through the sacrifice of Christ. Read CCC 2007-2011. <<

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Read Lev 17:10-14. The blood of a living creature not metaphorically but literally is its

a.   death.
b.   life.
c.   sin.

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Leviticus commands the Jewish people not to eat blood. They are not to become one with the life of another creature. In the ancient Hebrew way of thinking, life is not a process or some other abstraction. Life literally is physical blood, the substance that pours out of an animal after it is sacrificed. The physical blood is literally the creature's life. Eating its blood would make you one with its life - a life that belongs to God, not you.

Read Mathew, Mt 26:27-28. Only God himself, the source of life, could give the command to eat blood. Moreover, it is his own blood that is to be eaten. The invitation of Jesus to drink his blood is not metaphorical. It is the extraordinary invitation by God to literally become one with his own life.

What is drunk is the blood of the (new) covenant. Thus it is not only God's blood but also the blood of a covenantal sacrifice, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. The invitation of Jesus to drink his blood is therefore also the invitation by the Lamb of God to literally become one with his sacrificial death on the Cross. <<

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The first seven chapters of Leviticus are devoted to

a.   hymns of praise to God.
b.   the ritual of sacrifices.
c.   ways to live a moral life.

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Lev 11-16 is devoted to

a.   being holy in the conduct of one's life.
b.   maintaining the laws of legal purity.
c.   the proper ritual for sacrifices.

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copyright (c) 2001 John Kelleher. All rights reserved.