LEVITICUS 22-24: THE STONING OF SHELOMITH
This image is of the stoning of Stephen, not the stoning of Shelomith, but I couldn't find art for the stoning of Shelomith. Let me know if you do. I purchased this one on Getty Images.
Can we skip Leviticus 22-23, they're so repetitive, and I repeat, Leviticus is repetitive. I'm just going to claim being tired at this point, and skip to a story that will wake us all up!!
The most striking part of Leviticus 24 is the stoning of Shelomith. The stories in Leviticus are not happy redemption stories but cautionary tales, and this is important to a better understanding of Leviticus.
There was once a man named Dibri, a descendant of Dan, son of Jacob and Bilhah (Gen. 30:1-6). His daughter, Shelomith, married an Egyptian, and we don’t know whether Dibri was happy or sad about his daughter marrying outside the Israelite people. The Bible does not say. Because he was a foreigner, the Egyptian may have been a slave or even indebted to an Israelite.
One day the Egyptian and Shelomith had a son, and Shelomith was instructed to remain in solitude for seven days, a ritual time of separation from the clan that allowed her to be cleansed from impurity and return to the camp after giving birth.
Shelomith and her Egyptian husband were living in one of the most phenomenal times in history. Shelomith’s people had escaped Egyptian oppression, and her husband had joined them in their wilderness journey back to the Promised Land, Canaan. But they were soon to witness the great passion of the Lord and his people for holiness and reverence of the name of the Lord, though perhaps not in a way we might expect—the way Shelomith and her Egyptian husband must have experienced the discipline and holiness of God through his people would make many of us gasp in shock, turn away in shame, avert our eyes.
Shelomith’s son, half Egyptian and half Israelite, got into a fight with a full-blooded Israelite. Though we don’t know how old they were, they are at least of age enough to have a vehement disagreement over something that would lead them to grave conflict and struggle—the two scuffled in the camp (24:10). We don’t know what they clashed over. One could imagine dozens of scenarios such as a squabble over property or land, an ethnic slur, a prideful power struggle between young men.
What happened next is also a mystery but we do know that words were spat out of Shelomith’s son’s mouth with ill intent toward the Israelite man and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel was careful for good reason with the name of God, even to the point that in the text (24:11) of the story, the euphemistic “the Name” is used to pronounce God. To add insult and curses and perhaps invoking another god in a heated battle witnessed by several in the community would have attracted the hounds of hell on such a person.
We don’t know how the fight ended, what happened to the fully Israelite man, but Shelomith’s son was restrained and put into custody until the community could clarify what should be done with the man who cursed The Name. God spoke directly to Moses and gave him this prescription:
“Take-out the insulter, outside the camp, let all those who heard (the curse) lean their hands on his head and let the entire community pelt him!” (24:14, Fox translation)
The next several verses are words the Lord tells Moses to speak to Israel as further application of the command to keep The Name holy. There is a dramatic and repetitious emphasis to the section, as in many near-poetic lines of Leviticus. What the community would have heard in Leviticus 24:15-16 might sound dynamically equivalent to something like this in English:
Any man, any man that blasphemes his God He will be held responsible and be put to death, yes death! The assembly must throw stones at him, yes throw stones at him. Any man, yes any man foreigner or native-born, who curses the Name must be put to death, yes death.
Further injunctions come next related to taking life for life. This is one of the sources of the infamous “eye for an eye” notions that Jesus refers to in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-42; cf. Exodus 21:24). It seems the intent of eye for an eye was not only to punish but also to encourage fairness, to prevent revenge and over-punishing someone for a crime. In other words, a fly should not be killed with a sledgehammer. But when a sledgehammer is needed, it is indeed invoked, as was the case with Shelomith’s son, which is the tragic conclusion of Leviticus 24.
Moses spoke to the children of Israel, and they took the insulting man outside the camp, and pelted him with rocks. They did as the Name commanded.
While stoning Shelomith’s son resolved one problem for the community of Israel at the time, this story and the stoning brings up many questions and problems for us! Capital punishment is still part of our culture and some other cultures, so we can't totally think this text is so foreign to us, it's just that the stones are not in our hands and blood is not literally on our hands. How do we revere your name, Lord? How do we discipline in our communities? And how is church discipline different from government justice and punishment? What does this story tell us about you, Lord, and your people Israel?
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ in Tulsa. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.