Leviticus 19 – Many Various Laws
A. Laws regarding matters already covered.
1. (1-2) The general call to holiness.
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
a. You shall be holy: The idea behind the word holy is “separate.” As it is applied to God, it describes God’s apartness. It means that God is different than man and from all others; different in His being and different in the greatness and majesty of His attributes. He has a righteousness unlike any other; a justice unlike any other; a purity unlike any other – and love, grace, and mercy unlike any other.
i. Part of this idea is that God is not merely a super-man; His being and character are divine, not human. The divine is a different order of being than the human.
b. Be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy: God is separate from man and from all creation. Yet because humans are made in the image of God, they can follow in His steps and also be holy. In this context, Israel was to be different; separate from the nations and the peoples around them.
i. To be holy means to be more like God, our separation unto Him and His truth – and naturally, separating ourselves from those things that are not like Him and not according to His truth.
ii. “A people created and governed by God are intended to represent Him and the truth concerning Him to other people.” (Morgan)
iii. Matthew Poole understood this as God’s declaration, I the LORD your God am holy, “both in my essence, and in all my laws, which are holy and just and good, and in all my actions; whereas the gods of the heathens are unholy both in their laws and institutions, whereby they allow and require filthy and abominable actions; and in their practices, some of them having given wicked examples to their worshippers.”
2. (3) The law to respect parents.
‘Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and keep My Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.
a. Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father: This line essentially repeats the idea of the fifth commandment, found in Exodus 20:12. Honor for parents is an essential building block for the stability and health of all society. If the younger generations are constantly at war with older generations, the foundations of society will be destroyed.
i. “Respect for one’s parents is a subject that receives a great amount of attention in the Book of Proverbs (1:8; 6:20; 10:1; 17:25; 23:22; 29:3).” (Rooker)
ii. “The mother is put first, partly because the practice of this duty begins there, mothers, by perpetual converse, being more and sooner known to their children than their fathers; and partly because this duty is most commonly neglected to the mother.” (Poole)
b. And keep My Sabbaths: This line essentially repeats the fourth commandment, found in Exodus 20:8-11. Here, reverence for parents is linked to reverence for the LORD. Submitting to parental authority is a step to submitting to Divine authority.
i. “Reverencing parents is an act of piety towards God, since the parents are substitutes for the heavenly Father as far as their children are concerned.” (Harrison)
ii. The command in Exodus 2:8-11 is specifically to remember the Sabbath. Here, the command is to keep My Sabbaths – to hold them as God commanded, as a day of rest.
iii. Like everything in the Bible, we understand this from the perspective of the whole Bible, not this single passage. With this understanding, we see that there is a real sense in which Jesus fulfilled the purpose and plan of the Sabbath for us and in us (Hebrews 4:9-11) – He is our rest, when we remember His finished work we keep God’s Sabbaths, we remember the rest.
iv. Therefore, the whole of Scripture makes it clear that under the New Covenant, no one is under obligation to observe a Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16-17 and Galatians 4:9-11). Galatians 4:10 tells us that Christians are not bound to observe days and months and seasons and years. The rest we enter into as Christians is something to experience every day, not just one day a week – the rest of knowing we don’t have to work to save ourselves, but our salvation is accomplished in Jesus (Hebrews 4:9-10).
v. Yet we dare not ignore the importance of a day of rest – God has built us so that we need one. Six days of work and one day of rest is good for us spiritually, mentally, and physically. Like an automobile that needs regular maintenance, we need regular rest – or we will not wear well. Some people are like high mileage automobiles that haven’t been maintained well, and it shows.
3. (4) The law against idolatry.
‘Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the LORD your God.
a. Do not turn to idols: This line essentially repeats the idea of the second commandment, found in Exodus 20:4-6. The word for idols literally means nothings. Idols represent gods that are not real and are really nothings.
i. “This word comes from a root meaning worthless, inadequate, or nothingness. It is frequently used in the Old Testament to refer to the gods of other groups of people. The Israelites did not consider them of any value.” (Peter-Contesse)
b. Nor make for yourselves molded gods: Israel had significant trouble with the worship of idols until the Babylonian captivity (some 800 years from the time of Leviticus). The attraction was not so much to the molded gods themselves, as to what they represented – financial success, pleasure, and self-worship.
i. After the Babylonian captivity, Israel was cured of her gross idolatry of molded gods and began a more dangerous form of idolatry – idolatry of the nation itself, idolatry of the temple and its ceremonies, and an idolatry of tradition.
4. (5-8) Laws regarding offerings.
‘And if you offer a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD, you shall offer it of your own free will. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the next day. And if any remains until the third day, it shall be burned in the fire. And if it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination. It shall not be accepted. Therefore everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned the hallowed offering of the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from his people.
a. If you offer a sacrifice of a peace offering: A peace offering (for the enjoyment of peace with God and fellowship with Him) was always to be made of one’s own free will. God did not want forced fellowship from His people.
b. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it: Nor did God want stale fellowship with His people. The meat of a peace offering was not to be eaten after two days.
i. He has profaned the hallowed offering of the LORD: “To profane something is to treat it as if it were not sacred. The whole expression may be rendered ‘has shown his spite for what belongs to the LORD’ or ‘has desecrated something the Lord considers sacred.’” (Peter-Contesse)
B. Other laws.
1. (9-10) Providing for the poor by leaving fields incompletely harvested.
‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God.
a. You shall not wholly reap the corners of your field: This was one of the public assistance programs in Israel. Farmers were not to completely harvest their fields, so the poor and needy could come and glean the remains for themselves. Grain was left at the corners of the field, and grapes were left on the vine. This shows God cares for the poor and wants them to have opportunities.
i. This is exactly what Ruth was doing when Boaz noticed her (Ruth 2:2-3).
ii. This was not the only care given to the poor in Israel. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and 26:12-15 also command that every three years there be a special tithe collected for the relief of the poor.
b. You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: This was a wonderful way to help the poor and the foreigner. It commanded the farmers to have a generous heart, and the poor to be active and to work for their food. It made a way for the poor to provide for their own needs with both work and dignity.
i. “By gleaning the corners and the leftovers of the field, the poor were spared the embarrassment of asking for charity.” (Rooker)
ii. “This is holiness according to the Divine standard, which ever has this element of compassion.” (Morgan)
2. (11-13) Honest dealing.
‘You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
‘You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning.
a. You shall not steal: In essence, this repeats the eighth commandment (Exodus 20:15). This command is another important foundation for human society, establishing the right to personal property. God has clearly entrusted certain possessions to certain individuals, and other people or governments are not permitted to take that property without proper legal process.
i. Ephesians 4:28 gives the solution to stealing. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
b. Nor deal falsely: In the context of you shall not steal, this probably has reference to false dealing in order to steal from someone or take money from them deceptively.
c. You shall not swear by My name falsely: This is an aspect of what is forbidden under the third commandment (Exodus 20:7), against taking God’s name in vain. Again, in context, it probably has the idea of swearing oaths to deceive others in taking money from them.
d. You shall not cheat your neighbor: To cheat – to take money from others with some form of deception – is the same as to rob him. Cheating is a form of robbery or stealing, and God commands against it.
e. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you: God commands the prompt payment of those who are hired. When people are hired and not paid, it is not only a sin against those hired – it is also a sin against God.
i. “For this plain reason, it is the support of the man’s life and family, and they need to expend it as fast as it is earned.” (Clarke)
3. (14) Basic human compassion commanded.
You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
a. You shall not curse the deaf: God commanded Israel to not mistreat those with physical disabilities. Cursing the deaf is cruel because they can’t hear your curse, though others can. To put a stumbling block before the blind is just mean.
i. “He who is capable of doing this, must have a heart cased with cruelty.” (Clarke)
ii. “Even if the deaf person were unable to hear the curse, people thought that a curse had its own power to cause harm. And the deaf man would be unable to do anything to counteract it.” (Peter-Contesse)
iii. This law sought to command and build basic kindness among the people of Israel. An accurate and revealing measure of our humanity is how we treat the weak and unfortunate.
iv. This law also sought to correct bad theology. It was common then (and still exists today) for people to think that if someone had a physical disability (such as being deaf or blind), then that person was specially cursed by God. They thought it had to do with some special or specific sin from that person or their ancestors. They thought if God had so cursed them, then they could also curse them. With this command, God corrected that bad thinking.
b. Nor put a stumbling block before the blind: It would take a cruel, hard-hearted person to deliberately put a stumbling block before the blind – to deliberately trip a blind person. That this command was necessary shows us the kind of rough people the Israelites were after 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Their cruel environment made cruelty seem normal to them. This had to change.
i. These commands regarding kindness and generosity are in the midst of what is often called the holiness code of Israel. This reminds us of something often forgotten: generosity and kindness to those in need is an important aspect of holiness.
ii. “Under these two particulars are manifestly and especially forbidden all injuries done to such as are unable to right or defend themselves; of whom God here takes the more care.” (Poole)
4. (15-16) Laws regarding justice and truthfulness.
‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
a. You shall do no injustice in judgment: This was a command to judges and magistrates. Exodus 21-23 gives many principles to the judges of ancient Israel for making their legal decisions. Yet all was based on the fundamental responsibility to do no injustice in judgment.
i. Jesus repeated this foundational principle: Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. (John 7:24)
b. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: To give preference to a person just because they are poor, or just because they are mighty, is to do injustice in judgment. It should not be done.
i. This specific command speaks against a popular philosophy in the modern western world. An aspect of what is sometimes known as “critical theory” basically divides everyone into one of two categories: the oppressors and their victims. Their idea is that all who are mighty are oppressors, and all who are poor are victims – and that preference should always be given to the poor whom they understand to be victims. This goes against what God commands; this is to do injustice in judgment.
ii. Certainly it is more common to honor the person of the mighty than it is to be partial to the poor. But they are both sins; they both are an injustice. Things should be judged according to truth and evidence of the truth, not according to class theories. As God says: In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.
c. You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people: A talebearer is essentially a gossip, someone who cannot mind their own business (1 Thessalonians 4:11). They take great pleasure in talking about the lives of other people and spreading stories.
i. Adam Clarke described the talebearer: “The person who travels about dealing in scandal and calumny, getting the secrets of every person and family, and retailing them wherever he goes. A more despicable character exists not: such a person is a pest to society, and should be exiled from the habitations of men.”
ii. A talebearer, “who makes it his business to go up and down from one to another, and divulge evil and false reports concerning others, which, though many times it proceeds only from levity and talkativeness, yet apparently tends to the great injury of our neighbor.” (Poole)
d. Nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: God commands us to promote and protect the lives of those around us. We have no excuse to be indifferent to the loss of life.
i. “Stand forth against the life of your neighbor: literally, ‘stand upon the blood of your neighbor.’ The exact meaning of this expression is uncertain…. most commentators take it to mean that, whenever a person is in danger of losing his life as the result of a legal case, a witness should not fail to speak out.” (Peter-Contesse)
5. (17-18) The command to love one’s neighbor.
‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
a. You shall not hate your brother in your heart: Love for one’s brother is commanded, not only in action but also in heart. Yet if it is not present in the heart, then it should be in one’s actions and the heart will follow. We should not stop at treating others well and having a heart of hatred towards them; God desires to change our hearts to love them.
b. You shall surely rebuke: Love will rebuke another when it is necessary. We all have blind spots where we think everything is fine, but it is evident to others that we need to be corrected.
c. You shall not take vengeance: Vengeance belongs to God (Romans 12:19) and there is a sense in which we can hold back God’s work of vengeance upon others by seeking it ourselves.
i. Of course, this principle applies to interpersonal relationships, and not to the rightful functions of government in keeping the law. Criminals cannot be let free because vengeance belongs to God. God exercises His vengeance through the rightful use of government authority (Romans 13:1-7). It is appropriate to both personally forgive the criminal and testify against them in court.
d. Nor bear any grudge: This is very difficult for many people. It is easy to cherish a grudge against another, especially when it is deserved, but too much damage is done to the one holding the grudge.
e. You shall love your neighbor as yourself: Some are surprised to see this generous command in what they believe to be the harsh Old Testament, but even the Old Covenant clearly commands us to love others.
i. “The significance of the verse is also highlighted by the fact that Jesus and Paul both cited this verse as a summary of the duties one has to his fellow man (Matthew 22:39-40, Romans 13:9).” (Rooker)
ii. Unfortunately, many ancient Jews had a narrow definition of who their neighbor was and only considered their friends and countrymen their neighbors. Jesus commanded us to love your enemies (Luke 6:27), and showed our neighbor was the one in need, even if they might be regarded as a traditional enemy (Luke 10:25-37).
iii. The command to love your neighbor as yourself is simple yet commonly misunderstood. This doesn’t mean that we must love ourselves before we can love anyone else; it means that in the same way we take care of ourselves and are concerned about our own interests, we should take care and have concern for the interests of others.
iv. We already love ourselves: For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it (Ephesians 5:29). Paul warned that in the last days, men will be lovers of themselves (2 Timothy 3:2) – and not in a positive sense! In fact, our misery when things are going badly shows we love ourselves; we rejoice in the misery of those we hate. Our challenge is to show others the same love we show ourselves.
6. (19) Laws of purity in response to pagan practices.
‘You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you.
a. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed: The mixing of these things – different species of livestock, seeds, and fabrics – was usually seen by ancient pagans to be a source of magical power. God wanted Israel to have no association with these pagan customs.
i. “Partly, to teach the Israelites to avoid mixtures with other nations, either in marriage or in religion; which also may be signified by the following prohibitions.” (Poole)
b. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you: Since those pagan customs are no longer an issue in our day, we shouldn’t worry about mixing wool, linen, or other fabrics. This law is a good example of something that is no longer binding upon Christians today because the pagan custom the law guarded against is no longer practiced.
i. However, in our modern age there are important distinctions that have become blurred and things Christians must not participate in. The present-day blurring of distinctions between genders should be resisted by Christians.
7. (20-22) The penalty for unlawful intercourse with a concubine.
‘Whoever lies carnally with a woman who is betrothed to a man as a concubine, and who has not at all been redeemed nor given her freedom, for this there shall be scourging; but they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. And he shall bring his trespass offering to the LORD, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, a ram as a trespass offering. The priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed. And the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him.
a. Whoever lies carnally with a woman who is betrothed to a man as a concubine: This deals with a woman who was a concubine in the sense she was a slave girl, who was eligible to be married.
i. This is the situation described: A slave girl is engaged to marry a free man, and then a different man has sex with her. Normally, the penalty was death; but because the woman was a slave and was presumed to be not free to resist (or guarded by a father), the penalty was not death. Yet, because of the rape, she was not marriable to her fiancée, so he must be reimbursed (the punishment mentioned). Then the moral guilt would be settled by sacrifice, and presumably the man who had sex with her would be obliged to marry her.
b. And the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him: With the appropriate sacrifice, the sin could be forgiven.
i. “It is worth noting that only the man was considered blameworthy, not the female slave. Being a slave, the woman may have felt she had little recourse in resisting a male who was a free man and thus more powerful both in the social and economic spheres.” (Rooker)
8. (23-25) Regarding the fruit in the land of Canaan.
‘When you come into the land, and have planted all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as uncircumcised. Three years it shall be as uncircumcised to you. It shall not be eaten. But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the LORD. And in the fifth year you may eat its fruit, that it may yield to you its increase: I am the LORD your God.
a. When you come into the land: God reminded Israel of their ultimate goal – the promised land, the land of Canaan – and told them not to eat of the fruit of the trees they plant there for three years. Then the fruit of the fourth year belonged to the LORD, and the fruit of the fifth year could be eaten.
b. That it may yield to you its increase: God knew that not harvesting the fruit for this period would be beneficial for both the trees and the surrounding ecology, resulting in ultimately more productive fruit trees.
i. “The reason for this law is not stated, but it does reinforce to the Israelites that the land is the Lord’s and that he is giving it to them as a gift.” (Rooker)
9. (26-31) Laws to insure separation from pagan practices.
‘You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying. You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.
‘Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry, and the land become full of wickedness.
‘You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the LORD.
‘Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.
a. You shall not eat anything with the blood: Eating blood was a practice in many pagan cultic ceremonies, as was divination and soothsaying. Therefore, both were directly forbidden.
i. Harrison on soothsaying: “The prognostication of favourable times for specific forms of action.” This was predicting lucky days or favorable times as an astrologer or others might do.
ii. “Pagans often employed divination and sorcery to try to determine what events would soon transpire. Divination and sorcery were widespread in the ancient Near East, particularly in Mesopotamia and Egypt.” (Rooker)
b. You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard: To do this was to imitate pagan customs of that day. Today, Jewish orthodox men are noticeable by their untrimmed beards and the long, curly locks on the sides of their heads.
i. “This the Gentiles did, either for the worship of the devils or idols, to whom young men used to consecrate their hair, being cut off from their heads, as Homer, Plutarch, and many others write; or in funerals or immoderate mournings, as appears from Isaiah 15:2Jeremiah 48:37.” (Poole)
c. Cuttings in the flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: These were also pagan practices God wanted Israel to be separate from. The trimming of the hair, the beard, cutting, and tattoos were all connected with pagan rites of mourning.
i. Cuttings in the flesh for the dead: “The reference here is to the practice of making deep gashes in the skin while mourning the death of a relative. This was done to provide life blood for the spirit of the dead person rather than to express sorrow.” (Peter-Contesse)
ii. “The tattoo indicated that one was a slave to a particular deity.” (Rooker)
iii. “Ancient writers abound with accounts of marks made on the face, arms, etc., in honour of different idols; and to this the inspired penman alludes.” (Clarke)
iv. Part of this message to us today is that what our culture thinks and how they perceive things is important. If some clothing or jewelry or body decoration would associate us with the pagan world, it should not be done. This is a difficult line to draw because the standards of culture are always changing. Some modern examples of changing standards are hair length and earrings for men.
v. In Paul’s day, in the city of Corinth, only prostitutes went around without a head covering – so it was right for the Christian women of Corinth to wear veils, though not required to by the letter of the law (1 Corinthians 11:5-6).
d. Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot: To prostitute your daughter in this context probably means to give her as a ritual prostitute at a pagan temple. This was of course forbidden, though in the eyes of the pagan culture, it was a religious thing to do.
i. “In some neighboring religions, people thought they were being pious by making their daughters participate in the cult of fertility. But such religious prostitution was not acceptable for the Israelites.” (Peter-Contesse)
ii. “This was a very frequent custom, and with examples of it writers of antiquity abound. The Cyprian women, according to Justin, gained that portion which their husbands received with them at marriage by previous public prostitution.” (Clarke)
e. Mediums and familiar spirits: These were ways the pagans sought to contact the dead or other spirits; this was a doorway into the occult, and strictly forbidden – those who seek after these things are defiled – “made dirty” by them.
i. The word for familiar spirits comes from a root meaning “to know”; “perhaps referring to the occultic information which the practitioner of necromancy purported to have.” (Harrison)
ii. “To attempt to know what God has not thought proper to reveal, is a sin against his wisdom, providence, and goodness. In mercy, great mercy, God has hidden the knowledge of futurity from man, and given him hope – the expectation of future good, in its place.” (Clarke)
iii. “In some Near Eastern societies such mediums would dig a small hole in the earth to symbolize a grave, and then put offerings in it to attract the attention of the person whom the medium desired to contact.” (Harrison)
iv. “Not only all real dealers with familiar spirits, or necromantic or magical superstitions, are here forbidden, but also all pretenders to the knowledge of futurity, fortune-tellers, astrologers, and so forth.” (Clarke)
10. (32-37) Further laws of kindness and justice.
‘You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD.
‘And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
‘You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
‘Therefore you shall observe all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them: I am the LORD.’”
a. You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man…. if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him: These are all expositions on the principle of you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). If we were the old man, or the stranger, or the consumer, we would want fair and kind treatment.
b. You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume: God cares that we do business honestly. The surrounding culture may tell us that it doesn’t matter how we make our money, but God tells us to use honest measurements in all our business. This idea is repeated in passages such as Proverbs 11:1, 16:11, and 20:23.
c. I am the LORD: 15 times in this chapter, God declared that He is the LORD – and the one with the right to tell us what to do. This is something that God expected ancient Israel to respect and expects His modern-day followers to also respect.