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 other beings 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.
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.
i. Being holy means being like God, separating ourselves unto Him and His truth – and naturally, separating ourselves from those things that are not like Him and not according to His truth.
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: 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.
b. And keep My Sabbaths: 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)
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: The word for idols literally means nothings. Idols represent gods that are not real and do not really exist.
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, than as to what they represented – financial success, pleasure, and self-worship.
i. After the Babylonian captivity, Israel was cured of gross idolatry of molded gods and began a more insidious 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 (signifying the enjoyment of peace with God and fellowship) was always to be made by one’s own free will. God did not want coerced fellowship from the people of Israel.
b. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it: Nor did God want stale fellowship with the people of Israel. The meat of a peace offering was considered no good after two days.
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.
i. This is exactly what Ruth was doing when Boaz noticed her (Ruth 2:2-3).
b. You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: This was a wonderful way to help the poor. 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 dignity.
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.
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 the handicapped. 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. An accurate and revealing measure of our humanity is how we treat the weak and unfortunate.
b. Nor put a stumbling block before the blind: This tells us the kind of people the Israelites were. They had to be specifically commanded to observe such laws of fundamental kindness. This shows what Israel was, and what we are in the flesh.
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: These were primarily instructions to judges and magistrates, giving them principles for making legal decisions. However, they also are relevant to everyday relations with those around us.
i. Jesus reminded us what this principle is all about: We should only judge others with the standard we are willing to be judged by because God will apply that same standard to us (Matthew 7:1-2).
b. 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), and who delights in discussing the lives of others and spreading stories.
i. Adam Clarke on the talebearer: “A more despicable character exists not: such a person is a pest to society, and should be exiled from the habitations of men.”
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. But we should not be content to treat others well and have 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 blindspots where we think everything is fine, but it is evident to others just how much we are in the flesh.
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 a 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. 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 a traditional enemy (Luke 10:25-37).
ii. 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 our concerned about our own interests, we should take care and have concern for the interests of others.
iii. We love ourselves just fine: For no one ever hated his own flesh, 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 bad 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 pagans to be a source of magical power. God wanted Israel to have no association with these pagan customs.
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 and linen – or other fabrics – in our day. 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 are blurred and 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.
b. And the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him: 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, 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.
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.
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.
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 conspicuous by their untrimmed beards and long, curly locks on the sides of their heads.
c. Cuttings in the flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: These were also pagan practices God wanted Israel to separate from. The trimming of the hair, the beard, cutting, and tattoos were all connected with pagan rites of mourning.
i. 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.
ii. 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.
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. “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)
ii. 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)
iii. “Not only are 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. 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.
i. The relationship between a lord and his people meant that the people had obligations to their lord, but the lord also had obligations toward his people. The lord was obligated to care for his servants, and our LORD God certainly cares for His people.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission