Bible Commentary: Leviticus 19

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Bible Commentary

Leviticus 19

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Laws concerning holiness

Parts of this chapter sound like they came from the New Testament. Indeed, in it we find the Old Testament statement of the second great commandment, as defined by Jesus Christ (verse 18; compare Matthew 22:37-40). The chapter opens with an explicit statement of the purpose for what has gone before and of what is to follow: Because God is holy, so must His people be also. This chapter will continue with sundry laws designed to maintain holy relationships with God and men.

The first two laws hew straight to a fundamental necessity for right relationships: reverence. Reverence is the high respect paid by one individual to another, with special attention to submissive behavior. God commands reverence for parents, the teachers of their children, and the observation of all of His Sabbaths, which are teaching occasions between Him, our spiritual Parent, and us, His children. He further enjoins reverence for Himself by again prohibiting idolatry. When children revere their parents and God—heeding their instruction—right relationships based on mutual respect and honor are produced, and a whole multitude of blessings follow.

The regulation concerning peace (or fellowship) offerings again addresses the relationship between God and Israel. God has produced peace and fellowship between Himself and Israel, and that fellowship, symbolized by the peace offerings, must be respected. Thus, peace offerings are not to be treated in a common manner just because they were widely shared among family members. It was very important to remember that, as the family feasted on the offering, God also had His part in it and dined with the family. With such an honored guest in fellowship, care needed to be taken to ensure decorum and respect.

The laws concerning gleanings may not seem like a holiness issue, but they do constitute one, for, as already mentioned, the fundamental idea behind holiness is separation. Here God sets apart a certain portion of a harvest for the poor. In effect, a certain portion was holy to the poor and reserved for their use. Notice, however, that those who received this set-aside portion were still required to work for it. Unlike too many modern welfare systems, the recipients of God's generosity toward them still had to gather their food from the fields and vineyards themselves. This was consistent with the biblical principle Paul later expressed so succinctly: "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The law was just to all concerned. It was generous toward the poor, but also fair to the property owners—since God was the one who promised to bless their crops if they would obey Him. By enacting this law, God ensured that He provided for the destitute among His people—and made all Israel participants in that provision.

Attention to truth and justice is prominently addressed. When a people separate themselves to truth and justice, they are unified and blessed with peace. God's priestly nation Israel needed to be just such a people if they were to serve as examples to the rest of the world. A major part of doing justice is to never allow your brother to continue in sin. Such "tolerance" will destroy your brother and, eventually, your community and nation. It is not "broadminded" or "big-hearted" to allow sin to continue (compare 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 6)—it is foolishness and dangerous to all around! Remember, sin affects everything. When a brother is sinning, we must make an effort to restore him spiritually (Galatians 6:1-2)—in humility, but with open rebuke if necessary (Proverbs 27:5).

Toward the close of the chapter, God addresses blood, divination and soothsaying, hair, beards, body piercing, tattoos, prostitution and Sabbaths. Why? What do all these have in common? Much. All these prohibitions concern pagan practices. Blood consumption was a part of Canaanite worship, as were divination and soothsaying (that is, prognostication based on pagan practices). Shaving around the sides of the head refers to certain tonsures or hairstyles laden with pagan sun symbolism(this practice of tonsure was widely practiced by the Roman Catholic clergy during the Dark and Middle Ages, and still is to some degree today). Trimming of the beard in a certain style was also part of pagan worship. Body piercing and tattoos served to mark a person as the worshiper of a particular god, but God desires that we honor and glorify Him through the clean presentation of our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). And, as noted earlier, ritual prostitution was a ubiquitous feature of Canaanite religion.