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Respect for parents and Sabbath observance (Leviticus 19:3) were the foundations for moral government and social wellbeing respectively. Compare the fourth and fifth commandments.
Idolatry and image making (Leviticus 19:4) broke the first and second commandments. This verse recalls the golden calf incident (Exodus 32).
Regarding the sacrifices, the main expression of worship, as holy (Leviticus 19:5-8), revealed true loyalty to God contrasted with the idolatry of Leviticus 19:4.
The preceding ideas deal with respect for God. Those that follow emphasize love for one’s neighbor that flows from love for God.
The Israelites were not to harvest their fields and vineyards so thoroughly that there would be nothing left (Leviticus 19:9-10). Farmers in the Promised Land were to leave some of the crops in the field so the poor could come in and glean what remained. This showed both love and respect for the poor (cf. Leviticus 23:22; Job 29:12-13; Isaiah 10:2; Zechariah 7:9-10). [Note: See Donald E. Gowan, "Wealth and Poverty in the Old Testament," Interpretation 41:4 (October 1987):341-53, for a study of the plight of the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner in Israel.]
"Unfortunately, much activity and much excitement in modern religious activities has a general disregard for the poor and needy. One cannot legitimately give God thanks and praise while ignoring the poor and needy (Hebrews 13:15-16)." [Note: Ross, p. 360.]
Holiness precepts 19:1-18
"This section . . . consists of a list of twenty-one (3x7) laws. These laws are broken up into smaller units by the sevenfold repetition of the phrase ’I am the LORD (your God)’ (Leviticus 19:3-4; Leviticus 19:10; Leviticus 19:12; Leviticus 19:14; Leviticus 19:16; Leviticus 19:18)." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 349.]
The clause "I am the Lord" reminded the Israelites that God was their ultimate judge.
3. Holiness of behavior toward God and man ch. 19
Moses grouped the commandments in this section together by a loose association of ideas rather than by a strictly logical arrangement. They all spring from the central thought in Leviticus 19:2: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." This sentence is the motto of Leviticus (cf. Leviticus 11:44-45; Leviticus 20:26; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16).
"Every biblical statement about God carries with it an implied demand upon men to imitate Him in daily living." [Note: Ronald E. Clements, "Leviticus," in The Broadman Bible Commentary, 2:51.]
"Leviticus 19 has been called the highest development of ethics in the Old Testament. [Note: J. West, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 156.] This chapter perhaps better than any other in the Bible, explains what it meant for Israel to be a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). The chapter stresses the interactive connection between responsibility to one’s fellow man and religious piety, the two dimensions of life that were never meant to be separated." [Note: Rooker, p. 250.]
"Developing the idea of holiness as order, not confusion, this list upholds rectitude and straight-dealing as holy, and contradiction and double-dealing as against holiness. Theft, lying, false witness, cheating in weights and measures, all kinds of dissembling such as speaking ill of the deaf (and presumably smiling to their face), hating your brother in your heart (while presumably speaking kindly to him), these are clearly contradictions between what seems and what is." [Note: Douglas, p. 531. This writer compared Israel’s ancient laws and modern tribal customs.]
"Holiness is thus not so much an abstract or mystic idea, as a regulative principle in the everyday lives of men and women. . . . Holiness is thus attained not by flight from the world, nor by monk-like renunciation of human relationships of family or station, but by the spirit in which we fulfill the obligations of life in its simplest and commonest details: in this way-by doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God-is everyday life transfigured." [Note: Hertz, p. 192.]
This chapter contains quotations from or allusions to all ten of the Ten Commandments. [Note: See the charts in Rooker, p. 252, and Ross, p. 355.] Its structure is chiastic. The first and last sections deal with a person’s relationship to God (Leviticus 19:3-8; Leviticus 19:32-36), and the second and fourth with one’s relationship to his fellowman (Leviticus 19:9-18; Leviticus 19:30-31). The central section deals with man’s relationship to himself (Leviticus 19:19-29). [Note: Jonathan Magonet, "The Structure and Meaning of Leviticus 19," Hebrew Annual Review 7 (1983):166.] The first half of the chapter contains positive (Leviticus 19:3-10) and negative (Leviticus 19:11-18) commands, and the second half reverses this order with negative (Leviticus 19:19-31) and positive (Leviticus 19:32-37) commands. [Note: Ross, pp. 354-55.]
"It is . . . best to view this chapter as a speech to the community-similar to a covenant-renewal message-that draws upon all the main parts of the law to exhort the people to a life of holiness. Its basic principle is the responsibility of love." [Note: Ibid., p. 355.]
"The statements in the law were intended as a reliable guide with general applicability-not a technical description of all possible conditions one could imagine. . . . The ’deaf’ and the ’blind’ are merely selected examples of all persons whose physical weaknesses demand that they be respected rather than despised." [Note: G. D. Fee and D. Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 155.]
God commanded proper attitudes as well as correct actions (Leviticus 19:17-18; cf. Matthew 18:15-17; Matthew 19:19). [Note: See Luke Johnson, "The Use of Leviticus 19 in the Letter of James," Journal of Biblical Literature (1982):391-401.] Compare Leviticus 19:2 and James 4:4-5; Leviticus 19:13 and James 5:4; Leviticus 19:15 and James 2:1; James 2:9; Leviticus 19:16 and James 4:11; Leviticus 19:17 b and James 5:20; Leviticus 19:18 a and James 5:9; and Leviticus 19:18 b and James 2:8.
"To take the name of God in vain (KJV [Leviticus 19:12]) is not merely to use it as a curse word but to invoke the name of God to support an oath that is not going to be kept." [Note: Harris, p. 604.]
Leviticus 19:17-18 show that the Mosaic Law did not just deal with external behavior. The second part of Leviticus 19:17 has been interpreted in two ways. It could mean that one should rebuke his neighbor without hating him in one’s heart (NASB). This is explicitly stated in the first part of the verse. Or it could mean that one should rebuke his neighbor so that one might not become guilty of the same sin himself (NIV). This is probably the intent of the second part of the verse.
In the New Testament Leviticus 19:18 is quoted more often than any other verse in the Old Testament. When Jesus Christ commented on it in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43), He did not invest it with a new spiritual meaning. He corrected the Pharisees’ interpretation of it that limited it to external action. A common modern perversion of this "second greatest commandment" is that it implies that we must learn to love ourselves before we can love others. [Note: For refutation of this view, see Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics, pp. 130-31.]
The opening words of this section indicate a change of subject. God called on His people to honor the order of nature by not mixing things that God had separated in creation (Leviticus 19:19).
"Most of the ancient Near Easterners believed that all things that came into being were born into being. This was a major tenet of their belief system. They believed that not only animals were born, but also plants. (This is the reason that they ’sowed their field with two kind of seed,’ i.e., male and female seed as they thought of it; see Leviticus 19:19.)" [Note: Douglas Stuart, Ezekiel, p. 181.]
God probably intended these practices to distinguish the Israelites from the Canaanites too. [Note: See Calum Carmichael, "Forbidden Mixtures," Vetus Testamentum 32:4 (September 1982):394-415.]
"As God separated Israel from among the nations to be his own possession, so they must maintain their holy identity by not intermarrying with the nations (Deuteronomy 7:3-6)." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., pp. 269-70.]
Yahweh upheld the rights of slaves (Leviticus 19:20-22). A man was not to mix with a female slave engaged to another man by having sexual intercourse with her. The Israelites considered engaged people virtually married.
By allowing three years to pass before someone ate the fruit on a tree, the tree could establish itself and be more productive in the long run (Leviticus 19:23-25).
God’s people were to avoid pagan practices that characterized the Canaanites (Leviticus 19:26-32). These included eating blood (Leviticus 19:26), cutting their hair in the style of the pagan priests (Leviticus 19:27), and disfiguring their bodies that God had created (Leviticus 19:28). They were not to disfigure the divine likeness in them by scarring their bodies. These foreign practices also included devoting one’s daughter to prostitution (Leviticus 19:29), seeking knowledge of the future from a medium (Leviticus 19:31), and failing to honor the aged (Leviticus 19:32).
". . . there are indications of ancestor worship in Old Testament times but there was no ancestor worship in Israel." [Note: Andrew Chiu, "Is There Ancestor Worship in the Old Testament?" Evangelical Review of Theology 8:2 (October 1984):221.]
That is, God did not permit it, though the Israelites may have practiced it to a limited extent as a result of pagan influence.
Leviticus 19:30 prohibits seeking special knowledge either from the dead in general or from dead relatives (familiar spirits, spirits with whom the one praying had previous personal acquaintance).
Statutes and judgments 19:19-37
"This section is introduced with the admonition ’You shall keep my statutes’ (Leviticus 19:19 a) and concludes with a similar admonition, ’You shall keep all my statutes and all my judgments’ (Leviticus 19:37 a), and the statement ’I am the LORD’ (Leviticus 19:37 b). Like the preceding section of laws, it consists of a list of twenty-one (3x7) laws. These laws also are broken up into smaller units by a sevenfold repetition of the phrase ’I am the LORD (your God)’ (Leviticus 19:25; Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 19:30-32; Leviticus 19:34; Leviticus 19:36)." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 351.]
This list concludes with commands to practice honesty in judicial matters. Leviticus 19:37 is a summary exhortation.
Since the church contains people of every nation it is no longer necessary for Christians to observe the laws that typified Israel’s uniqueness among the other nations. Nevertheless God still calls Christians to imitate Himself (cf. Matthew 5:48; 1 Corinthians 11:1), to "be holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). Application of the imperatives in this chapter is different for Christians, but the fundamental principles of holy living remain the same.
"God’s people must conform to his holiness by keeping his commandments (the letter of the law), by dealing with others in love (the spirit of the law), by living according to the standards of separation in the world, and by demonstrating kindness and justice to others." [Note: Ross, p. 365.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Leviticus 19". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
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