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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 19

 

 

Introduction

The Law of Holiness (Leviticus 17-27).

The main section of the Book of Leviticus is constructed on a definite pattern. It commences with a description of the offerings and sacrifices of Israel (chapters 1-7), and ends with a description of the times and seasons as they are required of Israel (chapters 23-25). It continues with the establishment of the priesthood (chapters 8-10), which is balanced by the section on the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (chapters 21-22). This is then followed by the laws of uncleanness (chapters 11-15) which are balanced by the laws of holiness (chapters 17-20). And central to the whole is the Day of Atonement (chapter 16).

This second part of the book has been spoken of as ‘The Holiness Code’. We may balance this by calling chapters 1-15 ‘The Priestly Code’. The first part certainly has a priestly emphasis, for the priests control the offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7) and administer the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (chapters 11-15), and the second part a holiness emphasis. But this must not be over-emphasised. The whole book is mainly addressed to the people, it is for their benefit as God’s covenant people, and the maintenance of the holiness of the priests is just as important in the second half. It is to be seen as a whole.

We may thus analyse it as follows (note the chiasm):

1). THE PRIESTLY CODE (chapters 1-15).

a) Offerings and Sacrifices (chapters 1-7)
b) Establishment of the Priesthood (chapters 8-10)
c) The Laws of Cleanness and Uncleanness (chapters 11-15)

2) THE DAY OF ATONEMENT (Leviticus 16)

3) THE HOLINESS CODE (chapters 17-25)

c) The Laws of Holiness (chapters 17-19)
b) Maintenance of the Holiness of the Priesthood (chapters 20-22)
a) Times and Seasons (chapters 23-25).

As will be seen the Day of Atonement is central and pivotal, with the laws of cleanness and uncleanness and the laws of holiness on each side. This central section is then sandwiched between the establishment of the priesthood (chapters 10-12) and the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (chapters 20-22). And outside these are the requirements concerning offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7) and the requirements concerning times and seasons (chapters 23-25).

So the Holiness Code may be seen as a suitable description of this second half of the book as long as we do not assume by that that it was once a separate book. The description in fact most suitably applies to chapters 19-22. It describes what Israel is to be, as made holy to Yahweh.

It was as much a necessary part of the record as what has gone before. The Book would have been incomplete without it. The Book of Leviticus is, as it claims, the record of a whole collection of revelations made to Moses at various times, brought together in one book, and carefully constructed around the central pivot of the Day of Atonement. There is no good reason for doubting this, and there are possible indications of colophons to various original records which help to substantiate it. It was the necessary basis for the establishment of the religion of Yahweh for a conglomerate people.

So having in what we know of as the first sixteen chapters of the Book laid down the basis of offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7), the establishment of the Priesthood (chapters 8-10), the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (chapters 11-15), and the requirements of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), the whole would have been greatly lacking had Moses not added some further detail of the holiness that God required of His people and of His priests.

The former is contained in Leviticus 17:1 to Leviticus 20:27. In this section Moses deals with the sacredness of all life (Leviticus 17), the sexual relationships which can defile (Leviticus 18), and the positive requirements for holiness in the covenant (Leviticus 19-20).

It is then followed by the further section dealing with the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 22:16), with Leviticus 22:17-33 forming a transition from speaking to the priests to speaking to the people.

Chapters 23-25 then deal with sacred times and seasons, including the seven day Sabbath (Leviticus 23:1-3), the set feasts of Israel (Leviticus 23:4-44), the daily trimming of the lamps and the weekly offering of showbread (Leviticus 24:1-9), the Sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:1-7), and the year of Yubile (Leviticus 25:8-55). Included in this is a practical example of blasphemy against the Name (Leviticus 24:10-23), which parallels the practical example of priestly blasphemy in Leviticus 10:1-7. Thus practical examples of the blasphemy of both priests and people are included as warnings.

Leviticus 26 seals the book with the promises of blessings and cursings regular in covenants of this period, and closes with the words ‘these are the statutes and judgments and laws which Yahweh made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses’ (Leviticus 26:46). Leviticus 27 is then a postscript on vows and how they can lawfully be withdrawn from, and closes with a reference to tithing, the sanctifying of a tenth of all their increase to Yahweh.

Chapters 11-15 dealt with the uncleannesses of Israel, leading up to the Day when all uncleannesses were atoned for (Leviticus 16). But the Day of Atonement covered far more than those. It covered every way in which the covenant had been broken. It also covers the direct transgressions of Israel. Leviticus 17 onwards therefore deals further with the basis of the covenant against which they ‘transgressed’ and for which they also needed atonement. Chapters 11-15 dealt with practical matters considering what was ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ as they faced daily life, these chapters from 17 onwards now deal with the basis on which they should live their lives as Yahweh’s holy people, and the attitudes that they should have. They deal with prospective sin and disobedience. The former were more within the cultic section up to Leviticus 16, but the latter are firmly directed at the people’s moral response, so that their responsibilities under the covenant might be made clear directly to them. The distinction must not be overpressed. They are all still, of course, cultic, but the latter from a less direct viewpoint. They do not have so much to do with priestly oversight. They come more under the jurisdiction of the elders.

There is, however, no change of direction in overall thought. The whole of Leviticus emphasises holiness from start to finish. There is not a change of emphasis only a change of presentation because God is now directly involving the people.

It must, however, be firmly asserted that, as we shall see in the commentary, there is nothing in what follows that requires a date after the time of Moses. Having been given by God control of a conglomerate people (Exodus 12:38), with a nucleus made up of descendants from the family and family servants of the patriarchs (Exodus 1 - ‘households’), he had to fashion them into a covenant keeping nation under Yahweh and provide the basis on which they could be one nation and kept in full relationship with their Overlord. It was precisely because the disparate peoples believed that his words came from God that they were willing mainly to turn their backs on their past usages and customs and become one nation under Yahweh, culminating in them all being circumcised into the covenant when they entered the land (Joshua 5).

And with such a conglomeration of people with their differing religious ideas, customs and traditions, it is clear that this could only have been successfully achieved by putting together a complete religious system which was a revelation from Yahweh, which would both keep them together as one people and would ensure that when they reached Canaan they would have no excuse for taking part in the Canaanite religious practises such as he knew of from his time of administration in Egypt and from his time with the Priest of Midian. Had they arrived in Canaan without a single binding system, they would soon have fallen prey (as they almost did anyway) to the attractions of Canaanite religion. It was only the firm foundation that Moses had laid (combined with God’s own powerful activities) that finally resulted in their rising above their backslidings, and in their constantly turning back to Yahwism, because Moses had rooted it so deeply within them. And this finally enabled the establishing of the nation under Samuel and David after times of great turmoil.

This system did not come all at once. He had to begin instructing them soon after the crossing of the Reed Sea (Exodus 15:26), and a system gradually grew up (Exodus 17:13-16) as they went along, based as we learn later on a tent of meeting set outside the camp (Exodus 33:7-11), until at Sinai the book of the covenant (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33) was written down as a result of God’s words to the people and to Moses. Then in his time in the Mount this was expanded on. But it would continue to be expanded on in the days to come, until the time came when Moses knew that he had to accumulate in one record all the regulations concerning sacrifices, priesthood and the multitude of requirements that went along with them. By this time he had much material to draw on.

For leaders from different groups had no doubt been constantly coming to him for direction and leadership (Exodus 16:22), and especially for those who were not firmly established in the customs of Israel he no doubt had to deal with a wide number of diversified queries, and seek God’s will about them. This explains why sometimes the collections may not always seem as having been put together in as logical order as they might have been. They partly depended on what questions he had been asked, and what particular problems had arisen, and what particular issues were important at the time. But it was on the basis of all this activity that we have the Book of Leviticus as a part of the wider Pentateuch.

Chapter 19. God Requires His People To Be Holy.

Having spoken of what God requires of His people especially as regards sexual relations which had a vital place in a patriarchal society, God now moves on to remind them that they are to be holy in every way. They must not be spiritually skin-diseased.

It is not apparent from the English text but in this chapter there is continual movement from plural to singular and back again in order to bring home the personal application of the words. In view of this we will mark the verbs (p) - plural, or (s) - singular to bring out the difference.


Verse 1-2

Chapter 19. God Requires His People To Be Holy.

Having spoken of what God requires of His people especially as regards sexual relations which had a vital place in a patriarchal society, God now moves on to remind them that they are to be holy in every way. They must not be spiritually skin-diseased.

It is not apparent from the English text but in this chapter there is continual movement from plural to singular and back again in order to bring home the personal application of the words. In view of this we will mark the verbs (p) - plural, or (s) - singular to bring out the difference.

The Command To Be Holy As Yahweh Is Holy (Leviticus 19:1-2).

Leviticus 19:1

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

Once more we have the emphasis that all this was God’s word to Moses.

Leviticus 19:2

“Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You (p) shall be holy; for I Yahweh your God am holy.”

We now come to the central point of all these statutes, ordinances and regulations. It is that God’s people be holy as He is holy, be set apart from the world’s ways as He is set apart from them, be pure as He is pure. They all know the purity and moral demands of Yahweh that reveal Him as distinct from all gods. They are therefore to be as pure and holy as He is, for they are His people. Their aim must therefore be to be like Him. Thus what comes next follows closely and expands on the ten words of the covenant of Sinai and the spirit of the covenant. Note the constant refrain, ‘I am Yahweh your God’ (compare Exodus 20:2, and see here Leviticus 19:3-4; Leviticus 19:10; Leviticus 19:25; Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 19:34 and Leviticus 19:36. Note also the slightly different phrase ‘I am Yahweh’ in Leviticus 19:12; Leviticus 19:14; Leviticus 19:18; Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 19:30; Leviticus 19:32; Leviticus 19:37). The covenant God was speaking to them constantly, personally and powerfully.

That God is ‘the Holy One of Israel’ is stressed by Isaiah, based on His own vision of Yahweh’s holiness which made him cry out in his uncleanness (Isaiah 6:1-6). He knew Him as the high and lofty One Who inhabits eternity Whose name is Holy (Isaiah 57:15), the One Who meets with the humble and contrite, who worship Him in the beauty of holiness (Psalms 96:9). There is nothing impure in Him (Habakkuk 1:13). This was what holiness meant to Israel.

“Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel.” It is again stressed that God’s words are directed directly to the people. This concerns the behaviour of the whole people.


Verses 3-10

Various Holiness Requirements (Leviticus 19:3-37).

Rightness Of Attitude Towards God and Generosity Towards One’s Neighbours (Leviticus 19:3-10).

Leviticus 19:3

“You (p) shall fear every man his mother, and his father; and you (p) shall keep my sabbaths. I am Yahweh your God.”

They are to show godly and reverent fear for mother and father. It is interesting that here mother comes first (contrast Exodus 20:12). In spite of it being a patriarchal society her influence is seen to be very important. But the point is that to obey parents, set in their place by God, is to obey God and recognise His authority (compare the fifth commandment).

Their obedience to God will also be shown by keeping His sabbaths, both every seven days and on special occasions (compare the fourth commandment). Observing the sabbaths was a positive way of demonstrating that they belonged to Yahweh, that they were obedient to His will, and of keeping their minds on Him (compare Isaiah 58:13-14).

Leviticus 19:4

“Do not turn (p) to idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods. I am Yahweh your God.”

They must not turn to idols, or make themselves molten gods. The first are the regular ‘gods’ (literally the elilim - the ‘nothings’ - see Isaiah 44:10) of other people, compared with the God (elohim) of Israel. The second are the home-made ones made from molten metal that Isaiah describes so graphically (Isaiah 44:9-18). This covers the first two commandments.

Leviticus 19:5

“And when you (p) offer a sacrifice of peace-offerings to Yahweh, you (p) shall offer it that you may be accepted. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the morrow: and if anything remain until the third day, it shall be burnt with fire.”

The one offering by which the Israelite could show his full obedience was the peace sacrifice. The others were ministered by the priests, but this one he had a part in himself, and made the choice as to what should be done with it. He is to treat it rightly and with reverence. As well as honouring parents, keeping the sabbaths and avoiding idolatry, thus honouring Yahweh’s authority, every Israelite was to show true respect for His offerings and sacrifices.

They were to offer their peace/wellbeing sacrifices exactly in accordance with how they had been told and to ensure that it was ‘accepted’ by not keeping any meat until the third day. Any that remained after the second day was to be burned with fire (compare Leviticus 7:16-17). So would they honour God.

Limiting the time available in which to eat the meat in fact enabled more to be called to the feast. It was part of God’s desire to benefit all. The point was that those who would be at peace with Him and enjoy wellbeing must be also be obedient and hospitable. The obedience looks back to recognition of God’s authority (‘I am Yahweh’). The being hospitable looks forward to the thoughtfulness for the needy (verse 9 etc).

Leviticus 19:7

“And if it be eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination. It shall not be accepted.”

Any attempt to eat the meat on the third day will make their sacrifice an abomination. It will then not be accepted. They will just be being greedy and forgetting Whose sacrifice it is. It will be an affront to God.

Leviticus 19:8

“But every one who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned the holy thing of Yahweh, and that person shall be cut off from his people.”

Indeed anyone who eats of it on the third day will have to bear the punishment that his iniquity deserves. It is the holy thing of Yahweh and he will have profaned it. He will be cut off from the people. It is probable that the punishment here is left to Yahweh as He would be the one who knew of the failure to obey His command. Often the cooked meat which had been in the hot air for more than two days would have turned bad and would bring its own judgment!

At first sight it may have seemed strange that this seeming snippet from the previous regulations was introduced here, but a moment’s thought reveals that this was the one way in which the people themselves could destroy the effectiveness of a sacrifice. This was the part for which they had direct responsibility. And these words were intended specifically for the people. It was also seen as a sacrifice through which they could give directly benefit to others, which ties in with what follows.

Leviticus 19:9

“And when you (p) reap the harvest of your land, you (s) shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you (s) gather the gleaning of your harvest.”

God’s concern for the poor and needy constantly comes out is His provision for them. It comes out here in that the farmer was to leave in his fields what was in the corners, as well as any gleanings (stray pieces that fell when they were gathering the grain). These were to be left as available for the poor to gather (as Ruth would do later on - Ruth 2:2-3).

Leviticus 19:10

“And you (s) shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you (s) gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard. You (s) shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner. I am Yahweh your God.”

Nor should the vinedresser, once he has picked the bunches, gather all the spare grapes nor should he pick up what falls to the ground. These are to be left for the poor and the resident alien who has no land. For the same idea see Exodus 23:11.


Verses 11-13

The Requirement For Full Honesty Towards One’s Neighbour (Leviticus 19:11-13).

Leviticus 19:11

“You (p) shall not steal; neither shall you deal falsely, nor lie one to another.”

As well as generosity, honesty is required. Three aspects of honesty are in mind here, avoiding stealing, avoiding cheating and avoiding deceit. There are not many societies where people can be trusted but Israel’s was to be one of them. Avoiding stealing, and avoiding dealing falsely, reflected the eighth commandment (Exodus 20:15). They were not to take other people’s property, nor to cheat them in their dealings. Not to lie to one another meant that all should be able to believe what they said (compare Psalms 15:4). It was to be an open and honest society.

Leviticus 19:12

“And you (p) shall not swear by my name falsely, nor shall you (s) profane the name of your God. I am Yahweh.”

When called to testify on oath they were to speak truly as required by the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16), and not to bear false testimony against a neighbour, for this would profane the name of God, and He is Yahweh, the God of truth and justice. They could also profane His name by neglecting to take note of when they were ‘unclean’, by misusing the Sanctuary (21:12; Ezekiel 22:8), by sexual misbehaviour (Leviticus 21:9) and by idolatry (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 21:5). These represent the third and ninth commandments.

Leviticus 19:13

“You (s) shall not oppress your neighbour, nor rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not abide with you (s) all night until the morning.”

They were not to use their superior position or strength in order to oppress a neighbour in order to get their own way, or in order to get from him dishonestly what they wanted. And if they hired workers they were to pay them the same day. For the poor would need what they had earned immediately, and they must not take advantage of them. Thus in all their dealings they were to be fair and honest.


Verses 14-16

The Requirement To Ensure Fairness and Compassion (Leviticus 19:14-16).

Leviticus 19:14

“You (s) shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am Yahweh.’

They were not to take advantage of the weak and helpless. To deliberately shout comments at someone who is deaf which they cannot hear, often derisory, or to put obstacles in the way of a blind person so as to cause him to stumble, is the sign of a sick mind. It should never be done or even considered. That this had to be said suggests that the doing of such things was not unknown among some who had a coarse humour, or even a nasty and cruel temperament. Compare Deuteronomy 27:18.

Sadly the need for this command demonstrates that there must have been quite a good number of severely deaf and blind people among the people of Israel.

Leviticus 19:15

“You (p) shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: you (s) shall not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty, but in righteousness shall you (s) judge your neighbour.”

They were to be absolutely honest in their system of justice. Every decision must be fair and square. Those responsible for carrying out justice should favour neither one side or the other; they were to favour neither the poor on the one hand, nor the wealthy or the powerful on the other. They should rather judge absolutely fairly, and seek to come to the right and true verdict, regardless of the influence of others and the importance or need of the people that they have to deal with. (Easier said than done by us prejudiced mortals). Prejudice on behalf of the poor is as bad as prejudice on behalf of the rich and powerful, and perverts justice.

Leviticus 19:16

“You (s) shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people, nor shall you (s) stand against the blood of your neighbour. I am Yahweh.”

This was an important provision. They were not to go about spreading lies and gossip and rumours, whether malicious or otherwise. They were to have consideration for each other’s reputations and feelings and not to seek to destroy them. Nor were they to stand by and do nothing when their neighbour’s blood was likely to be spilled, or engage in violent activity against their neighbours themselves. For Yahweh Who knows all is present here, and requires of them right and considerate behaviour towards their neighbours.

It will be apparent from these laws that they would provide a foundation for the true and just society where all were honoured equally, and where men sought to do the right and obey God’s commandments. This should be the godly aim of all societies. Once they come short of it society itself is undermined.

The Required Attitude To One’s Neighbour (Leviticus 19:17-18).

Leviticus 19:17

“You (s) shall not hate your brother in your heart. You (s) shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.”

This principle is then applied to the thoughts of their hearts (compare the tenth commandment - ‘you shall not covet’). They were not to hold hatred in their hearts. Thus they were not to hold grudges or secret resentments, or carry in the hearts a continual hatred of a brother in the covenant community. Rather they should bring up with their neighbour any grievance that they might have and clear the air, thus preventing themselves from carrying sin in their own hearts which might result in activities which would bring judgment on them so that they had to ‘bear sin’.

If we would but keep short accounts we would not end up in troublesome situations.

Leviticus 19:18

“You (s) shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people; but you (s) shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am Yahweh.”

Thus they were not to carry vengeance in their hearts, nor exact it, nor should they continue to bear a grudge against others. They were not to be negative. Instead they were to love their neighbours as themselves. This was one of the two great commandments which summed up the whole law, cited by Jesus (Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). To have as much concern for one’s neighbour as for oneself, and to reveal it by loving action, is to be like Yahweh. And that is what Yahweh desires of His people. Life should be lived out in full consideration and thoughtfulness for others and with a desire for their good.


Verse 19

Further Requirements For God’s People.

The Non-mixing of Kinds (Leviticus 19:19).

We have already had cause to see in Leviticus 11 the principle of the separation of living things, now this is more specifically applied. A blurring of distinctions can be harmful to society. This is illustrated from everyday affairs.

Leviticus 19:19

“You (p) shall keep my statutes. You (s) shall not let your cattle gender with a diverse kind. You (s) shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, neither shall there come on you a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together.”

“You (p) shall keep my statutes.” This general statement introduces the section that follows and stresses the need for observing the instructions carefully. There is also the reminder here that they must keep no one else’s statutes but His.

“You (s) shall not let your cattle gender with a diverse kind.” No attempt was to be made to breed hybrids. God made animals after their kind, and men should be satisfied to leave them so. There should be no interfering with nature. They could consider, for example, how animals that they could eat which were ‘clean’ were of a specific kind, whole and complete (Leviticus 11). This was how God wanted it to be.

This may have been partly because hybrids are not productive. They do not produce seed. Or it may have been the fear that one ‘confusion’ could lead to another and that before long men could be involving themselves. It was not a dictate against interbreeding of the same species (Genesis 30:37-40) but against inter-mixing species. The very fact that such animals cannot breed demonstrates that it is against creation ordinances. It is against nature. They cannot go forth and multiply (Genesis 1:22). Once men begin to play with nature dreadful results can follow.

“You (s) shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, neither shall there come on you a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together.” The intermingling of seed could result in neither of them achieving their best growth, and could help to exhaust the land by overproduction. The intermingling of cloths could result in the garment losing strength and being more easily torn; in discomfort in wearing them; and even in the discomfort of static electricity.

But the principle to be got over by all these regulations was that God did not favour the blurring of distinctions. Distinct things should be kept separate. His purpose then was that this would pass over into the religious and moral realm, so that again distinctions might not be blurred. No one is better than man at blurring distinctions to his own benefit in order to get his own way. His people therefore had to recognise from daily life that this was not pleasing to God, either in religious practise or in practical living. This comes out once more in the next example.

Leviticus 19:20-22

Adultery and the Bondwoman (Leviticus 19:20-22).

Leviticus 19:20

“And whoever lies carnally with a woman, who is a bondmaid, betrothed to a husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; they shall be punished. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free.”

Adultery between a bondwoman and a free man is not automatically to be punished by death as it would be with a freewoman. That would not be fair on the bondwoman who was possibly not in a position to have any choice in the matter, especially if it was her master who was involved. Rather the courts must investigate the situation and decide on the punishment to be meted out to each depending on the circumstances. If the bondwoman had been redeemed or given her liberty before it happened that would be a different matter. She would have been a freewoman. Then the death penalty would apply.

From this point of view we need to recognise that in those days betrothal was the equivalent of, and as binding as, marriage, and presumably this bondmaid was betrothed to a bondman (otherwise the penalty would have been stronger). Thus the act was one of adultery. Yet she would have had no option but to obey her master if he wanted her, or even to obey his demand that she pleasure a friend. Thus the person involved needed to be aware that he would be liable to be judged for his offence. For being betrothed (presumably with her master’s agreement) she should be seen as untouchable

The very law meant that a master was aware that a bondmaid could lay complaint against him in circumstances like this and make the situation less likely to arise. It provided her with some protection. The death penalty was excluded because having been rejected for the bondmaid it would not be right to punish only one in that way. The bondmaid could in fact benefit more in other ways as now outlined.

Leviticus 19:21-22

“And he shall bring his guilt offering to Yahweh, to the door of the tent of meeting, even a ram for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before Yahweh for his sin which he has sinned: and the sin which he has sinned shall be forgiven him.”

The man involved must also, on top of any punishment meted out, offer a guilt offering in the form of a ram, a pretty hefty preventitive fine in itself. This was to be offered in the usual way at the door of the tent of meeting. There atonement would be made for him and he would be forgiven. There was probably in this a suggestion to the court that the bondmaid should be compensated if she was innocent, for compensation and guilt offerings regularly went together (Leviticus 5:16; Leviticus 6:4). Compensation would be more useful for her than vengeance (who would in future want a vengeful bondmaid?). It is noteworthy that she does not have to offer a guilt offering. It is recognised that she has offended no one.

Overall it should be noted here from a practical point of view that the consequences of having had ‘pressurised’ sexual relations would probably not be so severe for a bondwoman as for a raped freewoman, as her marriage options would probably not have been so much reduced, unless she was a blameworthy participant, because her partner would recognise that she had had no choice. The responsibility was put on the courts to defend her interests, or to blame her as the facts determined, and yet to leave her employable and still acceptable in society. But for the man the minimum punishment he could receive was the high cost of a ram, and any other punishment the court may decide.

While in some ways this might not seem ‘fair’ it actually probably left the bondmaid in the happier position of not having to face up to the resentments of an unfair society, while at the same time possibly being compensated. If the law was too heavy it or demanded too much it would just have been ignored. Good law takes into account the likelihood of it being carried out.


Verses 23-25

Care For Trees (Leviticus 19:23-25).

Leviticus 19:23

“And when you shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then you shall count its fruit thereof as their uncircumcision, three years shall they be as uncircumcised to you, it shall not be eaten.”

When they arrive in the land and begin to plant trees they are to allow them to grow for three years without picking their fruit. They are to look on them as though they were like uncircumcised babes, not yet a part of the covenant, and therefore not available for their use.

Leviticus 19:24

“But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, for giving praise to Yahweh.”

Then in the fourth year they were to be seen as now within the covenant, but with all their fruit seen as holy and available for giving praise to Yahweh. It was His, and still not to be eaten. It was to be seen as an offering of praise and gratitude and a recognition that the trees, like everything else in the land, were His.

This practise was good for the trees which thus had time to develop without being depleted. It was good horticultural practise. The ancient Babylonians also gave a similar time for trees to mature before they picked their fruit.

Leviticus 19:25

“And in the fifth year you shall eat of its fruit, that it may yield to you the its increase. I am Yahweh your God.

From the fifth year onwards, they could eat the fruit from the tree, and its increase would be theirs. It was given to them by Yahweh their God. Thus this provision resulted in healthy trees, acknowledged God’s ownership of the land, and finally was beneficial to all. It was also a reminder of the good things which were to be theirs.

This practise would remind them that He was Yahweh their God. The phrase ‘I am Yahweh’ in one form or another now become predominant (Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 19:30-32; Leviticus 19:34; Leviticus 19:36-37). These final short commands are to be seen as being given with the full force of His authority.


Verses 26-29

Bans In Religious Matters: Warnings Against Pagan Practises (Leviticus 19:26-29).

There now follow in the name of Yahweh a number of provisions banning various aspects connected with ‘other-worldly’ practises which were forbidden. They were to look to Yahweh and Yahweh alone, and He was against these things. They were contrary to what He was.

Leviticus 19:26

“You (p) shall not eat anything with the blood: neither shall you (p) use enchantments, nor practise divination.”

As has already been noted nothing must be eaten with its blood. The blood must be drained out (Leviticus 17:10-14). They must not seek to eat the life principle of the animal, for that is the practise of bestial men. This repetition brings home the vital importance of the pronouncement. It was a reminder of the strength of the prohibition. Its mention in this list may also suggest it was a particular idolatrous trait. It was anti-Yahweh.

Nor were they to use enchantments or practise sorcery or divination. All magic was forbidden. Divination was a means of discovering what the ‘portents’ pointed to in the making of ‘right’ choices, especially with regard to the future. But they were to leave their futures in the hand of God, not look to superstitious and evil practises. Both forbidden things would result in going out of their spheres.

This makes clear to us today that all contact with the supernatural and the occult apart from prayer and worship to God are totally forbidden and can only lead men into harm. They are firmly and strongly forbidden, and we disobey at our peril.

Leviticus 19:27

“You (p) shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shall you (s) mar the corners of your beard.”

These were either idolatrous or magical practises. They were forbidden. Compare Leviticus 21:5. They were not to be tempted to follow the ways of the idolatrous ‘world’ outside. Again it would be going outside their sphere into the realms of the gods or of magic.

Leviticus 19:28

“You (p) shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print (p) any marks on you. I am Yahweh.”

“Cuttings in the flesh” for the dead were pagan mourning practise and were also forbidden (Deuteronomy 14:1-2). To follow them was to enter the sphere of the dead. Tattoos were a forbidden mark of ownership. The invisible God needed no visible marks of ownership, and they were not to mark themselves as belonging to anyone else. Thus tattoos were also totally banned. And this because God was Yahweh. (Even today our tattoos reveal what we are and whether we put first God or the world).

Leviticus 19:29

"Do not profane your daughter, to make her a prostitute, lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.”

The main thought here is against prostitution as a whole, but making her a religious prostitute may have been a way of trying to make it seem respectable. However, for a man to make his daughter a prostitute so that he could profit by it was to be seen as obscene, whatever the circumstances, and if permitted would be the first beginnings of a downward slide for Israel. Men should have a higher regard for their daughters. Sexual relations on this basis were forbidden. Even though extreme poverty often did mean that fathers succumbed in this way, they did so contrary to God’s law, and had to face their shame.

If the thought was of making her a cult prostitute, that would be no better. They were not to even consider following such Canaanite practises and sex in that way had no part in the religion of Yahweh. This was thus also strictly forbidden.


Verse 30-31

The Importance of a Right Attitude Towards Yahweh (Leviticus 19:30-31).

Leviticus 19:30

“You shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary. I am Yahweh.”

Indeed rather than sinking to the depths of the other nations they should look to exalt Yahweh. The regulations had begun with a reference to the God-given authority of mother and father, and the need to keep God’s sabbaths (Leviticus 19:3), now as we draw to a close the keeping of sabbaths is confirmed along with the need to reverence God’s Sanctuary.

The keeping of the sabbath was an open sign of obedience, and marked them off as belonging to Yahweh, and their attitude towards His Sanctuary revealed their attitude towards Him. Thus they were both very important practises. But this meant keeping all His other commandments, for breaking the regulations, both ritual and moral, would profane His Sanctuary. They were therefore to recognise the effects on Him of their sins. For He is Yahweh.

Leviticus 19:31

“Do not turn to those who have familiar spirits, nor to the wizards. Do not seek them out, to be defiled by them. I am Yahweh your God.”

Reverencing His Sanctuary includes turning away from familiar spirits and wizards. They are at the very opposite extreme. Seeking God and His guidance at the Sanctuary was the true way of looking to the future. Thus familiar spirits and wizards were not to be sought out or approached. Their effects could only be defiling. They dealt with the dead and peeped and muttered from the dust (Isaiah 8:19). Such attempted contact with the dead could only defile God’s camp and God’s land. They needed to be free of both because God is the living God and death is foreign to His ways. Rather they should look to Yahweh their God, and keep His Sanctuary holy. They must remember Who their God is. He is Yahweh, and Yahweh has nothing to do with such things.


Verse 32

The Need To Honour The Elderly (Leviticus 19:32).

Leviticus 19:32

“You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and you shall fear your God. I am Yahweh.”

Honouring the old is something also required of His people. They are to be treated with the honour due to those who have lived long lives and faithfully served God. For He is Yahweh and looks on such with love and compassion. Furthermore they often have the wisdom that hotter heads do not. To honour them is to fear God and to acknowledge Yahweh.


Verse 33-34

The Right Attitude Towards the Resident Alien (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Leviticus 19:33-34

“And if a stranger sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the home-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.”

The resident alien who lives among them is not to be wronged. Rather he is to be treated as though he were a native of the land, and is to be loved by them as they love themselves (compare Leviticus 19:18). This is because Israel will remember how they were in the same position in the land of Egypt, and will recognise that they must treat him as they would have wished to be treated.

This application of the principle of loving one’s neighbour to all who came to live among them is one of the most remarkable teachings of the Old Testament. Had it been carried through it would have been a beacon to the world.


Verse 35-36

The Importance Of Justice And Honesty (Leviticus 19:35-36).

Leviticus 19:35-36

“You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, of weight, or of quantity. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall you have. I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

The chapter finishes with concern about the public administration of justice (compare Leviticus 19:15), and rightness in all dealings. The courts are to be fair and just, and their systems of weights and measures is to be accurate and honest, as are their balances. For they are the people of Yahweh, the great Deliverer from Egypt. And there is nothing crooked about Him. They have been delivered so that they can be like Him, and this must be revealed in everyday life.

An ephah and a hin were both volume measurements of differing sizes.


Verse 37

The Final Command (Leviticus 19:37).

Leviticus 19:37

“And you shall observe all my statutes, and all my ordinances, and do them: I am Yahweh.”

So are they to observe all His statutes and ordinances, and are to do them. This is the requirement of Yahweh. We are all very good at ‘observing’ His statutes and ordinances but how good are we at doing them? This chapter of practical moral teaching is one that we all need to take to heart. We need to go through it item by item asking ourselves how it compares with our own lives. Are we truly obedient to God in all things?

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 19:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/leviticus-19.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 27th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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