BECAUSE GOD IS HOLY, HIS COVENANT PEOPLE MUST CONFORM TO HIS HOLY NATURE BY KEEPING HIS COMMANDS AND SHOWING LOVE AND JUSTICE TOWARDS OTHERS
Kenneth Mathews: Holy living before God and honest living before our neighbors are the two pillars upon which the whole of God’s demands rest. By holy living I mean our fidelity to God, and by honest living I mean our integrity toward other persons. . . Chapter 19 addresses both dimensions—holy living and honest living. The chapter entails admonitions that teach we must love and obey God and admonitions that teach we must love others. There is an important connection between holiness and love. We see it reflected here in our chapter but also in the New Testament (1 Timothy 6:11). Love for one’s brother in the Lord is a part of godly behavior (2 Peter 1:7). The centerpiece of the chapter is verse 18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Around this pivotal verse are collections of commandments that emphasize holy living or honest living.
R. K. Harrison: The concluding words of the preceding chapter, I am the Lord your God, serve as a natural transition to this particular body of legislation, which also regulates the holiness of community life. Although this section deals with a wide variety of moral, legal, ceremonial and spiritual precepts in such a way as to appear disorganized, it is actually arranged in terms of sixteen distinct paragraphs, each of which ends with the phrase, I am the Lord (your God).These passages are arranged in three principal sections (2b–10; 11–18; 19–37) of four, four, and eight units respectively. Jewish scholars have seen in the material a counterpart of the Ten Commandments, the precepts of which are recapitulated as follows: I and II in verse 4; III in verse 12; IV and V in verse 3; VI in verse 16; VII in verse 29; VIII and IX in verses 11 to 16; and X in verse 18.
Robert Vasholz: The following laws vary in kind. They represent a merging of ceremonial, ethical, social, civil, moral and anti-pagan prescriptions. Grouping laws into like categories was not a priority. In a theocracy, there is a very real sense that all laws are sacred.
Allen Ross: This collection of laws develops several clear theological themes. The goal of the sum of them is holiness; this is the basic command in the chapter. But the chapter shows what holiness should look like: devout worship, honesty, integrity, justice, charity, and love.
Unique to this chapter of the law, though, is the double call for the covenant members to love other people. Their love for God was already the inspiration for obedience to him; but the means by which they fulfilled their covenant duties to one another and to strangers was also love—which does not refer to feelings but actions.
Holiness and love are the two motifs from this chapter applied most clearly to Christians in the New Testament. These motifs are expressed differently today, but the fundamental truths remain the same. . .
It looks like the subject matter falls into four sections:
1. The first section (19:3–10) focuses on loyalty to the covenant in general by selecting several religious obligations as representative of the law.
2. The second section (19:11–18) looks at rulings concerning responsibilities toward other Israelites and ends with a call for love.
3. The third section (19:19–31) emphasizes distinctives to maintain, especially with a view to settlement in the land of Canaan.
4. The last section (19:32–37) reminds Israel that in remaining separate from the world they were still to show love and kindness to all people.
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 his standards of separation in the world, and by demonstrating kindness and justice to others.
Gordon Wenham: The diversity of material in this chapter reflects the differentiation of life. All aspects of human affairs are subject to God’s laws.
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them,”
I. (:2b-10) RELIGIOUS OBLIGATIONS
A. (:2b) Commitment to Holiness
“You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”
Kenneth Mathews: The chapter’s preamble gives a variation of the title, “I am the Lord.” It reads, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (v. 2). This sets the tone for the whole chapter and is repeatedly brought to the reader’s attention. The passage declares that the exhortations in this chapter are rooted in the very character of God. God is holy in two senses. First, he is inherently distinctive in line with the very definition of what holy means. In other words, if a person wants to define holy, he must look to God as the standard. Second, the Lord is morally pure. In every way he is inherently pure without sin or corruption. He is complete in all his perfections. For Christians the incarnation of Jesus provides us with a living portrait of a “holy servant” (Acts 4:27, 30). We can look to Jesus as the standard of holy living.
Mark Rooker: The reason the Israelites are to be holy is because God himself is holy. Those who identify with the Lord are thus to represent him to the world by emulating this attribute. Thus every statement about the moral nature of God in the Bible carries the implied demand that the believer exhibit this same quality in daily living. It is thus not possible to divorce ethics and theology, since human morality is justified by the nature of God.
David Guzik: 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.
B. (:3-4) Commitment to Obey the Ten Commandments
1. (:3a) Honor Father and Mother
“Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father,”
Kenneth Mathews: The first collection of exhortations in verses 3–8 begins with a command to obey parents. At first glance we might scratch our heads, wondering why this command would be at the head of the chapter, coming even before the demand to worship only the Lord, avoiding idolatry (vv. 3, 4). The nature of parental authority, “revere [your] father and mother,” is an ordinance that reflects a person’s loyalty to God. Parents have received delegated authority from the Lord, and when we rebel against their moral instruction, we rebel against the authority that the Lord has over the family. When we are loyal to God, we will be respectful of our parents’ teaching. The flip side of this is that parents must be ever-conscientious in their instruction and modeling of godly living, since they shoulder the responsibility that God has committed to them.
Constable: Respect for parents and Sabbath observance (v. 3) were the foundations for moral government and social well-being respectively.
2. (:3b) Observe the Sabbaths
“and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
Robert Vasholz: The use of the plural ‘my Sabbaths,’ in you shall keep my Sabbaths, encompasses more than the seventh day of the week. Every observance in which Israel is commanded not to work is a Sabbath. That includes annual feasts and sabbatical years. The Fourth Commandment received more attention than any of the Ten Commandments. It is a sign of the covenant that perpetuates Israel’s identity as God’s people with the land (Exod. 31:13; Ezek. 20:12).
3. (:4) Reject Idolatry
“Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods;
I am the LORD your God.”
David Guzik: The word for idols literally means nothings. Idols represent gods that are not real and are really nothings. . . The attraction was not so much to the molded gods themselves, as to what they represented – financial success, pleasure, and self-worship.
C. (:5-8) Commitment to Worship in an Acceptable Fashion
“Now when you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. 6 It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and the next day; but what remains until the third day shall be burned with fire. 7 So if it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an offense; it will not be accepted. 8 And everyone who eats it will bear his iniquity, for he has profaned the holy thing of the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from his people.”
R. K. Harrison: Christians should be scrupulous in ensuring that their forms of worship are thoroughly scriptural, and are not contaminated by superstition or purely human values. Otherwise what is holy to the Lord will be profaned, and punishment will follow instead of blessing (8).
D. (:9-10) Commitment to Be Generous Towards the Needy and Strangers
“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.”
Just as God is good towards us; we should respond by showing graciousness and generosity towards others – even those who are strangers to us.
Perry Yoder: The peace offering was a time of generosity and celebration, and the meat from this sacrifice was shared with others. While sharing the meat of the peace offering is not commanded here, we learn from Deuteronomy 26:11-13 that the less fortunate were to enjoy the bounty of the harvest at the time of the first-fruits offering and from the tithe. Generosity seems built into the sacrificial system.
Now generosity is extended from worship into secular life. The Israelite farmer may not harvest his entire crop. The corners must be left. Likewise, what remains after harvesting should be left for gleaners (v. 9; see Ruth 2). With vineyards, the vines should not be picked clean, nor should grapes that fall to the ground be picked up (v. 10). These parts of the harvest must be left for the poor and for the immigrant.
Allen Ross: God’s people must ensure that the poor have a full share in the covenant life (19:9–10). . . Here, then, was one of the most specific tests of spirituality: care for those less fortunate (see Lev.23:22; Deut. 24:19–22). This concern is central to the Bible, but why is it listed right here? The main answer is it naturally follows the ruling on the peace offering. To offer the peace offering was to claim to be at peace with God; it was a thanksgiving offering. But if the offerer did not provide for the poor it was a hollow claim. In other words, if the test of gratitude was generosity, then someone who claimed the former but lacked the latter was a hypocrite. Jesus likewise showed that not caring for the poor was evidence that the person claiming to have kept the commandments had not done so at all (Matt.19:16–22).
II. (:11-18) COMMUNITY OBLIGATIONS
A. (:11-12) Deal Honestly and Truthfully with Others
1. (:11) Deal Honestly with Your Neighbor
“You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.”
2. (:12) Deal Truthfully with Others
“And you shall not swear falsely by My name,
so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.”
Allen Ross: Here the demands for holiness are directed to one’s neighbor, referred to by various terms throughout 19:11–18: associate, brother, citizen, countryman, friend, neighbor, and person. The pattern builds in the section so that all relationships within the community are drawn into the focus of the laws.
This idea of the neighbor/friend stresses community responsibilities. The laws may have specific reference to those close at hand in society, those with whom one lives and works, but ultimately they apply to anyone with whom one comes in contact or with whom one has dealings. It was always considered righteous to be a good neighbor, not just to have good neighbors.
Peter Pett: vv. 11-13 — 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.
B. (:13-15) Pursue Justice
1. (:13) Don’t Exploit Your Neighbor
“You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him.
The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.”
2. (:14) Don’t Take Advantage of the Vulnerable
“You shall not curse a deaf man,
nor place a stumbling block before the blind,
but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD.”
Robert Vasholz: Oppression can come in the form of a lack of sensitivity to those afflicted with a physical malady. Cursing the deaf may seem like good sport. Likewise, placing an obstacle before a blind person may bring a laugh. Ancient society did not hesitate to perform for its own amusement with little regard for one’s feeling.
David Guzik: 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.
3. (:15) Don’t Act Unjustly
“You shall do no injustice in judgment;
you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great,
but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.”
David Guzik: 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.
C. (:16-18) Love Your Neighbor
1. (:16) Don’t Seek to Harm Your Neighbor
“You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people,
and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor;
I am the LORD.”
2. (:17) Don’t Hate Your Neighbor
“You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him.”
Richard Hess: The need to rebuke provides a legitimate and honorable means of dealing with revenge and grudges. Without honest and open communication, hatred can remain buried deep inside. If all people can express their grievances and listen honestly, there is the possibility of reconciliation (Ge 21:25; Pr 9:8; 15:12; 19:25; 27:5; Mt 18:15–22; Gal 6:1; cf. Wenham, 268).
Constable: The second part of verse 17 has been interpreted in two ways. It could mean that one should rebuke (“reprove”) his neighbor without hating him in one’s heart (NASB). This is explicitly stated in the first part of the verse. And 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.
3. (:18) Don’t Take Vengeance but Love Your Neighbor
“You shall not take vengeance,
nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people,
but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.”
John Schultz: Vs. 16 mentions two kinds of murder: slander and endangering the life of a neighbor. God places the emotional and physical destruction of life on the same level. Every form of death goes against the character of God. God is the God of the living. God is love. These two go together, just as vs. 17 goes together with vs. 16. Read this: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD. Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people.” The rebuke mentioned in the last verse presupposes that there could be feelings of hatred or revenge which are not tolerated by God. The rebuke may be private or public. Obviously, our relationship with our fellow human beings should be determined by our relationship with God. The Lord Jesus emphasizes this when He says: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” We cannot have fellowship with God if something is lacking in our fellowship with people. The verse concludes with the words, “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
III. (:19-37) MISCELLANEOUS OBLIGATIONS
(:19a) Summary Obligation to Obey God’s Laws
“You are to keep My statutes.”
A. (:19b) Maintain Proper Distinctions
“You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle;
you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed,
nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.”
R. K. Harrison: The holiness and purity of the congregation were to be enhanced by observing the principle of separateness, embodied in the divine statutes. . . The chosen people had been taken out of all the other nations to be God’s special possession, and if they were to fulfil their destiny it was incumbent upon them to maintain their spiritual, moral and social distinctiveness.
Roy Gane: In other words, the laws regarding mixtures seem intended to protect the distinction between the ordinary domain of laypersons and the sacred sphere of the sanctuary. For this reason Israelites were also prohibited from manufacturing or using oil or incense like the sacred anointing oil and incense of the sanctuary (Ex. 30:32, 37, 38). Today there is no earthly ritual system with reference to which we can make distinctions in this way, so the applicability of these laws has ceased to exist.
Peter Pett: 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.
B. (:20-22) Pursue Repentance, Forgiveness and Reparations for Indiscretions
“Now if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave acquired for another man, but who has in no way been redeemed, nor given her freedom, there shall be punishment; they shall not, however, be put to death, because she was not free. 21 And he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD to the doorway of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. 22 The priest shall also make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him.”
David Guzik: 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.
C. (:23-25) Pursue Sound Horticulture Principles
“And when you enter the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten. 24 But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. 25 And in the fifth year you are to eat of its fruit, that its yield may increase for you; I am the LORD your God.”
Richard Hess: This practice not only reaffirms the offering of the first-fruits of all that God gives to his people but also aids in fulfilling the creation mandate that life should become fruitful (Ge 1:11–12, Ge 1:11–28). It does this by increasing the fruitfulness of the trees. Such a picture anticipates the images Jesus uses in encouraging his disciples to be fruitful and suggests the need for proper preparation for any such fruit bearing (Mt 3:10; 12:33; Lk 3:9; 6:43–44; Jn 15:5–16).
Bush: Perhaps a moral intimation to the effect that men were to restrain their appetites, and not to indulge in premature gratifications, was designed at the same time to be conveyed in this precept.
Peter Pett: 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.
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.
D. (:26-32) Wide Range of Miscellaneous Commands
1. (:26) Avoid Defilement of All Types
“You shall not eat anything with the blood,
nor practice divination or soothsaying.”
Perry Yoder: The second half of the verse (26b) prohibits seeking or using supernatural forces to get around God or to bend God to someone’s will. The practice of divination, seeking omens, or foretelling the future bypasses God, who alone determines the future and reveals it to humans. Divination practices were followed by the nations around them. But God has appointed prophets for communicating to the people when and what God wants them to know (Deut 18:14-15).
2. (:27-29) Avoid Pagan Practices
a. (:27) Avoid Pagan Mourning Rituals
“You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads,
nor harm the edges of your beard.”
R. K. Harrison: The shaping of the hair on the temples and beard (27), or the incising of patterns on the skin, formed part of pagan mourning practices and as such were prohibited.
Milgrom: In some ancient societies, including Israel, the beard was the prized symbol of manhood, and its mutilation [v. 27] was considered the greatest disgrace and punishment (2 Sam 10:4-5; Isa 7:20).
b. (:28) Avoid Pagan Body Mutilation
“You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead,
nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.”
Mark Rooker: The tattoo indicated that one was a slave to a particular deity.
c. (:29) Avoid Pagan Cult Prostitution
“Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot,
so that the land may not fall to harlotry,
and the land become full of lewdness.”
Robert Vasholz: means not to force one’s daughter to be a cult prostitute. The Canaanites incorporated prostitution as part of their worship.
3. (:30) Keep the Sabbaths
“You shall keep My sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the LORD.”
4. (:31) Avoid the Occult
“Do not turn to mediums or spiritists;
do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.”
R. K. Harrison: Necromancy, which is the attempt to gain contact with the spirits of the deceased, is specifically prohibited to the Israelites. The medium was usually a woman who was able to obtain a materialization of certain deceased persons on request. . . The word translated wizards (Heb. yiddĕ‘ōnî; neb ‘spirits) comes from a root ‘to know’, perhaps referring to the occult information which the practitioner of necromancy purported to have. Contact with such persons resulted in spiritual defilement, partly because they had been in touch with the dead, but also because of the superstitious and demonic influences attending necromancy.
Clarke: The 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.
5. (:32) Honor the Aged
“You shall rise up before the grayheaded, and honor the aged,
and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD.”
E. (:33-34) Love Resident Strangers
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.
34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt:
I am the LORD your God.”
F. (:35-36) Pursue Integrity in Business Dealings
“You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity.
36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.”
(:37) Summary Obligation to Obey God’s Laws
“You shall thus observe all My statutes, and all My ordinances, and do them:
I am the LORD.”
Mark Rooker: The chapter closes with a call to obedience, which summarizes the essence of the entire chapter (19:37). Although obedience is not the means to God’s favor, it is the proper and necessary response to God’s benevolence.