Meditations in the Law : No.40 : Miscellaneous Laws (1)
Lev 19:1,2 The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: `Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.
Chapter 19 takes us into a batch of miscellaneous laws, a number of which pick up on those found either in the Ten Commandments or in the covenant laws of Exodus 21 to 23. The point that is made from the outset is that these are laws given by God to make Israel distinctive (holy) like He is distinctive. This distinctiveness is because God is pure and perfect and this people is thus to be the same. These laws will make Israel stand out in the world, as a people who live according to God’s design for humanity, and as such they are to be a light to the rest of the world.
Immediately after this introduction we have a double relationship reminder: “Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God,” (v.3) echoes of the fifth and fourth commandments (Ex 20:8-12) Relationship is at the heart of community – of life with others. The family is the basic building block of society and a respect for God built into community life is the umbrella over it all. This is followed by a warning against idol worship: “Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.” (v.4) which echoes the second commandment (Ex 20:4,5). Hold fast to the One True God!
Verses 5 to 8 basically say, if you want fellowship with the Lord then make sure that when you bring your fellowship offerings you do it in the prescribed way. Fellowship with God is not to be equated with casualness: “When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the LORD, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. Whoever eats it will be held responsible because he has desecrated what is holy to the LORD; that person must be cut off from his people.” (v.5-8). Thus, as with the Ten Commandments, the initial commands are about relationship with the Lord. If we get that right, then there is hope for everything else to follow and fall into place.
This is then followed by instructions that were meant to bless the poor: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (v.9,10) Thus the ‘leftovers’ of harvest are to be accessible and available to the poor, as an additional form of God’s provision for them. God’s concern for the poor and needy also comes a few verses later: “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD,” (v.14) as an obvious protection for the disabled.
The verses that follow are a mixture of laws about property and ownership, and truthfulness in life. First the property and ownership laws: “Do not steal” (v.11a) is a repeat of the eighth commandment (Ex 20:15), “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him,” (v.13a) is a general instruction to let there be right dealings in society, and “Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight,” (v.13b) takes the right dealing into the work place so that employers do not hold back what they owe employees.
The laws of truthfulness are, “Do not lie,” (v.11b) which is a simple and straight forward call for truthfulness to always be yours, followed by, “Do not deceive one another,” (v.11c) which takes truthfulness into behaviour as well as speech. Indeed part of that deception may include making false oaths, and so they are forbidden: “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” (v.12) i.e. don’t try to use God’s name to bolster up your wrong doings. He is holy and so if you invoke His name in such dealings you will be in serious trouble! This takes us into the area of justice: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (v.15) Again, let honesty prevail in society. Again, more on truthfulness: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.” (v.16)
From there the Law becomes more general in concern for well-being in society: “Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD,” (v.16) but it is not only actions but attitudes: “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” (v.17a). It is not only negative or passive, it is also positive and active: “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” (v.17b) i.e. if you see your neighbour moving into wrong, do something about it, go to him and talk to him. Wow, that is community care!
Positive heart attitudes will have strong effects in society: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” (v.18). Again and again where we have that final reminder, “I am the Lord” we are being reminded that this is to be a holy people, a people who are distinguished from the self-centred, ungodly, sinful nations of the world – or at least, that is how it was supposed to be if Israel had heeded these laws. What a wonderful society it could have been but, tragically, so often it wasn’t as they ignored or forgot about these guidelines from the Designer on how to create a good, secure and caring society. The blueprints were there, but they just didn’t follow them – just like we don’t in modern Western societies today!