Further thoughts and teaching on Leviticus chapter 19
Leviticus chapter 19 is the one and only chapter in this book that deals with a string of seemingly unrelated statutes (of course, our chapter divisions are purely arbitrary and don’t appear in the original scroll that was written). Most of the other chapters deal with themes that are inter-related but here it’s as if there were a number of items that needed mentioning and there wasn’t a place found elsewhere where they seemed to fit more logically!
Some of these laws are repeated elsewhere in the Scriptures in various forms, others are taken from other passages as seemingly short summaries of the longer legislation - in short, they appear to be a series of unconnected statutes that were spoken by the Lord to Moses at a single point in time for inclusion in the Law books.
Why they should appear here, though, is strange.
Wenham notes that the phrase ‘I am YHWH (your God)’ occurs sixteen times and thus divides the chapter up into a similar sixteen paragraphs apparently making the structure become ‘much clearer’ (page 263). Even with this demarcation, though, the reason for the structure is far from clear - besides, try as I might to find each of the sixteen phrases, I can only count to fifteen!!
I’ve already commented on some of these laws within the previous chapters and it’s best for the reader to refer to these chapters first before reading the subsequent points made here. I’ve tried to include an exposition of the Scriptures under my comments on North’s text but it’s not always been possible to make the argument run smoothly and so I’ve been compelled to add additional notes at this point.
19:1-8 (not dealt with by North)
I don’t have very much illuminative to say about this section so I shall keep my observations brief. The Lord’s statement (Lev 19:2) that
‘You shall be holy; for I YHWH your God am holy’
is a good summation for the reason not only of the subsequent chapter but of the Law in general. It’s a point that Jesus picked up on in the Sermon on the Mount when He said (Mtw 5:48)
‘You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’
God’s people should grow to be like and to reflect the God they worship (that is, the God they obey and serve). A believer who’s journeyed along life’s path for any great length of time and yet still doesn’t see change in his life as a consequence of seeking after his own way rather than that of God’s needs to re-examine the content of his life and see if, perhaps, he’s been travelling with God as his companion.
If we’re truly ‘sons of God’ then it’s necessary for us to grow up as a reflection of our Father.
The remaining legislation here are echoes of previous commandments but with notable additions in some cases.
19:3a speaks of ‘revering’ mother and father while the ten commandments (Ex 20:12) speaks of ‘honouring’. The word is used of the attitude that’s necessary to have toward God so it’s quite a strong one. Harrison points out that mother and father are in the place of God within the family structure and that they should be the first revelation to any child of what God’s like. By obedience to them, respect for them and honour toward them, the child naturally learns correct attitudes to be employed in his dealings with God.
That mankind has slipped so far from even the type of people who served under the Mosaic covenant is quite apparent when, on numerous occasions, counselling advice to sons and daughters has to be to disobey the heads of their respective families when they’re urging or leading those under their care into immorality and dishonesty - something that doesn’t seem to ever have taken place at the inception of these laws for the possibility is never provided for.
19:3b mirrors Ex 20:8-11 of the ten commandments and will be repeated in this chapter at v.30. I’ve dealt with the subject of the sabbath here.
19:4 mirrors Ex 20:4-6 of the ten commandments.
19:5-8 mirrors the legislation of the first 7 chapters of Leviticus, notably chapter 3 and 7:11-36 but with the addition here that the peace offering is said to achieve acceptance before the Lord (v.5) when it was just the Burnt Offering of Leviticus chapter 1 that this was said of.
In summary, though, even the slight additions to previous laws contained here don’t change these verses from being ‘unremarkable’ and the differences don’t appear to be so distinctive that they need repeating - but perhaps that’s just the point. Perhaps they could all too easily be glossed over that their importance in God’s eyes is emphasised by the fact that He chose to have them recorded not once but repeatedly in the Mosaic law, to be discovered by readers who were trying to avoid them in the passages that they knew they were in!!
I’ve dealt extensively with North’s comments on this passage in my notes on his chapter 11 and a lot of what’s there details the interpretation of the Levitical passage as a response to him. There is, therefore, no need to repeat those points but one further one needs to be made based on one of the parallel passages in Deut 24:19-22.
Here we learn that the reason for the gleaning legislation is that
‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt: therefore I command you to do this’
In other words, by laying obligation upon the farmers to provide for the poor, they were to remember their slavery in the land of Egypt - that is, they were to remember their poverty in that land before God delivered them and so do something about the plight of the people who were in a similar position to them back then.
As God had treated them with deliverance and provision in their destitute state, so now they must reflect their God’s character back to people in a similar position as God’s representative.
The Israelites were therefore always reminded of God’s deliverance for them from Egypt but it laid upon them obligations to mirror God’s actions into a present day reality.
I’ve lumped these two verses together even though I’ve mentioned in my notes on North’s chapter that they should be dealt with separately. But I have very little to say about either of these verses so I’ve kept them as one.
The laws seem straightforward, three of the four clauses possibly relating back to one of the ten commandments
‘You shall not steal [8th commandment - Ex 20:15], nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another [9th commandment - Ex 20:16]. And you shall not swear by My name falsely [3rd commandment - Ex 20:7], and so profane the name of your God: I am YHWH’
Why these verses should appear here as a sort of ‘repeat’ of earlier legislation is bewildering - perhaps they serve as a slight exposition of the ten commandments, the phrase ‘nor deal falsely’ being a definite addition to the Law that has been recorded before this point in the Biblical record (but which will be given a specific application very soon after in 19:36).
Verse 11, though, does state the God-desired set up of Israelite society - one that was to be based upon the respecting of other people’s property, the respecting of other people’s trading rights and the respecting of other people’s right to know the truth (the three clauses in that order).
The New Testament is equally insistent upon honesty being the mark of a believer (Col 3:9) and that theft should be left behind when the person is transformed into the Church (Eph 4:28). Dealing falsely, the only one of the three phrases not mentioned in the two New Testament Scriptures is the foundation of the incident of Acts 5:1-11 in which Ananias and Sapphira lost their lives - a good indication that the laws are still relevant under the new covenant.
Verse 12 talks about taking God’s name in an oath format (though a setting within some sort of court set-up would only be one aspect of a much larger application) where men and women would cite the name of their God to demonstrate the truthfulness and sincerity of their words. As God isn’t a god who lies or deceives, then to place His name onto something that was knowingly untruthful would be tantamount to associating His being with falsehood - an uncharacteristic personal trait.
In the New Testament, Jesus urged His followers not to swear at all (Mtw 5:33-37) but to simply show that their words were truthful with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. All such oaths and swearings demonstrate not the truthfulness of the statement but the urgency of the need of the person who takes the name to be a witness that demands belief.
In my comments on North, I’ve gone to lengths to try and show how the legislation concerning the hired servant could be applied to present day wage settlements - and I’ve necessarily taken the Scripture beyond the bounds that it was intended to be used within.
Both these verses have a simple underlying principle which is why they can be considered together - God makes special provision for the weaknesses that are inherent within certain classes of people within society. The hired servant is poor and needs adequate provision when money is owed to him, while the deaf and blind have physical disabilities that may subject them to abuse that they’re unable to defend themselves from.
In the New Testament, God also makes provision for the weak within His Church and lays obligations upon the stronger brothers within it’s boundaries (see my teaching on Romans 14:1-15:7). There are a handful of other Scriptures which mention the weak brother, the most notable being Paul’s statement in Acts 20:35 where he tells the elders of the Church
‘In all things I have shown you that by so toiling [working to support oneself] one must help the weak...’
His aim in life was to make the Gospel free to all that he met - even the weak, who he was able to speak to because he earned money that kept him in the areas that he found himself in, not relying upon the support of those who could barely afford to feed themselves (see also I Thess 5:14).
It’s not just the Levitical passage that’s equally relevant for today’s Church, but the underlying principle of not exploiting the poorest and weakest members of society should be applied wherever we find ourselves and in whatever situations we find ourselves in.
We shouldn’t favour the poor at the expense of the rich (Lev 19:15), but we should bear with their weaknesses and make provision for their poverty.
God desires that all men be treated equally and fairly within the covenant society - and, quite obviously, within civilisation as a whole. The geographic boundaries which defined Israel in the Old Covenant and the spiritual boundaries that define the Church in the New (being ‘in Christ’) are the places where God especially rules and gets His will done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.
Though society in general likes to think of itself as being impartial in judgment (whether a formal judicial system is in mind or the content of gossiping over the garden fence), it can never achieve the requirements of God laid upon it because of its own impartiality of choice.
True justice and equality will never come about within society by the imposition of humanistic beliefs and structures but by the preaching of the Gospel and the wholesale conversion to Christ. That believing men and women still find themselves arguing for the rights of the less advantaged (that is, equal rights, not unfair rights over others) is often considered a worthy cause - but what will be achieved will never ultimately be founded securely if it’s not on the basis of the work of Christ.
Lev 19:15 should be the basis of all judgments made within the local Church. Any Church leader who gives a decision in favour of a friend or fellow leader because of their relationship to them has perverted God’s justice and stands as guilty as a partial judge before God.
19:16 (not dealt with by North)
The passage which runs 19:9-18 may seem to be a series of unconnected statutes that have been randomly grouped together, but they form a series of laws that deal with a man’s relationships with his fellow Israelite and, as such, they deserve to be put together. Continuing on that theme, we read here of the twin command not to spread slanderous allegations concerning an individual throughout the camp (shortly to be ‘throughout the land’ when they were to come into the Promised Land) and not to oppose a neighbour simply because he was the person he was (some sort of grudge is probably at the heart of the second law and the context may well be a legal hearing - similarly, the context of v.15 could apply to the first command of this verse, too).
Slander perverts justice. When an individual has his character blackened through secret discussions when he’s given no opportunity to present his side of the case, the bad feeling that’s produced on account of it is very difficult to overcome - even seemingly innocent actions are interpreted in ‘bad ways’. No matter what that person may try and do, the sentence that the slanderer imparts is difficult to remove. As Proverbs 22:1 says
‘A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches and favor is better than silver or gold’
In my younger days (I have a good memory), we used to refer to it as the ‘Horns and Haloes Syndrome’! What you consider any person to be wearing (whether a halo for goodness or a horn for badness) prompts you to deal with that person on a different basis than you would otherwise have dealt with them. I agree that, if a colleague has proved himself to be untrustworthy then provision must be made for that in future dealings but if that assessment is the result of a word spoken by others and not learned by experience then the danger is that the report may not be accurate and the person is maligned and treated partially when there’s no need to.
Slander, then, destroys impartiality in justice (Lev 19:15) which is why, in the UK, a jury mustn’t know the defendant or even know of the defendant because this can produce hatred towards someone who has no way to defend himself from an accusation he knows nothing about (Lev 19:17-18) - there are other reasons why this isn’t allowed, of course. This law sits well in the context of the other verses around it.
‘Standing forth against the life of your neighbour’ appears to be a direct action against someone rather than a verbal transaction like slander is. Wenham notes (page 268)
‘In the intimate atmosphere of a local trial it would be particularly easy for neighbours to let their feuds and personal animosities distort the proceedings’
which he appears to equally apply to both clauses of the verse. The context of v.15 does favour this interpretation of v.16 and the action described in this second clause is understood to refer to an active decision on behalf of a person to oppose their neighbour (fellow-Israelite) for their harm rather than to be concerned to state the Truth with no interpretation, additions or subtractions that would colour the testimony.
This would equally apply outside a court setting but the context does seem to require this primary application.
19:17 (not dealt with by North)
This verse goes beyond the bounds of the court room into society in general seeing as it speaks of ‘reasoning with your neighbour’ - something that it’s unlikely to have been possible to do within the context of a legal hearing.
Hidden hatred - as described above (the Horns and Haloes Syndrome) - produces unwise attitudes. When we interpret a person’s actions with our own understanding rather than approach them to ask them to explain what they’re doing or have done, we form opinions in our own mind that may produce partiality in our future dealings with them - hence the legislation concludes by saying ‘lest you bear sin because of him’.
A Biblical example would be the incident of Joshua chapter 22 where the two and a half tribes built a memorial as a witness on the borders of the land to remind the other tribes that they were part of Israel. The other tribes could have armed for war without seeing any need to call them to account but, because they did ‘reason with their neighbour’, they saved an unnecessary and unjustifiable war.
Reason averts wrath and draws people together. Our understanding and interpretation of actions can lead us into the hatred of others - not because they may have done anything inherently evil but because we’ve decided that their action is unacceptable and a transgression of law as we perceive it to be.
Discussion averts wrong concepts from forming (lack of knowledge is the darkroom where hatred develops) and prevents us from acting on false conclusions that would impart sin to our lives.
I’ve dealt with this sufficiently under my comments on North’s chapter to summarise the conclusions there drawn.
God not only provides a practical law that needs to be observed (‘You shall not take vengeance...’) but two attitudes of the heart that need to be applied which will prevent any individual from attempting to perform acts of personal vengeance (‘You shall not...bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself...’).
Vengeance isn’t evil per se but it’s in the context of individuals who seek some sort of restitution for offence perceived when it’s to occur outside the Law and outside the methods laid down via the elders and judges appointed to try cases.
Jesus’ statement that His followers should love their neighbours as themselves undermines the desire for vengeance in an individual’s life.
The underlying message of this verse and the parallel passage in Deut 22:9-11 is that of separation. That Israel was called to be a nation that was separated from the other nations and set apart for God isn’t in dispute, so it’s logical to see legislation that made distinctions within Israel that caused them to be visibly different from those around them.
It’s difficult to see the spiritual relevance of these prohibitions as there doesn’t appear to be an explanatory passage elsewhere in Scripture to help us and we may be best to accept with simplicity the fact that these were practical demonstrations of the nation’s separateness laid upon the Israelites by God and that their meaning (if their was one) is now lost.
However, each of the forbidden mixtures are the combinations of clean items not wholly unclean and neither clean and unclean. This may be significant. There are numerous occasions where items are considered to be unclean in themselves for the task that they’re seeking to be employed in, but here we have clean objects (that is, clean for the task that they could be used for) but which become unacceptable when combined with other clean objects. It’s the uses to which the clean items are put that’s the problem, not the items in themselves.
Even though the Israelite may be careful to fill his life with ceremonially clean items, he must also be careful not to combine items to produce something that was forbidden by God (even though the resulting mixture may be forfeited but remain acceptable to God for his use - see Deut 22:9).
The principle - translated into the New Covenant - would indicate that believers shouldn’t think that the fulness of a life before God with items that are acceptable to Him is necessarily perfect if, by the combination of certain of them, offence is made to God. The believer must watch the unions he makes to ensure that nothing that’s clean becomes unacceptable by its combination.
But, more importantly perhaps, does Lev 19:19 teach us anything about cross-breeding and, specifically, about genetic engineering that’s increasingly being employed in the production of crops and livestock?
As much as I’m against genetic engineering, this verse can’t be employed to teach against the practice solely because the result of the mixing of seed (Deut 22:9) wasn’t destruction (a result of something considered to be an ‘abomination’ before the Lord) but produce that was useful to Him.
Both Lev 19:19 and Deut 22:9-11 should be taken as obligations laid upon Israel to display their separation and to teach them the need for purity within their lives - both in their thoughts and actions, but it shouldn’t be pressured for an application within today’s society.
19:20-22 (not dealt with by North)
There are a number of clarifications that need to be made before the overall message of the passage can be dealt with.
Firstly, the RSV’s ‘an inquiry shall be held’ is almost certainly wrong and should be amended to ‘damages must be paid’ in line with Wenham’s comments on the passage (page 270-1). He notes
‘The word biqqoret occurs only here in the OT and its meaning is therefore quite uncertain. In the translation I have tentatively adopted Speiser’s interpretation of the term. He associates Heb biqqoret with an Akkadian term...and points out that in other cases of premarital intercourse the man was expected to pay the bride-money (engagement present) to the girl’s father’
Secondly, Harrison notes (page 200)
‘Had the woman been seduced within the walls of a city, she and the offender would have been put to death (Dt 22:23-24), presumably because she could have secured help which would have prevented the attack’
but the passage quoted doesn’t cite the woman as a slave betrothed to be married. Instead, it labels the woman simply as a ‘betrothed virgin’ and is dealing implicitly with the offence of rape in which, because the injured party didn’t cry for help when help was close at hand, the offence is taken to be the same as adultery (Deut 22:22) - that is, withstanding evil is a duty of all within Israel but the woman, if sexually assaulted outside an area where help lies, is proven to be or accepted as having been raped.
In Lev 19:20-22, no mention is made of the offence of rape - not even hinted at - and no location is cited either.
It seems best to take the passage as an exception to the Law elsewhere that commanded both adulterer and adulteress to be put to death (Deut 22:22 - even though it occurs later) on the grounds that the woman wasn’t married though betrothed (betrothal was often regarded as binding as marriage but with no sexual intercourse taking place) and that she was a slave girl.
It doesn’t matter for the woman (in the Law’s eyes) whether it’s rape or consenting sex - but it would do for the man. Either way, the woman is accounted innocent. If, however, the slave girl was to cry for help within the city and help be given, it’s feasible that he could be prosecuted as a rapist and lose his life (Deut 22:25-27). Just how far the ‘slave girl’ aspect of the legislation was used to override rape is indeterminable and the scenario envisaged here may not have been possible.
Sexual intercourse, then, with a betrothed slave girl resulted in a monetary payment and not with the death of either participant.
Though, to me at least, the legislation appears perplexing, it seems that the intention of the Law was to protect the interests of either the slave owner or the betrothed man (depending on who the ransom was paid to). Wenham opts for the fiancé when he notes (page 271)
‘...it seems more probable that the girl was reckoned to be betrothed, and therefore the damages went to her fiancé, who had already paid over the bride-money to her owner. In other cases of adultery, the aggrieved husband might pardon his wife and insist that her partner pay ransom-money to save his life. So in this case the slave-girl’s fiancé receives damages for the broken engagement and a reparation offering is offered in the sanctuary’
The ‘reparation’ or ‘guilt’ offering indicates the misuse of something that wasn’t the offender’s property and would therefore fit in with this interpretation. Sexual intercourse in this instance is seen to be a type of theft.
The final question to be answered is
‘What use is this legislation for believers under the New Covenant?’
Though the NT writers lived in a world where slavery was an integral part of everyday life, the slave who believed in Christ was treated as having equal standing with any other believer ‘in Christ’. Though the OT legislation primarily dealt with reparation due to ‘misuse of another’s property’, the general adultery laws may have become more relevant to be applied here in a NT setting even though the Law ‘made nothing perfect’ (Gal 3:21-22, Heb 7:19, 10:1) and could only reform until change was to come about in the new (Heb 9:10).
But the real change in the New Covenant is that there’s power to live a righteous life (I Cor 10:13, Rom 8:13, Gal 5:16-24 [esp v.24]). Believers can now find deliverance from all those human weaknesses by the power at work in them (the Holy Spirit) which couldn’t be exacerbated purely by the categorisation of what was both ‘wrong’ and ‘right’.
Though there may be spiritual principles lurking beneath the surface and analogies that can be drawn, the obvious intent of the legislation is that God was insistent that He get the first fruit of what’s useful to His people.
It appears to have been common practice amongst the ancients to allow fruit trees to develop for three years of fruit bearing before fruit was to be expected from them. Therefore, in that first ‘useful’ year, the fruit must be devoted to the Lord.
God was also concerned to cause the fruit trees to strengthen in those first three fruit-bearing years as He says in v.25. By forbidding the Israelites to seek fruit from three harvests, pruning and excessive cultivation for fruit was laid to one side so that the tree might grow stronger for subsequent years.
19:26-28 (not dealt with by North)
Initially, it could be noted that the first clause of this passage (‘you shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it’) has been more extensively dealt with previously in Lev 7:26-27 and 17:10-16 and is therefore simply repeated here. However, the content of these other rules deal with practices of other religions and it’s perhaps better to see the command concerning the blood as being a reference to some of the occultic practices that occurred in the nations that were to lie round about them and which were currently in existence among the people of Canaan that they going to dispossess.
The rest of the details need to be explained as to which areas exactly are covered, seeing as they’ve been taken out of context and applied to various modern (and not-so-modern) practices.
‘Augury’ according to Harrison (page 201)
‘...involved the use of charms, incantations and certain objects such as goblets...’
while ‘witchcraft’ (page 201)
‘...seems to have consisted in this instance of the prognostication of favourable times for specific forms of action’
Even under the New Covenant, such things are specifically forbidden (Gal 5:20, Rev 22:15) and it surely stands to reason that, if the believer has the fulness of revelation in Christ and freedom of access into the heart of God’s presence, such practices are obviously worthless. How can the believer expect to receive anything extra to the fulness of Christ (Eph 4:13, John 1:16)? The regulation translated into the new is not so much a command as a logical inference from the believer’s position (Eph 2:4-6).
In keeping with the content of this passage, both clauses of v.28 (and v.27) should be seen to refer to cultic practices - cuttings in the flesh on account of the dead and tattoo marks. The latter regulation has often been used to teach believers that no tattoos (devoid of the context of a cultic practice) should be received on their skin. Though it seems reasonable to give such instruction, the context of the verse pulls away from using it with Scriptural authority, seeing as it’s dealing with a situation where a mark is received alongside an occultic practice or rite.
Similarly, then, v.27 shouldn’t be taken to refer to ‘hair styling’ (first clause) or ‘beard trimming’ (second clause) of themselves but only when they’re done in the context of an occultic practice.
Both these last two verses should teach the NT believer not to take on themselves symbols or practices that are a result of or a response to pagan or occultic religious rites. Far better that the symbols and practices of the New Covenant are received within a believer’s life that are demonstrated outwardly by a righteous life.
19:29 (not dealt with by North)
The legislation prohibits the consideration of a daughter as a possession who can be used for monetary gain.
Though the society may arrange marriages for its sons and daughters and therefore have control over sexual relationships to some degree, this isn’t to extend to considerations of financial reward.
The danger of the practice, though, is that the harlotry brought about is in danger of bleeding over into the rest of Israelite society and so destroy it - isolated incidents by single families aren’t regarded as restricted influences but actions that seriously afflict the entire nation.
Harrison also notes (page 201)
‘A man’s daughter must not...be hired out as a prostitute for gainful purposes, since this debases the sacredness of her womanhood and denies her the control of her own body’
The law is still relevant in the New Covenant and the principle finds the light of day in I Corinthians chapter 5 where Paul notes (v.6) that
‘...a little leaven [sin] leavens the whole lump...’
A christian’s life isn’t a solitary boat on the ocean but an integral part of a Body that’s being fully integrated. If we associate ourselves in other areas (Rom 12:15) and feel the hurts of others, then sin within the Church will affect not only the individual but us all.
19:30 (not dealt with by North)
Harrison sees this verse as a consequential statement following on from v.29. Whereas there the thought was of the defiling of the land, here the command concerns the maintenance of its sanctity, He writes (page 202)
‘As elsewhere, it is moral rather than ceremonial offences that defile the land. Its sanctity will be preserved as the Israelites observe sabbath worship and reverence to the Lord’s sanctuary’
Interestingly, Ezek 23:38 appears to use this verse as its foundation when it says
‘Moreover this they have done to Me: they have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My sabbaths’
The two regulations may even have become proverbial for the observance of the Mosaic Law.
On sabbath observance and the New Covenant, see my notes on the sabbath.
See my notes on Lev 26:2 for the likelihood that the label ‘sabbaths’ is meant to include the sabbatical and Jubilee years. Indeed, in the context of the defilement of the land which precedes this verse, this statement seems the more likely to be referring to the annual festivals rather than to the weekly ones because the land’s defilement of Lev 19:29 is being contrasted with the way to keep it holy to God.
On reverencing the sanctuary, we need to remember, firstly, that in the NT, the sanctuary is no longer a fixed, rigid structure that people travel to, but the people themselves (for example, II Cor 6:16).
To translate this directly into the New Testament, we should note that fellow believers should be respected, ‘considered holy’, and not ignored or treated disdainfully.
But, perhaps better, the OT verse hints at reverence for the ‘things of God’ - in the NT, this again doesn’t mean man-made structures (the NT doesn’t know the equation church=building) but covers such a variety of concepts and subjects that it’s impossible to sum up with an adequate label!
19:31 (not dealt with by North)
Verse 26 forbade the participation in occultic practices. This verse forbids the seeking out (presumably external to the Promised Land) of those who have such a ‘ministry’.
Here, though, there’s a slight difference in that the characters outlined are those who act as mediators between the living and the dead (NB - if there are mediums in the living world, why has no one ever heard of a medium in the dead world?!).
For the relevance of the legislation under the New Covenant, see on 19:26.
19:32 (not dealt with by North)
Harrison is correct when he notes (page 202) that, in ancient society,
‘Respect for the aged was a prominent feature...on the ground that age and wisdom went hand in hand’
even though the verse doesn’t mention respect and honour being bestowed because of assumed wisdom. Rather, it’s due because of age. Notice also Job 32:9 where we read
‘It is not the old that are wise, nor the aged that understand what is right’
though, admittedly, this isn’t spoken by God but by a younger ‘comforter’ (his words are hardly surprising considering the context but they are, necessarily, true).
Age is to command respect - whether because of frailty, proved wisdom or of some other consideration - but, whatever the situation, the older Israelites (a vulnerable age group) must be cared for.
When God was to withdraw from His people in Jerusalem, part of the consequence was that (Is 3:5)
‘...the youth [would] be insolent to the elder...’
In the New Covenant, believers are exhorted to support, help and strengthen the weak (Acts 20:35, I Thess 5:14 - though these may refer more especially to the ‘weak in faith’) of which, the older men and women form a fair-size part.
Unlike North, I don’t see the two regulations here (v.33-34 and 35-37) as being necessarily demanding a unified exposition, even though the latter must refer in some way to the former and vice-versa. These do stand as independent laws and I shall therefore comment on them separately.
Verses 33-34 - The Israelite is commanded to treat the stranger within their borders (not a permanent resident but a temporary inhabitant) in the same manner as the native Israelite. The command to ‘love him as yourself’ is particularly strong and refers us back to Lev 19:18 where the Israelite has been previously commanded not to take vengeance or bear any grudge on the sons of his own people.
The basis of this command is their experience in the land of Egypt. Here, the nation dwelt as aliens and were treated shamefully, as outsiders and given unfair treatment (as North points out, one Israelite, Joseph, had previously delivered the nation in its time of famine). It would be all too easy for the nation of Israel to look on the outsider and disdain him, treating him in a similar fashion to how they were treated in Egypt.
But the Kingdom of God on earth is to demonstrate fairness towards all men. As North points out, when the stranger returned to his own land, he should be able to carry with him a testimony to God’s goodness and what His people were like.
Unfortunately, on all too often occasions, the unsaved visit their local church and find the attendees cliquey and offensive, receive a friendless welcome and are treated as if they’re second-class citizens. We would do well to heed the legislation here contained.
Verses 35-37 - Again, the basis of the command is the Israelites’ experience in Egypt where they received injustice but this time God is reminding them only of their deliverance.
The parallel passage in Deut 25:13-16 concludes with strong language. It reads
‘...all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to YHWH your God’
making it plain just how strongly the Lord feels on this issue. It’s classified as a sin up there with bestiality (yet how would we categorise it in today’s Church?). God expects His people to bestow righteous judgment for all men (the resident as well as the alien) because God did the same for the nation when He delivered them from the hand of the oppressing Egyptians.
Though North sees the passage to refer to ‘justice’, the parallel passage sees it in terms of ‘dishonesty’ (Deut 25:16). Again, these are relevant words to the christian for today’s society - we forget that, though we’re in the world, we can’t deal in the world with the ways that it uses (much less when we deal with fellow believers) and, even though it sets the believer at a disadvantage, he must be assured that, if the same God watched over the Israelites when they were unjustly oppressed in Egypt and delivered them from unfair actions, so too will He watch over His people who live by His will and purpose.
God finds it abominable for anyone to act dishonestly and unjustly - whether it be toward the ‘household of faith’ or towards those who don’t know God.
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