Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentLEVITICUS 19
This great chapter is the O.T. equivalent of the N.T. Sermon on the Mount, or the practical phase of living the holy life as outlined by Paul in the Rom. 12. At no other place in the O.T. is there achieved so high a plane of morality as that which appears here, where Israel was commanded to "Love thy neighbor as thyself," and to include also the alien stranger in the same affection. Coleman wrote that, "it is one of the greatest chapters in the O.T., a Mosaic anticipation of the Sermon on the Mount."F1
The appearance of "I am the Lord your God" no less than sixteen times in this single chapterF2 shows the relationship of the material in it to the Decalogue and other covenant portions of the Pentateuch, and precepts here are in several instances extensions of Commandments I, II, III, IV, V, VII, VIII, IX, and X. In fact, if "Love thy neighbor" is looked upon as the antithesis of "Thou shalt not kill," then there are echoes herein of the entire Decalogue. In spite of such close connection with other portions of the Pentateuch, however, the chapter remains in a practical sense "a repetition of sundry laws,"F3 most of which have received full comment in this series in Exodus and previous chapters of Leviticus.
Many thoughtless commentators have mentioned the disconnected and haphazard arrangement of the various admonitions in it, making of it a mere hodgepodge of rules and regulations without rhyme or reason, but we are indebted to Gordon J. Wenham for a remarkably sufficient outline of it. There are sixteen paragraphs in it, each one of them ending with the message "I am the Lord (your) God"; and these paragraphs fall into three divisions, the first detailing religious duties, the second stressing obligations to "thy neighbor," and the third mentioning miscellaneous duties directed mainly to the purpose of keeping Israel "separate" from the heathen.F4 The sixteen sub-paragraphs fit into this larger structure in a 4, 4, and 8 arrangement, thus:
SPECIAL PHASES OF HOLINESS
Introduction (Lev. 19:1-2a)
I. Religious duties (Lev. 19:2b-10)
a. Be holy (Lev. 19:2b)
b. Honor parents and Sabbath (Leviticus 19:3)
c. Abhor idols (Leviticus 19:4)
d. Food and sacrifices (Leviticus 19:5-10)
II. Duty to one's neighbor (Leviticus 19:11-18)
a. Be honest with him (Leviticus 19:11-12)
b. Do not exploit him (Leviticus 19:13-14)
c. Do not hate him (Leviticus 19:13-14)
d. Love him as yourself (Leviticus 19:17-18)
III. Miscellaneous duties (Leviticus 19:19-37)
a. No mixed breeding (Leviticus 19:19-25)
b. No pagan practices (Leviticus 19:26-28)
c. No sacred prostitution (Leviticus 19:29-30)
d. No necromancy (Leviticus 19:31)
e. No disrespect of the aged (Leviticus 19:32)
f. Love even the alien (Leviticus 19:33-34)
g. No false scales, etc. (Leviticus 19:35-36)
h. Closing exhortation (Leviticus 19:37)
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying,
The fact of this chapter's being addressed to the entire congregation of the children of Israel "is unique in Leviticus."F5 Note also the continued and constant tying of all human obligations to the will and authority of God. In fact, there is no other real basis of requiring human beings to do anything.
"The effort to preserve morality in a nation without religious sanction is like the attempt to keep alive the flame of fire when the fuel from which the flame derives has been removed. `I am the Lord' is a basis for morality that never fails."F6
Such a view is not merely "preacher talk." Will and Ariel Durant's remarkable summary of all human history has this: "There is no significant example in history (before our time) of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion!"F7 One might suppose from the parenthesis which we have imposed upon Durant's quotation that the learned historian might have believed that our "own times" are an exception to the universal experience of all history, because many theological liberals of that period (in the 1960's) were actually advocating such views. That was indeed a period when many thought we were getting rid of religion and yet were maintaining all the sacred fruits of Christian ethics without a faith in God, but look what has happened since! Widespread crime and violence have multiplied. Corruption in some of the highest echelons of government has appeared everywhere. And, as this is being written, another governor of one of our sovereign states has been indicted for fraud and racketeering. The home itself is seriously threatened. Blinded fools are talking about a "new morality." And theft is so general that most department stores include a fifteen percent increase in the price of everything that they sell in order to try to live with it. If anybody ever believed for a moment the Satanic lie that America today can maintain a viable and acceptable society apart from "I am the Lord your God," he can now forget it. Individually, and as a nation, we must return to God or perish!
RELIGIOUS DUTIES (Lev. 19:2b-10)
Verses 2, 3
Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy; for I Jehovah your God am holy. Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father; and ye shall keep my sabbaths: I am Jehovah your God.
a. Be holy.
b. Honor parents and sabbaths.
The great admonition here is "Ye shall be holy!" This is actually the key sentence of the whole chapter and embraces all of the subsequent injunctions. It is indeed appropriate that the first specific order regards the fear (meaning reverence here)F8 of parents. The home is the basic unit of all civilized order. Sabbath-keeping was just as important, and although the sabbath is not a Christian duty, the Lord's Day worship is! And, in one sense, Christian worship serves the same function as the ancient sabbath. People who neglect public worship soon find that they have no religion whatever. Significantly, this short passage reflects both the fourth and the fifth commandments.
Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am Jehovah your God.
c. No idolatry.
Both the first and third commandments are reiterated here. (See the full comment on these in Exo. 20.)
And when ye offer a sacrifice of peace-offerings unto Jehovah, ye shall offer it that ye may be accepted. It shall be eaten the same day ye offer it, and on the morrow: and if aught remain until the third day, it shall be burnt with fire. And if it be eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination; it shall not be accepted: but every one that eateth it shall bear his iniquity, because he hath profaned the holy thing of Jehovah: and that soul shall be cut off from his people. And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am Jehovah your God.
d. Concern for the poor.
This is one paragraph, not two, because the whole thing relates to sharing one's possessions with the poor, the unfortunate, and the sojourner. The connection with the peace-offering is this: Since those who offered such offerings were privileged to eat them, it was a constant temptation for the offerers to restrict the participants to close friends and family, thus extending their banquet a day or two beyond the allotted time; whereas, they were supposed to invite the poor and others in need to share the feast and finish it on the first day (preferably), but certainly no longer than two days later. In exactly the same spirit, the owners of orchards and vineyards and grainfields were forbidden to squeeze the last ounce of produce from their possessions, but were commanded to leave some for the poor, the sojourner and the needy. There was no need then (nor is there now) for men to exhibit the type of stinginess that was forbidden here.
Ye shall offer it that it may be accepted
(Leviticus 19:5). Orlinsky stated that the true rendition of this place is: Offer it so that it may be accepted.F9 This makes the whole passage clear. It means that when one offered a peace-offering to God, then he should not try to eat all of it himself! If one did that, he was offering it so that it would not be accepted.
In view of the basic benevolence and humanity which lie behind this paragraph, how distressing it is that some expositors, who never can find Jesus Christ anywhere in the O.T., find all kinds of demons and pagan gods and goddesses almost anywhere they look. Lofthouse, for example, wrote of the "spirits of vegetation" and the "corn spirits" that people sought to feed and appease by not stripping their fields!F10 Clements wrote of the "spirits of the fields and of the vineyards."F11 The sacred commandments here have no connection with such things, but they relate to God's concern for the poor and needy. Compare Deut. 24:19-21, where olives are included in the instructions.
DUTY TO ONE'S NEIGHBOR
Verses 11, 12
Ye shall not steal; neither shall ye deal falsely, nor lie one to another. And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, and profane the name of thy God: I am Jehovah.
Verses 13, 14
Thou shalt not oppress thy neighbor, nor rob him: the wages of a hired servant shall not abide with thee all night until the morning. Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind; but thou shalt fear thy God: I am Jehovah.
b. No exploitation
Verses 15, 16
Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor. Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor: I am Jehovah.
c. Justice in court
The law against respect of the person of the poor and honor of the person of the mighty (Leviticus 19:15-16) simply means that a righteous person will favor neither because of either poverty or wealth. Our society in America today has betrayed its trust by extreme partiality to the alleged poor, and to minorities. A true government should be color blind and impartial, treating all alike fairly and justly.
Verses 17, 18
Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am Jehovah.
d. Love your neighbor.
The logical and appropriate organization of these verses is apparent. The second paragraph above extends the Decalogue injunctions to include the prompt payment of bills. Although only the day-laborer is mentioned here, there can be little doubt that it also "covers the case of paying tradesmen promptly."F12 (See also Deut. 24:14 and James 5:4.)
In the second paragraph (Leviticus 19:15,16) our translation fails to produce the equivalent of the "Hebrew legal idiom" which the verses contain.F13 "Both these verses are concerned with behavior in a court of law."F14 Although tale-bearing is mentioned, it is the rendition of false testimony which is stressed. The words, "Stand against the blood of thy neighbor," mean "Seek to get him put to death (by legal means)."F15
In the fourth paragraph (Leviticus 19:17-18), the Mosaic law reaches the plateau of its very highest elevation and comes very near the marvelous standards of the Christ himself. As a matter of fact, the great deficiency in Israel regarding these rules was due to their false understanding of "neighbor" as meaning merely a fellow Jew. It was precisely to that problem and with the design of correcting it that our Lord spoke the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). That the fault lay not so much in God's law as in the false interpretation of it by the Jewish religious hierarchy is evident in this chapter, where, in Lev. 19:34, loving "the stranger and sojourner" is also shown to be part of God's law. In fact, Jamieson affirmed that, "Neighbor, as used here, is synonymous with fellow-creature."F16
LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF
Christ himself allowed that upon this and a companion rule, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, etc., all of the Law and the prophets depend and are fulfilled by their faithful observance (Mark 12:28-31). Despite the greatness of this commandment, however, it is a mistake to make it exclusively the Royal Law of James 2:8, as did Dummelow and Meyrick.F17 Nothing could be the royal law until spoken by a king, and Moses was not a king. When Christ reiterated this law and even expanded it to include the love of enemies, that is when it became part of the Royal Law, and even this beautiful precept was not all of it, for it included All things whatsoever I have commanded you (Matthew 28:18-20). It is a gross error to understand the Law of Moses as the Royal Law referred to by James.
MISCELLANEOUS DUTIES (Leviticus 19:19-37)
Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with two kinds of seed: neither shall there come upon thee a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together. And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that 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. And he shall bring his trespass-offering unto Jehovah, unto the door of the tent of meeting, even a ram for a trespass-offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass-offering before Jehovah for his sin which he hath sinned: and the sin which he hath sinned shall be forgiven him. And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as their uncircumcision: three years shall they be as uncircumcised unto you; it shall not be eaten. But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy, for giving praise unto Jehovah. And in the fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am Jehovah your God.
a. No mixed breeding
Most of this paragraph concerns the mixing of animals, plants, and materials, but the latter part of it claims the early fruits of an orchard for Jehovah. There may also be another instance here of concern that some fruit would always be available for poor or sojourners who would not have known of the age of the trees and might therefore have eaten it.
We cannot be sure why some of these things were forbidden, but, in all likelihood, they were connected with pagan customs and superstitions in which God did not allow Israel to take any part whatever. One principle stands out, and that is, things which God has separated should not be joined together, just as the counterpart of it is also true that, "What God hath joined, let no man put asunder." Dummelow thought that, "There may be an allusion to the practice of magic, in which unnatural mixtures played an important part."F18
The forbidding of hybrids certainly made mules illegal, yet in later times they were prized in Israel.F19 Some have supposed that Israel got around this regulation by importing the mules from other peoples who were free to produce them, and certainly the Jewish mind was capable of just such an avoidance of the law, but Gen. 36:24 (KJV) mentions the "discovery of mules," with the possible meaning that they appeared independently of any human assistance in cross-breeding of horses and asses. (See my comment on the Genesis passage.)
Ye shall not eat anything with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantments, nor practise augury. Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am Jehovah.
b. No pagan practices
Not round the corners of your heads
Herodotus tells of the use of this type of haircut, forming what is called a tonsure, as the practice of pagan religious cults of ancient times who did so honoring one of their gods.F20 The cutting of one's flesh also characterized pagan worship as attested by the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel in the contest with Elijah. Tattooing was also a device of paganism. Certain gods had their logo inscribed upon their followers; and Paul made indirect mention of this in the Lord Jesus. At the time Paul wrote, the worshippers of pagan gods actually were literally branded with the symbol of their false deity. For example, The mark of the pagan god Dionysius was that of an ivy leaf burned into the flesh with a branding iron.F21 However, as the beloved McGarvey put it, The marks of Paul that branded him as a slave of Jesus were the deep cuts of the lictor's rods of Philippi and the stones of Lystra.F22 Christians generally disapprove of tattooing, despite the fact of the widespread use of it by many even today. In the light of what God says here, and in view of the history of it, it seems strange that anyone would pay someone else to tattoo him.
Verses 29, 30
Profane not thy daughter, to make her a harlot; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness. Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary; I am Jehovah.
c. No sacred prostitution
The outstanding characteristic of ancient paganism was the substantial company of "sacred prostitutes" who were the source of the income for pagan temples as well as the principal advocates of their system. A poor man could be tempted, by money, to devote his daughter to such a profession, but God strictly forbade it. The reference here, therefore, "Is not to spiritual whoredom and idolatry, but to fleshly whoredom, the Hebrew word in this place never meaning anything else."F23
The command here to observe the sabbaths is a synecdoche standing for all of the faithful worship of God, the same being the source of power against all kinds of temptations.
Turn ye not unto them that have familiar spirits, nor unto the wizards; seek them not out, to be defiled by them: I am Jehovah your God.
d. No necromancy
All kinds of witchcraft, divinations, and necromancy are condemned by this, nor is there any relaxation of such prohibitions in the N.T. In times of religious decline, there always happens the same thing prophesied in the N.T. -- "men shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables." What happens when people consult such characters? They are "defiled." Even a king of Israel (Saul) consulted the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:3-7), and it may be supposed that there were wholesale violations of God's law throughout the nation. Even with the enlightenment of our own times the superstition of people with reference to such things enables thousands to make their living catering to those who seek by sinful means to find access to the hidden things of God.
Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and thou shalt fear thy God: I am Jehovah.
e. Respect for the old
That society which does not honor the aged is headed for destruction (Isaiah 3:5). The fall of the Northern Israel began when Rehoboam rejected the counsel of the old men and acted upon that of the "young Turks" in his kingdom.
Verses 33, 34
And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not do him wrong. The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt: I am Jehovah your God.
f. Love the alien.
Verses 35, 36
Ye 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 ye have: I am Jehovah your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
g. Just weights, measures, etc.
In Lev. 19:34 the love of neighbor is shown to include love of alien strangers also.
Lev. 19:35 and Lev. 19:36 required the use of honest weights, measures, etc. The device of cheating customers by using different standards for buying and selling was extensively used in Israel (contrary to God's law here), as evidenced by the confession of the tradesmen who spoke to Amos (Amos 8:4-6). The constant watchfulness of government inspectors in our own country today shows that the need for such a law as this still exists.
And ye shall observe all my statutes, and all mine ordinances, and do them: I am Jehovah.
h. Closing summary
Despite the fact of some of the laws here being inapplicable to God's people today (as in the case of animal sacrifices, etc.), the underlying principles set forth in this chapter are eternal. Honesty and fairness in business affairs, the elimination of hatred and grudges, the love of neighbor in the exalted sense of meaning our fellow-humans, respect for the aged, the rejection of the whole menagerie of witches, fortune-tellers, diviners, palm-readers, star-gazers, etc., the avoidance of prostitution and adultery, and the invariable practice of justice in all that may be said and done, in short, HOLINESS is what God requires of His people -- either then or now. Mankind has not outgrown this chapter, nor will it ever do so!
Footnotes for Leviticus 19
1: Robert O. Coleman, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Old Testament, Leviticus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), p. 99.
2: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 96.
3: Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), p. 87.
4: Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 265.
5: Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 169.
6: F. Meyrick, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 291.
7: Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968), p. 51.
8: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 287.
9: Harry M. Orlinsky, Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p. 216.
10: W. F. Lofthouse, Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Leviticus (London: T. C. and C. E. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 207.
11: Ronald E. Clements, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), p. 52.
12: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 287.
13: Harry M. Orlinsky, op. cit., p. 216.
14: Ronald E. Clements, op. cit., p. 52.
15: Nathaniel Micklem, Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2 (New York: Abingdon Press, 1953), p. 95.
16: Robert Jamieson, op. cit., p. 87.
17: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 97.
19: W. F. Lofthouse, op. cit., p. 208.
20: F. Meyrick, op. cit., p. 298.
21: E. Huxtable, The Pulpit Commentary, Galatians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 314.
22: J. W. McGarvey, Galatians (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Company), p. 277.
23: C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 425.