Leviticus (Lesson Eight: The Dire Need for Moral Holiness [Part Two, Chapters 19-20])
1. Social Holiness (Chapter 19)
Lev. 19:2 is the clearest brief statement of the basic point and purpose of Leviticus. It is instructive, therefore, that immediately afterward, the most basic sin (idolatry) is warned against and the most basic purpose of the whole book (being restored to fellowship with the holy God by sacrifice) is repeated. Remember what we examined earlier about the prohibition of allowing the meat of the peace sacrifice to remain until the third day, to prevent decay and as a sign of how Christ’s body would not be allowed to see corruption (cf. Psalm 16:10). Thus we have the death and resurrection of Christ foreshadowed here, together with the results of that death and resurrection, namely, reconciliation to God.
After that, commandments pertaining to interacting in a holy social manner are given. These are all summed up in v. 18, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” which Jesus teaches as the second great commandment after, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Mat. 22:37-40).
Just what it means to love our neighbor is presented in a very concrete way – leaving gleanings for the poor, not stealing or lying or oppressing or withholding just wages, etc. (cf. Luke 10:25-37). In sum, it is treating our neighbor the same way we would want to be treated in his situation – a principle also taught by Christ (Mat. 7:12). Applicational question: We all say we love our neighbors as Christ taught, but would our neighbors (especially those we come into contact with who are weak, disadvantaged, etc.) be unable to contradict us because of our actions toward them?
Not loving our neighbors (taking advantage of the deaf and blind, swearing falsely to someone else’s disadvantage, etc.), is not just a sin against them, but ultimately it is profaning God’s name and refusing to fear him (vs. 12, 14). When we curse men who are made in the image of God, we are cursing God (James 3:9-10; 1 John 4:20); and when we labor for the least of Christ’s weak and struggling brothers here on earth, we are loving and blessing Jesus himself, and he will reward our obscure acts of goodness, arising out of his gospel-mercies in our hearts, before the whole world (Mat. 25:34-40). Love for Jesus always has a concrete manifestation in good works done for people on earth (cf. James 1:26-27).
Following is a whole list of miscellaneous prescriptions, both ceremonial and moral, teaching the people how to live their daily lives. Application: our doctrine must influence our daily lives, even in the smallest details.
Throughout this passage, the phrase “I am the Lord your God,” and its abbreviation, “I am the Lord,” appear seven times each; one or the other of these two phrases appears seven times in the first part of the chapter, which deals with social justice, and one or the other appears seven times in the second half of the chapter as well, which gives miscellaneous laws. Who God is, and most especially, who he is for us in Jesus Christ, must shape everything we do both with respect to others and in the more “private” areas of our lives.
Each of the ten commandments is represented here in specific prescriptions. Although we would not apply these ten commandments in precisely the same way in every case, we still need to apply each one of them in specific ways appropriate to our age in redemptive history.
1. No other gods
2. No graven images
3. No wrong use of God’s name
4. Remember the Sabbath
5. Honour parents
6. No murder
7. No adultery
8. No stealing
9. No false witness
10. No coveting
[Chart taken from Philip H. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness (Evangelical Press, 2007), p. 250]
There are also various commandments with symbolic or ceremonial significance (not mixing fabrics, rounding the corners of the beard, etc.). What are we to make of these commandments today? What application do they have for us? We must keep in mind that God’s moral Law, which has a culminative expression in the ten commandments, will have specific applications in every culture and for every period of redemptive history. The laws themselves do not change, but the way we observe them, so long as it does not contradict their essential meaning, might.
2. Punishments Threatened Against Unholiness (Chapter 20)
Chapter 20 harks back to many of the specific regulations of the preceding chapters and gives specific penalties for infractions. The severity of these penalties underscores the importance of holiness and the vast punishments awaiting sinners and rebels against God the Lawgiver. These are only typical penalties pertaining to this life; so how much greater will be the eternal penalties meted out on the Day of Judgment (Heb. 10:28-29)?
At the conclusion, the purpose for all of this is given: God has separated his people from all other nations to be holy to him. Lev. 20:26 is another key summative statement, that could serve as the motto of all redemptive history. How does this compare with the climactic announcements of the concluding book of the bible, Revelation (e.g. 21:3-4, 7-8, 27; 22:14-15)?
3. Concluding Discussion Topic
Is there anything in the list of commandments in 19:19-37 that binds them all together as a whole? Do they all apply to us with the same force? What can we make of each commandment in particular – what it means, whether or not it is still binding, how we can apply it appropriately today?