Understanding the Bible

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Aug 8 2013 10:04 PM

I think it is a very fine commentary, here is Leviticus 19 for you to draw your own conclusions.



§19 Instructions in Worship and Ethics (Lev. 19:1- 37)

This chapter contains a variety of instructions regarding worship and other relationships in life. There is unity and diversity here, and connections to the Decalogue in Exodus 20 as well as to Deuteronomy. Themes characteristic of the Holiness Code appear at the beginning and at the end of the chapter, suggesting that the Priestly editors have subsumed a variety of legislation in this context as part of the divine revelation. Most of the instructions are apodictic, or universal, in form. The parallels with the Decalogue fit that frame and occur in the first part of the chapter:honoring parents, observing the Sabbath, prohibiting images, theft, false witness, honoring Yahweh’s name. These laws contain long- standing practices and beliefs, from before the time of the monarchy. They were probably preserved and collected in some sort of cultic setting, here by the Priestly tradents, and addressed to the whole people. Care for all of society and for justice are central to the chapter, as is concern with specific harmful practices.
19:1- 4 /The chapter opens with a classic statement from the Holiness Code, to be holy because Yahweh is holy, followed by statements in the tradition of the Decalogue. Yahweh is different, and so Israel as Yahweh’s people is called to be different. This kind of holiness includes orderliness and justice. Moses again mediates this instruction for the people Israel. The first instruction (v. 3) emphasizes the importance of the extended family, and respect and care for parents. Note that the mother is listed first, which is unusual in the OT. Then there is observing the Sabbath, the prohibition of idolatry, and the ban on making images. The Sabbath was a day of rest for humans and animals, as well as a time of worship. Sabbath observance is important in OT faith and was a distinctive trait for the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity. The prohibition of idolatry is a significant dimension to the perspective of the Holiness Code. The injunction is:Do not turn to idols. Warnings against idolatry permeate the Old Testament (e. g., Exod. 20:4- 6; Ps. 81:8- 10; Isa. 40:18- 24). The word used for idol (‘elilim) connotes worthlessness or nothingness, a common view of idols in the Old Testament. Idols are “un- gods” which can only bring death. The other term used (massekah) relates to molded images.
19:5- 8 /The concern about idolatry in ancient Israel is also connected with the call to proper worship of Yahweh, which leads to further instruction on the fellowship offerings. The instructions here are in line with those in the Manual of Sacrifice in chapter 7, except that no distinct types of fellowship offerings are mentioned. Meat from the fellowship offerings must be consumed on the day of the sacrifice or the next day. Meat eaten on the third day causes impurity. Here the offense is serious; it desecrates the holy, and there are consequences. The offender must be cut off from his people. Along with the prohibitions is, again, the expectation of proper worship of Yahweh.
19:9- 10 /We have seen previously the two injunctions which relate to the poor and the alien. Here is an attempt to care for the powerless and those in economic need. The customs are to leave the ripe crops around the edges of the fields and the gleanings. With the grapes, there is to be no second scouring, stripping bare, of the vines or picking up the ones which have fallen. These foodstuffs are for people without other means of support. The motivation again is the relationship with God:I am the Lord your God. This custom is approximated in Deuteronomy 24 and illustrated in the book of Ruth.
19:11- 18 /These verses continue in the tradition of the Decalogue and relate to social justice. Verses 11- 12 prohibit stealing, lying, deception, and swearing falsely. The business of living as people of holy Yahweh has significant social dimensions. The property one holds as a gift from Yahweh, whether it is human or animal or inanimate, is protected by law. Deception or deceit of any kind is prohibited. To swear falsely relates to taking oaths with intent to deceive. Not keeping pledges and taking false oaths appear to be in view. When such words are said in the name of Yahweh, divine honor is at stake. When the oath is false, God has been used for evil purposes- a violation of the Decalogue and this injunction.
Fearing God (v. 14) involves social justice and the integrity of the spoken word. A person of faith is not to defraud or rob; extortion and theft are forbidden. A neighbor is another Israelite. The follower of Yahweh is also to pay a just wage at the proper time. The hired man is a day laborer who works hard and who can easily be oppressed. Honesty with the deaf and the blind is also commended; do not take unfair advantage. This concern for the disabled is noteworthy in the Priestly tradition.
The next two verses move to the setting of a court or assembly where judicial proceedings occur. The plea is for impartiality in legal proceedings; bribery was a problem at times in Israelite society. No partiality is shown to the poor or to the great. The term for partiality means literally “to lift one’s face,” a sign of favoritism. The prohibition in verse 16 may relate to the same setting. The responsibility of the witness is to tell the truth and not engage in gossip. The reference may well be to serious defamation of character or malicious libel. Such malicious slander could endanger the life of another.
Verse 17 commends honesty from both inside and outside. It suggests that inner hate brings inappropriate action. The issues are still justice and honestly working out relationships. The verse expresses both individual and community concerns. In Hebrew the heart is the seat of the intellect or mind or will, from which comes good or ill. When ill comes, the Holiness Code here indicates that a person will bear the consequences. With verse 18 we reach the center of the chapter, on a high note of morality. The verse begins with a clarification of what it means not to hate in verse 17:Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge. Feelings of resentment and vengeful actions are prohibited; anger will fester and come out in distorted ways. In contrast to such is love. The love of neighbor consists of a commitment to the welfare and best interests of another person, whether citizen or sojourner. Verses 17 and 18 contrast hate and vengeance with honest relationships and love. The climax of this section is the call to love one’s neighbor, companion, or friend. This call is part of Jesus’ text in Matthew 19:19 in speaking of the great commandment. Few readers of the gospels are aware that this text comes from the OT and specifically the book of Leviticus. The concerns for holiness relate to much of life and thus contain a strong ethical dimension. This emphasis is consonant- not in conflict- with cultic concerns dominating the first parts of Leviticus. The chapters of the Holiness Code are more explicit in combining the cultic and the ethical dimensions of life. The whole of the book of Leviticus reflects awareness of the community as the basis for life as Yahweh’s people, and this call to love one’s neighbor fits that theme. The section concludes with the simple but fundamental phrase, I am the Lord. That affirmation is basic to the laws in this chapter.
19:19- 25 /These verses relate in one way or another to agricultural life. They begin with the call to keep divine decrees, judgments handed down. The first verse contains a series of prohibitions that develop from the Priestly notion of boundaries. Leviticus resists the mixing of categories as bringing confusion; things have their proper place. The mixing prohibited here includes mating different breeds of domestic animals and planting two kinds of seed in the field. The third prohibition is to avoid mixing fabrics in clothing.
The proper place of things also underlies many of the Priestly sexual prohibitions. Accordingly, a casuistic law, a law related to a particular case, on sexual relations follows in verses 20- 22. A man has intercourse with a slave girl who is not yet married but is engaged. Engagement or betrothal was considered tantamount to marriage. Normally such intercourse would be a capital offense. Here, however, execution is not indicated because the woman is a slave who has not yet been freed from slavery; note Deuteronomy 22:23- 27. This case specifically relates to the slave status of the woman. Betrothal would normally bring freedom, but that has not happened here. Rather, the man is to provide a ram for a guilt offering. The text does not mention it, but compensation to the betrothed man or to the slave owner would normally accompany such an offering. The offense is apparently not adultery; the issue is about property rather than life. The sacrifice is an atoning one. The OT recognizes distinctions between slaves and free people, although often with a dose of compassion.
Verses 23- 25 relate more specifically again to farming and the planting of fruit trees. When fruit trees are planted in the promised land, the people are to give them three years of growth before harvesting any fruit. The term used speaks of the tree as “uncircumcised.” Fruit in the fourth year is considered holy, belonging to God, and is donated as an act of praise. Thereafter the fruit is to be eaten. This practice is commended as wise agricultural practice. The instruction is thus practical and theological; see Proverbs 3:9- 10. The view that underlies these verses is that the land and its produce are God’s and thus are to be respected and revered.
19:26- 31 /The chapter moves from agriculture to cultic practice. In the context of the Holiness Code, ancient Israel is to demonstrate loyalty to God its deliverer and so avoid idolatrous and magical customs and practices. The section begins with a typical Holiness Code prohibition against consuming blood and then moves to prohibit divination or sorcery. Divination is the use of omens and signs to predict the future, and sorcery probably reflects a similar practice. The future is God’s, and so such magical practice is deemed inappropriate. Verses 27- 28 prohibit certain mourning rites. The phrase Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head is probably a foreign mourning rite, as also may be the intentional cutting of the beard in some way. The cutting or gashing of the body as well as imprinting marks on the body (put tattoo marks on yourselves) are known to have been foreign mourning rites. The prostituting of a daughter (v. 29) is a practice also labeled as foreign and degrading or profaning. Cultic prostitution was characteristic of some ancient Near Eastern religions. Prostitution would bring profit, which could seduce a father into using this practice. The biblical text shows concern that such an idolatrous practice would spread and defile the land. Verse 30 articulates that concern in a positive way in terms of observing Sabbaths and respecting the sanctuary. Verse 31 concludes the section in the cultic theme by prohibiting the use of necromancy. The medium is one who communicates with the dead; presumably the spiritists of NIV are also practicers of necromancy, although the Hebrew term (yidde’onim) may refer to the spirit which the medium contacts. These practices are signs of idolatry.
19:32- 34 /These verses commend respect for the old and the alien. Length of life was considered a blessing, and so the call is to honor the elderly. Aged is a common term for gray hair and old age, and rising is a sign of respect. This instruction again demonstrates how pervasive are the concerns for holiness. An alien or sojourner is one who is living with the Israelites but is not a citizen. Such a person is to be treated just like those who are native- born. The command from verse 18 is repeated for such resident aliens:Love him as yourself. The motivation here is that Israel had endured such a status in Egypt. Israelites should remember the oppression and seek to overcome it in their relationships. The concern is that the holy people of God are to live in justice, and the ethical demands flowing from that concern include care for the weak, such as the resident alien.
19:35- 37 /The concern continues in the last verses of this chapter. The motivation is again a theological one. God delivered the people from slavery and created a community for them. In turn, the people now carry responsibility for following divine instruction for the good of the community. These verses illustrate that point in terms of the practice of commerce. One should use honest scales and measures, for the stability of the community. The chapter then concludes (v. 37) with an exhortation reminiscent of its beginning.
This chapter provides further evidence of the Priestly understanding of holiness. It relates to both cultic and ethical spheres of living. Faith of the individual and the community is to issue in a holy style of life, one demonstrating relationship with Yahweh, who is holy and distinct. This text assumes that ancient Israel is able to live the holy, healthy community life that the priests celebrate and call the people to share. Responsibility for wholeness comes with the privilege of wholeness, and the hope is that this abundant life is found in the community. At the center of the chapter lies the famous injunction to love the neighbor. Leviticus emphasizes worship and cult, but the Priestly editors clearly promote the connection between worship and the rest of life:ethical living and honest human relationships. The NT also encourages such values in 1 Peter 1:16, in Jesus’ great commandment in Matthew 22:39, and in James 2:8.
19:18 /The Hb. of this verse is rather cryptic. A literal translation might be “Do not take vengeance or keep (resentment) against the children of your people, but you will love your neighbor as you; I am Yahweh.” The verb for “keep,” to judge from its use in other texts, probably indicates continuing retention of anger or feelings of resentment. So the rendering bear a grudge is a reasonable one. The word for neighbor can mean “friend,” “companion,” or simply “another,” here probably another Israelite, although v. 34 includes the resident alien. The preposition lamed is used with the word for “neighbor.” While it may simply indicate the direct object, it could also indicate action toward, love understood as assistance for the neighbor. The translation to love the neighbor as yourself, that is, as you love yourself or as if the person were you, is appropriate and fits the context of the saying in the gospels. It would also be possible to take the preposition related to the neighbor:Love your neighbor who is like you, either like you in the narrow sense of a fellow Israelite or like you in the sense of being human just as you are. This last possibility might find some support in v. 34 where the alien is to be loved “like you.”
19:20 /The translation for due punishment is debatable. The NRSV takes the term to indicate that an inquiry will be held. Wenham understands the term to refer to damages that are to be paid in compensation (Leviticus, pp. 270- 71).
19:36 /An ephah was a dry grain measure of about five gallons or twenty liters. A hin was a liquid measure of about three liters or six pints. The ephah and hin would be used to balance scales and thus weigh out comparable amounts in transactions

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Michael | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Aug 9 2013 12:14 PM

Thank you very much Dan!  I've placed my pre-pub order.

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