Summary: A holy walk is best seen in our attitudes to others.
A CALL TO PRACTICAL HOLINESS
In the midst of Jesus’ best-known ethical sermon, the Lord taught the foundational motive for right Christian living: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48).
In many respects Leviticus 19 is a reshaping, retelling and applying of the ten commandments. Each of the commandments (except the first) is covered, with reference to the living-out of God ‘s laws in Israel’s life. The first commandment is assumed throughout, and governs all the others: because “I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).
The chosen section deals with certain ethical matters, framed for the agricultural, economic, social, judicial, and neighbourly aspects of daily living. The refrain throughout is “I am the LORD”, or “I am the LORD your God”. A holy walk with God is best seen in our attitudes to others.
To city dwellers today, it may seem quite quaint to speak of leaving the corners of one’s field unharvested, and not going back over the job to pick up any missed produce (Leviticus 19:9-10) - but the underlying principle of care is universal. The most beautiful illustration of this practice is found in the book of Ruth: where Boaz would have his reapers drop whole handfuls ‘on purpose’ (Ruth 2:15-16) to provide for Naomi, a neighbour who had fallen on hard times; and her daughter-in-law Ruth, who was a “stranger” in the land.
This is not just a random jumble of commandments: the following word is “You shall not steal” (Leviticus 19:11), and is not unrelated to our attitude towards those ‘less fortunate’ than ourselves. Failing to allow this provision for life’s victims robs them of the dignity of being able to provide for themselves out of the abundance of the generous. Withholding charity is like robbing the poor (cf. Proverbs 22:22).
Such failure is in its turn a dishonest act which fails to give God the praise for what we have by sharing His bounty with others. This in turn dishonours the name of God (cf. Leviticus 19:12).
In a society where wages were paid daily (cf. Matthew 20:2), with a possible ‘national minimum wage’ which would provide a daily meal for a worker and his family, withholding wages overnight could be disastrous for the labourer. Interestingly here, the employee is to be reckoned as a “neighbour” by the employer (Leviticus 19:13). Surely such consideration would radicalise the workplace today?
There is a duty of care outlined in Leviticus 19:14 - “Do not curse the deaf (who cannot hear what you are saying); and do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind.” I wonder if there is a deeper meaning here on the positive - or even spiritual - side, too: something along the lines of ‘open your mouth for the dumb’ (Proverbs 31:8)? Help the deaf comprehend, assist the blind in the way, perhaps?
In the first instance, those who sit in judgment are given certain clear standards. It applies to all eras, and all jurisdictions: no partiality, one way or the other (Leviticus 19:15). Then there are those who fancy themselves as both judge and jury, announcing that ‘hanging is too good for that one!’ – this is to “stand against the blood of your neighbour” (Leviticus 19:16).
Not to rebuke a neighbour (where appropriate) is to be complicit in his sin, and is in fact an act of hatred. Vengeance belongs to God (Romans 12:19), and a grudge is soul-destroying (to you if not to the neighbour!)
It is strange that Jesus quoted people as saying, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’ (Matthew 5:43). This is not found anywhere in the Old Testament, but perhaps could be a total distortion (on their part, not His) of this passage: which happens to mention both hatred of brethren (but only to forbid it), and love of neighbour, in the same paragraph (Leviticus 19:17-18).
Asked for His summary of the Law, Jesus coupled the commandment to 'love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind' (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5) with this commandment to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). The Apostle Paul summed up the commandments (Romans 13:9), and the law (Galatians 5:14), in this same word: “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).